Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

New Year’s Resolution: Live Well

We’re fast approaching the New Year when many people make resolutions to turn over a new leaf, improving some aspect of their lives. Eating and exercise habits often top the list of resolutions. If they’re on your list, consider making this resolution each day of the new year:        

      Today, I will try to feed my body when I am hungry.* Your body needs refueling several times a day. Identify a pattern of meals and snacks that works for you.

      Today, I will try to be attentive to how foods taste and make me feel.*  Giving permission to eat allows you to slow down and enjoy the foods that bring you pleasure.

      Today, I will try to choose foods that I like and that make me feel good.*  Letting your appetite guide your food choices will ensure that your mouth is satisfied as well as your stomach.

       Today, I will try to respect my body’s signals of fullness.*  Eat as much as you want.  You’ll know when to quit—when you are pleasantly filled-up. 

       Today, I will try to find an enjoyable way to move my body.*  It’s easier to maintain an active lifestyle when you enjoy what you’re doing.

       Today, I will try to look kindly at my body and to treat it with love and respect.Your body is the way it is and it’s okay.  Wearing stylish clothing that fits, being well groomed and taking care of your looks projects a positive image to others and to yourself. 

Happy New Year!

 *Live Well Pledge (in bold) is an excerpt from Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight  © 2008 by Linda Bacon. May be freely distributed, provided that it remains in its entirety and this copyright message appears.


Overeating Hysteria

Before returning my borrowed copy to the library, I want to write a bit of a review about Dr. David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

Dr. Kessler explores the reasons why he thinks highly palatable food is so hard to resist. He describes “conditioned hypereating” as a state of mind similar to drug addiction. As former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, I’m sure Dr. Kessler understands the addiction model. Yet, he applies this model to food stating, “Fat, sugar, and salt change the brain.” Further, he asserts that the food industry is irresistibly combining these three ingredients into “hyperpalatable foods.”

Near the end of his book, Dr. Kessler candidly acknowledges his own history of overeating and weight cycling. “I have lost weight, gained it back, and lost it again—over and over and over. I have owned suits in every size,” he admits.

It seems reasonable, then, for Dr. Kessler to perceive food and eating as addictive. For those like Dr. Kessler who have banned certain foods or limited food quantity for the purpose of weight loss, thoughts about food become pervasive. Food seems like an addictive substance and eating seems like an addictive behavior.

A more accurate explanation lies in the recent dramatic discoveries about how the human brain and body function together to influence food choices. The primal need for food is very well regulated. The human brain responds to hunger by stimulating food seeking behavior, finding pleasurable food and eating until the body senses that it has had enough. Scientists describe this response as a balance between the homeostatic and hedonic systems.

Focused on his attack on the food industry, Dr. Kessler has skipped the brain science as well as the behavioral science on the subject of food and eating. He is stuck on the same old ideas of hyper-regulating and hyper-resisting.

The title of the book is the first clue that his ideas are off-track. After all, everybody’s appetite is satiable; and control is not the answer.

Form an alliance-me, myself, and I

There’s a big media world out there and most of it wants you to feel bad about yourself. Hollywood and the fashion, cosmetics and diet industries net billions of dollars a year by making us believe that our bodies are unacceptable and need constant improvement. Print ads are airbrushed and touched up to show bodies that set impossible ideals. TV shows cast women with bodies not often found in nature to play the roles of fun-loving characters. In our media saturated world, how do you protect yourself from media messages and becoming your own worst critic?

Self-talk–those little conversations you have with yourself either in your head or out loud–is very influential. These dialogues are often negative and self-critical. In her book, Feeding the Hungry Heart, Geneen Roth says, “No one responds (well) to rejection-not a child, not your body. You have been filled with loathing at the sight of your arms, neck, face for years-and it hasn’t given you a different body. Rejection and loathing do not lead to change.”

“Chatter” is the term Karen Koenig uses to describe negative self-talk in her book, The Rules of Normal Eating. To turn off the chatter, Koenig suggests writing down the things you hear yourself say that run counter to normal eating and body acceptance. “Remember that chatter is nothing more than your irrational beliefs on speakerphone,” she said. Koenig advises, “Take each line of chatter and replace it with a rational thought or belief. Proclaim the new belief loudly and proudly.”

Here are some examples:

  • Irrational chatter: If I eat what I like, I’ll never stop eating. Reframed positive self-talk: I can stop eating and I will-when I’m satisfied and no longer hungry.
  • Irrational chatter: I’m too fat-just look at those hips! Reframed positive self-talk: I am a woman with natural curves. My accomplishments have nothing to do with the size of my hips.
  • Irrational chatter: No one will find me attractive if I’m fat.  Reframed positive self-talk: I am attractive because of who I am.

As contradictory as it seems, acceptance actually helps move you toward the transformations in lifestyle that you want to make. In the words of Carl Rogers, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”

Dieting and the Weight Gain of Americans

Lincoln University has caused quite a stir. An exercise class in their curriculum is necessary for graduation only for their students of size. Now there is nothing wrong with an exercise class, but why is it a requirement only for students with a BMI over 30? Can the need for exercise be determined by a number on the scale? Or is the intent to help these students lose weight?

Helping someone lose weight may be well-intended but in reality, the notion that his or her body is unacceptable is damaging. Many experts hold the opinion that weight loss attempts, whether self-imposed or institution-imposed, cause weight gain. Repeat often enough with large numbers of people and dieting just may lead to a weight gain epidemic.

One of the first scientific studies to look at this issue was led by Ancel Keys. In 1946, Keys and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota conducted experiments on 32 young men. This study is referred to as the Minnesota Starvation Study for a reason. The men were underfed enough to induce weight loss. They were observed for signs and symptoms related to insufficient food. The point of the experiment was to determine how to re-nourish them. One phenomenon that surprised everyone—most of the men ended up weighing more than they did prior to the caloric restriction. Six of the men gained nearly 10 additional pounds of body fat.

Fast forward sixty years or so and we are still trying to pinpoint exactly why this happens. Study after study shows the association between dieting (any behavior undertaken with the intent of losing weight) and subsequent weight gain but we have yet to determine the reason.

Researchers Herman and Polivy, in 1980, coined the term “restrained eating” to mean chronic dieting. They noted that chronic dieters were unable to keep to their diets despite concern with weight. Dieting behavior was accompanied by occasional lapses of restraint. They and other researchers described restrained eaters as very motivated but rather unsuccessful with weight loss.

In the intervening decades, many studies comparing the behavior of restrained and unrestrained eaters have taken place. Researchers have determined that, when presented with food cues, restrained eaters have stronger urges to eat than do unrestrained eaters. Pleasurable thoughts about food guide restrained eaters’ behavior despite their weight loss goals. Unrestrained eaters are less sensitive to food cues and more likely to follow their internal sense of hunger.

In a society where dieting messages are ubiquitous, how can you dodge the bullet?

  •         Accept your natural weight—never start the down-again, up-again weight cycle.
  •         Look kindly at your body and treat it with respect.
  •         Do the same for others.
  •         Identify a pattern of meals and snacks that works for you—then follow through with appetizing foods.