unsplash-logoFlemming Fuchs

A Rant About Calories

When oh when will we stop with the demonisation of calories? Products on the shelves loudly and proudly proclaim - “Only X number of calories per portion!”, “Low in calories!” or my biggest pet peeve – “Guilt free!” (implication – low in calories).

Since where are we supposed to feel guilty about needing to eat food and for that food to contain calories?! Gah! Calories are energy and energy is necessary for, well, just about everything!

People fear consuming too many calories and in today’s environment of easy-access, high energy food I recognise that this might be a legitimate fear for some but worrying about getting your calorific levels ‘right’ may simply create a lot of internal chatter that makes it difficult to really know what your body wants at this moment in time.

You have probably been there - standing in Pret or Tesco, comparing sandwiches and pre-packed salads and trying to find the fewest calories to trick your body into thinking this is enough for your lunch. Your body is smarter than you are when it comes to calorie usage.

Also, we don’t absorb all the calories we eat, did you know that? Yep, some of those calories pass right through you and there is no way of knowing how many you absorb. Did you know that if two people consume a 100kcal banana, one could absorb 95 calories and the other 85 calories? FROM EATING THE SAME THING!

You don’t know with your thinking mind how many calories you need and the body’s caloric requirements change from day to day based on numerous factors from activity levels to the weather to how many calories you consumed the previous day.

So please, let’s start appreciating those humble calories, the building blocks of our body, the unsung heroes of our life.

Ending the Nightmare of Binge Eating

First published on the Counselling Directory https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/ending-the-nightmare-of-binge-eating.

We have never had greater access to nutritional information than we do today. We also know more about how our bodies function than ever before, but it seems that we have never had a trickier relationship with food or greater dissatisfaction about the size and shape of our bodies.

More and more clients are approaching me because they are fed up of struggling with what they perceive is their out-of-control appetite. Are our appetites more out of control these days? This is often the reported experience but all may not be as it seems...

Our relationship with food and appetite is complex. We have many cues and triggers that encourage us to consume food, and these engage all the physical senses - sight, smell, taste, touch and even sound. Ever spotted that green Starbucks sign and suddenly wanted a caramel latte? It wasn’t even on your mind until you spotted the green mermaid in her circular frame!

Experts have termed our environment as ‘obseogenic’, and this simply means we are living in a culture that continuously primes us to eat.

Here lies the cultural paradox. Thin lean taunt bodies and “clean” disciplined eating is celebrated as a sign of success and bestowed with greater social value. Soft, squishy bodies are often judged as undisciplined and an example of what we shouldn’t be. The pressure is on to sculpt your body into a more acceptable shape.

The solution to this becomes a diet. Diets these days are often masquerading as wellness programmes, or healthy clean eating. Sugar is the enemy; we should be eating low carb, keto or paleo. There are long lists of what you should or shouldn't be allowing yourself to consume, and with each new bit of research more things are added to these lists.

The problem with this solution is that it requires you to ignore your body’s signals and hand over the decisions about what and how much to eat to a prescribed set of rules. People crave freedom, it’s a basic primal need, and for many the restriction imposed by dieting triggers rebellious eating, or binge eating.

Binge eating is much more than eating “too much”. It’s a sensation of completely losing control around food. It’s very scary to experience. Unfortunately the common response when people start to binge is to try and exercise EVEN MORE control over food, which sets up the next binge and so the cycle continues. This is how people get trapped in the cycle of bingeing and dieting.

Also, dieting causes emotional eating. As soon as you restrict food you like, you increase its emotional value. Eating and deciding what to eat becomes a more emotionally-charged experience, which confuses your hunger signals even more. Food can then become a way to manage your emotional state.

So what’s the solution?

Understanding some of the emotional reasons that perpetuate your eating is a good start, and counselling will help you gain insight into this and assist you to develop tools for managing your emotions without turning to food.

The emotional work is only part of the picture though.

I like to use the analogy of Newton’s third law, which states that each action has an equal and opposite reaction. Bingeing is the natural reaction to restriction. Even restrictive thinking can trigger the binge response. Ever planned to start a diet on Monday and ended up eating your way through the weekend before?

To break free from bingeing requires a rejection of diet culture and a re-learning of how to respond to your body’s signals.

When people stop believing their bodies aren’t acceptable as they are, they can begin to reconnect with the subtle sensations and signals in their bodies, and regain their sanity around food.

If you are struggling with binge eating, you may be interested in joining a binge eating therapy group. The group meets on Tuesday evenings in Ealing. For more info, click here.

Thought of the Day

Thought of the day today is an excerpt from Ice Cream for Breakfast by Laura Jane Williams. Taking a moment to acknowledge the amazing things your body does is one of the practical steps we can take to improve body image. Our bodies are more than what they look like, they are incredible! Let’s take a moment to appreciate that!

Have you reached a turning point?

A Turning Point Session (TSP) is for anyone who has come to a point in their lives where they are fed up of struggling with overeating and body image and have reached the the point where they are ready to make a change.

If you have been caught up in a bingeing cycle for a while, I imagine you would have made many resolutions to change in the past. You’ve probably said to yourself most days that tomorrow will be different.

But then it isn’t.

And the cycle continues.

overeating binge eating treatment

In your TPS, we will have a 3 hour intensive together where we seek to get to the bottom of what may be keeping you stuck. I have many tools in my kit to help us to uncover this and make a plan to change it around. Drawing on approaches from transactional analysis, cognitive therapy, NLP, psychotherapy and coaching, we will have a session which is tailor made for you. You will have filled out a thorough assessment session prior to our session, which will enable me to have an idea before me meet of what techniques we may need to use.

This may be right for you if….

  • You are fed up of struggling with overeating/bingeing. You know it isn’t supposed to be this hard.

  • You are ready and willing to learn how to do things differently.

  • Committing to weekly sessions does not appeal to you.

You will leave the session with tools and resources you can use to turn things around and get on with living your life.

The session includes:

  • Constructing the narrative - understanding how you have become this way around food.

  • Understanding neuroscience and how this information can help restore mental sanity with food.

  • Emotional release work.

  • A tailor-made plan for you to implement over the next few weeks. Including take home resources.

  • A Skype check in 4 weeks later.

    If you’d like to find out more, please head to the contact page and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. To purchase a Turning Point Session, please click here.

Intuitive Eating Course - January 2019

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Learn how to reconnect to your natural appetite. Change the way you make food choices and find freedom from overeating. This course includes:

  • 20 minute Skype session with me before the course starts. This will be an opportunity for you to find out exactly what you are signing up for and to make sure this course is for you.

  • 8 x 90 minute group sessions where we will learn why diets create a really unhelpful relationship with food and led to MORE overeating. Opportunities to share and learn from each other, as well as supporting one another.

  • Exercises you can used to help you on this intuitive eating journey.

  • Support between sessions, with group chat available. Research shows that social support is helpful when it comes to motivation and making changes.

For more information, please register your interest via the contact page and I will get in touch to discuss.

If loving our bodies is too much to ask, can we just give a little respect?

We hear again and again that we should love our bodies but how do we even begin to do this?
For many of my clients, accepting or loving their bodies feels impossible. That can be pretty disheartening, so I developed the body image steps to help my clients figure out how to feel a bit more comfortable (or a bit less uncomfortable!) in their bodies.

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The body image scale

Where are you right now?

Body acceptance, positive body image or whatever you want to call it, is rarely a linear process. We may move up and down the steps in the space of a day, or even one meal!
Sometimes people say to me that body acceptance feels like giving up. To them I say yes, it is giving up. .
*It’s giving up on self hatred.
*It’s giving up on defining your self worth by your body shape.
*It’s giving up on trying to force your body into the unrealistic ideal portrayed by the media.
*It’s giving up on ignoring your body’s signals.
*It’s giving up on obsession, dieting and all the misery that comes with it.
Where are you on the scale today and what are you willing to give up to move onto the next step towards sanity around food and your body?

Are you on a HIGH FACT diet?

It would be fair to say we have never had access to more nutritional knowledge than we do today and yet I don’t believe we have ever had a worse relationship with our weight and food choices.

In 2015 the Global Weight Loss and Weight Management market was worth $158.2 billion with a predicted worth of $259.8 billion in 2022. [1] With increasing value placed on managing our weight, we should be getting skinnier and skinnier, right? And yet everywhere we turn we are told we are in the midst of an ‘obesity epidemic’.

So what’s the truth? Figures presented to parliament in March 2018 showed there has been a clear increase in obesity levels since 1993, from 15% to 26%. Correspondingly, the percentage of adults who are either overweight or obese has risen from 53% to 61%. [2] So we are getting heavier. Fact.

You might have heard that diets don’t work but we can have a hard time believing that. After all, if we eat a caloric deficit we do lose weight and we all know someone who has lost weight on a diet, right?

Photo by Thought Catalog

And so it must be our fault. We are too weak willed, too greedy, too lazy to stick to the programme. We blame ourselves. Our self-esteem, already dented by the belief we should be thinner, gets eroded away further as we become more frustrated and despondent with each ‘failed’ attempt to follow a weight loss programme.

The problem with a diet, and even a healthy ‘programme’, is that it doesn’t change the way we make our food choices. We hand our decision making over to the plan. We limit options to help navigate our way through our food abundant culture but then we don’t learn how to make food decisions that ultimately support our health – both physically and mentally.

The diet or plan is usually a temporary measure, to get us where we want to be weight-wise, but then what? Many of us go back to how we ate before the diet, gain back the weight and start the cycle again.

Placing a structured eating plan aside for the moment, is it possible that the nutritional information we know could actually be contributing to the problem?

One of the problems with nutrition is that it makes certain generalisations. There are these ballpark figures thrown around about how much (or little) we should be eating. Many of us will have heard that it is 2,000kcals for women and 2,500kcals for men but did you know this varies wildly from person to person and that even something like ethnicity affects our basal metabolic rate? [3]

Having a number in our heads about how much we should be eating could be counterproductive. Ever heard someone say that they haven’t eaten much today, therefore they can ‘justify’ indulging? Believing that we need to justify or balance out our food intake causes us to try and cognitively figure out what we need to eat instead of learning to listen to our bodies.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

If I go for a long run or have a hard physical work out, I often experience an absence of hunger on the day. Instead, I notice that the day afterwards, when my muscles feel a little tired, I am hungrier than usual. Nutritional rules would advise things like carb-loading or increasing protein intake on the day of exercise. These may work for you but for me, I’d be eating more when my body doesn’t want to because I believe it’s what I should be doing. My journey has involved learning to focus on listening and getting to know what works for me.

Nutritional rules can involve ignoring our bodies’ hunger signals and using our heads, instead of our bodies, to figure out what we should be eating. A lot of people experience a blood sugar spike when they eat white bread but some people don’t. Some people don’t like going to bed on a full stomach and others do. There is evidence that intermittent fasting has a positive impact on health and weight but I know people who feel shaky and unwell if they don’t eat regularly.

We try to adhere to the rules and conquer our appetites but appetite is a powerful survival mechanism, which will fight back if you try and quash it. Many people who try to control their appetites may end up being controlled by them.

The intuitive eating movement is gaining momentum as a solution to following the rules. It’s not about control, it’s not about perfection. It’s about aligning with what your body is telling you, honouring your hunger and eating what makes you feel good. You have permission to eat and to eat what you enjoy.

There may be a fear that if you give yourself permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, then you will end up binging. I certainly used to feel this way. Binging is often driven by the fear that something won’t be available later, or a diet is imminent (see previous blog on last supper eating). I truly believe that we need to get rid of the moralising of food as good and bad and refocus on how the food makes us feel. I have found the best intention to hold when deciding what to eat is:

Eat what you want but aim to feel better after eating than you did before.

Eat what you want but aim to feel better after eating than you did before.

If you hold this intention, you will learn to listen to your body’s signals. When body and mind are in sync, well, that’s a harmonious place where I’d like to stay.

Sources

1.     https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/03/10/majority-brits-are-on-a-diet-most-of-the-time_n_9426086.html

2.     https://www.researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN03336/SN03336.pdf

3.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4044297

 

Get Slim or Die(t) Trying

What’s in a word? In the most basic sense, it’s written symbols or sound we use to communicate to each other. What truly brings our words to life is meaning. We may say we’re feeling “depressed” or “anxious”, what do those words that really mean to the speaker and the receiver?

My experience of feeling depressed or anxious will be different to yours. There will probably be be some commonality but the words we use to describe our experience differ in personal meaning from person to person. This means that understanding each other can become complicated.

Some argue that the words frequently used around food and weight may make it harder for us to achieve our desired changes. “Weight loss” contains the word ‘loss’, which tends to have a negative connotation and “diet” contains the word ‘die’, also considered to be a negative experience to be avoided at all costs!

But are we really affected by seemingly hidden words in our common lexicon? Surely we are smarter that that. We know what weight loss and diets are, so why would we necessarily associate them with death and loss? This is the realm of the unconscious, non-rational mind, so no-one can say for certain. It’s interesting to consider that a diet does involve trying to harness our mighty appetites, the most important survival drive required to stay alive, second only to breathing.

The longer I spend working in the field of disordered eating, the more convinced I am that the diet mentality in our culture is having a n insidious, negative impact on our relationship with food and our bodies. We have never had access to more nutritional information than we do today and we have never been so unhappy with our weight.

In a recent survey by Esquire magazine, 35% of British men would be willing to lose a year of their life if it meant being 20lbs lighter. A whole year of life! Time that could be spent with their families! All for a 20lb weight loss? These were not morbidly obese men with health risks but men who clearly felt they fell short of the ideal body size that has been so exalted in our society.

Another survey found that women had an average of thirteen negative thoughts about their bodies everyday. These would have just been the thoughts they noticed themselves thinking, the actual number may be even higher. What words were they thinking to judge their bodies? The personalised, felt meaning of those words corroding away self-esteem on a daily basis.

I’ve recently been delving into the body positive movement. In a nutshell, it promotes feeling positive with your body, however it looks and feels, RIGHT NOW! Not waiting until you’ve lost those 10, 15 or 50 pounds but today. Just because we accept ourselves today, it doesn’t mean we’ll never make changes. The paradox is that when you practice unapologetic self-acceptance, change is actually easier than trying to punish or hate our bodies into being smaller.