Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mindful Eating Lecture

Often, I talk and write about the emotions that lead us to under- and overeat. But, what about the emotions we experience because of the food we eat? What are some of the biochemical processes, triggered by different foods, that result in us feeling happy, anxious, or tired? This is what I learned from nutritionist Mary Horn, at a lecture entitled, "Thinking, Feeling, Eating: How Food Affects Mood."

Below is much of the material from the lecture (thanks, Mary!). Did you know, for instance, that we make over 200 food choices per day? When to eat, what to eat, how much, should we add salt, sugar, do we want that with ketchup, are we full, or should we keep eating--all of these decisions, whether we consciously experience them or not, occur throughout each day.

-Cravings are different from physiological hunger.
-Carb. cravings often occur mid-afternoon, lingering until we go to bed.
-Cravings are magnified when dieting, under stress, when skipping meals, with depression, and when we're pre-menstrual.
-Cravings do not occur because of a "lack of will-power," but because of an imbalance in the neurotransmitter, serotonin.
-Eating carbohydrates can increase energy levels, reduce hunger and depression, as serotonin levels are balanced.
-Those who experience carbohydrate cravings (or struggle with any of the above) are "doomed on low carb diets," leaving you "powerless to an all out binge."
-Horn encourages choosing complex carbs and satisfying a sweet tooth with, for example, an english muffin topped with honey, or a 1/2 cinnamon raisin bagel with jelly, in order to incur the same serotonin-boosting benefits without the blood sugar crash associated with simple sugars.
-Horn also recommended eating often, and especially eating breakfast, in order to maintain serotonin levels.

-Our cravings for fat are largely unconscious.
-Fat cravings typically have more to do with texture than taste.
-As you'd imagine, we're more likely to crave fatty foods when on restrictive diets, engaged in erratic eating patterns, and on low-fat diets.

Omega 3 Fats:
-Omega 3 fats can also increase serotonin levels.
-A deficit is associated with depression, anxiety, impaired memory and intellectual functioning, and decreased ability to fight inflammatory diseases.
-The goal is to increase our intake of Omega 3 fats (found in fatty fish, flax, walnuts and canola oil), while limiting our intake of Omega 6 fats (found in pretty much every other fat source). Horn recommends a 4 to 1 Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio in our diets.

-Chocolate makes us feel good for several reasons: The sugar in chocolate boosts our serotonin levels, the caffeine increases dopamine, and the substance in its entirety produces endorphin surges.
-Horn recommends using cocoa powder, eating chocolate after meals (not instead of them), and buying good chocolate in small quantities.

-Ingesting caffeine increases neurotransmitter levels.
-The effects of caffeine can last anywhere from 3-5 hours, up to 20 hours after you drink that cup of coffee. Now, does your insomnia make sense?
-Caffeine provides an endorphin rush and a consequent anti-depressant effect.
-In the long run, though, caffeine can lead to anxiety, headaches, muscle-tension, elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and, natch, insomnia.

-Drinking allow us to relax and feel good.
-Alcohol results in increased serotonin, lowered dopamine (associated with less anxiety), and increased endorphins.
-But, and of course, there's a but, alcohol can dehydrate, have an overall depressing effect, disrupt sleep, affect our food satiety, stimulate appetite, reduce inhibitions, and interact with medications we might take.

Horn's Suggestions:
-Eat mindfully (see my previous post).
-Eat 2/3 of your calories before dinner.
-Never allow more than 3-4 hours between meals.
-Balance your intake of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
-Produce endorphins via exercise.
-Manage stress.
-Increase Omega 3's.
-Get adequate sleep.

Well, possibly easier said than done, but it is interesting to understand the biological underpinnings for why we crave certain foods. Horn asked the audience about carbohydrate cravings, and every single woman raised her hand. She noted that women typically crave carbohydrates, while men are more likely to crave protein. Is this true for you? If so, does this help explain why?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mindful Eating Exercise

Recently, I visited a spa that prides itself on its mindfulness programming. Activities include physical challenges (that focus on mindfulness), mindful decision-making, mindful communication, mediating, and, of course, eating.

I decided to attend a mindful eating breakfast, craving the experience both for myself and to bring back to my work. So, at 9am on a Saturday morning, I sat down with a couple of other women and began a mindful eating exercise.

We were instructed to visit the restaurant buffet, paying particular attention to all of our senses as we made our food choices. We were instructed not to focus on the "shoulds," but rather on what appealed to us.

I piled food on my plate, paying attention to vibrant color and texture. I stood over the bowl of flax seed for a moment (this is a healthy place!), thinking, "I should probably add some flax seed," but quickly caught myself and headed back to the table to begin the exercise. For the record, I chose some berries, oatmeal, and a vegetarian/cream cheese omelet.

The challenge: For 10 minutes, we were to eat mindfully--to meditate over our food, with awareness, without conversation.

That 10 minutes felt like an eternity.

Have you ever timed how long it takes you to eat breakfast, especially if you're not talking to someone else, watching tv, reading the paper, etc.? I'm guessing most us (myself included) scarf down our food in fewer than 10 minutes. . . and usually with one or more distractions.

So, here's what I learned, as I stared at my plate for 10 minutes, looking at the food, swirling it around with my fork, chewing slowly, paying attention to my appetite, to color, texture, and taste.

1) I don't even like raspberries. They're pretty bitter to me.
2) I really like strawberries. Did you ever notice how evenly dispersed the seeds are? I did!
3) Omelets are kind of plastic in a way I don't particularly enjoy.
4) The texture of oatmeal is much more appealing when I allow it to settle in my mouth, bathing my teeth and tongue in its chewy, little lumps. And, I love, love, love the squishy sound of oatmeal stirred.
5) 10 minutes at a table with several other women is a really long time to go without speaking. We stared at our plates, at our food, but it felt somehow asocial. It made me realized how conditioned we are to communicate, to focus on others (and other things) rather than what we're ingesting.
6) Without these distractions, I easily registered my satiety, putting my fork down at the first sign of fullness.

Have you ever tried an exercise like this? What are your thoughts/feelings about trying?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


In the spirit of the season (for those of us in the States), check out Leslie Goldman's current article in Shape magazine. If you remember, I interviewed Leslie back in September, and her book, Lockerroom Diaries, appears on my sidebar to the right.

And, some thanks to all of you:

1) For reading and providing me a consistent audience toward the goal of eventually getting this book published

2) For your thoughtful, frank, and insightful comments

3) For the fact that I've actually been able to meet some of my readers (and may, in the future, even meet more!)

4) For your continuing to challenge me to clarify my ideas

5) For serving as a large, internet-based support group: Recently, I attended a group therapy training (as someone who typically leads 4-5 groups per week, I feel that it's important to continue to hone my skills). During the training, I kept reflecting on my readership and how it approximates a live support or therapy group--how you influence one another (and me) with supportive, but honest, feedback; how you are able to express your feelings and ideas so articulately; how you, through this blog (and its many sisters) have helped develop a community that is loving, respectful and working to empower each other and ourselves.

For this, I thank you. . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Anti-Diet Center

In a couple of weeks, I'll be moving my office about a block away from my current location. Not a big deal, right?

I'll be moving into a suite already occupied by a social worker and a neurologist. Perfect.

Now, here's the hitch: There are two other office suites (both in clear view) on our floor. One's a physical therapy office, the other, a nationally recognized diet center.

When I went to look at the office for the first time, I paused in front of the diet center. "What's wrong?" the social worker, who was showing me the suite, asked. "I'm just having a reaction to the diet center. I do a lot of anti-diet work." Oh, the irony, I thought.

It actually factored into my decision-making process. Should I not take the suite given its proximity to the diet center? Should I tempt my clients, whom I educate with anti-diet approaches, by offering them a chance to diet. . . on the exact same floor?

Ultimately, it wasn't enough of a detraction, and I'm scheduled soon to move. I'm also scheduled to begin an intuitive eating/body image group (essentially, an anti-diet group). I have a fantasy of erecting a sign advertising the title of this post. As clients exit the elevator, it'll say "Go left!" (toward my office), because dieting is "right," but often leads us in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mass Appeal

Snooping through The New York Times "Book Review" section this weekend (when one wants to publish her own book, this kind of research is always illuminating), I came across the "Advice, How To, and Miscellaneous Section." Under the paperback list, here are the top four books, in order:

1. The Wisdom of Menopause. Making menopause a time of personal empowerment,and physical and emotional health.

2. Skinny Bitch. Vegan diet advice from the world of modeling.

3. Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. Advice and information on nutrition, fertility, hormone replacement, sexuality and more.

4. What to Expect When You're Expecting. Advice for parents-to-be.

With all this focus on women's bodies, several questions emerged:

1. First, why are these the top four books on the NYT list? What does it say about women and our bodies?

2. Where are the men's books?

3. Is the "wisdom" referred to twice (and the joy of impending childbirth) enough to counteract Skinny Bitch?

4. Is there really a place for EWHAED (or alternate title)?

5. Which of these have you read? Any comments?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Halloween Post-Mortem

Don't you just love it when someone puts in print exactly what you've been thinking? Well, what we've all been thinking? Take Halloween. . . and women's costumes. . . Just the other day I was having a conversation with another woman about how no matter which costume you choose, you're ultimately going as a sexpot.

And, then, I come home to my copy of New York Magazine, where in an article entitled, "Halloween Is For Lovers," a male friend of the authors, named Chris, is quoted as saying, "'Women should wear anything with a short skirt and nylons. . . . Nurse, witch, angel, janitor--it's all the same costume, just different colors.'"

He's right. It really doesn't matter if you're a pirate or a wench, a dominatrix or a nun, you'll pretty much look the same.

The writers, "Em & Lo," weigh in:
Em thinks sexy costumes are only slightly less annoying than those Axe Bodyspray commercials and are for women who are too chickenshit to dress provocatively the rest of the year. Lo, on the other hand, sees nothing wrong with a holiday that sanctions a little light role-playing for everyone. . . .
My question is: Are our costumes designed to attract men, or are we, ourselves, chomping at the bit for a bit of exhibitionism, playing out a playful fantasy on our own? Are we slutting it out for others or ourselves, or do we no longer know the difference?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Tyra Today

Thanks to my alert readers who informed me that The Tyra Show will be covering "The Vagina Dialogues" (yes, that's what she called it, too!) If you have some time (or a DVR), check it out!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Eight Things

Inspired by April's challenge, posed here--Eight Things I Like About My Body:

1) My height
2) My large, expressive eyes
3) My strength (the look and function of muscles)
4) The softeness of my hair
5) My big, white smile, used somewhat judiciously
6) My (word of the day) countenance, capable of conveying almost every emotion, sans words
7) My walking stride, which is unintentially "bouncy," allowing me to appear quite peppy
8) My solid legs, which have held up, with minor exceptions, the last few months and which I hope will send me sailing on Sunday!

Now, your turn. What are your eight things?