unsplash-logoFlemming Fuchs

diet mentality

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.

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.

 

 

The Last Supper Sabotage

The solution to excess weight seems very simple – don’t take in more energy than you expend over long periods of time or, if you have weight to lose, ‘eat less, move more’.

A 2016 study reported 48% of Brits had tried to lose weight in the previous year and this figure rose to 57% among women. With so many of us trying to shrink our waistlines, how is it that, according to NHS figures, 62% of people living in England are currently classified as overweight or obese.

If nearly half of us are trying some form of dieting every year, why are we failing in our goals for health? Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that we actually gain weight once we get on that cycle of dieting. To be clear, I’m not suggesting it’s the diet itself that causes weight gain but rather the diet mentality that is working against us.

Eating is the most important thing we do for survival after breathing. It is crucial that we are driven to seek out food. We have many physiological and psychological triggers which are driving us to eat and a diet mentality can confuse and stress these systems.

Just the mere thought of future deprivation can activate food-seeking behaviours. When you tell yourself you are starting that diet on Monday, your brain now tells you to eat, eat, eat now! Before the food runs out. They call this Last Supper eating, that final binge or overindulgence you are driven to have because you truly believe that you won’t be able to eat like this for a while.

The morning after an indulgence, your insulin sensitivity is reduced because of the overproduction of insulin required to deal with last night’s excess. Insulin has a very satiating effect but when your sensitivity is reduced, this satiating effect is muted, driving you to eat more and the diet is blown before 3pm. A new start time for the next diet is set and the Last Supper eating begins again and, before you know it, weeks have passed, you never did quite get into the flow of your eating plans, and you’ve eaten more than you would have if you hadn’t decided to diet to begin with.

We are more educated about food and nutrition than we have ever been, yet so many of us fell so out of control when it comes to our diet and health. With all the information available, losing weight should be a fairly straightforward process but our thoughts, emotions, physiology and modern lifestyles throw up obstacles, which creates conflict and confusion.

This is one of the reasons why many people turn to talking therapies. In order to change our relationship with food and our bodies, we need to change the way we think and feel about food and our bodies.

I believe in empowering my clients with a combination of therapy; to help them understand their processes, and psycho-education; to promote knowledge, understanding and self-compassion.

Sources:

http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/food-and-drink/brits-lose-count-of-their-calories-over-a-third-of-brits-dont-know-how-many-calories-they-consume-on-a-typical-day

https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/statistics-and-causes-of-the-obesity-epidemic-in-the-UK.aspx