Friday, June 14, 2019

CICO Life Pt. 2: Types of Over-eaters & Practical Advice


     Food is fuel for our brains & bodies.  Its purpose is to energize & sustain us.  We should eat things that are nutrient-dense to nourish ourselves so we have the strength & vitality to function at our best.  Calories are a measurement of the energy in food.  They are neither good nor evil--they merely measure the potential energy we can derive from a given item of food.  If we move our bodies & use that energy, the calories will be burned.  If we don't, they will be stored as fat & we will gain weight over time.
     We shouldn't plan our lives around food or eat for enjoyment & pleasure.  We should not reward ourselves with food.  We are not dogs.  Food is not a drug & we should not behave like addicts seeking out excitement or comfort from it.  Happiness & comfort come from our friends, family, hobbies & inner sense of self-love & purpose.  If you lack those things, you must seek them through therapy & other healthy means.  Start today.

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While watching My 600-lb Life, one theme that comes up universally is that of severe childhood trauma in the patients' histories.  These traumas are often left to fester by their parents, compounding with other problems over the years until they become a giant snowball of misery & one day, bam!  The person is stuck in the shower with a camera crew watching.  The most common question for onlookers is, "How the HELL does it get to that point?" but the simple answer is:  unresolved trauma.  After attending therapy, the patients often show dramatic improvement in their weight loss almost as if by magic.  But it's not magic at all.  Psychological illnesses often have physical manifestations & obesity is no different.

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Betta be calculating those calories
So to anyone dealing with a bad case of "eating your feelings," I'd suggest finding a good licensed therapist or psychologist.  I cannot overstate the benefit of having someone unbiased to talk to about your problems.  If you're averse to the idea, please know that it's not like in the 1950's where you lie on a couch with a box of tissues & recount your sad life story to some detached doctor--today's therapy is highly casual & focuses on building healthy coping skills rather than dwelling on your shortcomings.  AND, with the advent of telemedicine, you can often meet with your therapist from the comfort of your own livingroom over an iPad or other device.  It's never been easier.  Most states have sliding-scale clinics for people without insurance too. 

If for some reason you can't afford or access therapy right now, there are still some things you can do in the meantime to deal with your emotional eating tendencies.  Learn to tell the difference between *hunger* and *cravings*.  With actual hunger your stomach will be growling, you may have a headache or feel weak, 2 or more hours will have passed since you last ate & you are not just fixating on one food.  Hunger will not pass with time if ignored because it's your body's signal that you need to eat.  With cravings, you're more likely to want a specific junk food item like chocolate or salty/fatty foods; they can occur after you've recently eaten & will pass with time if ignored.  Cravings are more likely to follow a negative experience or emotion & giving in to them may cause relief from the feeling at first followed by immense guilt.  Not so with hunger.

Identify your triggers.  Next time you feel compelled to binge out on something unhealthy, grab a pen & paper instead & write down the emotion you're feeling.  Are you angry?  Lonely?  Bored, scared, confused, embarrassed?  It may take some time to get comfortable with identifying just HOW you actually feel, but with practice it'll become second nature.  This is half the battle.  If you're not actually hungry, choose instead to do something healthy to cope with the feeling, such as journaling, yoga, meditation, singing, going for a walk, playing fetch with your dog or taking a warm Epsom salt bath.  Anything that will allow your mind to become calm & focused rather than numb.  Just delay eating as long as possible.  Before you know it, you may find that the craving is gone.

Ditch the junk food.  It's common sense that if the food isn't handy in the house, you're less likely to reach for it in the midst of an emotional spiral.  You wouldn't tell a drug addict to "identify their triggers" without throwing out their dope, so it makes no sense to tell an emotional eater to do so without ditching the junk food.  When grocery shopping, stick to the outer aisles & stock up on fruits, veggies, lean meats & whole grains as much as possible.  Limit pre-packaged foods that are high in calories.  Don't eat out at fast food restaurants or other establishments more than once a week--if that often.  If a food item doesn't display the calorie count on the container, think long & hard about whether you should be eating it.  The answer is usually 'no' unless you're in a hurry and there are no other options, which is rare.

A recent study confirmed what a lot of us already knew:  people in happy, stable relationships tend to gain weight or become overweight more often than single folks.  This would seem to indicate that emotional eating can occur as a result of positive emotions as well as negative.  So be aware of that too:  food is often the centerpiece at holidays, family get-togethers, parties & other feel-good celebrations, so don't assume 'emotional eating' is only a result of negative feelings.  If food is your way of celebrating or socializing, you'll have to brainstorm some new healthy ways to enjoy these occasions.  Don't be afraid to tell loved ones you're trying to change either.  A true friend will not hesitate to support you in your self-improvement.


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Cleaning your plate is fine as long as portion sizes are reasonable

A lot of people raised during the depression--or whose parents were raised during that era--were pounded with the message that wasting food is tantamount to murder.  Well, maybe not quite murder, but pretty close.  You ate what was served to you (hello, Jell-O moulds) or you went hungry and didn't let a bite of it go to waste.  (Mince meat anyone?  Mmmm, thanks mom).  Even '80s & '90s babies were taught that an empty plate is a "happy plate".

While that's all well & good, it can also contribute to an obsessive form of overeating in some people that leads to weight problems.  I've seen this firsthand & it's not pretty.  I'm not referring to actual poverty here, which is truly a tragedy.  I'm talking about people with plenty of resources who are either obsessively cheap or believe that the sky will fall if they waste a single morsel of bread or a dime-sized puddle of ketchup.

What most don't realize is that food is excessively cheap to produce & abundant in the U.S. today--particularly processed food.  Pre-packaged food is made with the lowest quality ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup (which is used mainly because there's an obscene surplus of corn) & subsidized by the USDA.  So while you shouldn't purposefully waste food, forcing yourself--or worse, your kids--to clean their plate at every meal is not a great habit either.  In fact the whole problem can be avoided by choosing healthy portion sizes to begin with, though this is not always possible when other people are serving.

If this is a problem for you, you can learn to replace this habit by saying a quick 'thank you' for your food at each meal (not necessarily a prayer if you're not religious--just an utterance of gratitude for the nourishment to the universe, yourself or whoever's serving it).  This allows you to still show your gratitude for the food without feeling you have to hoover it all up OR ELSE.  Also, eat slowly & really savor the smells, textures & flavors of what you're eating as a way of appreciating what's on your plate.  If you have a garden & the leftovers are compatible with composting, you can add them to your compost pile so they're not totally going to waste.  Or feed them to some stray animals that lurk around your property.  Or just throw them in the trash & learn to let go.
There, there.  It'll be alright.


This is probably the most common & least successful type of person interested in weight loss.  While well-intentioned, the Yo-Yo Dieter just can't seem to make any long-term progress in the weight loss department.  They have tried ALL the popular fad diets from Atkins to the Zone but never seem to stick with any single plan for very long.  And why would they?  These diets aren't meant to last the duration of a person's life!  They're either too restrictive, unscientific or just plain ridiculous & ineffective in the long run.  While they may lead to temporary weight loss, the weight often piles back on even worse than before when the diet is stopped.

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Cycle of yo-yo dieting
That's what happens when weight loss occurs too fast or by unhealthy means, which is why a gradual, sensible lifestyle change is best.  Slow & steady is the goal because slow & steady can be maintained permanently.  For example, contestants on "The Biggest Loser" who drop massive amounts of weight through back-breaking exercise nearly always gain the weight back (and then some) upon returning home because that bootcamp lifestyle is simply not practical long-term.  Likewise, dieters who rely on stimulants or other pills often find themselves bigger than ever when they quit the meds or develop a tolerance & experience a rebound in appetite.

It goes back to the "eat to live" principle:  many fad diets are so restrictive they don't allow a person to eat enough calories to fuel their bodies & be healthy, which either leads to a massive crash & disillusionment with the diet or an eating disorder.  (Take the Stillman Water Diet for instance, which is what Karen Carpenter started with.  She eventually died due to complications of anorexia nervosa).  Fad diets promise quick fixes & dramatic results but fail to deliver in the long run.  Plus, many of them are just plain unnecessary & miserable!  Why put yourself through starvation or weird cleanses when you can simply eat healthy portions of delicious foods?

The problem is many dieters have black-and-white thinking & truly DO want overnight results.  They aren't thinking about a year, 3 years or 5 years down the road.  They want to look good this Summer.  Unfortunately that leads to a cycle of yo-yo dieting & an ever-fluctuating weight, which can end up doing a number on your metabolism over time.  The solution is to buckle down & learn the basics about nutrition.  Understand the CICO plan; calculate your TDEE & formulate a diet to meet your daily calorie needs.  And no, CICO is not a fad diet--it stands for "Calories In, Calories Out" which is the bare bones basics for how our bodies use & store energy.

There is another type who gravitates to the extreme diets:  the food addict.  Just as alcoholics & drug addicts are expected to abstain from substances completely, many overeaters believe they can't manage moderation & opt for extreme diets.  While this may work with drugs like cocaine or alcohol that aren't required to sustain life, food is something we must all eat every day to stay alive.  Thus, moderation is something we must learn if we're to have a healthy relationship with food & maintain a healthy weight.  (Food addicts aren't a specific subgroup of overweight people--they can be emotional eaters who haven't addressed their issues, for instance.  But they see themselves as addicts with no control over their "disease" which is dangerous when it comes to something life-sustaining like food). 

Don't get caught up in the latest health headlines which tend to change weekly.  Stick to counting your calories on paper or with an app like MyFitnessPal each day & you WILL see results.  Weigh yourself weekly.  Exercise when you can.  Physical activity is great for your health, but remember:  Weight loss is 80% diet & 20% exercise so don't fool yourself into thinking you can overeat just because you spent 30 minutes in the gym.  It takes approximately 1 hour of vigorous cardio to burn the calories from one cookie.  Check out this handy guide to see how many cals are burned doing various exercises.


Do you fall into one or more of these groups?  This is by no means a definitive list of the "types" of people who struggle with eating and their weight.  It's just my observation of some of the most common I've seen in the wild.  I fell into the "happy relationship weight gain" group at one point with a dash of "medication-induced obesity" thrown in for good measure.  But now with CICO I've lost 32 lbs (155 to 123) & am trying to get my family on board with some healthy lifestyle changes.  My mom recently lost 17 lbs. by counting calories & making healthier food choices.  (No exercise or other changes).  I'm super proud of her!  Breaking through that wall of complacency is often the hardest part.

If you have any tips or tricks that have helped you stick to the CICO plan, leave them in the comments!  I'd love to get a discussion started.

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