Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To lose weight- be kind to yourself?

I remember reading about a study a number of years ago where two groups of women were given the same diet and told they could eat as much as thy wanted of it.  One group also received massages and spa treatments throughout the study.  At the end of the study, the pampered ladies had lost weight whereas the other group's weight had remained stable or even increased slightly.  The story resonated with me because like many folks I tend to eat more when I am upset about something.  During times when I feel optimistic and successful, I eat less.  When I'm sad I comfort myself with junk, when I am happy I reward myself with healthy food.  For me, there is a huge difference between comfort and reward when it comes to food. A recent blog from Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times reports on work that supports those early findings and my own experiences.  Dr Kristen Neff suggests that some people, who can be quite compassionate to others, have a difficult time applying the same compassion to themselves due to a fear of overindulgence.  These folks are over-critical of themselves when work doesn't go well, or when they gain weight, lose their temper, or offend a friend.  That sounds like me.  An eating study in 2007 showed that when women were asked to test candies, those that were told not to feel bad about eating the candies at less of them.  The other women who were not given the same pep-talk to encourage self-compassion, ate more and felt worse about it.  A preloading donut given to eat during a TV introduction to the study (to simulate mindless easting in front of the TV perhaps) made the situation worse for those that did not receive the subsequent encouragement towards self-compassion and mindful eating. However, the negative effect of a doughnut preload was reversed in the self-compassion group.  So just a few of the right words can shift our attitudes about ourselves, and change our attitude to eating.  Interesting stuff. (As I write this I hear my male friends muttering, 'meh, whatever').  
Perhaps this all plays a role in the current obesity epidemic in the US and across the globe.  Too much cheap junk, a culture of self-blame, and unprecedented levels of depression may predispose us to overeat.  Low self-esteem, particularly in those who have lost jobs, are low-income, or recently become divorced may contribute to a disproportionate incidence of overweight and obesity in those populations.  The notion of being ind to oneself intrigues me and the relationship to food is irresistible. A colleague and I are embarking on a writing a book about how people eat and how people think about food especially in these current times of economics insecurity.  We'll be digging in to how eating habits change when money gets tight, and especially how the diet of children in the home might change.  We hope to challenge some assumptions about food insecurity, obesity, personal choice in foods, conditioned eating in children and mindfulness about eating at all ages.  Self-compassion also needs o be a focus.  We will set up a website and we will blog about our progress once we are on track with our first chapter.  More later...