Researching for this blog has really opened my eyes to the reality of the history of weight. Ever since I was a kid I always thought that people from before the 2000’s were thin because portion sizes were ‘proper’ and there was a lack of processed foods. I would watch movies from the Hitchcock era and historical movies like The Help because I was fascinated at not only the plots but the food that they showed. The portion sizes were always small, at least half the size of what I think is normal, if not less of what is considered a proper portion size today.
Recently I watched an old beauty advice video from the 1940’s that utterly shocked me. The portion sizes in this video were massive, even by todays standards. Each meal (the recommended three meals a day) were basically a three course trek through carbs and sugar. Each meal had the main dish, let’s say tomato soup and a sandwich made with white bread, then a side of a scone with jam, a glass of milk, then a dessert.
I couldn’t believe it! I witnessed the real start to the weight epidemic. I realized that the reason why people weren’t paying attention to the portion sizes was, because back then, there was nothing to do, so everyone was forced to go outside to exercise. I remember my grandmother telling me (she grew up around the start of the compulsory sugar eating frenzy) that when she first got a bike she rode it all day, for hours, kilometres upon kilometres, and she was thin! It makes sense that people were thin back then even with those horrendous portion sizes.
I felt so bad for every girl who had to both watch, and was apart of that video because the woman leading it constantly contradicted herself, “your worth is not the sum of your looks, but the way you feel, present yourself, and the way others perceive you completely depends on them.”
The population of this time with this value system and followed the diet plan in this video didn’t stand a chance. Diet had to do with whether regardless of constant exercise and ‘play’, would have kept most of the teenage girls thin, they would soon have to further their studies or become house wives. What is most important is that both of which make a person more susceptible to a sedentary lifestyle and therefore if they followed the diet plan in this video, they would soon start to pack on the pounds and sadly not understand why.
Self-Compassion is about valuing the self. Taking care of yourself, putting yourself first, valuing what you do and who you are, and having love for yourself, realizing you are human and therefore you make mistakes, you learn by struggling and having failures and that even though you may not attain exactly what you are wanting or striving for, that you are okay.
Remembering that no matter what happens you are learning and growing and becoming and therefore, you are okay, is a way to self-soothe.
Self-soothing is a way to show that you love yourself, “there there, it will be okay.” Self-soothing can also become an avoidance tactic of dealing with bad feelings, and this is when self-compassion can turn into self-defeating behaviour, “there there, it will be okay… it wasn’t going to work anyway. So have a tub of ice cream and make it go away for now.”
This is where your need for your development of core values comes into play. We are all born with a drive to create value. When you value self, other, or something, it is to hold that up as important and worthy of appreciation, you are willing to devote your time, energy, and effort to it and even sacrifice for what it is that has been held up by you as important.
Self-compassion and self-value goes beyond basic human physiological and psychological needs such as; survival, seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, status enhancement, and defence mechanisms. Most urges to overeat or attack food comes from times in which our motivations are based in these basic needs. These are times in which our self-value is low and therefore we are vulnerable. In order to be able to prevent these drops in self-value so that our self- compassion techniques are not self defeating, we must be able to know what are our core-values even when under stress so that we can get in touch with them, restore ourself to them, in order to have continued and consistent emotional well-being. Emotional well-being depends upon giving ourselves self-compassion, a sense of self-value more than a sense of self-devalue.
When we raise our level of self-value, our self-compassion increases, this is when we know we are authentic because to be authentic means that we are being true to our deepest values.
When we devalue ourselves, we lower our value of our own experience, and when we do this we start to become numb. When we become numb or disassociate or freeze it means that we are also becoming indifferent to our true or deepest values of ourselves and our experiences. When we feel shame (I am a bad person) or guilt (I have done a bad thing), this is our felt sense that we have violated our need of being true to our deepest values. The feeling of meaninglessness, in which we feel a sense that it doesn't matter what we do, that we will not succeed, and everything we do is really for nothing, it means that we are out of touch with our deepest values. These are the devaluing feelings felt when disordered eating has a tendency to occur.
So there is something called set point theory.
This theory suggests that each of us has a natural set point of weight maintenance in which the body always tries to return. Research suggests that the body has feedback mechanisms which adjusts the metabolic rate, so that fat stores are maintained at a consistent level.
Weight cycling is described as losing weight by dieting, then regaining that weight, then dieting and losing weight again and then putting the weight back on, also termed yo-yo dieting. There are three categories of weight cyclers; a mild weight cycler loses between five to ten pounds three or more times, a moderate weight cycler has lost between ten to twenty pounds and a severe weight cycler has lost more than twenty pounds over and over again. There is a huge return rate in regards to people who try to lose weight by going on a diet. The number of people who can keep weight off for more than a year is a very small percentage.
On the show ‘Fat and Back’, a professor stated that there was a 95% return weight rate and he suggested that those who actually can make the lifestyle changes necessary to keep weight off for more than 5 years is less than 10%. It is suggested that weight cycling is due to the constant cultural pressure to be thin, and that more women than men are weight cyclers. Most research on weight cyclers has been done on adolescent girls and many studies have found that binge eating is fairly common among weight cyclers.
There is a series of issues that lead to weight cycling.
The first is to do with genetics, researchers have found around three hundred genes that play a role in determining weight, helping to explain why some people gain weight more easily than others and have more difficulty keeping the weight off that they lose.
Hormones are another factor, ghrelin in the stomach stimulates appetite, this hormone increases before meals and decreases after meals, and leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells which tells the brain that enough food has been consumed and to stop eating. Differences in the levels of these hormones and in the bodies responsiveness to them plays a roll in losing and regaining weight.
Emotional factors: some people when they feel stressed or upset cannot eat, while others feel the opposite, turning to food for comfort instead of addressing the situation that is causing the emotion. Boredom, loneliness, and frustration are other feelings that cause people to eat when they are not truly hungry starting the yo-yo cycle.
Psychological factors: unrealistic expectations of how much weight can be lost how fast as well as how much effort it will take and how many permanent lifestyle changes will have to be made also attribute to the weight cycle. People who weight cycle are more likely to have depression, binge eating because of impulse control issues.
While another contributor are social factors; social events, as well as peer pressure, eating to please others, or having impulse control difficulties often lead to eating more than intended in social situations.
Activity level: people who are dieting consistently underestimate how many calories they burn in exercise, ending up out eating their exercise. Lack of education about food; people underestimate how many calories they eat and over estimate the amount of food that makes up a portion size. As well, they do not pay attention to the nutritional information and become confused as to what is healthy and what is not when making their food choices.
Last night I had the opportunity to sit down and watch ‘Fat and Back’, which is a documentary about international model turned personal trainer, PJ. He came up with the idea of living a sedentary lifestyle for six months and eating everything and anything his little heart desired in order to gain 40 kilos. His goal was to be able to gain in knowledge of how come he has so many clients that come to the gym for personal training, but then drop off. He wanted to experience being overweight in order to get his overweight clients experience, so that he would be a better personal trainer to these clients. The entire reason he started this journey was because he called a client, who missed several appointments and he said to his client, “Listen! If you just follow my program for four months you will be where you need to be!” and his client responded, “if you did what I do for six months you would see why I can’t!”
The documentary goes through PJ’s experience of gaining the weight over this suggested six month period of time, in order to then turn around and start to lose the weight gained, along with being a personal trainer to an overweight client, with his hoped for knew perspective on how to keep the client engaged throughout the personal training process. What was very interesting was that he was not able to achieve his objective. PJ did gain his 40 kilos, he did struggle in losing the weight, he did gain a new perspective in regards to how difficult it is to take on a different lifestyle, and then work on turning around the bad effects that he experienced.
At first the training with the client went well, but then sessions started to be missed and eventually the relationship became hostile, in which the overweight client stated that, she did not find him to be motivational at all. What I found particularly interesting about this documentary was that there were many neurological and physiological professionals that were consulted about obesity and there were none to do with emotional and social aspects of weight management.
All of us have value systems that we acquire when we are children, and we keep them lifelong. Our values are on a spectrum, one of which is the value of competition vs relationship. Competition is at one end of the spectrum, and the other end of the spectrum is the value of relationship. Highly competitive people are based in looks, everything needs to look good. They set goals, they compare themselves to others, a competitive lifestyle is about rules and restriction, food is about fuel, not emotion, about looking good and standing out and being hyper-vigilant in this; nails done, not one hair out of place, weight maintained to perfect order, food consumption structured, muscles toned.
The other end of the spectrum is relationship. When we think about eating, eating is emotional and eating is done in relationship. Eating is done to feel good, so therefore it is based in feeling states. Relationship based people have a tendency to be relaxed and they look relaxed, it is not about setting goals or following rules, it’s about wearing sweat pants, putting your hair in a pony tail, not wearing makeup, and being okay when things aren’t perfect.
Unless there is some sort of crisis that forces us to re-evaluate our value system we do not ever make significant jumps down the spectrum. We may move one or two notches, but that is all.
PJ is based in a very competitive environment. The documentary showed how everyone around him was based in looking good and they joked with him to force him to conform back to the way they needed to see him, as buff. You could see how PJ was so frustrated in himself that he could not force his body back faster. His client on the other hand has a whole different basis of values, hers was based in relationship and you could see it in how she lived her life, dressed, smoked, and didn’t maintain her commitments. Even her final statement to him was based in emotion, “I find you de-motivating!”.
Re-evaluate your life.
I love this phrase, I love it because it is such an extreme. I like to use it particularly when I am talking about something minuscule like, “I hung out with my friend and noticed he puts in cream before his coffee, he needs to reevaluate his life.” see? It’s funny.
Recently however, I have actually been reevaluating my life, what makes me happy, what effects my mental health and therefore my physical health. I have always identified as a person that feels most at home when I am surrounded by friends, I love the camaraderie, the fun, the feeling of belonging. I live with my family in the country and the absence of friends has really taken its tole on me. I constantly compare myself to my friends now, and what they are doing and because I live so far away from them and the city I feel like I am doing nothing.
So, what I did to resolve these feelings is work, I write everyday whether it’s funny or sad or just informative, I write so I can practice my craft and not fall behind my friends who live in the big city, the people who have the opportunity right in front of them to perform and do things a country girl like me can’t. I visited a friend recently who has been pestering me for quite some time now to move to Toronto, but when I asked him what he has been doing he told me that he has been working, not working on his craft but just so he can pay the bills.
At first he treated me like a friend should be treated, with respect and sincerity. I would make a joke and he would laugh because it was funny, I would make a statement and whether he agreed with it or not he would acknowledge it. Soon after however, he would laugh at my jokes because “they are so stupid.” and instead of acknowledging what I had to say he would ignore it. The way he treated me the last time we spent time together really got me to reevaluate my life. My friend wasn’t being my friend because he enjoyed hanging out with me, he wanted me around so I could support him, help him, motivate him to work. I realized that I lived in the country for the past year and had gotten ten times the amount of work done than he did, and he lived in the city that he is so hell bent on me moving to!
For the past couple of days I have been feeling angry and depressed because I didn’t know who I was. I thought I was the girl with the vast amount of friends I could depend on, but I realized these people were actually my coworkers, only available if they could get something out of me. The thing is, I have figured out that when I was living in Toronto with my friends I had gained thirty pounds, I felt horrible about myself because I constantly had to prove that I was worthy of being there. Now that I am living with my family I have lost those thirty pounds, I have been working hard on myself and my craft, I have accomplished so much more than when I was with my friends, and I haven’t appreciated any of it.
I am realizing now that I need to spend time with my family and actually show them how much I care about them, because up until now I have dedicated myself to people who actually are not there for me. I love my family and they are the reason for my success. If I am going to be successful at my weight loss journey I have to allow myself to feel the love and support of my family and learn how to give it back to them.
I re-evaluated my life, it was hard, but worth it. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate yours.
I watched the movie “Supersize Me” last night. I had actually watched this movie when it first came out. I was so surprised at the difference between then and in my reaction this time! When I watched it in 2004 I remember feeling disgusted by it and shocked at how much weight Morgan Spurlock gained.
Only this time through I was actually sitting there watching it thinking to myself, ‘that’s nothing.’ Eating at McDonalds three times a day for one month, in my mind seemed stupid, and yet when I viewed this move again I thought to myself with all of these over eating, he has as a result only gaining thirty pounds? That’s nothing! If I ate fast food three times a day I would have gained thirty pounds within the first two weeks.
I didn't realize that the movie was actually in response to two teenage girls suing McDonalds because of their obesity. I also didn’t realize that the advertising ploy of ‘Supersize Me’ actually comes from research.
Researchers have found that junk food, and fast food, falls into the category of exaggerated features of normal stimuli. These are the normal stimuli that we are designed to find rewarding. Researchers term this ‘supernormal’. Junk foods and fast foods are supernormal, exaggerated in nature which are versions of our ancestors fruits and nuts, engaging the motivational circuits of the brain.
Dopamine is the molecule that is associated with wanting or craving, underlining our motivation to do basically everything that we do, which includes eating. Increased dopamine levels lead to increased food cravings, and our pleasure response which can become numb by repeated activation, and as it turns out, this same process can happen for super normal stimuli.
It has been found that compulsive eaters are hypersensitive to food related cues, and yet actually after a of time are fest as derived as less than normal pleasure from real food consumption. By eating junk food, and/or fast food, the cravings increase despite deriving less and less pleasure from eating them. Environmental cues become strongly associated with consuming junk food. Like for example; watching TV and having to eat high calorie foods or feeling stressed, is a very common trigger to eat.
What scientists have found is that in the animal kingdom it is the supernormal stimuli that motivates. Foe example; if an animal is naturally aggressive because of the colour red, the more stimulating the red colour the more aggressive the animal becomes. If the animal is stimulated by her bigger the egg, then the more the bird wants the big egg in the nest, and it doesn’t even matter if the egg is real or even if it’s theirs!
It is the supernormal that is the most attractive, and we are consumed by these stimuli and so the concept of ‘Supersize me’ is actually based in the neuroscience of supernormal stimuli. Because it is the supernormal stimuli that excites the motivational circuits in our brains, of which we find extremely rewarding and powerfully motivating.
The ‘Supersize me’ movement is based in the supernormal. It takes a naturally rewarding behaviour and jacks it up to be significantly more stimulating than the original behaviour was. The huge industry of fast food, and junk food, is evidence of just how rewarding and engrossing that supernormal stimulus can be.
Supersize Me=Supersize You.
Individuals interpret themselves differently according to their view of the world. There is a distinct difference between the modern view of self ,compared to the post modern view of self.
Are you a modernist or a post modernist?
The modern view of self is the view that each individual is distinct, and has a core way of being, the post modern view of self is that everyone is composed of many selves.
Modernism is based in the view that knowledge is power, meaning that you have to know the basis before you can get to the point, and it is important to know your true or authentic self. Post- modernism however became the fact that you do not have to know the basis of knowledge, ‘you just have to Google it’ and therefore your need to change yourself is based upon your experience and your context and your need to be different. So the individual, is made up of elements or parts that are based on individual experience, which can shift and change based upon your environment, this results in the identification of many different selves, different identities, and different experiences.
The post modern view, is that the self is actually socially constructed and changeable in which the self develops in multiple ways, directed both outwardly to the world, and inwardly, meaning that the interpretation of self is flexible and based on frame of reference. So, the post-modern self gives rise to the development of self concept as identity, being how we construct ourselves. Self-concept and self-identity refer to our self portraits that develop overtime which are made up of many components, including negations and affirmations. Self concept is composed of self- image, self-esteem, and the ideal self. Self-image is the individual view of self, which, is to do with physical appearance, how performance in social roles are perceived, and, the perception of self.
Congruency exists when the ideal self and actual experience are consistent. If there is inconsistency, this effects negatively on self-worth and self-esteem. Because everyone is a body, and has a body, they experience self as an entity that is not identical with the body and so the question of who an individual is can only be answered by incorporating both internal and external experiences. The self therefore, is both socially constructed and comprises of many different selves and authenticity is the result when congruency is achieved.
When constructing the self the focus is on the many different selves and reality is a construction of the person experiencing the reality, with a socially constructed set of functions of self experience, participating on the construction of their own reality and as a reflector, an observer of the self that has been.
Existentialism on the other hand, is a modern view, that suggests that anxiety enters in on concerns regarding death, meaninglessness, isolation, and freedom. The self is an entity with universal features present, in the moment without reflection, with the potential of peak experience, with aspirations, hopes, and God like qualities.
So, are you a modernist or a post-modernist, when you reflect on your sense of self?
Our basis of food consumption is that of being hunter gatherers, we would extol a huge amount of energy in order to find our food, hunting would take days, weeks, months and a had a huge price of not only hiding, waiting, making and maintaining tools and weapons but also following and chasing, slaughtering, not to mention cooking and carrying the kill, with no ability to store anything! Gathering had to do with finding high calorie foods such as nuts and berries, these calories were a precious commodity and very rare. Most people had to walk long distances and perform a huge amount of manual labour just to survive.
So historically, it is really important for us to be motivated to consume high calorie foods whenever we can. Our brains are designed to look for foods high in sugar, high in fat, and also high in salt in order to survive. The motivational factor was also that these high calorie foods taste very good and were very rewarding. So, most of our human history was based in being motivated to eat high calorie foods. This was a survival tactic because it inspired us to get as many calories as possible in order to survive the harsh elements and manual labour it took to find and process foods.
Now lets look at today. The truth is, the calories are not nearly so precious, in fact just walk into the nearest Bulk Barn, and you can see that those calories are very easy to come by and in bulk. We have high fat junk foods and refined carbohydrates easily available everywhere you look, as well as being available cheaply. These kinds of foods have far more calories packed into them then anything our ancestors would have ever come across. When you think about it, our ancestors high calorie foods would have been fruits and nuts. When I think about fruits and nuts I think about the trail mix and high energy bars of today, they are actually the high carbohydrate intake of our ancestors eating nuts and berries. Essentially, fruits and nuts were our ancestors junk food.
Our brains are motivated to consume these high calorie foods historically, it is what our brains reward circuit was designed for. So even eating the nuts and berries of today in forms such as trail mix and energy bars are exaggerated versions (supersized) of our ancestors simple fruits and nuts. Eating these foods therefore engages the motivational circuits in the brain in an exaggerated manor, it engages the brain in such a powerful way, and in such a high impact shot of calorie intake that it can lead to significant cravings as well as easy overconsumption.
Because our brains are motivated to consume high calorie foods based on our history, our processed foods of today, as well as advertising agencies that promote it, uses our reward circuit to promote the high consumption of high calorie foods. The problem is, that if everything processed is actually composed of high calorie versions of such a rare commodity of what our ancestors diets would have been composed of, then what is happening is, we have exaggerated one component of a historical diet and turned it into normalcy, so it is actually really not normal, it is ‘supernormal’! It is the ‘super size me’ version of reality.
Endorphins are natural pain killers and they are active in different parts of the body, not just the brain. When you are injured or you are in pain (either physically or emotionally) your body releases these chemicals in order to help block the pain. Endorphins are actually morphine like substances and they originate in the brain itself. Endorphins are released during times of stress, strenuous exercise, and also when you are eating spicy food.
We have something throughout our body called Mu-Opioid receptors. These are located throughout our body; in the brain, in the spinal column, and also in the gut. This is our bodies natural morphine, indigenous brain chemicals called indigenous opioids. There are three major types, the dynorphins, the enkephalins, and the endorphins.
When chronically reliant on any substance, dynorphins are released in order to inhibit ventral segmental area (VTA) neurones to prevent them from exciting the nucleus accumbens, attributing to tolerance of the pleasurable effects of the substance. If you overstimulate the brains reward circuit this triggers a release of dopamine. So, for example, because today is Fathers Day, we are having a chocolate ice cream cake. This overload to the brains reward circuit will release a large amount of dopamine, my brain is going to interpret that release of dopamine as a reward prediction error, which in turn will back-up the environmental cues associated, Fathers Day. So chances are, when I encounter this cue in the future, the next holiday for example, I will experience a very strong craving for another ice cream cake treat.
Environmental cues play a central role in regards to the release of dopamine, strengthening the connection between my need to eat, not because I am hungry, but just because I have been cued to do so. Working on creating redirection strategies is extremely important to counter this compulsive need and those strategies are based in opportunities to increase my endorphins, my feel good hormones instead of allowing environmental cues to rule what I do.
Here are some re-direction strategies to increase endorphins instead of being a slave to environmental cues;
What happens when confronted by an invalidating environment?
An invalidating environment can be the environment in which you grew up in but, can also be the environment in which you work, your marital relationship, your extended family, an organization that you want to belong, a group of friends, an environment you have been sent to, like camp, church, school, extracurricular activities, jail, or a foster home, etc.
There are different types of invalidating environments.
Sometimes the environment is just a poor fit. Let’s just say that you are a creative person and you are an emotionally sensitive person, yet the others within your environment are pragmatic, rational and feel discouraging to your pursuits. This poor fit can result in your creative spirit feeling like it is wrong or bad, that you are misunderstood, and ‘different’. A way to self-soothe through this poor fit might be to continually snack, over eat in order to make yourself feel like you fit, only exacerbating the feeling that you actually are the poor fit when weight is gained and you look and respond differently within your environment.
Sometimes the environment is chaotic. The others within the environment just do not validate themselves or anyone else. This environment can feel unstable, not able to provide the necessities, the environment can feel overstressed, resulting in the inability to be helpful to you or it feels like everyone else in the environment is always angry and frustrated at you, they don’t know how to be helpful and you as a result don’t know how to help yourself. This environment can’t provide the information you need in order to know how to live life in a positive and effective manner so eating in a healthy manner might be confusing. You might feel the need to control your food intake in order to compensate for the chaos, and yet binge when you lose control. A chaotic environment may provide too much food, or too little.
Sometimes the environment is abusive. The abusive environment can take many forms, from being physically abusive, sexually abusive, psychologically abusive, or emotionally abusive. Neglect is also an abusive environment as a passive form of abuse. In a neglectful environment you learn that what you want, need, do, and feel will be disregarded. This abusive environment can be expanded to other relationships in which invalidation can occur if others are told of the abuse and you are not believed or feel blamed. The abusive environment can also lead to the need to continually eat in order to self-sooth. Generally speaking, people eat in relationship with others and we learn how and when and what to eat in these relationships. Eating a fast-food restaurant, may be a ‘way out’ also a way to feel better and feel like you are able to get away to a sense of normalcy.
These invalidating environments can lead to emotion dysregulation because these unhealthy relationships can lead to the need to have unhealthy relationships with food, the need to self-harm, act out, feel bad about yourself, that something is wrong with you, that you are not important or have worth, all of which can lead to adopting habits of unhealthy food behaviors that interfere with the quality of life.