Overeating: Stop Your Binge Eating (cont.)

Here's what some of the "absence makes the heart grow fonder" believers had to say:

  • Her experiences during 13 years of working with severely overweight people have convinced her that forbidding favorite foods increases cravings for them, says Chantal Gariepy, RD, CDE, a dietitian and diabetes educator with the Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. Avoiding favorite foods as opposed to simply tasty or pleasurable foods - is in a way, avoiding responsibility. "It is a juvenile (vs. mature) approach to eating." She says the mature approach to eating requires developing food skills such as mindful eating, hunger and fullness recognition, portion size evaluation, and the ability to calm yourself.
  • The Center for Mindful Eating (TCME) acknowledges that favorite foods can be the most challenging foods to eat mindfully because these foods "call" to us whether they're in front of us or not. According to TCME, learning to eat mindfully, to fully savor each bite without eating past a comfortable level of fullness, provides a deeper sense of control. "A mindful eater would also be aware, in a neutral way, of the frequency and craving for a 'favorite' food, as well as reflect on the health consequences of that particular food, and in doing so, would balance their choice of these foods with their nutritional needs," TCME says in a statement. The center does affirm, however, that the chronic availability of high-calorie foods has contributed to weight gain -- and says that's something we need to take into consideration as well.
  • Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, says that the answer to how to approach favorite foods is more complicated in adults because we carry within us both the "child" who wants to eat them and the restrictive "parent." "To allow the two to come together, we have to give ourselves permission to have regular access to foods we enjoy and to eat as much as we want," explains Satter, a national lecturer and author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. But in order to get enough of those favorite foods without feeling out of control and ashamed of ourselves, we also have to have discipline, adds Satter: "We need to incorporate those foods in regular, structured meals and snacks and we have to pay attention when we eat them."

And here are some comments from experts who fall somewhere in the middle of the other two camps:

  • Several experts said that there's no single approach that works best for everyone. "It is true that the easy-to-access presence of something desirable makes it hard to resist," Paul Rozin, PhD, professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania, tells WebMD. "But if you have some, that can be either satisfying or produce more ingestion." Roberts stressed the importance of being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Christina Baker, PhD, with the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, believes the decision to eat is influenced by different factors, including genetics and the environment. Baker's experience has been that it's very difficult for some people to incorporate moderate amounts of certain foods (usually sweets) into their diets because once they have a little, they just can't stop. "For these individuals, perhaps avoidance is a reasonable long-term strategy," Baker tells WebMD. On the other hand, Baker has many patients who experienced restricted eating in their childhoods, but are able to eventually integrate favorite foods into their diets in a way that doesn't lead to overeating.

The Bottom Line

Not only can you find researchers on both sides of the "out of sight" and the "absence makes the heart grow fonder" approaches, there is also some research to support both views. There's no simple answer to most questions about eating behavior, and this is no exception.

But perhaps the people who use the "out of sight, out of mind" approach are stopping short of doing some of the hardest, most essential work. Developing eating competency skills, like portion control and hunger recognition, may take some time. And understanding what is going on when you feel out of control around certain foods isn't easy. But being able to enjoy your favorite foods, in a positive, peaceful way, as part of a complete healthy lifestyle -- I'd say that's well worth the work.

Published September 2007.

SOURCES: David Levitsky, PhD, professor of nutrition and psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, professor of psychology, epidemiology and public health and director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University. Marlene Schwartz, PhD, research director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Paul Rozin, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Susan Roberts, PhD, senior scientist and director, Energy Metabolism Laboratory, Tufts University, Boston. Chantal Gariepy, RD, CDE, clinical dietitian and diabetes educator, Sansum Clinic, Santa Barbara, Calif. Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD, Ellyn Satter Associates, Madison, Wis.; author, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Christina Baker, PhD, Clinical Assistant in Psychology at the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Painter, J.E., et al, Appetite, June 2007, 38:3 pp 237-238. Hill, A.J. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, May 2007; vol 66(2): pp 277-85. The Center for Mindful Eating website: "Principles of Mindful Eating."

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 9/18/2007