Tuesday, June 13, 2006


It’s amazing to me how frequently conversations about food and weight occur. Admittedly, I am more attuned to such talk nowadays, but I can barely get through a day without hearing women talk about what they should (not) be eating and how fat they feel.

I’m reminded of a roommate in college who studied education. As such, she was particularly sensitive to casual use of the word “retarded,” since to her, this was a psycho-educational designation, not a word to throw around when you meant “stupid” or “silly.” Every time someone slipped and used the r-word, (i.e., “That guy I met the other night was so retarded!”), she’d interrupt with a loud, “Beep!” It wasn’t long before I became conditioned and began to censor myself. In graduate school, as the professor of my psychopathology class discussed diagnostic criteria for mental retardation, all I could think of was, “Beep!”

I’m contemplating beeping conversations about food and body image, but I fear I’ll sound like a semi truck in reverse.

Recently, while standing in a restaurant entrance waiting for my party to join me for dinner one night, I overheard two women participate in the following exchange:

“Can we get spinach dip?”

“Yes! I’ve been really good lately.”

Instead of beeping these women, I immediately began to rewrite the dialogue:

“I’m in the mood for spinach dip. I realize I don’t need your permission to order some, but I’m wondering if you’d care to share it with me?”

“Sure! I’d love to. I’m aware that food choices really aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and that too often, intake is confused with morality. In addition, I’m in the mood for the dip not because I’ve been restricting and now feel deserving and not because I’ve been restricting and now feel rebellious, but because I’m simply in the mood for spinach dip.”

There. Much better.


ps22 said...

I just laughed out loud. Nice re-write Dr. Stacey! And now I'm also in the mood for spinach dip.

annie said...

Reaction to Beep--I NEVER, I mean NEVER eat out with a group of women where they just order food without discussing what they had to eat the rest of the day and whether it is "okay" to have what they feel like having. Now that I've been reading your blog, I'm more aware of and sensitive to all the comments.

PalmTreeChick said...

That's funny!

If I ever bleeped my thoughts I would sound like, hmmm, I guess what you said, a truck backing up. Or an answering maching that keeps skipping. I'd be one big beep!! Oooh, I'd sound like I was in Times Square or on 5th ave! That's a better one for you, drstacey!

Lynn said...

I get the impression that you believe that people shouldn’t diet; instead they should allow their bodies to self regulate, only eating when they are truly hungry.

That premises sounds good; however, I can’t trust my brain/stomach/nervous system to tell when it’s really hungry. My body lies to me.

I think that people who are extremely obese (such as myself) are constantly getting signals that it’s time to feed.

Perhaps, there is something wrong with are brains, maybe too much sugar / carbohydrates during our childhood disturbed the delicate balance of chemicals and now as adults, we must consciously make decisions about food consumption and not allow our bodies to have such a weighted influence on what we decide to eat.

Like now, I just ate three hours ago. My body is trying to tell me it’s hungry but I know, because I’ve counted that I’ve eaten enough today to keep my body healthy and happy.

And that I have to ignore my body.

Sorry for the long comment.

By the way I thought this post was hilarious and insightful.

Shaunta said...

Hi Dr. Stacey...great post! The Beep thing is hilarious...but this comment is for the commenter above me.

Lynn...stopping dieting is the hardest --and I really mean that--the very hardest thing I've ever done. I'm still struggling to stop counting calories. I had to have my DH hide the scales this weekend, to stop me from weighing three or four times a day.

I am 170 pounds overweight. And for the first two weeks, I was really afraid I was losing my mind. I had the hell of a time telling the difference between full and hungry, and that half-full feeling brought up huge anxiety. Was I full ENOUGH to count as full?

It isn't about counting. It's about trusting your body to know that if you're hungry, your hungry, and you deserve to eat. It's been six or seven weeks. I've lost a consistant 2 pounds a week. I eat at least 2000 calories a day. And finally I'm getting to the point where I see the light at the end of the tunnel with regards to dropping my last dieting crutch (counting.)

It's scary stuff, trusting yourself.

drstaceyny said...

Hi, Lynn--thanks for your thoughtful comment and questions. While I don't know you or your specific circumstances, a couple of thoughts come to mind: First, I understand your trepidation abt giving up on dieting (see Shaunta's post above--thanks, Shaunta!) It's a very difficult thing to do in a diet-centric world. However, again and again, the research shows that dieting (or restricting when you're hungry) doesn't work.

It seems that a history of dieting actually causes people to become obese. In your case (and for others in similar shoes), it's possible that your whole appetite mechanism is off, due to years of cycles of restricting/allowing. You've convinced your body to know that just because you're hungry, does not mean you will eat. In this way, it will take some retraining and also mindfulness of what it feels like to be physiologically hungry (growling stomach, weak, dizzy) vs. emotionally hungry (wanting the taste of food, bored, etc.) Most anti-diet theorists will encourage you to eat when you experience either, at least at first.

It's possible that when you feel hungry, you really are--as a large woman, you likely need a higher calorie requirement in order to maintain your weight. Feeling hunger after 3 hrs is not uncommon. Most nutritionists recommend eating abt every 4 hrs (and this will vary depending on the size of your last meal, intake over the last couple of days, activity level, etc). Eating when you feel hungry will convince yourself (even at an unconscious level) that you can take care of yourself and that food is not sparse, which will, over time, reduce your tendency to overeat.

I think it may be important for you to honor your hunger, starting to trust the signals your body is giving you. When we don't, we teach ourselves that we're untrustworthy and fuel a famine mentality (overeating at the next opportunity). It may help to have something small to start and see if that works.

For more on this, see Overcoming Overating (Hirschmann & Munter), Intuitive Eating (Tribole & Resch), and anything by Geneen Roth. Thanks, Haley, for pointing me toward IE.

It's a difficult shift to make and requires a leap of faith, given the dieting zeitgeist. However, self-regulation (as you describe) makes intuitive and theoretical sense and, if approached as lifestyle, is frequently met with success.

allisonsky said...

Hi Doctor Stacey,
You are very right about your theories, as I have tried them now for 1 week. I ditched the scale, and haven't weighed myself for a week. I don't know how much I weigh but I feel good. Everytime I am hungy I try to eat something high in protein and/or fiber (like GoLean cereal and soy milk). Then I have an apple, orange, banana, turkey sandwich. I allow myself a vanilla wafer, a small amount of ice cream, etc, and when I feel full I stop. I have NOT been bloated, haven't had acid reflux, and have felt really good following what you say. Food choices are very important and not restricting sweets. If I am hungry at night I eat a piece of stringcheese, or a small amount of cereal.
I have done Jenny Craig, and other diets, have felt awful and dizzy, restricted and hungry, lost the weight after starving and immediately gained it back. I can tell from my baggy shorts that I have lost weight on following your eating advice. ( I never thought about eating like the way you prescribed before). In one month I am going to weigh myself just to see if I lost pounds or inches. Thanks for the awesome eating tips ( not diet). I feel so good all day, and not anxiety ridden, and mad at myself. No more starving and binging for me.

Teacher lady said...

Wow . . . a world like that would be . . . I can't even imagine, unfortunately. Great post, though. Gives me something to dream about!

PalmTreeChick said...

Wow, I may have to take a look a the advice you gave to allisonsky. Eating what you want, when you want...and losing weight from it. That doesn't exist in my mind. I can't even fathom it. I'd probably need a lot of therapy to get me there. You have any open slots tomorrow Drstacey? Ha! (just kidding).