Fitness and Food, Your Healthy Evolution (cont.)

Member question: Can plastic surgery ever play a role in developing a healthy body image?

Oliver-Pyatt: You raise an interesting question here. Many people do, indeed, feel compelled to undergo plastic surgery, and for some people this can provide them with a new outlook. My greatest concerns are for those individuals who undergo plastic surgery without appropriately addressing the issues that surround binge eating, emotional eating, and the diet mentality. If a person has learned how to develop a relaxed relationship with food, then the changes they may see with plastic surgery can be lasting. My concern is for those people who see plastic surgery as a quick fix for weight loss when their relationship with food is still tense and chaotic.

Member question: What role do you think psychological counseling can play in achieving a physically healthy lifestyle?

Oliver-Pyatt: I think that psychological counseling, in many cases, is critical in achieving the fitness of mind and body that we are looking for, and is perhaps what has been neglected all along over the last several decades. Until we provide ourselves the opportunity to explore our emotional needs and to learn how to address them in an emotionally meaningful way, we will take the path of least resistance when dealing with emotional hurt. In our society, that path of least resistance seems to be into the kitchen and either straight to the refrigerator or pantry. We quiet our emotional hurt through the act of eating, but only temporarily.

As I've said before, until we learn how to distinguish physical from emotional hunger and address both of these important needs in a meaningful way we're not able to achieve the balance we are looking for. When I talk about taking our physiological needs seriously, what I mean is being able to detect hunger and to feed our hunger with foods that truly are satiating.

I recently spoke at a spa on the subject of weight management. I ate my dinner, and then gave my talk at about 7:30 p.m. We were finished by about 9:00 p.m., and I noticed that I had become hungry again. I went down to the lounge looking for food and found that my choices were apples, oranges, or pears, and air popped popcorn. I found myself feeling somewhat anxious and irritated. I was trapped! I really needed something more significant. Reluctantly, I dished up two medium-size bowls of the tasteless popcorn and grabbed a pear and went to my room. Sitting down I ate it all, realized I was still not satiated, but had no choice but to go to bed.

There is a reason that our bodies can tell the difference between being full and being satiated. Sure, my tummy got full after the two bowls of the tasteless popcorn and the pear, but I was not satiated. So when I'm talking about treating our emotional hunger or our physiological hunger in a serious way, I mean focusing in on ourselves, determining what it is that would satisfy us, releasing ourselves from guilt about this, sitting down at a table, eating off a plate, respecting, appreciating, and enjoying the act of eating, and then noting the pleasant sense of satiation or of really having had enough and really just not wanting any more. Not because of following someone else's rules, but because your inner being is OK.

Taking our emotional hunger seriously can be frightening. It may mean speaking unspoken words, talking about the elephant that's in the room, no longer dancing around conflict, no longer taking guesses about what other people need and then attempting to reconstruct ourselves to fit into whatever box we think we need to fit into to meet those needs. Taking our emotional hunger seriously may require an intense focus on ourselves, and indeed the focus may be aided by the process of psychotherapy.

What's really exciting is expressing your authentic self; although it may bring conflicts to the surface, it doesn't create conflicts that don't already exist. Bringing our emotional selves to the table provides us for a real connection, real conflict resolution, and real emotional growth.

One of my psychotherapy patients recently did the hard work of confronting her husband with his drinking problem, which had gone unaddressed for 10 years. This required considerable effort and made my patient very anxious. Shortly after she confronted her husband he did emotionally withdraw from her and spent several evenings very quiet and uncommunicative. My patient became very anxious, wondering where this would all lead. Certainly she could have backed down and reprimanded herself for identifying and addressing a very real problem in her life, but she stuck with her emotions and her husband eventually did start talking with her. Their level of communication now is far more intense and authentic and he is now asking for the help that he will need in order to stop drinking.

For 10 years my patient dealt with her anxiety by binging and emotionally grazing on food. For 10 years she was kept quiet; now she can hold her head up high and she feels less anxiety and her relationship is also improving.

Certainly a byproduct of this change will be weight loss, as she is no longer binging and grazing on food on a daily basis. Her goal was not weight loss; her goal was to take herself seriously, and that is what she did when she gently but firmly confronted her husband.

Moderator: Do you have any final words for us, Dr. Oliver-Pyatt, before we wrap up our four weeks with you?

Oliver-Pyatt: Thank you so much to WebMD for inviting me to participate. It's been, as they say, an honor and a pleasure.

I sincerely hope you will all reconsider if you are thinking about dieting, and learn to trust your inner voice.

Moderator: We are out of time. Our thanks to Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD, author of Fed Up! and director of the Center for Hope of the Sierras, for being our guest today. Please be sure to check out all of the nutrition, exercise, and heart health information the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic has to offer!

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