Is It Possible to Have a Normal Relationship with Food?
Do you sometimes feel like food is the enemy? If you’re overweight, the odds are high that you view food with deep suspicion. But even if you’re not overweight, you might have the same dim view. Many normal weighted people do.
Defining food as the enemy can only lead to unhappiness and problems, according to obesity experts. When you think about it, it’s to your advantage to put a friendly face on food because you can’t get away from it. You need food to live. Food is energy and is the fuel that runs our bodies. Food is a necessity – without it we become ill and eventually cease to live. Wanting to eat and needing to eat is not a judgment call, it’s part of being human.
So what does a healthy relationship to food look like? You recognize you have a need for food and you feel good about filling that need. This contrasts to the food-as-enemy viewpoint where your self worth is determined by how little you eat.
You may be surprised to discover that someone with a healthy relationship to food can and does eat healthy food, but also occasionally enjoys a treat food like cake or cookies. The richer, calorie dense foods are actually enjoyed by someone with a healthy relationship to food, and they don’t put themselves down for eating it. Imagine that. It’s when the majority of our food is of the treat variety without substantial nutrition, and when the majority of our enjoyment and comfort comes from food, we’ve flipped to the unhealthy side of the spectrum.
Dr. Caroline Cederquist, bariatric physician and medical director of the Cederquist Wellness Center in Naples, Florida, points out that our relationship with food, be it healthy or not, is often determined by our body chemistry.
“A lot of people in my practice have a constellation of symptoms that we call insulin resistance,” Dr. Cederquist explains. “Insulin is the hormone that gets the blood sugar into the cells to be utilized. If someone is resistant to their own insulin, the body compensates by secreting extra insulin and the extra insulin present in the blood causes the person to change metabolically.
“Insulin aids fat storage and the more insulin you have, the better you store fat.” Dr. Cederquist points out. “I’ve always believed, and now we have scientific proof, that if you are insulin resistant or are a diabetic, you have a lowered thermic effect of food. That means if you’re insulin resistant and I’m not, if you and I eat the same meals with the same calories, I will burn more of those calories than you will.”
Dr. Cederquist explains if someone is insulin resistant and they eat a high carbohydrate meal like a bagel, the bagel is easily digested and quickly turns to sugar. Insulin is then secreted in over abundance. This causes a sharp rise in blood sugar level followed by a dramatic plunge. Ravenous hunger automatically follows this cycle.
“It’s so important to know that you can’t willpower away physiological symptoms, but you can control them by eating in a helpful way,” Dr. Cederquist says. She encourages her weight loss patients to eat small amounts of protein spread throughout the day in order to stabilize blood sugar. She helps patients understand how helpful it is to be aware of the type of carbohydrates they are eating, to eat more fiber and to eat fruit rather than fruit juice in order to keep blood sugar under control.
One of the easiest ways to develop a healthy relationship to food is to eat the types of food that will keep your blood sugar steady so you avoid feeling ravenous. “If you eat sugar when you’re insulin resistant, then you’re going to crave more sugar, “ Dr. Cederquist notes. “This creates a roller coaster effect of your blood sugar level and you have less and less control over your food choices. This erodes a healthy relationship with food because when your body is on a biochemical roller coaster, you truly cannot control your food choices.”
Yet people end up putting themselves down and think they are horrible and without willpower when they feel out of control because their blood sugar fluctuates. Dr. Cederquist emphasizes that it’s not a question of being a bad person or lacking willpower, it’s a question of having a physical reaction to eating food that triggers irregularity in blood sugar levels.
Dr. Cederquist counsels not to view foods as bad or wrong, but rather to focus on foods that will benefit you. Nonetheless, even while her patients are actively losing weight she encourages them to have one meal a week when they eat everything and anything they want, including dessert. She feels it is empowering to view any food as acceptable and none as forbidden, but to keep certain foods as treats and not a regular part of your diet.
The good news is, according to Dr. Cederquist, it’s absolutely possible to develop a healthy relationship with food. She’s witnessed patients making the switch countless times. These patients are slimmer, healthier and happier as a result. Just like you can be!