• Do you have a love-hate relationship with food?
• Do you love the taste of certain foods and find that once you start you can’t stop?
• Do you find yourself drawn to eating certain foods even when you know they’re not good for you and you’re going to feel crappy afterwards?
• Do you find that even when you know that eating as much as you are eating, or the kinds of foods that you’re eating, is only going to put fat on your body and make you feel bad about yourself, in that moment you just don’t care? …And then you beat yourself up afterwards?
If it’s any consolation, almost every woman in North America and Europe and India (according to current statistics) knows exactly how you feel and struggles just like you. In fact, these days, only 9% of women in North America never diet in their lifetimes. Yep, it’s true!
Did you know that any form of food restriction, in any human being, whether just not eating much during the day or actively engaging in a calorie restricted diet, is likely to lead to binging at some point? This binge eating then triggers feelings of self-loathing, being out of control, and more restriction which, as you might have guessed, will end in a binge even sooner the next time and so on and so on.
This is why the average woman can only stick to a diet for 2 weeks? And it’s also why most people are not successful in keeping any weight they lose on a diet off for any significant length of time.
I’ll bet you’ve personally experienced each of these things and thought there was something wrong with you: ‘You didn’t have enough willpower’; ‘you just don’t care enough about yourself etc. etc.’
These stories of our personal failings are actually the urban myths that our diet mentality society dishes out to make you feel bad and wrong for not being able to achieve something that statistics, like the ones above, show most people can’t achieve this way either.
But despite our failed attempts at reaching our weight loss and self-esteem goals through restriction, we don’t seem to trust our personal experience enough to accept that the answer doesn’t lie in dieting. This is typically because no one in our social sphere, let alone the multi-billion dollar diet industry, is actively promoting these statistics and being honest that diets are not the solution to our weight loss woes.
Thus we are left to assume that they work for everyone else and that means there must be something wrong with me. Our eagerness to feel good about our bodies and feel confident in ourselves, coupled with the fact that no one else seems to have a better idea of how to go about it, makes us try the diet/restriction approach again. And again. And again.
What we need to understand, as women and men who struggle with weight loss and/or body image stress, is that while it is obvious that what we eat does have an impact on our weight, it’s why we’re eating what we’re eating (and how much we’re eating) that we need to identify and resolve before any of us can be successful with weight loss and feel comfortable around any food, anytime, anywhere. (As a side note…I find that my clients don’t need to engage in any form of dieting or restriction in order to achieve their weight loss and self-esteem goals once they simply understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and are given simple tools to solve the underlying triggers of their overeating.)
Through my personal recovery from binge eating disorder 20+ years ago, and my subsequent 20 years as a counselling specialist with people who overeat, binge eat, or struggle with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and orthorexia, I have come to see that there are 3 main reasons why you’ll eat more than you’re hungry for or eat things that you know aren’t in your best interest for your goals of a sexy, healthy, stress-free you:
First off, you want to feel good fast!:
Regardless of the negative self-talk and stress that follows overeating, or the consumption of certain foods, in the moment that we’re overeating we are doing so because we’re feeling down, or lonely, or stressed, or agitated and we feel desperate to feel better fast.
It’s fairly rare that someone binges on carrots or salads – unless, that is, they add a fairly sizeable dose of oil to the dressing or cheese on top etc. This is because, whether we know it or not consciously, our instinctive, animal brain knows very well that certain foods like fats, dairy products, processed carbohydrates, and refined sugars (basically everything that is not allowed on a typical diet) will make you feel better, fast. And it’s not just because they taste good.
Those foods I mentioned above (fats,dairy, processed carbs, and refined sugars) trigger an immediate release of chemicals in the body and blood stream which has in immediate and positive effect on your dopamine levels.
Dopamine is the ‘feel good’ hormone in our brains. When our dopamine levels are where they should be we naturally feel happy and relatively anxiety free. When we are thinking thoughts that are stressful, or experiencing frustration or sadness in our lives, our dopamine levels naturally decrease which makes us feel down. It’s meant to be a call to action from our bodies that something is up and we need to stop and find a solution to our problem. This is also what is meant by folks that say ‘What you think and how you perceive your world directly effects how you feel.’ (Not to be mistaken for the erroneous Magical thinking of The Law of Attraction: Essentially the belief that if you really want something and think about it enough it will happen. But this is a topic for another day!)
Instead of reading those cues as “Hmmm, I’m feeling down, what’s going on?” Most of us have been trained to feel quite helpless and doubtful of our ability to find effective and lasting solutions to our problems and so we reach for the quick fix. And so we instinctively turn to those foods that quickly raise our dopamine levels, despite their many side effects including excess weight on our bodies, feeling bloated and tired, and just as strong an emotional swing in the other direction once the chemical effect of those foods wears off (unless we keep on eating more…and more…and more…).
So if you’re thinking about something stressful or unsatisfying in your life, the chemistry in your brain picks up on that and your dopamine levels decrease and that triggers you to feel sad or bummed out.
Your instincts know that certain foods will make you feel better. Despite your plans to avoid those foods or limit their intake, you’re going to feel such an internal drive to eat them that you binge. Triggering the whole cycle all over again.
At least you now know why.
Now, in your eagerness to get a grip on food, it isn’t necessary that you rush out and ask your doctor for dopamine. In my professional and personal experience you can feel peaceful and happy and confident in yourself and your body and keep those dopamine levels naturally raised simply by exploring what’s triggering you to feel down in the first place and by taking simple steps to solve those issues.
In my next article I’ll talk about the second reason we overeat or make unhealthy choices with food and more on what to do about it.
For now, if you want to explore this a bit for yourself, maybe just notice when you want to eat and you know you’re not hungry, or you are reaching /craving for something that you know isn’t in your best interests given your weight loss goals. When you notice either of those situations occurring just ask yourself: ‘Separate from food, what just happened or what might I just have been thinking about?’
Start to build your self-awareness of your own inner connection between thoughts/life stressors, dopamine levels and eating. We’ll build on this more next time.
And if you’d like to ask a question or connect for some support just let me know.
We offer counselling from anywhere in the world, 3 day skills-based workshops, books, cd’s and our web based counselling program, all designed to help you quickly step free from the grip food and weight have on you. Let us know how we can help you.