Mind Over Matter

By Jen Larrabee, RN - 9/5/2010

Its hard to believe the summer is almost over. I hope everyone has had a great summer and was able to get some vacation time in. While I was on my vacation this summer, I attended a great class entitled "Food Addiction, Overeating, and Mood Swings". We started by being presented with some alarming statistics. According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES survey 2003), approximately 65% of adult Americans are overweight and 30% are obese. It is projected that by 2015, 75% of Americans will be overweight and 41% will be obese. In the past three decades, overweight and obesity rates among children have tripled from less that 5% in the 1970's to almost 35% for boys and 32% for girls.

The class talked about brain chemistry and hormones and how our bodies are really programmed to preserve fat, rather than eliminate fat, that our brain really defends against weight loss to ensure our continued survival. These systems were important for our continued survival in the past because food was scarce and could be hard to come by.

Today, food is readily available, often only a few steps away. Because of the way the brain works, what we tend to crave are highly palatable foods. What is a "highly palatable food" you ask? These are foods that have high concentrations of rewarding ingredients, foods that are high in fat and sugar. When we eat these foods, a chemical reaction takes place that gives us a pleasure response. Once the sugar has been used up by our bodies, we experience a crash which can leave us feeling a bit down and cause us to crave more of that type of food. A high concentration of potent ingredients increases desire for more of the same. Have you ever been able to eat only a few chips and walk away? Or been able to eat only one piece of chocolate? Not me! I would be more likely to eat the whole bag.

I am sure that it is no surprise that stress and lack of sleep also impact our brain and these hormones . Both are thought to increase grehlin levels, a hormone produced in the stomach which triggers hunger. But who doesn't have stress in their daily life? And who gets enough sleep?

So, how do we combat against our own brain trying to hold onto our fat? A good starting point is to try to get rid of the processed foods from your diet. They tend to be the foods highest in fat, sugar, and salt. Work more whole foods into you diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc..). These foods will allow for a slower raise in blood sugar and won't cause a crash like those foods that are high in sugar. Another important step is to avoid temptation/ risky situations. Don't buy the high fat and high sugar foods for the rest of your family members- they don't need it either, and if it isn't in the house, you probably won't get in the car and drive to get it when a craving strikes. Try to resist urges by doing something to keep busy. Be a mindful eater. Enjoy the food you do eat. Take small bites and chew well. Think about your food as you eat it. Reject the idea of being on a diet.

A good tool that was presented at the class was the "Hunger Scale" which is a scale from 1-10, 1 being weak and lightheaded from lack of food, 10 being so stuffed you feel nauseous. If you are interested, just google "hunger scale" and can get plenty of information about hunger scales. The key is to only eat when you feel hungry and to stop eating when you are comfortable, satisfied, but probably could eat a little more.

Don't forget about exercise. Try taking a short walk if you are craving something or say to yourself, "I will exercise for 10 minutes, and if I still want that sweet after exercise, then I will eat it. I bet after a few minutes the craving will disappear. Fall is coming, and it will be so much easier to get outside for a walk once the weather cools a bit. If you can, enlisting the help of a personal trainer is a good step. If you can't get to the gym, or can't afford a personal trainer, I have found that there are some great DVDs available to use at home which can give you some great flexibilty when it is tough to find the time.

My last tip is this- don't beat yourself up if you have a bad meal, a bad day of eating, or even a few days. What is important is consistency. Everyone has days when they don't eat the best foods. Its ok. The key is to only let it be a meal or a day, not allow it to be a week, or a month. And if you have gotten off track and need help, let us know. We are here for you and can come up with a plan to assist you in reaching your goals.

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