Weight and Lifestyle
Helping someone to get rid of unwanted weight isn’t just a matter of boosting will power to stick to a low calorie diet and an arduous physical exercise routine. It also involves achieving an overhaul of lifestyle and attitude. This means addressing psychological factors that may contribute to emotional eating or bad habits and instilling new healthy attitudes and new healthy habits. There are also issues of evolutionary biology to take into account, exploitative influences and self-sabotaging factors.
Obesity and related diseases (eg, cardio-vascular disease, breast cancer, Type II diabetes, joint deterioration, fertility problems and possible impaired foetal development resulting in increased risk of autism) have become a major health issue, both for the impaired lifestyles of individuals affected and the tax imposition on society as our healthcare system is burdened by the cost of ‘preventable lifestyle diseases’. Research has now shown that refined sugar and highly processed foods which contribute to obesity are also linked to ’brain shrinkage’. Individuals with Type II diabetes or blood with high sugar levels have been found to have this ‘brain atrophy’, which may also be linked to Alzheimers. Recent research has revealed that babies of overweight mothers are born with thickened walls in a major artery, the aorta, which is a sign of heart disease. Hence, these babies are born with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. These health problems have the potential to get worse, as indicated by reports that 60% of women of child bearing age in developed countries are overweight and a British report on the health cost burden of individuals who are ‘super obese’, with a BMI of 50. In addition, is the consequences of obesity in men, with lower sperm count, DNA damage resulting in risk of miscarriage by the mother, obesity of offspring affecting their fertility, thus impacting on the next generation as well. Latest findings have revealed that eating high calorie food during pregnancy predispose children to unhealthy eating and subsequently, obesity.
A major obstacle to addressing the problem is the distorted view of body image. This condition commonly occurs with obese individuals ‘in denial’ that they (and/or their children) are overweight. Instead, they consider themselves to be of ‘normal weight’. Perhaps with the high incidence of obesity - latest figures for Australia indicate that two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese – then being overweight has indeed become ‘normalised’.
The old ‘food pyramid’ representation of recommended intake of food groups for healthy eating would have been stacked something like this:
Top pointy section: Fats and sugars
Middle section: Protein (meat, fish, dairy, eggs)
Base, broad, largest section: Plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, nuts)
However, the current ‘food pyramid’ representation of the reality of intake of food groups is for unhealthy
eating and is virtually the reverse of what is recommended for healthy eating:
Top pointy section: Fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grain cereals
Middle section: Protein (meat, fish, dairy, eggs)
Base, broad, largest section: Sugar, fat, refined carbohydrate (junk food, breakfast cereals,
pasta, white rice, cakes, pastries, desserts,
confectionery, frozen confectioneries, faux health foods-low fat/ high
sugar, takeaways - high fat/salt/carbohydrate), soft drinks,
There was a time when high-calorie ‘treats’ were just that – treats, to be handed out on special occasions. They would have been represented on the healthy ‘food pyramid’ as just the point of the tip (or not even qualified for mention). However, now, high calorie foods represent the greatest part of the reality ‘food pyramid’ and sugar-laden ‘treats’ are no longer occasional, but consumed on a daily basis as ‘real food’. In addition to the obviously sugar-laden foods,
sugar is included in many other unlikely foods as ‘hidden sugar’ and consumers are probably unaware of the high calorie content of soft drinks and alcohol. Hence, refined sugar can now be regarded as a ‘staple’ in our daily food intake. The contrast between ideal, recommended healthy eating and the reality of society’s unhealthy food choices is illustrated by the two versions of the food pyramid. This inversion of the food pyramid is obvious in the reality of increasing obesity in society.
The health consequences of obesity are not affecting just adults. Due to poor diet and lack of physical activity, there is an alarming level of obesity among children. Concern has been expressed at the lack of exercise in everyday activities due to time sitting in front of the computer or TV and the number of children who are chauffeured to school even when they live within easy walking distance. In addition is the policies of schools banning physical activities and games that might result in injuries and litigation. Increased incidence of dental decay in children is attributed in part to high consumption of sugar-laden drinks. More recently, a link between sugary soft drinks and narrowed blood vessels has been found, with the first signs of heart disease showing up in children as young as twelve. Research reports revealed a trend for parents to reward children for good behaviour - with fattening food, thereby setting up positive associations with patterns of unhealthy eating habits. A more effective reward would be a calorie-free hug (which releases ‘feel good’ hormones) and spending more time together. (Caveat: A trip to Maccas does not count as a rewarding togetherness activity). Early puberty is another consequence of obesity. Obese children are now being treated for ‘late onset’ (Type II) diabetes which is mainly associated with obesity in adults and also for high cholesterol and heart disease and hip operations previously only occurring in older adults. Tonsils of obese kids are being removed so they can breathe. Parents of obese children are often accused of ‘child abuse’ for over feeding their kids. The view has been expressed by health officials that Generation-Y could be named Generation-D, with one in three being predicted to develop obesity-related Type II diabetes. Summing up these conditions is the concern that after medical advances have achieved longer life expectancy for successive generations, today’s children may be the first generation to not outlive their parents.
As I see it, there are five main problem areas that contribute to weight gain which need to be taken into consideration when attempting to reduce body weight and maintain a healthy body size:
(i) Lifestyle, (ii) Evolutionary biology, (iii) Exploitation, (iv) Psychological eating, and (v) Sabotage of weight loss
This includes dietary factors, physical activity, attitude and also adequate quality sleep. Regardless of the reason or excuse for gaining weight, the ‘calories in, calories out’ equation still applies. If you consume more calories than your body needs to meet its physiological requirements, the excess will be stored as body fat. If you want to lose weight, then you have to consume fewer calories than your body needs and increase physical activity to burn off more calories than you consume. Genetic factors are often blamed. However, genes cannot account for an ‘obesity epidemic’ unless there has been an ‘epidemic’ of genetic mutation. What is generally inherited is learned family lifestyle habits - unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity and an unhealthy or lazy attitude.
In modern Western society, much of our food intake is about habit and convention, rather than meeting genuine physiological needs of the body. Did our ancestors enjoy three square meals a day, plus morning and afternoon teas, then high-calorie evening snacks as they sat around the fire recounting brave tales of hunting? I doubt it. Rituals around food are not helpful. So much of our social life revolves around food (plus high calorie alcohol and soft drinks) as entertainment, dining out, meeting friends for coffee (and cake) and loading up with snacks and sugary soft drinks in a movie theatre, watching TV or as a spectator at sport. It is puzzling as to why sitting watching some form of entertainment which requires expenditure of no effort and energy at all, is accompanied by consumption of high-calorie food (usually in noisy packaging) and sugar-laden drink. Much of the focus on food preparation (particularly in television cooking shows) is about attractive presentation, flavour and palatability, making food delicious and irresistible, enticing or encouraging people to eat. The convention of offering calorie-laden ‘appetizers’ at the beginning of a meal, supposedly to ‘stimulate the flow of digestive juices’ in preparation for the main course, is based on a fallacy. The main course is quite capable of stimulating digestive juices for its own digestion. Offering ‘enticing’ foods to ‘tantalise’ or ‘tempt’ appetites or encourage eating is really saying, “Ignore your body’s true hunger signals, ignore what your body’s true nutritional needs are and eat food that your body does not need – it doesn’t matter if excess food makes you fat”.
The lack of physical activity due to sedentary occupations, internet use, labour-saving devices and motorised
transportation does not require further comment. As a whole, society is engaging in less physical activity yet consuming more high-calorie food and eating more frequently. In a ‘time poor’ society, it is easier to buy high-calorie ‘fast food’ than make the effort to shop and prepare nutritious meals made from fresh produce.
The essential basis of healthy lifestyle changes is ‘burning off fat’ and ‘reducing food intake’. Dieting aids have included ‘fat burning’ drugs and specific food combination diets aimed to increase the metabolic rate. Other aids reduce food intake by use of appetite-suppressant drugs or gastric banding surgery which decreases the usable volume of the stomach. (I recently saw on television, a man promoting a bizarre product as a great solution to fighting obesity, as an alternative to actually reducing consumption of fattening food. He had a gadget surgically attached to his stomach to which he could connect up a hose and pump out a substantial amount of the meal he had just eaten, into the toilet. Same principle as bulimia).
A word of caution in unqualified support for lap-banding or gastric banding surgery as a ‘quick fix’ to solve the obesity problems of society. While this method reduces the amount of food that can be consumed at a single meal, it does nothing to prevent or reduce frequent snacking of high calorie food. For some candidates, this method is very successful. For others, although they experience an initial weight loss, they may soon put the weight back on. To achieve sustainable weight loss, candidates need to undergo some form of psychotherapy to address psychological factors which contribute to over-eating and establish new attitudes towards a healthy lifestyle program. Of course, this advice applies to any type of weight loss programme.
The contribution of science and technology has been a two-edged sword. While society would find it inconceivable to exist without ‘time-saving’ and ‘labour-saving’ technology that has become increasingly entrenched in our way of life during the past fifty years, it has contributed to obesity. A recent report states that women’s average waistlines have expanded from 70cm in the 1950s to currently 85cm, due to labour-saving household appliances. Women in the 1950s would have expended 1,000 calories daily doing household chores.
Ironically, a consequence of these advances in technology is that the time saved needs to be spent engaging
in some form of physical activity so the body can get the exercise it needs but misses out on when using ‘labour-saving’ technology. This has led to a ‘spin off’ in two industries – weight loss and fitness. The fitness industry not only involves expenditure of time and energy (ie, effort), but also expenditure of money - on gym memberships, personal trainers, fitness classes, specialized hi-tech footwear, and fashion clothing for the image-conscious. It also involves expenditure of time and effort on pointless pursuits – walking, jogging or cycling for miles on a path to ‘nowhere’ or running on the spot, ‘going nowhere’ fast.
There has been recent publicity given to the problems of child obesity, focusing on the busy pace of society where takeaways are replacing home cooked healthy meals so the younger generation is not even learning how to cook and prepare a meal. Accordingly, suggestions have been made to introduce (actually reinstate) cooking classes in schools. The point appears to have been overlooked that cooking classes used to be included in the school curriculum but were eliminated by social engineers wanting to make room for mickey mouse subjects. Anyway, the point I am making here is the poor understanding of nutrition that exists in society. A mother responding to these suggestions of cooking in schools was reported as encouraging her daughters to cook on the weekends, stating that she made it ‘fun’ by cooking ‘pizzas and cupcakes’. I thought to myself, in disbelief, “’Pizzas and cupcakes’? She really does not get it. No wonder kids are getting fatter”!
Be discerning in reading research reports:
There is a lot of useful research being conducted on health and often this is reported in the media where the public has easy access to it. However, the reader does need to be discerning since just because some reported research is ‘scientific’, that does not mean that it is true – or at least, the simplistic conclusions are not the relevant truth. Results from some ‘scientific research’ can be half-truths, strange interpretations biased to support a hypothesis or political ideology. Some studies, particularly those based on surveys, are pure ‘mickey mouse’ and produce absurd results (or at least absurd interpretations of results) of their superficial analysis.
A ‘mickey mouse’ example, here is an absurd statement reporting a meaningless statistical finding in a study. ‘Thin people were more likely to have a heart attack than were obese people’. Does that mean that obese people are healthier than thin people? The interpretation was: Er, ‘praps it’s ‘cause obese people are already under medical care, receiving medication for high blood pressure and other cardiac-related conditions that is
responsible for reducing their likelihood of having heart attacks. Why bother publishing an absurd statement about a statistic when it really does not have any sensible meaning? Perhaps it would have been more accurate to report that, “People receiving medical treatment for cardiac-related conditions are less likely to have a heart attack than people who are at risk of a heart attack but are not on medication.
Then again, there are correlations that are random or coincidental and absolutely meaningless, but they still get reported - with some bizarre explanation - to justify the study to taxpayers who provided the funding. For example, in a particular hypothetical study sample, there could be a weak, but statistically significant correlation between size of feet and income. The only way this association could be non-random would be if the
study participants were trampling grapes at a winery, being paid on the basis of the tonnage of grapes they crushed and the volume of juice they produced. Not exactly mind-blowing cutting-edge knowledge. Absurd example, you might say. Yes – but typical of the ‘mickey mouse’ stuff that is reported to the public. My
point is, be discerning in reading what is presented as ‘scientific’ research, particularly if it looks like the pharmaceutical industry might have a vested interest in the outcome.
Scientific disciplines have an ego-centric world view and that is fine when they conduct research within specific disciplines when all the relevant information is to be found there. However, when a particular research topic of interest actually involves factors from more than one discipline (eg, psychological, behavioural, physiological, neurological), then if any definitive answers are required and expected, a multidisciplinary approach is required in any investigation. So, if instead, a specific discipline focuses only in its own field when the answers are outside that discipline, then any worthwhile answers are going to be missed.
So, the first mistake in poor scientific research is poor design. Why? To justify funding for a specific scientific discipline, research is conducted within the confines of that discipline and if looking for ‘causes’, these are sought exclusively within the confines of that discipline – whether they exist there or not. Of course, this creates tunnel vision whereby significant factors that are relevant and even ‘causal’ are ignored simply because they are outside the field of examination. To consider these outside factors would detract from their claim for funding. The other reason is egocentricity – or simply, ignorance.
The second mistake is the cavalier attitude in interpreting statistical data, reading meaning that the real world evidence does not justify – just to make a grab for media attention. A failing that would be obvious even to any first year university student studying Research Methods 101, is ignoring the lesson to ‘not confuse causality with correlation’. Or, is it ‘not to confuse correlation with causality’? Meaning, that when two factors or events occur statistically in close association, a researcher should not jump to conclusions that one of these is causing the other. Often, both of these factors/events are caused by something else that occurs earlier in the equation. One of the factors/events may appear to be causal but is merely then mechanism or means for mediating the underlying distal cause. But of course, that relevant distal cause has not been examined or even considered because it was outside the restricted parameters of the study.
In Section (iv) on “Psychological Eating”, there are examples of this simplistic view of analysis whereby physiological factors (such as hormones, neurotransmitters) which play an intermediary role of a mechanism are accorded causal status when the real, underlying distal cause is psychological, emotional. The importance of identifying what is truly relevant is the implications for treatment. For example, if physiological factors that are merely mechanisms are identified as causal then they are subsequently regarded as what should be targeted in treatment. This is good for the pharmaceutical companies, but is merely symptom management and will not resolve the problem. If the distal cause is psychological (cognitive or emotional) issues, then these need to be addressed with some form of psychotherapy in order to achieve resolution of the problem.
‘Political correctness’ appears to influence interpretation of some results. As if arguing against the role of lifestyle, an implication of some research reported is that individuals should not be held responsible for their behaviour when there are negative consequences (such as weight gain). Political correctness in absolving individuals of responsibility for their health is not helpful for those individuals and may actually be detrimental. It may assuage the guilt these people feel in engaging in unhealthy lifestyle habits, but it is disempowering and may dissuade them from making healthy changes. In the issue of weight control, if they feel this is outside their control so that there is nothing they can do to improve their situation, they can lose hope, become even more
depressed than they already are (often, overweight people are depressed) and engage in more ‘comfort eating’, so gain more weight – but not linking that further gain to their own eating. If they take the view that there is no point in punishing themselves by restricting food intake because it is not going to make any difference anyway, then they may further punish their bodies and harm their health by indulging even more fattening food.
(ii) Evolutionary biology
Regardless of advances in science and technology and fads in food and behaviour, the evidence is clear that we cannot ignore our evolutionary biology when it comes to meeting the physiological needs of our bodies.
▪ Our innate taste preferences are for sweet, salt and fat. This does not imply that these are the only nutrients our bodies need. There is a whole range of essential nutrients that the body requires for healthy tissues and function, but if we also had a taste preference mechanism for all these nutrients, it would be a complex
mechanism that would lead to impossible obsession in choosing what we eat. Our ‘appetite regulatory mechanisms’ have evolved to deal with natural foods in their natural state. Since the essential nutrients are available in a wide range of natural foods, there is an inherent assumption that if we eat a variety of natural
foods, we will obtain all the essential nutrients we need. The problem is that evolution moves more slowly than
advances in science and technology. Hence, the appetite regulatory mechanism has not evolved to deal with processed food which is seriously depleted of the essential nutrients and boosted with refined sugar, salt and fat. My explanation for how this is a problem for easy voluntary control over calorie consumption is that the higher concentrations of the sugar, fat and salt over-stimulate the component of the appetite regulatory mechanism responsible for ‘initiating’ and ‘continuing’ eating. This results in overwhelming or over riding the ‘negative feedback’ mechanism that signals ‘satiety’ responsible for ‘terminating’ eating. There is also the addictive role of endorphins and dopamine released in the enjoyment of eating. Fructose has been identified as a possible candidate for dysregulation of appetite control by interfering with the roles of insulin and leptin. Implication is that if we ate just natural foods and were more in tune with our body so that we ate only in response to true hunger signals, then sedentary lifestyles should not lead to weight gain since we would be reducing our calorie intake in accordance with the true needs of our body.
▪ Another problem associated with evolutionary biology is its adaptive way of coping with ‘feast or famine’ when food supply is dependent on vagaries of nature. Hence, the appetite regulatory mechanism is flexible so that in times of ‘plenty’, more food can be eaten than the body requires to meet immediate needs and the excess is stored as body fat. This improves chances of surviving times of ‘famine’. The problem now for that ‘feast or famine flexibility’ is that there is never a famine in the supermarkets, there is always food in the pantry and refrigerator and always cheap food available for import from cheap-labour countries. Yet our evolutionary mechanisms may subconsciously urge us to eat more than we need right now - just in case there may be a famine in the not-too-distant future.
▪ Metabolic rate can be a blessing or a curse in weight management. There are individuals today who are fortunate to have a fast metabolism which enables them to ‘eat anything’ without gaining weight. However, such individuals may not have survived an extended period of famine if dependent on nature. Conversely, while having a slow metabolism is a curse in modern life, with such people claiming they ‘only need to look at chocolate to put on weight’, in primitive society, such a person may stand a better chance of surviving a famine. On the downside, being excessively overweight may have hampered their efforts in outrunning predators! While essentially genetic, metabolic rate does appear to be able to adjust to the activity level of the individual’s lifestyle. Hence, increasing physical activity can speed up the metabolic rate to meet the energy demands of active muscles. Conversely, low levels of physical activity may result in slowing of the metabolic rate, in response to the low energy demands of muscles, thus increasing weight gain. The implication is that slow metabolism as an excuse for being overweight doesn’t really carry any weight. One of the aims in weight loss and long term weight management has to be increasing exercise with a view to increasing metabolic rate.
▪ Palatability and the role of dopamine can be problematic. Emphasis in food preparation is on making food more and more palatable. This quality encompasses senses such as taste (sweet, salty, spicy, tangy), aroma (tantalising) and texture (smooth, creamy, crunchy) and is responsible for ‘more-ishness’, that desire or compulsion to keep eating a food once started, over-riding the appetite regulation mechanism, over-riding satiety signals. An example is chocolate, the ultimate sensory experience, which is described as ‘more-ish’.
It has a high ‘hedonic rating’ (ie, pleasure due to release of the neurotransmitter dopamine), based
on a set of extremely appealing orosensory characteristics – sweet (high in refined sugar) and fat (cocoa butter which has the property of melting at body temperature, producing a creamy quality texture which results in a very pleasant oral sensation), plus attractive aroma and unique flavour.
Even when aiming to cook ‘healthy’ or low-calorie food, the emphasis is to make it attractive,
appetising and palatable - thereby sabotaging intentions of the diner to reduce food intake. Perhaps then, when aiming to reduce and maintain healthy body weight, in addition to reduced calorie content, palatability
should be targeted. As much as possible, food should be natural and unadorned with palatability-enhancing ingredients, thereby resulting in a smaller release of dopamine which would preserve the integrity of the
appetite regulation mechanism. This would enable people to be more in tune with the satiety signals and stop eating when their true hunger needs have been met and the dopamine-induced pleasure would be sufficient to experience pleasure but insufficient to become addictive or compulsive.
The role of food primarily is to provide nourishment for our bodies, but the sensory, pleasure-inducing role of food has become central to our lives - even addictive. Chefs use food as a creative art form to produce an orgasmic experience for diners. Diners use it as a social experience and a source of pleasure. Perhaps this excessive reliance on food as a source of pleasure and social intercourse reflects an emptiness and lack of meaning in our lives. (Comments on validation, pleasure and dopamine are discussed in “Validation Hypothesis” under “OTHER INFO"). An extreme example is ‘gluttony’, one of the seven deadly sins, which has become normal eating This may be purely for pleasure (dopamine release) but there is probably addiction involved and there may also be some ‘emotional eating’. While not everyone is unhappy with their overweight body, no one is happy being unfit, breathless walking up a flight of stairs, the burden they are putting their heart and skeletal support (ie, spine, hip and knee joints and ankles), increased blood pressure and the health problems (such as cardiac disease and diabetes type II) that insidiously sneak up on them while they protest that they are ‘healthy’.
▪ Ironically, consumption of artificial sweeteners as an attempt to reduce calorie intake has recently been found to interfere with evolutionary biology and actually causes obesity. How this occurs is that ‘sweet taste’ is the biological signal for sugar being consumed which triggers off processes such as release of insulin needed for metabolism. However, the body soon ‘learns’ that ‘sweet taste’ is no longer a reliable signal for sugar so the signal is no longer passed along to release insulin. Hence, when sugar is consumed, the signal system has been
disrupted so insulin is not released to complete the processing. This sugar is converted to fat and stored on the body.
▪ There appears to be another evolutionary factor that poses a problem for weight loss. Recent research has identified the reason that certain types of diets work for some people but not for others, is in their molecular makeup. This may be similar to the concept of diet for optimum health being based on blood type, “Eat
Right for Your Type”, (D’Adamo & Whitney, 2001). Blood types (and the digestive and immune response systems) evolved to adapt the human body to food available from their lifestyles. Type O (old) was the blood type of our Cro-Magnon ancestors - hunters living on high protein diets. With lifestyle changes brought about by agriculture and animal domestication, Type A (agrarian) evolved as the body adapted to eating grain and agricultural products. Type B (balance) covers a wide variety of foods (a sort of an OA balance). Type AB
(modern) has some mixed characteristics of A and B. Types O and B need meat, but A and AB are better off avoiding red meat, so tend to be more comfortable as vegetarians. These blood type categories not only have implications for suitable foods for optimum health and weight loss, but also for strengths and vulnerabilities of the immune response system and different ways of effectively dealing with stress: Type O (intense physical exercise such as aerobics, martial arts, running), Type A (calming, centring exercise such as yoga and tai chi), Type B (moderate physical exercise with mental balance, such as hiking, cycling, swimming), Type AB (calming, centring exercises such as yoga and tai chi, combined with moderate physical exercise).
Projecting the evolution of blood type differences into the future, perhaps in time there will evolve a blood
Type J (junk) in which the digestive tract and immune response system will adapt to cope with diets that are high in refined sugar, white flour, fat and salt and low in essential nutrients. In addition, the ideal method of achieving the benefits of exercise will be vicariously (ie, as a spectator of sport) and the ideal method of dealing with stress will be lying on the lounge in front of the TV consuming beer and pizza.
I am referring here to our evolutionary biology being exploited by science and technology and lack of public knowledge of nutrition being exploited in food labelling and advertising.
It is no coincidence that prepared-food products and takeaways are high in salt, refined sugar and fat content -
combinations of the biological taste preferences - which lead to people eating more than their body needs. An argument has been made that it is the combination of food types that is the problem for appetite regulation,
rather than sugar, fat and salt individually. For example, no one is going to eat a plate full of refined sugar or fat (butter, lard or oil) or salt or pure carbohydrates (white flour or white rice). However, put these together in combinations and you have something ‘moreish’. Adding fat and salt to flour and you have palatable bread or pastry, or combine sugar with fat (eg, cream, butter, cream cheese or eggs) and you can come up with desserts, or combine sugar and fat (butter or oil and eggs) with flour and you can create a range of
cakes and desserts. All yummy, and their hedonic appeal is increased even more by enhancing palatability with additional flavours, aromas and spices that challenge appetite regulation.
“Overfed and undernourished” is a phrase that is used to sum up the consequences of modern eating habits, food choices and treatment of food, a condemnation that originally was restricted to Western society. As the Western diet has been adopted by other cultures as a defacto sign of affluence (or they have migrated to the West), then members of these cultures have become vulnerable to the same degenerative diseases and obesity that plague Western society. ‘Globalisation’ was promoted as a feel-good concept of universal brotherhood that would benefit ‘all’, but the reality is that the benefits belong to a few with vested interests, and what ’all’ get are the social costs. A case in point is food processing and fast food international giants which have boosted their profits by expanding their markets into Asia and South America – and so, too, waistlines have expanded. These people are rejecting their healthier traditional foods in favour of ‘aspirational’ eating of Western fast foods.
A conspiracy theorist might suggest that food processors are in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry and companies making nutritional supplements. Much of the healthy body-building and disease-fighting essential nutrients are stripped from foods in the processing. The result may be an unhealthy body with a compromised immune system, susceptible to infections and degenerative disease. This has led to a lucrative market in nutritional supplements (which have been argued to not have been proven to live up to the marketing promises). Exploitation of ‘taste preferences’ and foods ‘super-saturated’ with calories have led to obesity and obesity-related diseases which provide a lucrative market for pharmaceutical companies producing drugs for ‘weight loss’ and drugs to treat ‘preventable’ lifestyle diseases. Or more correctly, manage their symptoms for
the rest of their life thereby guaranteeing a long term market for the drug companies.
Calories are not ‘bad’ per se since fuel is required to provide energy for physiological processes in the body and heat to maintain optimal body temperature. Natural foods contain calories (from natural sugars, starch, oil, fat) but they also contain other essential nutrients. By contrast, the processed food, high in refined sugar, flour (starch) and fat, and with much of the essential nutrient content stripped out, may merely offer what is referred to as ‘empty calories’. Breakfast cereals frequently come in for criticism because of their high content of ‘hidden’ sugar and salt – particularly those targeting children. While natural foods are unlikely to ‘overwhelm’ the appetite regulatory mechanism, the reality is that consuming large quantities of very sweet or starchy fruit or consuming large quantities of fruit juice, even freshly squeezed, may sabotage a weight loss program. More fruit is used in squeezing juice than would be if eaten whole, so drinking freshly squeezed juice means high sugar consumption - and lacking essential fibre of the whole fruit. Eating whole fruit is the healthier option and is also more filling due to its fibre content.
While fruits are a healthy food, when it comes to weight loss programs, two factors need to be borne in mind. One is that some fruits such as bananas are high in starch (calories). The other is that while fruits are a natural food, the commercially grown varieties available today are not as natural as the wild fruits and berries ‘gathered’ by our early ancestors. These were much lower in natural sugar content than the commercial varieties that have been selectively developed to increase consumer appeal and market sales. Wild fruits and berries being less sweet, there would have been less likelihood of being ‘enticed’ into eating more than the body actually needed. For example, while the tiny fruit of the Lilly Pilly tree are edible, I can’t imagine anyone ‘pigging out’ on them. Likewise, the wild raspberries that grow on my neighbour’s property.
I acknowledge that due to the seasonality of crops, diseases, drought and other weather disasters affecting crop reliability, and distance of consumers from farming areas, a variety of fresh natural food is not always going to be available to everyone. Hence, to ensure reliability of food supply, some form of preservation (such as drying, salting, pickling, smoking, canning, freezing) to lengthen the life of perishable foods is necessary. There will be some inevitable loss of vulnerable essential nutrients, and providing this loss is supplemented with some other form of fresh food, the losses are an acceptable cost for having a reliable food supply. Dietary-related health problems will arise only if people rely exclusively on processed food without the fresh food supplementation.
My criticism of food processing is when it goes beyond what meets basic requirements of preservation, unnecessarily stripping out essential nutrients. My criticism is against the exploitation of evolutionary biology by creation of food products that are just a compilation of salt and high-calorie ingredients (refined sugar, flour, fat) in concentrations that far exceed concentrations in foods in their natural state. My criticism is also against inclusion of harmful additives (such as artificial colours, flavours and chemical preservatives) which create
behavioural problems in children and sometimes prove to be carcinogenous. My criticism of food processing is the lack of ethics – the lack of a sense of social responsibility to retain nutrient content and to ensure a product that is not detrimental to the health of consumers and the exploitation of human biology and lack of consumer knowledge of nutrition.
It would appear that ‘poetic licence’ is used in the advertising industry rather than aiming to provide facts intended to assist consumers make informed choices. The line is blurred between the role of providing factual information and the role of manipulation in attention-grabbing entertainment. For example, cars do not really have DNA or a conscience and are not intelligent or smart or capable of ‘loving you back’. Nor do they actually have a capacity for leaping across wide canyons or from one tall building to another. Is the ‘angry ute’ really
angry and its upholstery really made from ‘angry cows’? (Fearful, yes). Berries, cereals and intestinal bacteria do not actually have the capacity to speak, sing and dance. We know that milk is not smart so it is absurd that it can be labelled as ‘smarter’. Perhaps because these exercises in licence are so absurd they cannot be claimed to be ‘misleading’ to consumers since it is obvious that they are not intended to be accepted as factual information. The danger lies in less absurd, less obvious use of licence in food labelling and advertising that may be assumed to be factual information.
The language on food labelling and advertising is meant to mislead consumers rather than to inform. Simple examples include: ‘Low fat’ which is assumed by consumers to mean low in calorie content but what is not revealed is that the refined sugar content is generally increased to compensate for the loss of palatability caused by reducing the fat. ‘Lite’, assumed to be low in calories, may simply mean light in colour or weight of the food. In a recent appeal to fast food companies to reduce the unhealthy concentrations of salt and fat in their products, a spokesperson protested that if they did that, ‘no one would want to eat the food’. (That sounds like an effective solution to the ‘obesity epidemic’)! ‘Health food’, to label food containing natural ingredients is often misleading since the end product is far removed from natural and may have a calorie content as high as a similar product labelled ‘high energy sports bar’. Further exploitation of the general public’s lack of knowledge and misplaced trust in advertising is aiming to project an image of credibility by paying former high-profile athletes to endorse food and nutritional supplement products. One such commercial challenges impressionable viewers to increase consumption of a particular cereal beyond what their level of activity probably requires in energy needs. The endorsing athlete (who has high energy-food requirements), dipping a spoon into a heaped bowl, makes a challenging comment, “How many do you do”?
Unethical food manufacturers exploit ‘pester power’ by advertising junk food during kids’ television programs. Take-away food chains exploit ‘pester power’ by providing promotional toys with each food purchase. Also targeting the uninformed minds of young children is an exploitative twist on the interest in ‘natural’ food as in a confectionary product advertised as containing ‘nothing artificial’. What this actually means is that the product consists mainly of refined sugar (ie, high in calories) and nothing nutritious. A donut pack of ‘empty calories’ (ie, consisting of refined sugar, flour and fat) has been promoted as a ‘nutritious’ option for school lunches, purely on the basis of being ‘free from artificial colourings and flavours in the icing and sprinkles’. Breakfast cereals and snack foods (particularly those targeting children) would be more appropriately placed in the supermarket confectionery aisle.
Vested interests also make misleading promotional statements regarding the nutritional content of foods. For example, “Chocolate is good for you”, gives permission to eat this high-sugar, high-calorie confection. The ‘good’ components are in dark, unsweetened chocolate but I have never heard of a chocoholic craving dark unsweetened chocolate or cacao. In sweetened milk chocolate, the ‘good’ components of cacao are diluted by the addition of refined sugar and milk so that the delicious snack is really just a high calorie confection.
A frequently used example in exploitation of language is referring to food low in calorie content as ‘low cal’ or
‘dietetic’ (ie, low energy) while referring to high calorie fattening food as ‘energy’ food. Breakfast cereals are an example of this. Cereal grains in their natural state are high in complex carbohydrate (ie, high in calories, high
energy) and when processed into breakfast cereals, essential nutrients may be stripped out and salt and refined sugar are added, resulting in a very high calorie fattening product.
The use of the word ‘energy’ is itself misleading. The impression implied is that food high in calories will give you plenty of energy, making you feel energetic and active - in a way that stimulants such as amphetamines or caffeine would. However, consumption of a high-calorie meal will actually make you feel lethargic, drowsy, sluggish. In the interests of consumer education, some clarification is required. Foods containing sugar
(natural or refined), flour (starch) and fat or oil are fuel foods - just like petrol in your car or wood or coal that is burnt in a fire. When you fill up the petrol tank in your car, you say you are putting in 'fuel' - you do not say you are filling up the petro tank with 'energy'. The ‘energy’ is latent or locked up in the food (or the petrol, wood or coal). When fuel food is consumed, it is digested, then it is converted into different fuel products (just as oil is refined into other petroleum products for different uses). One form of converted fuel food is glucose that is ready for immediate use, another is glycogen which is stored in the liver readily available for physical activity. Excess to requirements is converted into fat for long term storage and deposited around the body – just like storing a few cans of petrol in your garage. The ‘energy’ is released from the ‘fuel’ stored in the body only when the individual is physically active. Likewise, the latent energy is released from the fuel in the petrol tank of your car, only when the engine is running. If you consume high-calorie food (ie, ‘fuel’ food) and do not engage in physical activity to burn off the fuel and release the ‘latent’ energy, then what you will have is fuel from the food converted into fat for storage on the body and with it, the energy remains ‘locked up’. Likewise, if you fill up the petrol tank of your car and don’t drive anywhere, the petrol tank will remain full.
While the three areas thus addressed are problematic for maintaining healthy body weight, it is the next two that are of particular interest here since they involve prior learning. Hence, they are represented by adaptive
ego states that have become self defeating for the adult.
(iv) Psychological eating
Psychological factors generally involve what is commonly referred to as ‘emotional eating’, which involves two mechanisms: natural neurotransmitter involvement and subconscious learning the effect of these neurotransmitters during childhood. This ‘emotional eating’ is broadly of two types, ‘comfort eating’ in response to negative feelings (eg, depressed, sad, stressed, upset, lonely, unloved, bored) and ‘pleasure’ or ‘reward’. The two types of eating reflect involvement of two different neurotransmitter systems to produce the two different types of effects. Opioids or endorphins (ie, the body’s natural analgaesic or ‘feel good’ hormone) released after consumption of high-calorie food, provide ‘comfort’ (ie, emotional analgesia) from the negative feelings. Endorphins are also responsible for the feeling of ‘well being’ and lethargy after an enjoyable meal. Dopamine, the ‘reward’ hormone, is released in the ‘pleasure centre’ of the brain in response to eating highly palatable foods. This neurotransmitter involvement is not mutually exclusive and both will be involved in both types of eating, but one will be predominant in each situation. Chocolate is an example of a food that has dual status as a ‘comfort food’ and is also eaten for ‘pleasure’ (Parker, Parker & Brotchie, 2006).
The term ‘comfort food’ is used to describe high calorie food in two different contexts. One is hot, warming food such as hearty soups (generally high calorie), that are favoured in winter. The other, of interest here, is the substitute for ‘emotional comfort’. Hollywood has turned ‘comfort eating’ into a cliché, with women typically responding to relationship breakups by going to bed with a box of tissues, a tub of icecream and a spoon. However, the origins of emotional eating lie in our evolutionary biology but generally only become self
defeating behaviours when subconscious learning is added, generally in childhood. During childhood, if the mother is not sensitive to her child’s emotional needs, is not emotionally demonstrative or not good at providing comfort for her child when it is distressed, (or she is otherwise occupied) then the child is likely to feel unloved, emotionally deprived, unsupported, alone. If instead of comforting words and a cuddle, the mother hands the child a high-calorie snack and the child receives some comfort from the endorphins released, the child learns lesson #1 - that sweet food is a source of comfort. The mother, who may be busy juggling responsibilities or not good at giving comfort, also learns - that handing out a high-calorie snack is a successful way to pacify the child, congratulates herself on finding this successful trick, and continues to offer food whenever the child is upset. The child subsequently learns lesson #2 - that food is their only source of comfort. Food then becomes a substitute for nurturing and comfort. Unfortunately, the comfort from food is only transitory, requiring
constant snacking to provide ongoing comfort – which may lead to weight gain and also be a problem for attempts to lose weight. This ‘comfort eating’ will be represented in the subconscious mind as a Child Ego State who feels unloved, emotionally deprived and unsupported (and also with low Self Worth, feeling unworthy of
Memo to Parents: Never give food for emotional comfort – this is setting up a pattern of ‘comfort
eating’ which generally leads to lifelong weight problems and ‘yo-yo’ dieting. Instead, give a ‘calorie-free’ hug and comforting words.
Offering food is accepted as an expression of love. Lovers feed each other tidbits like a mother bird feeding her young. Cooking meals is inherently part of the nurturing role of mothers. Contestants in TV cooking shows always ‘cook with love’ and are advised by celebrity chefs to ‘cook from the heart’. The problem for the diner is if food is their only or primary source of nurturing. It is also a problem if food preparation is the only way the cook is able to express nurturing in which case she will tend to force food onto diners and be offended if it is refused or not all eaten. This is all compounded by the emphasis on high-calorie palatability to tempt appetites.
Stress and overeating:
Stress is a catch-all label for aversive feelings characterized by anxiety and physiological arousal, which can mean something different to different people in different circumstances. Generally, stress is associated with some level of fight/flight response so there is loss of appetite, increased physical activity and speeding up of metabolism to prepare for action resulting in burning off body fat and loss of weight. However, others binge on high calorie food and subsequently gain weight. The stress hormone ghrelin (known as a ‘hunger hormone’) has been identified as the ‘cause’ for this binge eating when stressed. Rather, this answers the ‘how?’ but not the ‘why?’ question. This hormone may be the mechanism but not the cause of binge eating high calorie food – the
cause is a need for emotional comfort of endorphins. If there were not some differentiating causal factor that resulted in release of ghrelin (or not), then the response to stress would be the same for everyone. Perhaps the
differential factors are the psychological nature of the individual and in the nature of the stress. For example, for ‘emotional eaters’, the stressor is often interpersonal. This would be analogous to Atypical Depression where the patient experiences weight gain instead of weight loss, due to a personality characterised as ‘interpersonal rejection sensitivity’.
Stress and the 'cortisol response':
Scientists have claimed to have uncovered the mystery of why some people gain weight and struggle to lose it. The culprit they found was ’stress’ and differences in impact on weight in response to stress were determined to be due to ‘cortisol response’. When stressed, those with low cortisol response were more likely to eat less and showed an increase in physical activity and energy expenditure. By contrast, those with high cortisol response did not increase activity (in effect, freezing) or reduce food intake. (Quite likely, they may have even increased food intake).
The implication in this report is that obesity is beyond the individual’s control, what people eat and how much of it they eat is not what is responsible for their weight - the fault lies not in what they eat but in the fault of their physiology which is outside their control. So, if they have a high cortisol response, then it does not matter how little they eat, they are going to inevitably become obese – so they might as well stop punishing themselves with self-deprivation of diets and eat as much as they like.
In Section (i), reference was made to failure of some researchers to heed the lesson in Research Methods 101, that when two factors/events occur in close association, the researcher should not jump to conclusions that one of them is causing the other. Often, both of these factors/events are caused by something else that occurs earlier in the equation. One of the factors/events may appear to be causal but is merely the mechanism for mediating the underlying distal cause. But of course, that relevant distal cause has not been examined or even considered because it was outside the restricted parameters of the study. For example, in the research mentioned, the distal cause may be psychological (interpersonal rejection sensitivity or having learned as a child to use food for comfort or coping with stress), stress/anxiety is the trigger for the cortisol response, and the cortisol response is the mechanism that initiates ‘comfort eating’ in order to achieve ‘comfort’ from a release of
endorphins (the hormones for ‘feel good’ or emotional analgaesia). Hence, rather than the problem being simply one of physiology which the obese individual can do nothing about - the real problem is psychological (interpersonal rejection sensitivity or dysfunctional coping style) and behavioural (consumption of high calorie food that is characterised as ‘carbohydrate craving’, ‘emotional eating’ or ‘comfort eating’). The cortisol
response develops as a secondary response in the sequence of coping with the psychological factors. Hence, rather than ‘doing nothing’ or taking an anxiolytic drug to reduce anxiety/stress that triggers the cortisol which will also help empower the individual to get some control into their life.
A parallel can be drawn here between the ‘cortisol response to stress’ and the alternative account offered and the following explanation for ‘atypical depression’ which is depression characterised by food craving and weight
Depression and food craving:
Some depressed patients experience craving for carbohydrates (high-calorie food), subsequently putting on weight. However, these patients are not recognised as simply being depressed, but are diagnosed with ‘Atypical Depression’ since ‘typically’, depression is characterised by loss of appetite and weight loss. Rather than engaging in ‘comfort eating’ they are regarded as ‘self medicating’. This is explained by the ‘serotonin
hypothesis’ which is a view that eating carbohydrate results in release of serotonin (a neurotransmitter), an
action similar to that of antidepressant medication such as Prozac. However, this hypothesis has been found to be flawed since the carbohydrate foods consumed also generally contain some protein and/or fat which interfere with the serotonin-releasing action.
A key characteristic identified in patients with Atypical depression is ‘interpersonal rejection sensitivity’ (which would be represented by a Child Ego State who felt unloved or rejected by parents), which sensitizes the person to experiences of rejection or perceived rejection by others. Hence, the weight gain associated with Atypical depression is neither a feature of a valid subtype of depression nor an example of ‘self medication’ to release serotonin. Instead, quite simply, it is an example of ‘comfort eating’, releasing endorphins which produce brief ‘comfort’. This is an attempt to cope with both the depression and the feelings of being unloved, unsupported, unworthy of love and support that underlie whatever precipitated the episode of depression. This ‘comfort eating’ can also be regarded as a form of ‘self medication’. Clearly, consuming high-calorie food provides temporary relief only and doesn’t have any effective anti-depressant action, since the result is that the patient just puts on weight. Gaining ten to thirty kilograms resulting from ‘comfort eating’ makes them even more depressed. If they didn’t know why they were depressed before, then they now have good reason to be depressed!
The value of chocolate for reward may also be learned in childhood if parents use high-calorie ‘treats’ to reward children for achievement or even just for ‘being good’. This will be reflected in a Child Ego State subconsciously influencing eating habits in the adult. Strictly speaking, eating for ‘pleasure’ (ie, dopamine release into the ‘pleasure centre’ in the brain) might not qualify as ‘emotional eating’. However, I suspect that where weight gain is a result, then some of the ‘food for reward’ situations in childhood may be more a substitute for affection and/or praise from parents, hence have elements of ‘comfort eating’ (ie, opioid release) in later so-called ‘eating for pleasure’. Eating for pleasure (ie, dopamine release) may also aim to compensate for a life lacking in rewarding experiences. (See the “Validation Hypothesis” under "OTHER INFO", for a discussion on the role of
consuming food as an ‘artificial source’ of dopamine, rather than to meet nutritional needs of the body).
Memo to Parents: Never give food as a ‘reward’ – this is setting up potential problems of self
sabotage in weight management. Instead, give your child ‘calorie-free’ hugs and praise.
The question arises as to whether foods can be addictive and the implication this has for weight gain and hindering efforts to acquire control and lose weight. Terminology commonly used to describe desire for consuming particular high-calorie foods reflects an understanding that the experience has much in common with addiction to illicit drugs. For example, ‘chocoholic’, ‘chocolate craving’, ‘carbohydrate craving’, and ‘sugar hit’ imply, even if in jest, addiction-like behaviour. Given that foods which are frequently ‘craved’ tap into the same
neurotransmitter systems associated with addiction to illicit drugs, the commonalities are plausibly real. How can foods be addictive when they do not contain psychoactive substances or even if they do (eg, chocolate), these
substances are in concentrations too low to be responsible for addiction? The fact that behaviour such as gambling and sex can become addictive without consumption of a substance suggests that consumption of a psychoactive substance is not necessary for addiction to develop. There may be a role played by the
higher concentrations in high-calorie processed foods over-stimulating appetite regulation mechanism resulting in over-stimulation of the relevant neurotransmitter (opioids and dopamine) release. The culprit generally considered to be implicated in addiction is dopamine (reward or reinforcing hormone) released into the pleasure centre of the brain. (The role of dopamine in addiction is discussed in the “Validation Hypothesis” under "OTHER INFO" and "Drug and Alcohol” under “CONDITIONS”).
I think it is safe to say that there is now consensus on the issue of sugar being addictive. This brings me to question the validity of a condition called ‘hypoglycemia’ whereby overweight women claim they have low blood sugar so need to consume a sugary snack. Is this a genuine medical condition or is it merely ‘withdrawal’, a feature of addiction when the body is ‘craving’ the next ‘hit’. The low blood sugar can be accounted for by this explanation. In drug addictions, the body ‘learns’ when the next hit is due and prepares in advance for this hit and the physiological impact it will have. This preparing in advance by the body is experienced as ‘withdrawal’ which is signalled by ‘craving’. So, for sugar addiction, when the next hit is due, the body prepares for this sugar hit by reducing the current level of sugar in the blood.
You may consider that you are not addicted to any particular type of food, but if you are unable to resist having a high calorie snack when you know you should resist it, then you are addicted - to some degree. It could be said that society is addicted to the dopamine ‘hit’ from ‘artificial sources’ of dopamine, such as highly palatable, high calorie food. This is evident in television cooking shows where the emphasis is on getting away from natural food flavours and adding more and more flavours to boost palatability and enjoyment (ie, dopamine ‘hit’). (For an explanation of the ‘natural’ and ‘compensatory’ sources of dopamine, check out the “Validation Hypothesis” under “OTHER INFO”).
The principal function of food is to provide nourishment for the physical body. However, in the modern fast-paced life of materialism, consumerism, instant gratification and disposable partners, for many people, life is full of stress and pressure, but lacks meaning, satisfaction, rewarding activities or true human connection. Hence, through exploitation (of evolutionary biology and the involvement of dopamine and endorphins), the role of food in society has shifted to become a substitute (‘artificial source’ of dopamine and endorphins) or principal source of pleasure and nurturing – both for giving and receiving.
Partners and so-called friends, rather than supporting a dieter’s efforts, often act as saboteurs by urging them to eat fattening food. While sometimes it is because a man loves his wife ‘just as she is’ and doesn’t really care if she loses weight or not, sometimes it can be out of fear. An insecure man, particularly if he has ‘let himself go’, may be afraid that a slimmed-down wife may be attractive to other men and she may leave him. An insecure or jealous female friend, particularly if she is overweight, may be afraid that a slimmed-down friend will look better than she does. Perhaps being overweight and having a history of failed diet attempts were all they had in common. Likewise for men, overweight friends don’t want to be shown up as slobs, so may sabotage the dieter’s efforts.
However, the saboteurs I am concerned with here are the ones we are unaware of – ones who exist in our own subconscious mind. People generally berate themselves for their lack of will power when they have difficulty losing weight, or lose it, then relapse and put it back on again. However, it often has nothing to do with will power. The culprits are generally ego states that I refer to as ‘saboteurs’ whose agenda is maintaining the status quo so are in conflict with the weight-loss goal of the adult. This sabotage may take the form of ‘resistance’ to any weight loss efforts and/or sabotaging any progress made. These will be represented by ego states subconsciously influencing (or driving) behaviour of the adult:
▪ There may be an ‘introject’ representing the mother saying, “Eat everything on your plate”, or “I cooked this especially for you, it’s your favourite dessert” or other repeated mantras that encourage or coerce eating.
▪ If raised in a poor family, there may not have been money for food treats and indulgences so there is a child ego state who feels ‘deprived’. As an adult with an independent income, not having the money is no longer a constraint since the adult can now afford to indulge and the ‘deprived child’ urges them to buy fattening treats.
▪ When a child asked for ‘more’ (cake, biscuits, dessert, etc), the mother may have said something like, “No, you can’t have any more, don’t be greedy”. There may be an ‘introject’ of the mother saying this. As an adult, when trying to diet, the relevant child ego state may be defiantly saying, “No one can tell me what I can’t do”! There may be inner conflict between the ‘introject’ of the mother and the defiant child ego state. The adult ‘dieter’ may be tempted to give in to the defiant child ego state.
▪ A woman who experienced sexual abuse as a child may seek to avoid sexual attention as an adult by making herself look unattractive with dowdy, shapeless clothing and putting on weight, so fat is her ‘protection’.
▪ For some, symbolically, being padded with fat may serve as ‘insulation’ or ‘cushion from the knocks of life’.
▪ Resistance to exercise may come from an ‘undisciplined, lazy’ ego state who simply hates any form of exercise, self discipline, effort or getting up early in the morning.
▪ The concept of ‘diet’ can conjure up negative associations of punishment, deprivation of enjoyable foods, sacrifice of pleasure or pangs of constantly feeling hungry. Most people attempting to lose weight have had these experiences of being on a diet at some time and the ego state associated with the experience ‘digs her heals in’ at any subsequent attempts to diet. For individuals who have had a weight problem all their life, they may have experience of being put on a diet by parents or a doctor as a child or teenager. They would have unlikely had any understanding of nutrition and the role of eating high-calorie food in gaining weight. They probably didn’t really understand or even listen if it was explained to them. Hence, even if they were unhappy being overweight, they would have rebelled against the ‘punishing’ regimen of diet and exercise by ‘cheating’ on their diet with high-calorie snacks whenever they could. Any subsequent attempts at diet would have stirred up rebellion in this ego state with a, “Nobody is going to tell me what to do” attitude. Even though the adult attempting to lose weight does now have a better understanding of nutrition, this information has not filtered
down to the rebellious ego state locked in a time warp of childhood or adolescence.
▪ There is a paradoxical sabotage situation that can occur with a child ego state representing ‘reward’ eating. For example, a woman sticks to her healthy eating plan, resists the temptation of yummy desserts, exercises diligently and succeeds in losing several kilograms in a particular week. She feels pretty pleased with herself and decides she deserves a reward for achievement (losing weight) and also deserves a reward for ‘being good’ (resisting temptation). The reward, of course, is a block of chocolate or something equally high in calories. She blames it on ‘lack of will power’ but it had nothing to do with willpower – just learned childhood behaviour patterns that are in conflict with current goals so are now self-defeating and sabotaging her weight loss efforts.
Achieving therapeutic change
Team effort is required here, not just to lose weight but to also achieve a healthy lifestyle change encompassing healthy eating (not based on ‘deprivation’ but allowing occasional indulgences), physical activity and a healthy mind set. The 'team' consists of the 'primary personality' (adult client) and any other relevant child ego states. Team effort is required since the ‘primary personality’ (ie, the adult) cannot achieve the goal without cooperation of all relevant personality sub-entities. In particular, if a child ego state has a vested interest in maintaining weight or can’t see any benefit in making sacrifices, it may sabotage efforts to make a change. The team will also benefit by including some motivating sub-entities that represent ‘positive strengths’. The adult may have been fit and good at sport as a child, or was just an active child who loved running around. She may
have been slim with a ‘great body’ that drew admiring glances when she wore a bikini. She may have enjoyed dancing but feels too self conscious to do it now. There may have been a time when she could put on a slim-fitting or figure-hugging gown and admire her image in the mirror and feel good about that. There will be ego states representing these positive strengths and when their attention is drawn to what has happened to her body and fitness, they will likely be horrified and eager to help the adult achieve her goal. To achieve change, the underlying childhood issues of the ego states representing comfort eating and resistance need to be addressed and resolved. Then, a team plan needs to be implemented with all ego states involved sharing the same goal as the adult client. There also needs to be change in attitude programming including motivation to achieve a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and switching around beliefs of what is ‘pleasurable’ or ‘rewarding’ with what is
‘punishment’ and ‘deprivation’.
Self Esteem is generally improved by shedding excess kilos, dropping several dress sizes and ‘looking good’.
However, for lasting wellbeing, the improved Self Esteem and feelings of validation need to be based on the successful achievement of weight loss and healthy lifestyle change, rather than just ‘looking good’. Self Esteem dependent on physical appearance is an insecure mindset since aging is inevitable, and with it, loss of Self Esteem. Inevitably, beauty fades and skin and body bits sag as gravity takes its toll. (With my aging eyesight, I
can indulge in denial by looking at the mirror and not really see the details of my face – but my daughter has helpfully pointed out what I can ignore – “You’ve got a turkey neck, Mum”).
Physical beauty can be bought with cosmetic surgery, liposuction, injected fillers and botox which can keep age at bay only for so long, then it crosses the line between looking ‘refreshed’ and looking like a ridiculous freak. So, regardless of Self Esteem and wellbeing gained from weight loss, to achieve long term wellbeing and validation, it is essential to work on inner beauty. Rather than using food for artificial dopamine-induced pleasure, it is preferable to take up personal activities that will provide pleasure or satisfaction from involvement and achievement. Community activities can also provide satisfaction and validation from focusing on the welfare of others, rather than focusing on self. Likewise for ‘emotional eaters’ seeking endorphin release to achieve emotional well being. Addressing the ‘unmet needs’ of relevant child ego states to rebuild Self Worth is more effective. In addition, this rebuilt Self Worth provides a sound foundation for the Self Esteem improved
by weight loss.
D’Adamo, P. J., & Whitney, C., “Eat Right 4 Your Type”, Random House (2001).
Parker, G., Parker, I., and Brotchie, H. (2006), “Mood state effects of chocolate”, Journal of Affective Disorders,
Vol 92 (2), 149-159.