Body Image and Eating

I’m going on a different journey in this post. This has been on my mind lately so I figured I might as well write about it because why not?

homer body

Homer has a great self image!

Everyone has a self-image. Everyone! Some have a healthy self-image while others need some help. Some may even have a confident self-image when they really need a revamp and others may have a horrible perception when they are in fact quite capable of many things.

Self-image can become downright destructive when it comes to health. Poor perceptions of body image and self-efficacy (one’s perception of what they are able to accomplish) are strongly correlated with binge eating. [1] Binge eating is bad. I’m not talking about a splurge every now and again which I personally feel is fine, but a full out binge where you eat excessively and usually unhealthy food comprises the meal. I’m not sure that I’ve heard of people overdoing it on celery or broccoli but I suppose it’s in the realm of possiblity.

I also think it a fallacy to think that women are the only ones who suffer from this problem. While the numbers may not be as big they are still a problem. One study looked at high schoolers and found that 85% of young women interviewed wanted to lose weight while only 40% of young men felt the same way. In contrast (and I believe this is the big difference between guys and dolls) 45% of the young men wanted to gain weight. Both sexes shared negative body perceptions if they wanted to lose weight. [2]

It is interesting to note though that as men age they increasingly want to decrease body weight. [3]

Other forces play on both sexes to alter self-image and self-efficacy. Schooling, teasing, health status, health status related teasing, parenting style as well as many other factors contribute to how a person views themself. Weight seems to be a huge factor for many and some feel they can’t be happy until they achieve a magic number where everything will be hunky dory.

While a healthy weight certainly helps one be “healthy”, the magic number in and of itself cannot by definition make a person happy. I was just as happy at 190 as I am now at 240. Unfortunately I can’t help but think that many internet blogs, including this one, while helping others may also be contributing to people’s destructive self-image problems. If for example a person was to read this blog and make the goal of getting “healthy” and then wasn’t able to achieve whatever that specific goal was then they might feel a failure, thus adding to the problem they originally set out to “fix”.

Don't get sucked into the YoYo dieting trap. YoYo doesn't equal YOLO

Don’t get sucked into the YoYo dieting trap. YoYo doesn’t equal YOLO

Most problems with self-image and food or weight go something like this:

1) Person feels that bodyweight is too high and makes decision to lose weight.

2)Person decides that once the magic number is attained happiness will ensue.

3) Person begins exercise, diet or both. While in the thralls of this new diet (rather than lifestyle) person obstains from everything pleasurable about food, thus becomming a food celibate.

4) After some time, be it weeks or months person either

A) Attains desired goal and continues on with new lifestyle

B) Attains desired goal and returns to old lifestyle beginning the vicious yo-yo dieting

C) Feels like garbage because they workout and starve themself and hasn’t lost a pound and throws up their hands and gives up. Depression might set in here and the person goes back to eating garbage with hunger to rival a great white shark (they can eat 400-500 lbs of tuna in one feeding)

D) Doesn’t make it more than a week because the new diet is too hard and gives up before making any progress at all. Feels like a failure, depression sets in and food jumps into the rescue.

Many of us have hit one of these scenarios. Some of us may have only made it part of the way through step 1 before deciding to give up before we even start. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Food is Powerful

Some think that food is the dark side of the force and good for only causing pain and grief. Other believe that food is neutral, only allowing us to have energy to live. For others food is a wonderful part of living. Not only does it provide energy to live but it acts as one way of experiencing life, through enjoying good food.

So what’s the impetus behind a binge? Why do we turn to food when we have these problems of self esteem or self-image or self efficacy?

Like all things we observe in nature, there is a balance of two opposites. Yin and Yang, high tide and low tide, Star Wars prequels and Star Wars originals….they all have an opposite effect.

Admit it...without the prequels you wouldn't appreciate the originals as much

Admit it…without the prequels you wouldn’t appreciate the originals as much

In our brains we have different neurotransmitters that accomplish the same thing, alertness and awakeness as well as calm and sleepiness. Different foods have different building blocks for creating those neurotransmitters. Spinach and kale have high levels of folate which are good for creating serotonin, one of the calming transmitters.

L-tyrosine, an amino acid, is a precursor for dopamine, which in turn is turned into norepinephrine. These are more the excitatory hormones in the brain. Eating complete sources of protein like meat is a source for l-tyrosine. Both kinds of transmitters are required for good mental health, both physically and emotionally.

Dopamine, like serotonin, is required for proper feelings of bliss or pleasure. Another way of saying that you have too little dopamine is colors lose their color, food loses its taste, or relationships lose their love.

An improper diet can affect these neurotransmitters as they may be out of balance. Food can also temporarily increase serotonin and cause feeling of comfort or well being. The specific food, if you haven’t already guessed is carbohydrate.

Judith Wurtzman, a researcher at MIT found that people who crave carbs are trying to give their brains a serotonin boost. She and her husband, Richard Wurtzman found this effect is the greatest when there is little to no protein consumed with the carbs. [4] People that binge on carbs, especially in the afternoons or evenings are apparently trying to increase their serotonin levels.

This act is very much like the behavior of drugs addicts. The brain “knows” that with a hit of drugs, or this case sugar, there is a reward that is expected. It is similar to as one report puts it,

We like to receive gifts, for example, but we want food, sex, and drugs.” [5]

In other words our brains full well know what is coming when they crave sugar, and so we eat some sugar.

Self-Image and Cravings

As discussed at the top of the article self-image can drastically change our outlook. It can cause us depression and in an effort to relieve those feelings some will turn to carbohydrates. Maybe after being teased or harrassed at school or work a person will turn to carbs because they make that person feel better, albeit temporarily.

Another instance in where craving sugar may be explained is the need for energy. Depression can cause a perceived loss of energy and someone may feel the need for carbs as a pick me up to get going, much the same way in which many people need coffee to get going during the day.

What to Do?

For starters I think it important for anyone and everyone to remember that no one controls your happiness. That is hard to believe at times because the things people do can affect us both directly and/or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally.

Remember that if you’re trying to change your lifestyle, not your diet, please do so in a way that is incremental and progressive. What does that mean? It means making changes that you can handle over time. Going from a garbage diet to a healthy diet can be trying at times. Dont focus on the scale either, focus on how you’re feeling. Dropping weight isn’t as satisfying as not having to take diabetes or acid reflux medication or getting rid of that scaly skin.

Change a few things at a time and get control. Trying to overhaul everything at once for some will be like deciding to play collegiate football after watching Rudy or thinking you can box like a pro after watching Rocky. Did you notice how much training Rocky did? Nope, because training montages from the movies and tv typically last only a few minutes. This is why I have a hard time with things like Dr. OZ and his shows. They market remedies or cures for weight loss like candy. Anything marketed like candy probably should be treated as such.

Choosing to be happy is something that is hard for some to understand, even myself at times. I don’t mean to sound insensitive nor am I trying to be but keeping a stiff upper lip and not letting trends or perceived “beauty” or “accomplishment” is rather important in not succumbing to a poor self-image. This again goes back to not comparing yourself to others.

Women will usually compare bodies or how beautiful they look with other women while for men it is usually more a problem of comparing accomplishment. “Her legs are so much nicer than mine” or “he makes so much more money than me” are destructive and self demeaning just as “my legs are so much better than hers” or “I make way more money than he ever could”.

Comparing yourself to other people is a sure fire way to kill yourself emotionally and increase any perceived need for a binge. It seems like most Hollywood stars, rock stars or anyone else in the limelight has demons they deal with, you just don’t see them.

Remember to thank you legs for all they do for you and be grateful that your paycheck is feeding you at all. And if someone has the audacity to tell you straight up that your legs aren’t all that or that your paycheck is too small….well my advice is to tell them to go pound sand! I don’t have time for negativity in my life and neither should you.

If during a hard day you’re having a craving to eat all things sweet get some support not some ice cream. Call a friend or sit down and write your feelings out. These won’t give you the immediate relief that devouring chocolate will, but it will be a lot healthier in the long run.

Sometimes knowing how the body works is helpful when confronting things like cravings, especially in the wake of something like self-image. It can give you a plan for action. In the grip of something like an all out craving attack it doesn’t do much good though. Knowing that you brain is trying to increase neurotranmitters doesn’t change the fact that the force it has on you is nearly as strong as the impulse to breathe.

Try to splurge from time to time and have some fun with your food, but keep it healthy the rest of the time. Eating a balanced diet that includes carbs is good. Eating a diet devoid entirely of one macronutrient I believe is a bad idea. Not eating carbs, especially for someone who is active can lead to a carb binge day. Some people do it without any problems. I say be cautious.

Be aware of avoiding carbs because sooner or later they will seek you out.

Be aware of avoiding carbs because sooner or later they will seek you out.

Remember to surround yourself with supportive people. If you have to dump someone because of negativity then do it. I don’t want to be surrounded by people that are pulling me down, only pushing me up. And get people that you can call when things get rough. I’m amazed at how a person’s attitude changes after we talk at the pharmacy window. They may be worried or sad or confused and then after venting a little to me they feel much better. Usually all I have to say is “Have a great day”. It really is that simple.

Don’t get discouraged by others thoughts or anything else. If you’re having some issues with some goals you’ve set, reevaluate them and determine what you’ve already accomplished. And don’t let others be the judge of how you look. Contemplating how awesome your next workout will be or how much you can’t wait to see the next Star Wars trilogy is a much better use of brain power than how your legs aren’t forever long or your paycheck not 6 or 7 figures.

CIAO

 

1.Cargill, Byron R., et al. “Binge Eating, Body Image, Depression, and Self‐Efficacy in an Obese Clinical Population.” Obesity research 7.4 (1999): 379-386.

2.Drewnowski, Adam, and Doris K. Yee. “Men and body image: Are males satisfied with their body weight?.” Psychosomatic Medicine 49.6 (1987): 626-634.

3.McCabe, Marita P., and Lina A. Ricciardelli. “Body image dissatisfaction among males across the lifespan: A review of past literature.” Journal of psychosomatic research 56.6 (2004): 675-685.

4.http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2004/carbs

5.http://www.dirkhanson.org/neuroaddiction.html

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2 thoughts on “Body Image and Eating

  1. I have struggled to define what healthy meant to me after two difficult pregnancies and a car accident injury. I felt stuck. I never got crazy overweight, just hovered between 180-190 (my natural weight seems to be 140) and could not figure out on my own how to get back into shape. I wanted to learn, but found most of those options to be more then I could afford and by that time I had become so depressed by my lack of energy that doing it on my own wasn’t working either. I was referred to a new online program that teaches sustainable fitness habits by my sister. Her brother in law has worked in the field of supplements and exercise for 15+ years. He and some friends wanted to do more to help those around them be healthier in a way that’s insanely affordable and easy to use. They came up with the idea of Method 5 Fitness. They recruited a leading nutritionist with the American Heart Association to develop a series of take action nutrition lessons, a success coach with the US Olympic team to teach a series of take action success classes (the info is very similar to what you say in this article, just more in depth), and personal trainers to build a library of hundreds of fitness videos covering many different genres of exercise. You partner in teams to give each other encouragement and accountability. Since the membership is only $19.99 month, and that can be shared with your household, its the most affordable program I’ve found. And it works. I’m exercising 5 times a week now, my parents who are in their 60s are exercising 5 times a week, a friend of mine who just surpassed the 400lb mark is now back under 400 lbs and changing his eating habits and getting active again using M5. If you’d like to learn more about this I can get you in touch with the founders and they can answer all your questions. M5 is a referral based company and does not do traditional advertising. So for every person you refer, you get $10 of their monthly membership credited to you so a person can easily have their membership credited back to them, and then some. My email is missredberezay@gmail.com I look forward to hearing from you.

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