Dr. Terese Weinstein Katz

Terese Weinstein Katz Ph.D.

Thin from Within

Different Paths to Peace with Food

They could argue about that one cookie. Must the downward spiral spin?

Posted Sep 09, 2010

They could argue about that one cookie. Must the downward spiral spin from there, or not? They had to agree, though, that while one eats the cookie and the other doesn't, they've both managed, finally, to live without binges, constant diets and weight swings.

Friends for 15 years, Jenn and Cara both came from families that struggled with weight. They both suffered as fat kids in school. They'd met in their early 20's at Weight Watchers. They'd dieted together and separately, shared the ups and downs of relationships, jobs, and of course, weight losses and gains over the years.

Cara has stayed off the weight roller coaster now for nearly five years. She regained 70 pounds after her last diet, and she despaired. "I felt like it was life or death. I had to do something." She started following an Overeater's Anonymous "gray sheet" plan, which eliminates white flour and sugar products entirely. She's never added the sugar again. She believes if she did, she'd start to crave it again, and succumb, and from there tumble back down the spiral. "My whole family eats like that," she says. "My parents and older sisters are diabetic now. I've got to keep this weight off-I want to be here for my kids." Plus, "I just don't want my life to be about my weight and food and trying to stop all the time."

While she loves her friend, Cara worries that Jenn's success in recent years is vulnerable, as Jenn still eats some "trigger" foods-foods that once led to binges for sure. Cara reasons, sensibly enough, that emotional hard times too easily pull people back to old habits. "And once you're eating sugar, you want more." Jenn, on the other hand, hasn't wanted to completely give up sweets. She always questioned the idea that she couldn't learn better control. "Maybe my behavior was addictive," Jenn reflects. "But I feel like it kept me safe in some ways. It kept me from having to take responsibility for certain problems in my life. And it kept me quiet about a lot of things I was angry and upset about."

Over a few years of therapy, some psychodynamic, some behaviorally focused, Jenn embarked on changes. Securing a new job, learning to speak up more to her mother, taking more time for herself-eventually inner changes started to occur in her self-perception, and that made new choices easier to tolerate. She doesn't always find it easy, but she usually can have an occasional-weekly, perhaps-treat and leave it at that. "I have my strategies that work for me. I follow a South Beach-type diet, mostly, with a few exceptions. I don't think I could have done this a few years ago, but I feel like it's second nature now." She doesn't judge Cara's choices negatively, however. "People need to do what works--maybe she really can't ‘have just one'. We just support each other in doing what we each feel we need to do to take care of ourselves."

It could be, indeed, that though the two women share apparent body types, and they've shared behavioral struggles over the years, their neurochemistry differs enough that their brains respond subtly differently to trigger foods. Or perhaps Cara's personality disposes her to fare best with very clear do's and don't's, while Jenn becomes anxious with rigid guidelines. Maybe, in addition, Jenn is comfortable with and attracted to psychological explanations that Cara finds blaming or unhelpful.

Eating affects our minds and bodies in complicated ways. And complications multiply in our current world-of too much, too fattening, and too tasty-to-stop. So eating problems can result from a different mix of factors for different people. Solutions, likewise, will apply differently as a result.

Cara's friend Bob, for example, has never even been overweight. Nevertheless, growing up in an alcoholic home, he'd hide out with cheese puffs and candy bars. He started to drink at age 13. He was able to stop drinking a few years later, but not binge eating. Years of therapy, self-help, special foods and supplements brought relief here and there. But the binging never completely stopped. Today he's active in both O.A. and F.A. (Food Addicts Anonymous) and speaks regularly at meetings. His wife, on the other hand, keeps her overeating in check with regular workouts and the support of her therapist and friends. She targets small portions, eating mindfully, and cooking fresh food from scratch as much as possible.

What people here share is the knowledge that it's hard to eat in a way that keeps weight healthy and the mind at peace. Their struggles, trials and errors over time have led them to routines they can live with, and that they feel work well enough.

Dr. Katz’ workbook, Eat Sanely:  Get off the Diet Roller Coaster for Good, is available in paperback, or as an ebook for Kindle, Nook, or ipad:   www.eatsanely.com/order-the-eat-sanely-weight-loss-workbook

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