Healthy Eating Habits: A Live Chat with Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD, author of Fed Up

How to develop a healthy relationship with food

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript
Event Date: Oct. 9, 2003.

Why do you eat? What do you eat? When do you eat? In this live chat we talked about developing a healthy relationship with food with Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD, author of Fed Up: The Breakthrough 10-Step No Diet Fitness Plan

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Hello, Dr. Oliver-Pyatt. Why is it important to have a "healthy relationship" to food?

Oliver-Pyatt: That's a very good question and a source of much confusion as it relates to a person's efforts to attain a healthy and reasonable weight range. In our society we place tremendous importance on whether or not particular foods are "healthy" or "unhealthy." In fact, it seems that there has even been a correlation between our emphasis on health of particular foods and our tendency as a society to have gained weight. Why is this? It is because we have lost, as a society, the understanding of what it means to have a healthy relationship with food. To have a healthy relationship with food means that one is able to eat for the reasons of physiological rather than emotional hunger and to stop eating at a point when the body and mind are truly satisfied. In order to have a healthy relationship with food, one must first have permission to eat. Our diet mentality has robbed us of even having permission to eat.

Member: How has our society made the wrong turn, developing the psychological "need" for food?

Oliver-Pyatt: To say that we don't have a psychological need for food is inaccurate. However, in our culture we have come to use food as a tool for numbing and distancing ourselves from our emotions. Why is this? Because when it comes to dealing with emotional issues, we tend to follow the path of least resistance, which is usually directly into our kitchen or pantry. As food and particular foods are more prohibited in our minds from being acceptable to eat, they become more and more powerful as a numbing mechanism.

Member: Doc, when I decide to start watching what I eat, I immediately feel deprived and want forbidden foods more. How can I stop this cycle?

Oliver-Pyatt: When you say you're watching what you eat, it implies to me that your food intake is externally regulated. We have discussed the importance of internal versus external regulation of food in previous chats. What I mean by this is that when you're "watching what you eat" I wonder if you're actually experiencing your physiological reactions to the intake of food.

When particular foods are prohibited, it creates in our mind a mental barrier or wall prohibiting us from eating the forbidden foods. Unfortunately, however, dietary restraint is temporary; we inevitably break through the wall and eat the forbidden food. In order to break through the wall, we are forced into a mental disconnection, otherwise described as dissociation. We have therefore linked the very active eating the "forbidden food" to the powerful mental act of disassociation where our mind and our body are no longer connected. This disconnection is also what helps us numb ourselves from the negative emotions we seek to avoid.

Member: Dr. Oliver-Pyatt, I want to eat when I am hungry, but I also eat when I am stressed. How can I tell the difference between the two?

Oliver-Pyatt: This is also a very important question. I think first of all we must be able to learn how to tolerate inactivity, to actually just be able to sit there for a minute or two. For many people this can be extremely difficult. I think one thing that is useful is to find a time when you're not particularly stressed and think about the times and the places you tend to eat for emotional reasons. I call these "trigger times" and "zone outs." For many of my patients they're readily able to discover particular times and places where they are likely to binge or emotionally graze on food. Also, many patients who have not worked on this have a hard time even discovering what the sensations of hunger are actually like. It can be very difficult to learn to wait long enough to experience the sensations of hunger.

But your question pertaining to differentiating stress from hunger is important because there are some people who experience hunger as an anxious feeling. Learning to exist without activity where you can actually have an opportunity to connect your mind and your body will help you to learn to differentiate between the two. Sometimes when patients do experience anxiety as a symptom of hunger, they also notice that they even feel a little "spacey" or even slightly confused or with difficulty concentrating. One must learn how to differentiate their particular cues of hunger as well as satiety in order to develop a healthy relationship with food.

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