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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Food Rehab

I've gotten to the "meat" of my book I have been reading, "The End of Overeating." The first two-thirds of the book are dedicated to exploring the science behind what makes certain foods irresistable, or "hyperpalatable" as the author calls them. He explains that the restaurant and prepared foods industries have sort of "stumbled" on how to exploit this science, without necessarily knowing the science behind it, through trial and error, finding what it is that people buy and eat, working hard to make a product that customers will consume compulsively. It's not surprising or necessarily that sinister that they do this; this is business, and they are in the business of selling as much of their product as they can. When your business is food, you make more money if you can get people to come back over and over for your food, and eat more than they should. If it is actually addictive--and the science indicates that compulsive overeating is at least very similar to substance addictions--it just makes the stuff sell better. It took something like 80 years or more to condemn the tobacco industry for doing the exact same thing.

The last third of the book talks about how to deal with our problem of compulsive overeating. (or "conditioned hypereating" as the author calls it). It's a chronic problem, and many, many of us have it. It (probably) can't be "cured," but we can learn how to deal with it, through cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and support and practice.

Wouldn't it be great to be able to relate to food like a "normal" person? There really is such thing as a normal person when it comes to food, although at least in the USA, it seems like normal is now overeating and obesity. A truly "normal" eater doesn't eat the cookies on the table if they already ate a meal and are full. A "normal" eater doesn't think about eating when they aren't eating--like thinking about what you'll have for dinner when you just finished lunch. A "normal" eater doesn't obsess about the donuts in the break room, trying to resist an irresistable urge to go eat one, or two, or four. A "normal" eater can eat just one or two cookies, and stop, even though there are more cookies sitting right there in the package. Those people really exist!

In terms of addiction, alcoholics call people who can drink one beer and stop "normies." Some people can just have one beer, others can't resist the pull to keep drinking after just one. That's how many of us are about food. We aren't "normies". A lot of things are happening in our environment that condition more and more people to have abnormal relationships (and obsessions) with food. I like the idea that there are things we can do to combat this conditioning.

The book has a section toward the end called "Food Rehab." (I think that's awesome.) I wanted to directly quote the book on the essential principles, but I don't want to commit copyright infringement, so I'm going to paraphrase the ideas in my own words. Really, do read the book, it's very interesting.

Essential principles of Food Rehab:

-We are biologically driven to overeat. It's not a character defect or a matter of willpower. We can only get better when we stop seeing ourselves as failing at willpower.

-Treating this overeating problem is a chronic problem that can only be managed, not cured.

-Every time we eat one of our "trigger" foods, filled with sugar/fat/salt, we reinforce the habit and the reward system in our brains and make it more likely that we will do it again the next time. The way to treat this is to stop the cycle of urges and rewards.

-Diets make this problem worse when they leave us feeling deprived.

-The treatment is learning a new way to respond to food. It can only be learned when it generates a feeling of satisfaction. If the change leaves us feeling hungry, unhappy, angry or resentful, the new ways will not stick.

-To regain control, the approach has to address all the different elements that go into our overeating. It is a multi-step process.

-We won't always be perfect in this new behavior, but we can learn from our mistakes so we are less likely to repeat them.

-We can learn a new way to think about food and put it back into its proper place in our lives.

Dr. Kessler put it much better than this...check it out.

I have identified some of my own specific triggers and some ways to start learning how to avoid them. In another post I will talk about them some more. I really feel like this mental and emotional work is the key to losing my last pounds and getting to a managable, healthy weight. All the fills in the world, and all the running I can do, will not help me if I don't learn how to control my subconscious drive to eat inappropriately. I think Dr. Kessler's methods are one way to help me work through this.


marietta.b said...

Wonderful! Thanks (from a fellow lap-band patient)for a thoughtful and very helpful post!

Anonymous said...

nk you for doing this blog- it's quite helpful. Do you have any thoughts on whether 150 surgeries is enough to make a surgeon an experienced lap band doctor? The surgeon at the UW- Seattle ( Dr. Wright) has done 150. I am worried he doesn't have enough experience despite being quite personable and professional Any advice would be appreciated.

Diz said...

Very cool!!! I agree that it is a multi-step issue and this book sounds like something I should read. Thanks for sharing it Gwen. You are one gutsy chick to put all of this "out there" for us.