Thursday, January 6, 2011

Food Which Hurts and Heals

     A wise Spanish proverb states, “The belly rules the mind.”  Our tummy controls our behavior, cognition and mood.  We overeat to feed the growling beast within, refuse to eat to control parents who try to control and intake small portions while exercising to excess to become the perfect, pop-cultural misrepresentation of physical health. 
     One eats when sad, when happy, when angry or sometimes when feeling nothing at all.  A wide array of psychological and biological disorders result when one uses food to cure emotional ills instead of using food for its initial purpose, to nourish one’s body and mind.
     One forms a personal relationship with food which changes when one’s mood cycles.  When depressed or sad, one might dive into fatty, sugary, high carbohydrate foods which first comfort then deepens one’s depression and sadness as their waistband increases and body bloats. 
     At a holiday party one might indulge in culinary treats satisfying and lifting their mood which creates happy memories and reinforces one’s desire to celebrate life.  Let’s examine the dysfunction of food then celebrate its merits.
Anorexia nervosa          
     Anorexia usually begins as a weight-loss diet.  People feel overweight then begin to diet and, as their weight drops, continue to feel fat and remain obsessed with losing weight.  Most are women (9 out of 10) who continue to limit their food intake or exercise to excess even when their body is emaciated.

Bulimia nervosa

     Bulimia almost always happens when someone breaks a diet cycle and gorges on food.  Preoccupied with food (craving sweet and high-fat foods) but fearful of gaining weight, one with bulimia vomits, uses laxatives, fasts or exercises to excess to counteract the result of gorging. 
     People with bulimia often exhibit depression and anxiety following episodes of binging then purging.  About half of those with anorexia also display the binge-purge-depression symptoms of bulimia.  Unlike anorexia, bulimia is marks by weight gain and loss making the condition easy to hide.
     Common arithmetic equates people get fat by consuming more calories than they expend, but is this true?  Not always.  Once one becomes fat, they require less food to maintain their weight than they did to attain it.  Why?  Because compared with other tissue, fat has a lower metabolic rate—it takes less food energy to maintain it.  Once the weight is on, it stays on unless one decides to radically change their behavior. 
     Obesity has many causes which all start with food intake.  Putting large amounts of sugary, high-calorie foods in one’s sedentary body will increase one’s weight.  Eating low-calorie, low-fat food and moving one’s bodies more decreases one’s weight. 
     If a person wants to lose weight, following these seven tips will decrease the numbers on the scale.
  1. Begin a weightloss regiment only if you feel motivated and self-disciplined.  Weightloss is a life-long decision to change family food traditions, eating habits, becoming more active and maintaining these activities for life.  When struggling with motivation, a therapist might help define motivation and aid self-discipline.
  2. Minimize exposure to tempting food cues.  Remove unhealthy food from your house and go to the grocery store when full. 
  3. Take steps to boost your metabolism.  Move your body.  Walk, swim, run, play basketball or play with your children.  Moving your body creates a calorie burning body and is fun.
  4. Be realistic and moderate.  A realistic time line for a 10 percent reduction in body weight is six months.  It took time to put the weight on, allow time to take it off. 
  5. Eat healthy foods.  Add foods with color to your plate and remove golden food.  Replace bread and French fries with whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. 
  6. Don’t starve all day and eat one big meal at night.  Eating throughout the day maintains ones energy level and avoids the gorge of starvation at night. 
  7. Beware of the binge.  Most people occasionally lapse.  After lapsing remind yourself you’ve succeeded before and get back on the healthy eating horse.
     Mother’s of girls with eating disorders are often critical of their own weight and hypercritical of the weight and physical appearance of their daughter’s weight.  A family of children with bulimia has a higher-than-usual incidence of childhood obesity and negative self-evaluation.  Sufferers set perfectionist standards, fret about falling short of expectations and are intensely concerned with how others perceive them.
      There is a cultural explanation why anorexia and bulimia occur mostly in women and mostly in weight-conscious cultures.  Body ideals vary across culture and time.  In India, women students rate their body ideal as close to their actual shape.  In Africa—where thinness can signal poverty, AIDS, and hunger, and the prosperous are plump—bigger is better.  
      It seems clear that the sickness of today’s eating disorders lies not just within the victims but also within our weight-obsessed culture.  A culture that says fat is bad motivates millions of women to constantly diet.  This same culture encourages eating binges and purges by pressuring women to live in a constant state of semistarvation to achieve an unachievable perfect body image. 
Celebrate food       
     Food should not punish but reward.  Eating to punish or control creates dysfunction making food the enemy.  Food should be a friend not foe.  Eating a healthy, nourishing meal by one’s self or with family and friends creates memories that desire to be relived. 
     When happy, one remembers the food consumed as part of the happiness.  This creates a cognitive picture of the food experience reinforcing the eater’s desire to repeat the pleasant memory.  Continuing to create positive experiences around the dinner table forms a positive relationship with food which creates a happy human.      
     Eating healthy food in moderation ensures one retains a healthy relationship with food creating a healthy and often happy life.  Being happy is a choice. 


  1. I like that quote, Bill!

    I read it completely differently though. What it says to me is that your physiology drives your psychology - where food (your belly) is concerned, of course. Not the other way around.

    It's been my experience over the last 20 years as a coach and fitness trainer, that hearing that and thinking through it can lift a tremendous burden off people and open them to making better choices sooner, and in a completely new context.

    They no longer feel as if they are lacking (or have lacked for years) the dicipline and/or willpower to change thier habits. They begin to understand how and why the body is designed to work best not just physically, but emotionally (really one organism) with nutrient dense food. Maybe they will begin to arm themselves with better choices so that when something goes sideways the arm is conditioned to reach in the veggie drawer. Cravings will always exist for a myriad of reasons. It's the response that drives the consequences.

    I don't mean to sound trite, but I (and others) could categorize our post training (or pre., or recovery, etc.) meals as emotional eating. I you want to make the best of training, then there are eating strategies to facilitate that. I'll eat because I feel it's best at that time, and I'm kind of bummed if I don't. But they really are not - there's a physiological reason for the efficacy regarding timing and content.

    I instill simple concepts such as formed habits and accessibility. For example, if you stay up late and you're asking your brain to function longer than it would like. Your brain, thinking it needs a burst to stay awake will ask for fuel. Unfortunately, it runs best on carbs. And it wants them now! What do you grab? Icecream, bowl of cereal, cookie...Zap, brain happy. You're insulin is spiked, you go to bed and have a crappy night's sleep. No repair, just another craving in the gray matter in the a.m. to greet you.

    Did they lack willpower to NOT grab the bad food? Nope, not at all. It was there - reach arm to freezer, grab the ice-cream, etc. Not a character flaw, lack of will power, because somebody yelled at me, none of it. Sure, there may be a reason(s) they're up later than they should (stress, relations, work, etc.), or hungrier than they should be (if not late, or during the day), and yes, quit buying the crap - but, the nuts and bolts of it considering the behavior is physiologically driven.

    Is this in every case - NO. Do behaviors need to be considered and new habits formed over time - YES. But I've found the greater the emotional burden I can relieve at this 'on-ramp' time , if you will, the smoother the transition from thinking they're flawed somehow and spooning their way to the grave, to let's discover and change those cravings to healthy habits while giving your body what it's REALLY asking for and will function best with.

    Cravings DO change - It's a really amazing thing to hear someone tell you 'Norm, I'm craving more veggies! What the hell is going on?'.

    To some (you and I?) it sounds like phraseology, but to others it can be a paradigm shift.

    Interesting fact (not sure how related, but thought you would appreciate): 'the same receptor sites in our brains that respond to heroine and opium (the opiate receptors) are triggered by wheat. This combo is made more powerful when there is sugar present. Junk food is really addictive.' Robb Wolf

    I'm assuming heroin and sugar are REALLY bad!

    Best to you Bill - This is a great forum, thanks


  2. Wow, sorry about the typos, errant 's, and fragments - kinda late for me. And I obviously missed the preview button...

  3. Great insight. I love the way you think and I'll offer typos too so do not fret! I have a physical trainer friend and after he challenged me on my psychological success rate with my patients I challenged him to offer the same evidence. He claims about 10% success with his clients. I understand the drive for hunger and the need to satisfy an internal void with food but what changes the behavior? What can be said or taught that makes one decide to lose weight and not remain obese? Why is one of my patients killing himself and continuing to eat after his wife left him, he has diabetes and his liver is damaged to the point of needing replacement and he weighs 500 lbs? I work with many obese clients and hypnosis works sometimes and psychotherapy works sometimes but what is the secret? Why is food more important than living? There must be a secret between what we both do to help overweight people live. What is that secret?

  4. The secret is the same as we as professionals in this field have. Purpose. Mission.

    I've worked with a number of morbidly obese clients, some with the equal-opposite condition, and everywhere in between. I always ask the question, 'Why are you here?' And I tell them that if they want to lose themselves in the training just as they've lost themselves in food (or not food), they're at the wrong place. This will demand incremental discovery of who and what they are for sucess. Little by little, no need to know now or a week/month from now. Just know it will happen and we'll handle the fear piece by piece as it appears.

    Then I stand and wait for an answer.

    I'm just a big box full of tools for people to rummage through. Some will be useful, others won't. But, there's not one that will do anything without being picked up and used. And, back to the why (or purpose), wielding it blindly is unlikely to create anything useful.

    So again, why are you here?