Monday, April 28, 2008

Food Control is Difficult

Food control is difficult for many, if not most of us. At times we may feel possessed by urges to stuff ourselves full of excess calories. We are then listening to the voice of our “Chew”. We all have a “Chew”, also known as our “saboteur”. This is the part of each of us that says, “Go ahead, eat whatever you want. You deserve it! It is OK to dive right into that sugary, carbohydrate-laden snack. Life is tough! Enjoy it all! You can worry about your weight/health tomorrow, or Monday, or next week!” Do any of those messages sound familiar?

Certainly it is fine to indulge now and then. Life is to be enjoyed and so is food. For most of us, however, stopping our eating can be tricky at times. We crave. We overeat. We feel bad about doing it. We admonish ourselves which can lead to more craving and continued overeating and then, no matter how much we put into our mouths, we often don’t feel satiated. (This pattern can lead to serious eating disorders in some cases.)

We are not content because satisfying the “Chew” requires more than candy bars, sodas and pasta. Being truly satiated means attending to all of our needs, not simply our need for food. We have to fuel our bodies regularly to function and must make nutritious choices as often as we can. This does not mean eating perfectly at all times. We also require other things such as adequate rest, plenty of water, a fair amount of exercise, companionship and now and then laughter.

We are not simple or one-dimensional. We are complex beings with multiple needs and we have to nurture our emotional, intellectual and spiritual selves as well as care for our bodies. We may be doing our best to fulfill our physical needs for nourishment, rest sunshine and exercise but we may not be quite as tuned in to providing nourishment to our whole selves. We all have many needs and these are often neglected with today’s emphasis on glamour and perfection. We try to be perfect, to look perfect and to eat perfectly. This is not possible! We cannot do it. Most of us would never expect those around us to behave perfectly at all times, nor would we punish them if they occasionally overindulged.

As mentioned in earlier blogs and The Taming of the Chew, it is the human way to overeat sometimes and, at other times to eat less than our bodies need. It is the striving for perfection that repeatedly gets us into trouble. Because we are human, we set ourselves up to fail if we strive to be perfect. We set this impossible goal, fail to meet our expectations, and end up feeling like failures. We punish ourselves by heading for the nearest “fix” of chocolate, pasta or cookies to help us feel better.
Instead of dieting, bingeing, depriving yourself and beating yourself up, be gentle with yourself. Think of what you truly need and treat yourself with love. As always, I remind you, you are worth i

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chewlett to the Rescue

Life is stressful and it is vital that we nurture our relationships and talk with family and friends whenever we can. Being able to vent our frustrations or share our triumphs with someone who cares about us helps us feel connected. It may be difficult to attend to our need for connection at times. Here is an idea that many have found helpful:

I would like to introduce you to a fuzzy little friend who can help you to thrive during the holiday season, or any time you need to talk to a buddy – The Chewlett. I find that when folks are stressed, lonely, tired, sad, etc. they are often tempted to race for a fix of sugars and carbohydrates to calm themselves down and take the edge off their feelings. They can reach for their Chewlett instead and tell their little friend what’s eating them. The Chewlett makes them smile and is happy to ride in a pocket or purse, sit on a desk or dashboard and remind any of us to take care of ourselves and make self-loving choices. The Chewlett is happy to go anywhere and we can count on our little buddy to listen to us anytime we need to talk.

I am frequently asked for tips on how to avoid self-abusive self-abuse bingeing. Here are a couple of ideas to help you through:

Besides chatting with your friends, family members or Chewlett, reserve time each day just for yourself. Along with the hustle and bustle of life come many tasks that compete for your time and attention. See if you can delegate some of your responsibilities to others.

We may find ourselves rushing around taking care of everyone and everything but ourselves. We each need to find ways to create private, quiet, relaxing time for ourselves. If we don’t, we will become overtired, overwhelmed and consequently likely to over-feed ourselves as a way to cope with stress.

If we set aside moments here and there to nurture ourselves, we are far more likely to take care of ourselves in healthy ways all year long. And, when we take the very best care of ourselves, we are better equipped to attend to the needs of those around us. We are more relaxed, more balanced and more energetic. Life can be more fun and less like an exhausting marathon.

So please slow down and enjoy this wonderful springtime of the year. Do only what you truly want to do and decline needless chores, chaos and calories. Make this the best season ever by taking the very best care of yourself. Keep yourself number one. You’re worth it! I wish you and your loved ones many, many blessings!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tiredness Misinterpreted for Hunger

After months of hibernation, it is finally springtime! Flowers are bursting out of their underground winter hiding places and there are many compelling reasons to be out of doors. Raking, mowing, weeding, feeding bending and lifting all may exhaust us physically and this end-of-the day tiredness can be misinterpreted for hunger. Food gives us energy and we need the right amount of the right nutrients for our body to function properly. Often, however, we fool ourselves into thinking we need to eat when our body actually does not need more food. This is likely to happen when we are tired. We might think we need to eat food to energize our body. Although this may be the case at times, such as in a life or death situation, usually, for many of us, food is not what we really need. We may really need to sleep or soak in a warm bubble bath.

When we are tired, we are more emotionally vulnerable. We may find ourselves eating to save us from experiencing our feelings. When we feel tired, angry, frustrated, anxious, bored, lonely, unappreciated or afraid, for example, food becomes a quick and easy way to seemingly perk us up and fill the void we are experiencing. It is easier to tear open a bag of chips grab a chocolate bar than it is to sit with those painful feelings.

Feelings of hunger are tricky and often have nothing to do with the fueling of our body. Our body doesn’t need excessive amounts of potato chips, chocolate or macaroni and cheese to function optimally, so when we tell ourselves we need them for energy, we are not telling ourselves the truth. Fats, sugar or caffeine may give us a temporary rush of energy – but this is short-lived, and masking discomfort will leave us feeling even more “tired” than before because we are not giving our body the nutrients it really needs to “energize.” So, when we choose sugars, fats or excess carbohydrates we may not be truly, physically hungry. Cravings we experience deliver valuable messages to us about what we really feel and what we really need. Our job is to pay attention to these messages and to give ourselves what we really need at the time. Proper rest, a healthful diet, and a peaceful lifestyle give us energy – not junk foods. They may be what our Chew clamors for from time to time, but they are never what we really need.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Are We the Fattest People on Earth?

Modern Maturity Magazine reported years ago, “With the exception of the population of a few Pacific islands, Americans are the fattest people on earth.” Why are so many of us overweight? Why are so many of us prone to eating to excess? Why are we, as a culture, obsessed with food and body size? Why have so many of us alternated between eating compulsively for periods of time and then dieting for a while? Why has this become a common, life-long style of food management for so many? Why have millions of women and men become entangled in a pattern which is so self-destructive and that can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, a general sense of being out of control as well as a host of many other problems? We are all different, of course, and some people have not experienced such a struggle. Most of us, however, eat more than we want or need to at times, and, for some of us, compulsive eating has become a life-style. Why do so many of us do this and what can we do about it?

As a New Hampshire Licensed Psychologist and a Doctor of Holistic Health, I have studied this issue and specialized in working with people with food control concerns for over twenty years. I write from both my personal and professional points of view, after having waged my own private war with compulsive eating and dieting – enduring phases of obesity, bulimia and anorexia. I have finally found a path to a healthier life with a more positive, balanced and appreciative attitude towards myself, my own body and food. My body is not and will never be “perfect” according to our contemporary societal standard and I will never negotiate my path “perfectly.” However, after more than sixty years of walking around on this planet alternately starving and stuffing myself, the idea of perfection has become irrelevant. It has been replaced instead by a feeling of peace and an appreciation of myself and of the many wonderful things my body can do.

My perspective about compulsive eating behavior and my philosophy of treatment is this: Our physical bodies and our emotional and spiritual selves are intertwined and we have been heavily influenced in our society to look and act in certain ways to be accepted and approved of. So, to feel in control of our impulses to eat compulsively, we need to address all of these areas and map out strategies to bring each of these aspects of ourselves into balance. This requires us to know ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually and to understand the impact social and environmental forces have had on us throughout our lives. This is no small task but it is possible and worthwhile.

The focus must not be on being thin. It must be on loving yourself just the way you are and eating in ways that feel nurturing – not compulsive and self-abusive. My wish is that you feel healthy, peaceful and happy with yourself regardless of how many pounds you weigh. I have spent countless hours in my role as a therapist listening to my clients’ painful histories and experiences and helping them in their personal struggles to control their eating. People have come to share their stories of guilt, self-hatred, shame and frustration. In their pasts, some have lost weight, some have not. Some have developed an ability to accept themselves no matter what their weight may be, and others have abandoned hope, finding the battle against compulsive eating too demanding and discouraging.

This is easy to understand. We are bombarded daily with confusing messages about what to do, what to eat (or not eat) and how to look and act. The problem can easily become overwhelming! Many of us have tried an assortment of fad diets, weight loss gimmicks, pills that claim to melt pounds away and exercise machines that promise thinner thighs and disappearing bellies in an impossibly short time and with little effort. These attempts to control our bodies and to mold them into shapes idealized today generally end in failure, cause great anxiety and the urges to overeat become more persistent than ever.

Strive to understand your food control issues physically, emotionally, socially, environmentally and spiritually. Each of us must explore this frustrating issue in our own way. Be patient with yourself (There are no mistakes, only lessons!). Nurture your physical body, attend to your spiritual practice, look for the humor in situations and allow yourself to name and express fully whatever emotions you are experiencing. Surround yourself with positive people who will offer support and encouragement and you will notice your focus gradually shifting from outside of yourself to inside. You will free yourself from others’ expectations and start really considering yourself and your own needs. And, above all, be gentle with yourself. You are just as important as any other being on this planet and you deserve to give yourself all good things.