The Psychology of Eating Podcast Episode 57: Getting Off The Weight Loss Roller Coaster
Debbie has just turned 50 and has struggled with weight since her teen years, along with overeating and binge eating. She’s had periods of losing weight but it always comes back on. What’s fascinating is that she’s been running an average of 3-4 days per week including half marathons for the last 6 years but only a small amount of her weight has been lost. And no matter how much more she runs, nothing changes. Tune in to this revealing podcast episode where Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating helps Debbie understand exactly why her weight loss and exercising efforts don’t work, and how she can finally have a breakthrough by focusing on a surprising place – her marriage.
Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:
Marc: Welcome, everybody! I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. And here we are in the Psychology of Eating podcast. And I’m with Debbie. Welcome, Debbie!
Debbie: Welcome! Thank you for having me here.
Marc: Yeah. I’m glad you’re here. And let me fill in listeners and viewers. For those of you who are new to the Psychology of Eating podcast, here’s what’s going to happen. Debbie is going to be my client for the next hour. And I’m going to ask her a bunch of questions with the idea of helping her get wherever she wants to go when it comes to food or body or health.
And we’re going to try to condense about six months to a year’s worth of coaching sessions into one session. Wow! That’ll be interesting. But the idea is to help have some breakthroughs, some openings, some insights that’s going to really further the action and help take you where you want to go, Debbie.
So let me start out with this question. If you could wave your magic wand and get whatever you wanted to get from this session, what would that look like?
Debbie: Oh, I think I’m a calm person. But I would like to be more calm on the inside, not just on the outside. And really I want to lose weight. I want to get rid of it. I’ve wanted this for too long.
Marc: How much weight you want to lose, Debbie?
Debbie: Of course, everybody wants to be like they were in high school. But I would be happy… For that, to be like I was in high school, that would be close to seventy pounds. I would be happy with fifty.
Marc: Okay. So you want to lose fifty pounds. What weight with that put you at approximately?
Debbie: I’m about 195 right now.
Marc: So that would put you at about 145. When was the last time you weighed about 145 or about fifty pounds less, would you say?
Debbie: Before my son was born. And he is twenty-one years old.
Marc: Okay, so at least twenty-one years ago was when you were 50 pounds less. So how long have you been at this weight right now?
Debbie: I go up and down. Last year, I got down to 180. And I felt really good. It’s just keeping it down. It just started coming, creeping back up again.
Marc: How did you get down to 180? What did you do?
Debbie: I ate vegan for a year.
Marc: Really? And how was that for you? How did you feel energy wise?
Debbie: I felt really good. And I’ve been trying to get back there for a long time. But my mindset can’t get myself to do that. I did it. The motivation, I’ve always had that in me. I felt like I’ve always wanted to go in that direction just for many different reasons. But my father is a diabetic. And he’s had strokes. He has high blood pressure. And I’m not a diabetic or anything. But I can go that way. It’s in my family.
And I had high blood pressure about two years ago. It might have been closer to three years ago. And I thought to myself, “Well, I’m on my way to ending up like my dad.” And I think that was the fire that I needed to do this. I thought I’d give myself thirty days. And I just kept telling myself at thirty days I could have whatever I wanted. Just give myself thirty days. And then the thirty turned to sixty to ninety. And I felt great. And the weight just came off very easily. I didn’t pay attention to calories. I don’t like paying attention to calories. I just ate whenever I was hungry. But I just eliminated those things.
Marc: So what specifically did you eliminate? You eliminated meat? You eliminated dairy?
Debbie: Dairy, meat. I ate a lot of potatoes. I try not to label food. I try not to do that. It’s hard not still label food because everybody does. But I ate a lot of potatoes. I just stayed away from white flour things, the breads. If I had bread, I have the sprouted bread.
Marc: Have you tried anything else to lose weight that’s been successful in the past, at least for short chunks of time?
Debbie: Oh, sure. I’ve done Weight Watchers years ago. And I was successful in that, too. When I put my mind to things, I can be successful. But it always comes back. It’s just maintaining that. It’s really hard. Now I’m in that point where it doesn’t matter what I do…I struggle with five pounds, three pounds. It’s such a joy to lose a couple pounds. And then it just comes right back.
Marc: Have you been tested for diabetes or prediabetes lately?
Marc: And you’re good?
Debbie: Yes. I’ve been fine so far.
Marc: How is your energy level these days?
Debbie: It’s up and down. It’s up and down.
Marc: Up and down, tell me what that means for you.
Debbie: Sometimes I feel like I have a lot of energy. And then other times, I don’t know. It’s just, “Am I depressed?” I just don’t have this motivation to do anything. I do stuff, of course. I go about my day. But I just feel like I’m doing the minimum. I’m not going beyond and thriving, I guess.
Marc: Are you in a relationship?
Debbie: Yes. I’ve been married for… This year is twenty-six years.
Marc: Wow. Congratulations. That’s an achievement.
Marc: How is the relationship? How is it going? What’s the weather report?
Debbie: It’s not good. It’s not. We’ve been struggling probably ever since we
were married. I know I can’t diagnose him. He has to diagnose himself. But I know he’s an alcoholic. So I know that that’s a big deal in our marriage. I deal with that all the time. I started going to Al-Anon, actually, in July. And that’s helped me. I know it’s a long road. But that, I think, has a big impact because he drinks. I eat. And it’s a merry-go-round.
Marc: Have you guys ever gotten any kind of support or counseling for the relationship?
Debbie: He’s not into counseling. I have done my own. I have asked him to do counseling. At one point about a year ago I just told him I’m very unhappy and I really don’t know if I want to stay married. And then he says, “Oh, I’ll do anything. Let’s go to counseling.” Okay. So we tried a few sessions. And then it just didn’t work. And he has stopped drinking for a while. He’ll always do it himself. And then he just starts right back up. So I know that has an impact on me and how I feel about myself. I know that it has a lot to do with my energy flow from day-to-day.
Marc: Sure. I get it. Who is the breadwinner in the couple here?
Marc: Is that a factor for you if you wanted to not be together anymore? Does that stop you?
Debbie: Sometimes. Sometimes I do worry. We’ve been here for ten years. We’re from California. And he works in the oil field. And in California, I was a paralegal. And I felt like I had a thriving career. And then we moved a couple of times for him. And I just kind of let mine go. I’m in my fifties now. And I feel like I’m just ready to start trying to get a little bit more independent in myself.
Marc: Got it. And you’re in your fifties. How old?
Debbie: Fifty-one on Sunday.
Marc: All right! Fifty-one this past Sunday or this coming Sunday?
Debbie: This coming Sunday. So I’m still fifty.
Marc: Okay. Happy birthday coming up! Good for you. You’ve made it like through half your life!
Debbie: Now I need a good new next fifty, right?
Marc: Yeah! So what can you imagine for your next fifty? If you could write a happy ending to the next fifty years, what would it look like?
Debbie: Well, like we talked about a minute ago, I want to be independent. Whether I’m with him or not, I want to be able to take care of myself. And I want to be able to separate his problem from mine and take care of me now. I’ve been into that. Right now it’s just something that I feel I need to do. I’m not taking care of Debbie. I don’t even know who Debbie is anymore.
And they just see myself being active, probably working it in a full-time job. I’m part-time right now. And that’s about it that I can think of right now.
Marc: So you’d be independent. You’d be working maybe a full-time job. What else would taking care of Debbie look like? Are there any other ways taking care of you?
Debbie: Well, let’s see. I exercise. I’ve been running for six years. And why is the weight not coming off? I don’t know. We run half marathons every year. We’re always training.
Marc: Who is we?
Debbie: My husband runs, too. We don’t run together because he’s faster than me, of course. But we have a group of friends that we hang out with. And we go to a lot of races and run together. And just recently I started doing yoga just for the past couple weeks. And I actually kind of like that. I’m doing just that gentle flow, which I need.
Marc: How long have you been dealing with weight concerns?
Debbie: On and off since high school.
Marc: Wow. So well over thirty years. So even in high school, what was it? Did you just want to be thinner? Did you legitimately have weight to lose? What was happening for you?
Debbie: When I was in high school… I’m 5’6”. I’m pretty sure I was close to that when I was in high school. I wait about 130. And I felt like I was fat. If I could weigh 130 now I would be completely thrilled! But just a poor image of myself, I guess. Even now when I look at myself, I feel like I look pretty good. And then I’ll look at a picture or something and I’m like, “Oh, my God. Who is that?”
Marc: So when you were in your teens, where do you think that poor body image came from, that poor self image?
Debbie: Well, I think it started when I was younger. When I was around seven-ish, maybe eight, I was sexually abused for a while by babysitters’ kids. Of course, I’m pretty sure that’s where it stemmed from.
My parents were musicians. They divorced when I was six months old. I have a brother that is older than me. So my dad kept us, which was unusual. And my mom continued to be in music. So while she’s traveling doing music, my dad had us. And we lived with my grandparents a lot. We moved around a lot. We went to a different school every year.
Marc: Are your parents still alive?
Marc: How is your relationship with them these days?
Debbie: With my dad, it’s not that good. We just never really had a good relationship. We did. But I don’t know. I just don’t feel like I got what I needed from him ever. And now I live far away from him. He lives in Napa. So I don’t talk to him very often. Now, my mom—who I didn’t even grow up with—we actually are really close. And we talk on the phone all the time now.
Marc: How’s her relationship with her body? How is her weight?
Debbie: Ever since she retired from music, she’s gained some weight. But she always kind of grew up having to look good all the time. So she probably had the same problems, just struggling. I’m probably not aware of it because I never lived with her.
Marc: Yeah. So what do you imagine would be different for you if you were at your ideal weight? How would your life be different? How would you be different?
Debbie: I guess I’d feel more attractive. I feel like I would have more energy. I don’t know. I guess in my mind, I feel like I could do things better, which doesn’t sound right when I’m saying it out loud. I don’t know. I guess it’s just more being comfortable with myself is what I need to be.
Marc: Yeah. So you’d feel more comfortable with yourself and a lot of ways.
Marc: And what advice does your mom tell you about your weight and your body?
Debbie: Not much. Not really.
Marc: Have you ever worked with any kind of nutritionist or dietitian or health coaching in any way?
Debbie: No. I’m a Google queen. I’ll research it. I’ll research a lot of things.
Marc: I like that, a Google queen. So you like to do things in dependent in that way?
Marc: Are you connected to a community like church or a religious group?
Debbie: We were for years. We were always involved in church. My husband did music ministry. He’d come home and drink. But he did all that. And we grew up always being really heavily involved in church. And when we moved here, it was a big culture shock to move out here. I didn’t live anywhere else but California. And it was really hard. But I just felt like we just never found a connection out here. Or I’m just having a hard time myself allowing myself to connect at a church.
Marc: And how long have you been in Louisiana again?
Debbie: Ten years.
Marc: Ten years. Got it. Okay. So just in a minute and a half or less, tell me what you’re eating and your food in your diet looks like these days.
Debbie: I go back and forth. Sometimes I’ll go for a long time and not have breakfast at all. I’ll have a cup of coffee in the morning. I’ll wake up. And I always have a huge glass of water. Sometimes it’s warm with lemon in it.
So I start off good. And all have a cup of coffee. And then I go to work.
And lunchtime I generally will have a salad most of the time. Sometimes we’ll just go out and we’ll just do something different. Gosh, dinner, it all just comes down after that. And then I’ll find myself snacking. It could be chips, ice cream. And then there’s dinner. And I do find myself eating sometimes even when I’m not hungry. I’ll just eat.
Marc: Like after dinner? Or before dinner?
Debbie: Before and after.
Marc: When is the latest you might be eating?
Debbie: Sometimes it could be as late as nine. I generally as far as dinner, I like to eat early. In my mind I know you’re going to sleep better if you eat early and let your food digest. But then I’ll end up snacking.
Marc: And you’re still jogging, running these days? Is that true?
Debbie: I generally run like three days a week. The last couple weeks, I’ve been doing some yoga.
Marc: How do you like running?
Debbie: It’s kind of a love/hate relationship. It’s addicting. In the summer time I will allow myself to drop down and run maybe three miles twice during the week. And then on the weekends it’s six or more. And then when the fall comes, we start climbing on the weekends.
When I don’t run, then I hate myself. And I don’t know if it’s because I’m not enjoying it. Or is it because I’m feeling guilty?
Marc: Got it.
Debbie: I don’t even know.
Marc: Got it. Yeah. I understand. So we’ll talk about that in a little bit. I think I’ve got some good information here. And I want to put it together and feed back to you some of my thoughts and some of my ideas about what you’ve just shared. So here’s where I’d like to start with you, which is you made a very… To me it was a powerful comment. At one point in our conversation, you said, “Yeah, he drinks and I eat.”
And the reason why for me that was powerful was because on one level, you and I are in a conversation. And this is about you. And this is about you and your body and your life and your weight and your eating and your exercise and all that sort of thing. And the odd thing is on another level, it’s not just about you because you’re in a significant relationship that you’ve been in for a long time. And you’ve been through a lot together. And you’re going through a lot together right now.
And we are profoundly impacted by our significant relationships, in particular our primary relationship. So I can pretend I’m talking to one person. But I’m really talking to you as a person who’s in the kind of relationship that so many of us are in that impacts us. And what often happens is our eating challenges don’t fully—and this is kind of weird, but I’m going to say it—they don’t fully belong to us. So it’s you’re eating challenge. It’s your eating concern. It’s your body. And on another level, you’re part of a system. And in this case I’m going to say the system is you and your husband.
So what I want to say is that, yes, there’s a significant chunk of your relationship with food that’s tied into your relationship. So right now, the relationship doesn’t work. You’re not comfortable in it. You haven’t been comfortable in it maybe—as you kind of said—since you’ve been married, from the get go. At the same time, you’ve moved from your home state. You’ve been in a place ten years where you’ve really never been able to settle in. So your unsettled on a certain level compared to what you’ve known in the past.
That’s important to me. When we are unsettled in our environment, it is harder to be settled in one’s body. It’s harder. It’s not impossible. It’s doable to be settled in one’s body, but, man, is it harder. If I’m not settled in my primary relationship, it’s harder to be settled in my body. It’s just is for a lot of us.
So it makes sense to me that if your husband is dealing with alcohol for whatever the reasons are for him—and he has good reasons—and you turn to food, and you have good reasons, so it’s almost like you’re both going to your separate corners in the relationship and doing the kind of thing to do to just sort of get through and get by.
So the alcohol will help him get by. The food will help you get by. But it doesn’t help you elevate. It’s doesn’t help you transform. It doesn’t help you grow. It’s kind of keeps you at the same level at best. That’s at best. But on average, it’s going to weigh you down a little bit. And it’s going to cause more contraction and more grief and more separation and just more pain and suffering over time.
So I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know here. But I want to just acknowledge that to me one of the ingredients that’s going to be necessary for your body to start to find its natural place is for you to start to find your natural place. You have to find your natural place first. Or at least you have to be on that path.
What happens for lots of people is we say, “You know, as soon as I lose the weight, then I’m going to like myself. Things are going to be okay. Then I can better deal with myself. Then I’ll have energy. Then I’ll be the real me. And then going to make stuff happen.” Okay, maybe. But I don’t see that happen.
I see majority of people continuing the same cycle of, “I gain it, I lose it. I gain it, I lose it. I gain it, I lose it,” because what’s happening is you never really have yourself in all of that. You have different diets. You have different exercise. You have different approaches. But you don’t really have you. And the weight becomes so freaking important to us. So the energy goes there. And the focus goes there. And in a weird way, it doesn’t deserve that much energy and focus. Does it deserve attention? Sure. But the weight is not a problem. It’s a side effect. It’s a symptom.
And in another way, is the weight so bad? I don’t know. That’s kind of up to you to decide. You have to be the one who determines, “What’s truly right for me? What’s truly comfortable?” For you to try to at age fifty, fifty-one, try to achieve the same body that you had in high school, any time a fifty-year-old woman tells me that or a fifty-year-old guy tells me that, I’m skeptical. It doesn’t seem practical. I ask myself, “Why the hell are you doing that? What’s the point? And is it that important? And if so, go for it.”
But if that’s what you want, man, are you going to have to seriously devote yourself. You’ve got to seriously work hard. You’ve got to seriously devote yourself. And I’m not getting that that’s what you want to do. Correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t get that you want to half time in your life achieving the body that you had in high school.
Debbie: Right, no.
Marc: So I guess what I want to say is we never know how much weight somebody truly has to lose or can lose. So I truly don’t know how much weight you will lose because sometimes the body stays where it is. Sometimes the body just does what it does. We can do everything. Here you are running. You’re doing half marathons. And you don’t really lose weight.
So what I want to tell you is running for you is not a weight loss exercise. You will never lose weight running. How do I know? Because you really haven’t.
Debbie: Right. [Laughs]
Marc: Maybe you’ll lose a few pounds here or there. Fine. But if you don’t run, your point to lose a few pounds here or there anyway with the flow of life. So when you said to me, “I have a love/hate relationship with running,” that’s probably what I would have guessed for you at best. At least there’s some love in there. The love is it does give you a little bit of high. And it does make you feel like you’re doing something for yourself.
But at the end of the day, the heat comes because it doesn’t give you what
you’re expecting. “And all that freaking work. And I should get something for it!” Running isn’t easy. Running is especially not easy if you’ve got a big body. It’s not fun. So what I want to suggest to you is I want you to consider maybe letting go of running. Consider it. I would love to see you do more yoga. I would love to see you do more dance. I just want you to mix it up.
If your strategy for losing weight isn’t working, let’s try something different. If you are trying to make more money and your strategy isn’t working, try something different. If you are trying to have a greener lawn and your strategies aren’t working, then we do something different. It’s that simple.
So I’m interested in doing things differently for you because what you’re doing since you started, since whenever you first started dieting or trying things, doesn’t work for you sustainably. So what that says to me is we have to do a whole new way.
So I’m all about for you if you want to truly change your body since really you were fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old and finally shape shift it in a sustainable way, if that’s even possible, then what I’m suggesting to you is in my experience, you have to do certain kinds of inner work. There’s some outer things we have to change, but certain kinds of inner work.
Inner work is doing things differently on the one hand. Consider giving up and running. Consider doing softer, gentler kinds of movements. It sounds counterintuitive to a lot of people. “What do you mean? Running is calorie burning. Yoga is not calorie burning.” Correct. But actually not correct because if running was truly caloric burning, it would do that for you.
What happens for you is it puts your body in a stress response. Your body is in a survival response. It thinks you’re running from the lions. And it’ll increase your insulin and cortisol. And those hormones will signal your body to store weight and store fat and not build the muscle. So for a lot of people, certain kinds of exercise puts their body in a stress response and will inhibit calorie burning. That’s what’s happening for you. The proof is in the pudding. I don’t have to explain that anymore.
So I’d love to see you change that and do gentle ways and more feminine ways and more embodied ways of being in your body. So I’m less looking for you to do calorie burning stuff. And I’m more interested in you being in your body. Being in your body means, “Ahh, here’s what it feels like to be me and to walk. Here’s what it feels like to be me and to do a yoga posture. Here’s what it feels like to be me and dance.” And just enjoy it because that will relax your body. And that will start to give your body the signal that it’s safe.
If you’ve been abused in the past—physically abused and sexually abused—oftentimes the body retains the memory. We are built of memory. All you are is a bunch of memory. All I am is a bunch of memory. We remember words. We remember language. We remember alphabet. You wake up in the morning. You remember the guy sleeping next to you. It’s all about memory.
The body remembers. And the body remembers assault, attack, and moments of un-safety. And it will often be in vigilance forever against that assault, that attack, that sense of not being safe. So there’s a certain place where I think your body wants to be able to feel at home and safe. And the way you do that is you create a sense of safety. You do things that let the body know you’re safe. For you, running doesn’t let your body know it’s safe. Yoga will. Gentle kinds of movement will.
So I think that can be very, very therapeutic. We’re giving our unconscious, were giving our subconscious, were giving our deeper selves a signal that, “I’m safe.” Because anytime the body senses threat, stress, enemy, it’s going to go into stress response. It’s going to go into stress chemistry. It’s going to go into increased output of insulin and cortisol and adrenaline. And that chemical cocktail, when it’s created to day in and day out, can do the opposite of what we want when it comes to weight loss and weight gain.
Here’s another place I think that’s factoring in for you. I really, really, really want you to get on a good eating rhythm, biocircadian nutrition. Right now what’s happening is you’re skipping breakfast. And you think that’s good. So when I take a snapshot of your day, if we would have just started this conversation via email and you said to me, “Marc, here’s my diet. I skip breakfast. I just drink a bunch of coffee, a bunch of water in the morning. And then I eat maybe a salad at lunch.” And right there, if you would have stopped right there. I could have predicted for you that you would be binge eating and your appetite would be out of control in the evening time. It’s so predictable.
If you gave me $1 million and you gave me ten people and he said turned them into binge eaters where they can’t stop binge eating, I would say, “Great. Skip breakfast. Skip lunch. And I’ll time it. You’ll be binge eating in the evening.”
Debbie: Yeah, by three p.m.
Marc: Right, exactly. Because your body is starving. You’re looking at food as the reason why you have weight. And it’s actually not the reason. Does it contribute? Eh. To a certain degree it’s more of a relationship with food. It’s more of life. It’s more about life with a capital L. But the things you are doing with food actually locks in weight for you.
So we want to change that because what’s happening is you are now getting the bulk of your calories in the latter third of your day, which is your lesser calorie burning times. So humans, the bulk of your calories are going to be burnt in the timeslot of waking up in the morning, arguably till about two or three or four. The rest of the day, calorie burning starts to slow down, particularly once you hit about seven, eight, nine o’clock at night. Calorie burning is going to be slowest at about two, three, four, five in the morning.
So you’re getting the bulk of your calories in the latter portion of your day. You end up binge eating, and oftentimes, it sounds like, on some carbs. And I want you to give your body the signal that it can eat food, digest it, assimilate it, calorie burn it. And then eat food again, digest it, assimilate it, calorie burn it. You need to be on that rhythm. It’s a natural cycle. It’s like breathing and breathing out. You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to breathe in. And you’ve got to breathe out. It’s nonnegotiable if you want to be alive.
If you want to have your optimum metabolism or have a chance of that, you have to do with the body what it’s designed to do. Now, I’m not saying everyone has to have a breakfast. Because it’s not true. Everyone does not have to have a breakfast. But for you, given what you are presenting with, and given that you’ve kind of plateaued and you’re not losing weight, then I’m going to say, “Great. Where can we tweak? Where can we play? Where can we experiment to make some things happen?”
So consistently across the board what I’ve seen is when people plateau, when they can’t lose weight and they legitimately have weight to lose, we have to get them on regular meals starting at breakfast, especially if they’re binge eating in the afternoon and in the evening time. So the snapshot of your day is starvation in the first third of your day and binging in the last third of your day. So I want to stop that pattern.
You will feel better about yourself. You will feel much better about yourself. But here’s the check. You have to make food your friend and not the enemy because there’s a little part of you that think that food is the enemy. Is that true or false?
Marc: Yeah. So here’s the thing. And I’m not just saying this to you. I’m saying this to all of us because everybody tuning in, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve spoken with a person who has the belief that food is the enemy, I could retire many times over here. “Why is food the enemy? Because food makes me fat. And fat on my body means I’m not okay. People are going to hate to me. They’re not going to love me. I’m not going to get the guys or the girls or the goodies or whatever.”
So we are bombarded with information from the media, television, movies, magazines, Internet, you name it of here is how you have to look. And, of course, if you want to look nice and thin, you can’t eat food. People make that conclusion, especially all our dietary systems are all about weight. Weight Watchers, watch your weight, which really means watch your food. It should be Food Watchers. That’s what they should call it because they want you to watch your food.
So the truth is food is your friend. If we didn’t have food, we would die. Throughout all of human history, people need food. Food allows us to continue life. Food can be delicious. Food can be a celebration. If you were starving and I gave you food, trust me. You’d be very happy.
So you have to make the shift. And you have to really train your mind. And I mean this. You’ve got to get control of your mind. And train your mind to start to say, “Hey, Debbie. Food is my friend. Food sustains me. Food keeps me alive. Food keeps me nice and happy. Food is what is going to let me live for another fifty years.”
As soon as you go, “Food is the enemy,” what’s going to happen is you’re going to not want to eat breakfast. You’re going to not want to eat lunch. But then you’re going to binge. And then you’re going to go, “Oh, my God. I binged.” But you set yourself up. It’s predictable. And on top of that, as soon as the brain senses threat… So the definition of stress is any real or imagined threat and the body’s response to it. As soon as the brain senses threat, it goes into stress chemistry.
Now, because we don’t distinguish between a real threat or an imagined one, if you think food is the enemy, your brain thinks it’s in a fight. Your brain literally thinks, “Oh, my God. I’m bracing for the enemy. It’s food.” And we will tense up. We will tighten up. And all the features of a stress response and how it impacts digestion, assimilation, and calorie burning will start to come into play.
You’re going to produce more insulin and cortisol. When we’re in a stress response, depending on the intensity of distress, it will impact our digestion. It will impact assimilation. It will cause nutrient excretion. It will cause malabsorption of fat. It will cause decreased mitochondrial function, which means fatigue and low-energy.
For me, I think a lot of your fatigue and low energy is very personal, meaning it stems from a little bit of apathy, a little bit of feeling stuck, and a little bit of, “Ugh. This relationship is not working. I’m not really where I want to be.” And of course you’re going to feel tired. It’s hard to be inspired if you’re not living in a place that elevates you, if your long-term relationship ain’t feeling good. I’d feel fatigued, too.
So I’m saying it’s understandable why you’d feel tired. And, yeah, sure, if you had less pounds on, you might have more energy. But I know plenty of thin people who are fatigued and depressed. So that ain’t no guarantee. You might end up more fatigued for all I know. I don’t know. So I don’t necessarily equate your weight at all with fatigue. It’s not a one-to-one mapping.
But what I do equate it with at this point is at the very least, our energy level is impacted by how life is going for us and what we’re thinking and feeling and believing about it. So until you can tap into more of your inspiration for being alive, you’re not going to have your maximum amount of energy. When I’m inspired, when I know why I want to wake up in the morning, I have energy. When I have a bigger purpose, I’ve got energy. When I feel like I’m growing and evolving, I’ve got energy. When I don’t like my relationship and I hate my job and I hate my life and I wish I wasn’t living here, you bet I don’t have energy.
So what I’m saying to you to kind of summarize is I want you to get on regular meals. I want you to start eating a breakfast. I want you to start eating a lunch. And I would love to see your lunch be the most robust meal of your day if that’s possible.
Debbie: Bigger than a salad.
Marc: Bigger than a salad. I want you to have some protein with that, whatever you eat. If it’s vegetarian protein, fine. If it’s nonvegetarian protein, fine. I don’t care. I want you to have some protein, some fat. Have some avocado. Have some beans. Have some tofu or some tempeh or some nuts and seeds, some egg, whatever you can do.
I’d also like to see you let go of your diet being all or nothing. So you said you felt better on a vegan diet. But you can’t stick to it. I don’t want to see you have an all or nothing diet. I don’t want to see you shoot for a target and tried to hit it eighty percent, even. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you really feel better vegetarian, then go eighty percent vegetarian or vegan. Have dairy on occasion. Have meat on occasion. I don’t care.
If you could move in that direction and not make it all or nothing, then you’re going to start to find a sustainable way instead of one extreme to the other extreme. Running for you is extreme. And what happens is when the extreme doesn’t work, you’re going to bounce to the other extreme because, “Agh, I hate this nonsense.” You’re going to go to love/hate.
I want you to start to go for the middle road somewhere. So with exercise, it’s yoga and it’s any kind of gentle movements that really inspires you. For eating, it’s regular meals. It’s some kind of protein, veggie or nonvegetarian source of protein at breakfast and lunch.
Are you a fast eater? Moderate eater? Slow eater?
Debbie: Oh, I’m a fast eater.
Marc: Okay, great. Here’s another wonderful homework assignment for you.
Debbie: I knew you were going to say that. Okay. [Laughs]
Marc: I want you to train yourself to be a slow eater. You’re never going to get to where you want to go with food and with weight unless you are able to do the most basic thing, which is to encounter your food and train your body to understand the digestive and assimilative and calorie burning process. When we eat fast, we are giving the body the signal that I’m running from the lions. But I’m eating at the same time.
The body gets confused. It wants to be in a stress response, which means poor digestion, poor assimilation, and poor calorie burning. Or it wants to be in a relaxation response because that’s where you digest your food. So there’s all this food going into your belly. And the brain in your belly is going, “Oh, my God. There’s food here we need to digest it.” And digestion only happens in a relaxed state.
So the act of eating fast is a stressor for the body. So I want you to train your body to relax and absorb because if I’m dealing with the enemy, I want to deal with the enemy really fast. I’m going to just shove the enemy down my throat. But it’s not your enemy. If you’re hanging out with someone you love on and you care about, you take your time. You listen. If you’re hanging out with somebody you love, you say, “Oh, great. I love you so much. I can’t wait to be with you for thirty seconds.” No, you want to take time. You want to absorb. You want to listen.
The same with food. Your body needs time to scan the nutrient profile of a meal. The central nervous system, the gut nervous system, it needs time to assess what’s going on in your body. When you don’t give it that, you’re putting your body in a very unnatural state. And confusion is the results.
I want to say that as goes digestion, so goes the mind. When digestion is confused, the mind is confused. If you’re constipated, your mind feels constipated. If you’re in digestive pain, we’re in this comfort in our own heads often times. So as goes one, so goes the other. So I want you to train your digestion to be relaxed. That’s going to help you feel more centered.
But you’re only going to be able to do all this if it’s less about the weight and it’s more about your life. You know what I’m saying?
Marc: I don’t know that losing weight by itself is going to make things better. What’s going to make things better is you doing the kind of personal and spiritual growth that you know you have to do, which is to figure out your relationship and what you want to do, is to figure out your own personal livelihood and what you’re going to do with that and really take a look at what’s going to be best for you moving forward into this next a bunch of years. That’s where the action is.
So it’s almost like I’m wanting you and your husband to break this cycle of you eat and he drinks. That cycle has to be broken. And once one of you starts to break that cycle, it’ll disrupt in a positive way the pattern that you’re in. And it’ll mean one of two things. Either the relationship will fall apart because you’ll be empowered. If you start empowering yourself around you and your body and your relationship with food and yourself and you’re taking care of yourself, he’s not going to be able to hang with you unless he changes.
And you won’t be able to hang with him. It’ll be too painful. If he doesn’t start growing along with you, it will be way too painful. So in a strange way, a lot of your work, I think, when it comes to weight, believe it or not, one of the key places to work is your relationship.
Debbie: Right. I somehow knew that.
Marc: And it’s not that the relationship is the fault. I’m not saying that at all. This is a challenge that’s been with you for a long time. But this is the place where we could legitimately work with this challenge because sometimes we have to do a strategic strike into the past and figure out what happened back then. Right now for you I’m not really getting that. Right now for you I think working in the present moment is where the action is. And the present moment is you’re in a relationship that needs to be under the microscope more.
And in addition to that, your relationship with yourself, how you nourish yourself, how you feed yourself, how you see food is fundamental to your journey right now. So what I want to say is you cannot get where you want to go weight wise if you’re continuing to seafood as the enemy. You have to give it up that toxic nutritional belief, which means you have to slow down with food. Enjoy it. Savor it. Love it. Let it to nourish you. Make affirmations when you eat. “This is nourishing me. This is good for me.”
You have to catch yourself when you start looking at is the enemy. You literally have to catch yourself and go, “Whoa, Debbie. Let that one go.” Because otherwise you’re going to be in a constant fight or flight stress response three or four times a day when you eat. That’s not good. That doesn’t create the conditions for a natural, sustainable weight loss, and creates the opposite conditions.
Debbie: When you put it all out there, it makes me realize with the running and the way I eat is everything that’s going on, it is. I’m taking things to the extreme. And I know why I’m doing it because I got this extreme going on in my personal life. So I see now. It’s all about slowing down.
Marc: It’s all about slowing down and taking a middle path which is sustainable, which will get you where you need to go. It makes sense, by the way, that you would go for the extremes. I just want to be clear about that. It’s a smart strategy because, “Wait a second. I’ve got this amount of weight that feels extreme to me. I want to get it the heck off. So let me do something extreme.” So it’s completely sensible.
So I just want to acknowledge, it’s not a bad strategy. It just doesn’t work. That’s all. It’s just ain’t working for you. It doesn’t work for a majority of people, believe it or not, in terms of sustainability. So something is not working and it’s not working for a long time. We do something different. It’s as simple as that.
People can argue all day, “Well, you should lose weight if you’re jogging.” Well, you’re not. And that’s it. That explains it. It’s not working for you. It doesn’t work for your body, for your physiology. Some people it will. Some it won’t. So we’re making adjustments. And you’re making an adjustment to let go of extremes. And when we let go of extremes, in a strange way we start to come home to ourselves more because extremes can be very distracting. Right?
Debbie: Yes. I know. I know what I’m doing. And I encourage distractions so I don’t have to deal with stuff going on.
Marc: Yeah. And now is a time in your life you’ve got to face it head on because you’re at an age where we have less time to waste. Time becomes more valuable the older you get. So for someone who is turning fifty-one, I say, “Hey, Debbie. Don’t waste your time. Your life is worth way more than that. Your life is worth way more than battling with food and thinking food is the enemy. That’s like thinking oxygen is the enemy.” You wouldn’t waste your time on that one.
And granted, it’s going to take a little time to retrain yourself for sure because you didn’t invent these thoughts. It’s not like this is your exclusive problem and no one else has this. These are problems. These are negative beliefs. These are toxic nutritional beliefs that we absorb from the world. The world invented it. Someone invented. The world invented it. They reproduced. They perpetuate themselves by finding a home in our nervous system.
And our job is to slowly extract the nonsense and the insanity and the crazy talk out of our heads, especially when that nonsense and insanity and crazy toss doesn’t take us where we want to go and it doesn’t work. So it’s really us helping each other be more empowered human beings. That’s overdoing.
We’re helping each other be more empowered human beings, me by sharing with you what I know, you by sharing with me and with people listening in like, “Here’s my story,” because I promise you even though your story is a super unique and you’re super unique, it’s a very similar story to what a lot of people face. And they’re doing similar things. So we kind of get to see each other in ourselves and each other.
So what else, Debbie? How is this landing for you? How are you feeling right now?
Debbie: It feels good. I’m excited to try all this, to change it a little bit and be a little more mindful. So I think I can do this.
Marc: Yeah, and so you know what your homework assignments are. Regular meals.
Debbie: Yeah. Start with breakfast.
Marc: Start with breakfast. Make sure there is protein at breakfast and lunch. I want you to slow down with meals.
Debbie: Slow down.
Marc: I want you to notice when you go into the toxic belief that food is the enemy. And gently try to ask your mind to have a more empowering and positive thought. I definitely would like to see you let go of the intense exercise, the running and do gentle forms of movement.
And I really want you to push the pedal to the metal on seeing where this relationship is going and being willing to just face that difficulty, being willing to feel uncomfortable because it ain’t going to be comfortable one way or another. Whether it’s going to work or it’s not going to work, there’s some work to do. You follow me?
Debbie: Right. It’s funny. We don’t want to be uncomfortable to make a change. Yet we have somehow become comfortable with our situation, which is terrible.
Marc: Yeah. And that’s a very human of us. We do that as human beings. We don’t like discomfort. But at the same time we get used to our discomfort. And it becomes comfortable in a weird kind of way. Yeah. I get it.
So I have faith in you, Mrs. Debbie. I really do.
Debbie: Thank you. Okay.
Marc: Yeah. And we’ll convene in a number of months. I’ll have my staff reach out to you. And we’ll do another session and kind of catch up and see how things are going.
Debbie: Sounds good. I appreciate it. Yes.
Marc: Thanks so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being real and being willing to share yourself in this way. I think it’s going to inspire a lot of people.
Debbie: I hope so. Thank you.
Marc: Thanks, Debbie.
Debbie: Thank you very much.
Marc: And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. I’m Mark David on behalf of the Psychology of Eating podcast. There’s lots more to come, my friends. You take care.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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