Monday, September 28, 2009

We are all works in progress

Americans are the fattest people on earth. Why is that? Why are we as a culture so overweight? Why are so many of us prone to eating to excess? Why are so many of us 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 over-eating has become a life-style. What can we do about this? What can you do to bring more balance and peace into your personal relationship with food (or drugs or alcohol or any other addictive substance or behavior)?
I have studied this issue and specialized in working with people with food control concerns for over twenty years. I have 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. Please understand, however, that I too am a work in progress and will continue to be so for the remainder of my time on this planet. 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 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, the person I have become and of the many wonderful things my body can do.
From time to time I share my perspective about compulsive eating behavior and my philosophy of treatment in this blog. Please note that our physical bodies and our emotional and spiritual selves are intertwined and that 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 to 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 forces have had on us throughout our lives. This is no small task but it is possible and worthwhile. As I write to you each week I will be touching upon all of these areas in one way or another. Thank you for being on this Chew Tamer's Journey with me!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Personal care checklist

Most of us realize the importance of making and checking lists. We may make packing lists, lists of presentation items we need to take along and lists of things to mention during our presentation. Some more organized people even have lists of lists! But many of us neglect to consult the most vital list of all – our self-care list. We are complex beings and must attend to ourselves – physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and environmentally.

Life is stressful. We are always on the go and trying to meet the needs of others while balancing the often-difficult demands of our personal lives.
It is helpful to create a self-care checklist to review often. Attending to our needs on all levels will insure consistent health and balance. We will look better, feel better and radiate higher energy.

Following is an example of a personal care checklist.

Physically: Have I been eating well, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates as often as possible and eating good amounts of protein every few hours? Have I packed healthy snacks for the day? Am I well hydrated, drinking at least 64 ounces of pure water each day? Have I been keeping regular bedtime hours, getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep? Am I keeping moderate exercise a priority in my life?

Emotionally: Have I been attending to my feelings and expressing myself appropriately; not holding in feelings or stuffing them down with unhealthy foods? Have I really been taking time to nurture myself? When was the last time I truly relaxed? Do I have a journal to vent or explore my feelings in? Clearing myself emotionally means I can better attend to the tasks at hand. I am less distracted or preoccupied.

Socially: Have I been spending time with positive people that I enjoy being with? Am I having fun? Am I paying enough attention to my relationships? Do I stay well connected so I don’t find myself isolated and lonely? Do I apportion my time with others with the alone time I need to stay balanced?

Spiritually: Have I been taking quiet time for myself? Do I spend time every day praying, meditating or just sitting and quietly breathing? Do I remind myself often to stay in the present rather than worry about the future or hang on to difficulties from the past?

Environmentally: Have I set up a comfortable environment in my home (perhaps a cozy spot with favorite photos, bath oil, small scented candle or incense)?

It is essential to take gentle care of ourselves. The busier we are, the more we need to do this. Only by paying attention to our own needs, can we best serve the needs of others. I wish all radiant health!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We are being manipulated!

First, I apologize for failing to blog last week. I know that many of you check in regularly and I so much appreciate that. I have fallen victim to some nasty little flu bug and only today do I feel a tint surge of energy. So, here is an extra special blog for you this week. Enjoy! (and please do feel free to drop me a note any time to let me know what you thiunk. I would love to hear from you!)

We know much more today than ever before about foods and the various ways we are affected not only by eating them but also by the specific ingredients manufacturers put into them and the ways these foods are marketed to us. It has been well documented that sugars, fats and salt (particularly when combined) are highly addictive for most people. Dr. David Kessler in his book, The End of overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite labels this irresistible eating experience as “hypereating” and most of us can relate to that. When most of us are faced with foods laden with fat, sugar and salt we become helpless to stop.

Let me explain the cycle. When we eat sugars, fat and salt, we feel good. Our feelings recede into the background and we become immersed in the eating experience. We feel better for a short while but then crave another “fix” as the good feelings fade. We know that more sugar, fat and salt will provide another “high” and the reward center of pour brain makes us seek out that pleasure. When we are given large amounts of these foods most of us will overeat.

For years you may have been thinking that there was something wrong with you and that your inability to modulate your eating was because you lacked will power. We now know that that is not the case. Sugars and fats are self reinforcing and we are cued to seek them out. When our desire to eat is stimulated by certain sights, sounds, or places we associate with eating we release dopamine in our brain and reward seeking behavior is motivated. As Kessler points out, dopamine pushes us to seek the food we want and we are not easily distracted away from our goal. So, dopamine leads us to seek food. We eat and this leads to opiod release and the production of both dopamine and opiods leads us to further eating. So cues ensure that we will work hard to obtain the reward. In this excellent work he goes on to expose the food industry and explains ways foods are engineered to figure out exactly what we will like.

Every aspect of food manufacture and marketing is of great importance –packaging, the ambience in restaurants, noise levels, portion sizes and even the name of the product has an effect. If we are under stress (and who isn’t?) we are even hungrier and more susceptible to falling victim to the hypereating cycle. Kessler acknowledges that emotional learning has not traditionally been part of habit reversal but that emotional eating may be the missing link necessary for stopping this mindless eating.

Scattered throughout my blogs are ways to stop being a victim of the food industry. First, please acknowledge that your overeating behavior has not been your fault alone and has not been entirely in your control. Next, please remind yourself that this quest for health will take patience, time and an attitude of self acceptance and gentleness. You have techniques for stopping this automatic eating response in its tracks and returning to balance and joy even if you have an experience now and then of eating mindlessly and getting hooked into the victim role that our food industry wants you to play. You will now know different ways to take care of yourself and to bypass the automatic responses to the food cues that abound in our culture.

You already know that you want to move yourself away from unhealthy behaviors and move towards healthy ones. This is key. Keeping this goal in mind will help you immensely as you forge your own personal path away from the ploys of the food industry and towards the rewards that come with making self-loving choices as often as possible. There will be set backs. You might as well know that right up front. There is no room here for absolute perfection. We can never be fully cured of conditioned hypereating but we can tame our chews, listen to the important messages our feelings are communicating, treat ourselves with love and respect and celebrate the many times we eat well, ignoring the momentary lapses in judgment. Then we can and will move ahead towards our goal of balance, joy and radiant health.

You are learning now that there are social causes, physical, emotional and spiritual causes as well. You already have a broad understanding of this entire picture. Practice treating yourself lovingly and you will be unstoppable! You will think of food in a different way – as a substance that gives you great benefit when you choose wisely, listen to your bodily cues and see that your real needs are met.

Eating is a personal, individual matter. How, when and what you feed yourself is entirely up to you. When you can choose foods based upon your tastes and desires and weigh the long term consequences of your choices you will be well on your way to freedom. The food industry will no longer be able to manipulate your eating behavior. You will be in charge of you – no longer a victim. And, trust me, that feels really good!