Eating Habits: Healthy Relationship With Food (cont.)

I must, however, make an important point about satiety. There is a very big difference between satiety and feeling full. This is a source of tremendous confusion, in part because of many fad diets, which endorse bulk or quantity of food over whether or not the person actually attains a sense of satisfaction from eating the foods. In other words, we are told to eat foods we don't find particularly satisfying, but eat as a tool for weight loss. What we are left with is an empty, anxious, deprived state of mind that drives our compulsivity with food.

Member: I find that when I'm tired I head for the fridge. How can I turn that around?

Oliver-Pyatt: That is an excellent point. You are now describing a trigger time. What can you do instead? would be my first question, and my next question is why are you so tired? Some people have extremely demanding and hectic lifestyles, and it is an unfortunate reality in our society that many of us are overextended in terms of our obligations. I have found that many of my patients who struggle with their weight tend to be people pleasers who have a difficult time disappointing others or saying no to others. A common trend among those of us who have suffered with weight issues is our tendency to place over-attention to the needs of others and under-attention to our own needs. We are worn out, depleted, and emotionally hungry and find comfort and retreat in the act of eating.

Member: I also find that the week before my period I feel ravenous. Yet, even though I know what is causing it, I am so hungry. Is there a way to combat/curb this?

Oliver-Pyatt: It is wonderful that you are noticing your relationship to your body and your tendency to eat. Why I find this so important is that rather than blaming yourself or condemning yourself you are beginning to take seriously the mind and body connection. It is important to, as I discuss in my book Fed Up, "Get your doctor on your weight loss team."

Premenstrual syndrome, or otherwise called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, is often characterized by:

  • Binging, particularly on high carbohydrate foods
  • Food cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Depression

If symptoms are severe, a person may benefit from certain medical treatments, for example, with the use of SSRI antidepressants and certain mineral supplementations. There have been large-scale studies that link premenstrual syndrome to calcium deficiency and show that calcium supplements can decrease PMS symptoms significantly.

Member: I grew up in a large, poor family. I developed some very bad habits (eat fast before it's gone; eat whenever the food is there because it wasn't always there). How can I break these habits? I am no longer in that situation, but I'm still eating like a poor hungry child, unsure of my next meal.

Oliver-Pyatt: The first step is the step you've already taken, which is to develop the insight between your relationship with food as a child and how it connects with your behavior now. I would ask you to explore in more detail the feelings you have associated with eating. For example, at mealtime you can begin to journal:

  • Write down your feelings before eating. Is there a sense of urgency, a sense of anxiety, a sense of obligation?
  • Then begin to eat your meal.
  • When you're about halfway through it, drink a sip or two of water, pause for a moment, take a few very deep breaths and begin to journal your emotions.

You may discover what is driving you to rush through the food on an emotional level rather than an intellectual level. After dinner is done, find some quiet time and write even more about your experiences. Think about the child you once were and how he or she might have felt during those rushed meals. You may notice a sense of compassion that you feel for this harried child.

All of this is part of taking yourself seriously. When we take ourselves seriously emotionally, it also helps us to take ourselves seriously in all areas of our life, including the act of eating. When we take ourselves seriously as it relates to the act of eating, we are able to take notice and take serious our physiological cues of satiety and hunger.

Member: For me, certain foods have strong associations with childhood memories. It seems as if I can be back in happier childhood times when eating those foods. For example, my grandpa used to be the one who got us ice cream. Eating ice cream reminds me of him and visits to his farm and I always end up overeating it.

"[Children] are the ones who will decide if and how much they will eat. That is their job, not yours."

Oliver-Pyatt: My first question would be whether or not you have actually granted yourself permission to eat ice cream. I would guess that it might be on your list of "forbidden foods." Of course, we are all told what foods are healthy and not healthy to eat. It is very difficult to break through these messages and form our own unique relationship with food and our body. It is very natural that certain foods would symbolize or represent important events in our life, but it is through the power that these foods hold over us when we do not have permission to eat these foods that we become compulsive with them.

Member: As the mother of teens, I realize how soon they will be gone. So I make a big deal out of dinner. The rest of the family teases me a bit, but we have a good time at dinner. I think it very important that we all sit down together as often as possible (four to five out of seven nights a week). I love the time we spend together, but because it is over dinner, I am wondering if I am doing a disservice to my kids; am I over emphasizing food and making them associate good times with food? I can't get them together for much else; everyone has their own interests.

Oliver-Pyatt: Your question really describes the depth to which you're thinking about things, which is commendable. I believe that in our society we have lost structure, order, respect, tradition, and appreciation for the presence of food in our lives.

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