Why do you comfort eat?
The hunger urge is extremely powerful. If we deny ourselves the satisfaction of the need for food, this need becomes an addiction.
We all have a fair perception about drug addiction. It is an insatiable need for a substance that produces powerfully pleasurable effects, so powerful that when the effect wears off, the user must have another fix. Regular fixes will satisfy the need, and the dose can remain constant, producing the same effect. But if the user goes without the drug for a longer period than usual, the need increases, requiring a larger fix than before. The same applies to food. The less you eat, the greater will be the urge to eat.
You may question this analogy, but it when we follow the path of calorie cutting, we see exactly how this happens.
We are dependent on food. Without it we will die, as we would without water to drink and air to breath. When there is adequate food available we eat enough and feel satisfied. But when we are deprived of food (whether through famine or dieting – the body knows no difference), the drive to obtain sustenance becomes increasingly overwhelming. This is the body’s natural protective response against starving to death, because we are resilient creatures of survival. This drive is hormonally based, as we will see later, but simply follow me here.
With food deprivation, the body becomes aggressive and desperate. All of its functions urgently signal the need for food: hunger pangs, a rumbling tummy, inability to concentrate, feelings of unease, headaches, even light-headedness and mild tremors. This unpleasant and all-encompassing sensation drives us to find food.
Let’s take it one step further. When dieting you will be aware of these sensations, but might employ one or some of the many coping mechanisms not to respond to them: taking appetite suppressants or bulking agents; drinking vast amounts of fluids; changing your habits; avoiding social situations where there may be food; doing more exercise, etc. These techniques may be effective for a short while, but the body’s mechanisms are too sensitive to respond to our ‘tricks’. The urge to eat will return, and this time stronger.
If only you could stop thinking about food. You feel useless and weak when you compare yourself to the other strong-willed dieters. If you forfeit the biscuits being passed around the tea-room, you will feel strong again – even stronger if you forfeit a whole meal. You won’t be embarrassed to step on the scale next time.
Your thoughts turn to your matric dance. How slim you were! Things seemed much better then. You never felt this unhappy and you always had a normal appetite. Again it seems as if your body and mind have reeled out of control.
Firstly, we have to relax about food. Most people find this really hard to do. I use the story of our dog, a stray, to help them understand. When we fed her for the first time after getting her from the SPCA, she gulped the food down. We were amazed that it actually stayed down.
This continued night after night, until gradually she realised that she was never going to starve again. She knew that there would always be the same amount of food presented to her as she wanted it, day after day, and so her eating became more relaxed, and less urgent or obsessive.
As a dog on the streets, her entire psyche was geared to panic-eat if and when there was food, which was not often. If initially we increased the size of her meals, she would not have known when to stop because her brain had long-forgotten the satiety signals indicative of plenty. Now that she has no fear of starvation, she glances nonchalantly at her food, sniffs around in a relaxed manner, and then eats until she has had enough, at which points she happily trots off without a second thought.
The example above illustrates how instinctive this all-or-nothing food relationship is when we calorically deprive ourselves. It cannot be controlled consciously or in any other way. The power of the hunger drive is completely beyond the human mind. The more we attempt to control it by removing ourselves from the temptation of food, the more our bodies physiologically retaliate by increasing the drive. It is, after all, our number one physiological and instinctual survival technique, and it works very well.
Regardless of our space technology and medical hypotheses humans cannot transcend this survival instinct. We have tried to master our instincts, but the consequences were disastrous to body and mind equally.
We should stop taking the black-and-white option in thinking that we can control this monumentally complex body of ours with a simple plus/minus equation of calories. How conceited of us! Calorie-cutting is not the solution to the battle of the bulge.
It is difficult to merely stop obsessing about food when we are restricting – we have to adopt a whole new style of eating to prevent becoming obsessed about food again: we have to stop calorie restricting NOW and move ahead to become healthy, lean, happy and stable!
Remember, your body is unaware of being in an office in the year 2011, eating less (willfully) in order to look like someone who has starved to death! This body has been fine-tuned to survive through fluctuations of food availability over millions of years. It can carefully monitor the number of ‘‘famines” it has endured, and will make sure that when food becomes available again, it will “stockpile”, ready for the next few famines. The human body has developed the most powerful resources over time to protect it against death by starvation: both physical as well as mental and emotional resources. These are deeply ingrained in the psyche, and will obviously make it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to eat the minute quantities of food prescribed by ‘traditional’ starvation techniques to lose weight and to maintain weight.
On a psychiatric level; carbohydrates increase the production of serotonin, which makes us feel calm, contented and stable emotionally. If we have too little carbohydrates in our diet, we lose that ability to remain calm, in control and emotionally stable, and become someone who obsesses about quick-releasing, high-caloric-value foods that will save us from starving! So, we ‘fall off the wagon’ and eat foods that are rich, tasty, and most of all, contain plenty of quick release carbohydrates that ensure that we produce serotonin again (and feel better!).
The answer is to make the food that you eat NOTHING LIKE DIET FOOD. If you do this, you will be sure that not only do your tastebuds get a full run for their money every time you eat. But also that you eat the right carbohydrates three times a day, so that your blood sugar levels remain adequate, and so does your serotonin production!
The result? Controlled blood sugar levels, controlled insulin levels and a person who is getting slimmer and slimmer whilst eating all of the traditional yummy foods that make her feel rewarded, loved and safe.
And long-term compliance….
Eat, drink and please, be merry!
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