Dear Dr. Respler:
It wasn’t long into the group session that I once again had the feeling of despair. For as long as I can remember I have gone from one diet to another. I began with Start Fresh when I was 12. After that I tried Diet Center, Weight Watchers and a number of other very good programs, but somehow always ended up right back where I started –
overweight. So I turned to books, diet books that is. With each book I read I became a believer of the particular plan discussed, and just knew that it was the one that would work for me – until it didn’t anymore. Now, as I was giving another plan a try, the group discussion and the counselor’s speech was giving me an enormous headache. My experiences with weight loss programs have made me see that the focus is all on the wrong aspect of “fat.” In program after program, in one book after another, the focus was always the same: The foods and what to eat and what not to eat. In the long run this focus doesn’t help, and I suspect the reason is because the focus needs to be on the mind and how ‘it’ perceives the food. Let’s be honest, we all know what we should be eating and how much of it.
Shouldn’t our focus be on why we eat – on the hows and whys of our relationship with food? The body is an amazing machine and the brain its main motor. Something in the foods we are choosing to eat causes the brain to ask for more of it. But can’t we train our brain to ask for nutritious food? There are many foods that are not only good for you, but that are also delicious, tasty and juicy. I call them fruits and vegetables. You can call them whatever you like. But when you eat the proper foods, your brain doesn’t ask for more of it than it needs, because the body knows that it is functioning properly. Doesn’t it make sense to teach ourselves to crave what we truly need?
I agree with your ideas and know that your assertions are correct. Food actually means different things to different people. For many of us, food not only provides nutrition, it also gives us a certain level of comfort and security. We eat when we are happy, when we are frustrated or sad, and we eat when we are nervous. Most of us consume more food than we actually need to live and be healthy.
Not only that, food has become a central aspect of our lives. Most of us go out to eat at least once every two weeks. That would be fine if we were also exercising and making healthy choices.
So, yes, you are correct when you say that people focus way too much on food. The question is why?
As I noted, food or eating is comforting and a place to go when your feelings are all over the place – the cookies and cake are what you know. When life is out of control, we look for what we can have control over – and mistakenly believe it’s our food intake. We think because we have decided what and when to eat (even when the choices are bad ones), we are in control. Other people aren’t making these choices for us, are they? However, how many times have you eaten more than you should and then said, “Uch-I should not have eaten that.” It might help to remember that by “controlling our food intake” in an unhealthy manner we are, in essence, poisoning our bodies.
And on a related note, I’d like to address those readers who are parents. Please be aware that when you try to control your children’s lives you are only causing them pain in one way or another. So many of my clients are suffering from eating disorders because their mothers or fathers were so controlling that they felt the need to take control in an unhealthy manner. Don’t let your children fall into the same trap! Additionally, children whose parents make all their decisions or try to fix all their problems, never learn how to cope. It might be simpler for you right now, but ask yourself this: Do you really want a 30-year-old son or daughter who needs you to make all the decisions? Controlling parents bring up dependent and needy children.
Back to food. When our bodies are satiated our minds are better able to cope with life. Think about the days in which you don’t take time to eat. Are you cranky, tired and irritable? Make it your business to eat three healthy meals a day and your mood will be better. That is because your body needs the vitamins and nutrients found in fruits and vegetables; it needs the protein as well to help you think and negotiate.
Studies have shown that people who think about their food all day are the one’s who eat the most. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that when people are on diets, they look to eat more, because it’s what they are thinking about.
Now, for some people, food really equals love. Something was missing in their childhood, some sort of comfort or security and food is what they learned to substitute for it. If you are one of these people, please realize that food is not going to solve your problems. Strive to overcome this feeling of emptiness with hobbies, projects and ideas to help others.
As a psychotherapist who is trained in hypnosis, I have had some success using hypnosis for weight loss, but the person has to be very motivated. It is something to consider.
Thank you again for such an insightful letter.
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