Sex, Drugs, Rock ’n’ Roll, and Food

What do sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and food all have in common?

Photo 159--Rock Band

They all stimulate the reward center of your brain, of your body, of you.

On a day that I have great, sensual, connected sex and also get to listen to Pearl Jam play on MTV Unplugged, I don’t need much else. Really. I certainly don’t need any potato chips.

Seriously, imagine the feeling of eating some chips.

Now imagine the feeling of being at a concert with your friends or doing something else you really enjoy doing. Have you ever been having such a good time that you basically forgot to eat? Then you get the idea. This is your reward center doing it’s thing. At our most basic level, we need food, we need people, and we’re here to enjoy the whole experience. We’re here to be alive. When we’re meeting these essential needs and feeling that good, all we want to do is keep it going. Of course, even when we’re having the time of your lives, we eventually get hungry. Even kids making forts in the woods eventually come in to eat.

On the other hand, have you ever been so lonely, stressed, and/or bored that all you wanted to do was eat, even when you weren’t hungry, even when the food stopped tasting good? That’s “emotional” eating. A better name for it is reward-center eating because calling it “emotional” eating makes it seem irrational and unchangeable. It actually makes perfect sense and is really easy to fix. Here’s the straight truth: When you’re not meeting your needs for connection and overall enjoyment, most likely because you don’t feel you deserve them, your reward center drives you to eat. Eating when you’re hungry is life itself. Eating when you aren’t hungry is a poor substitute for what you really want and need.

Appropriate eating is hunger eating. That is, you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. All animals on the planet do that, and have done that for all of history and pre-history, except for the most modern humans. Why is that? Because most people aren’t meeting their needs for connection and overall enjoyment. We’re a people made for living with our tribe, our possy, our peeps. We’re a people made for fist bumps and hugs and pats on the back. For massages. For great sex. For concerts and dances and adventures of all kinds. But we settle for chips. Chips that never satisfy. How could they?

“Emotional” eating is so common because so many people are chronically lonely-stressed-bored. That’s what happens when you do a job you don’t actually like to make money to buy things you don’t actually like to impress people you don’t actually like. Welcome to the United States, where materialism* and industrialism** are the gods; chronic boredom, loneliness, and stress are the fallout; and “emotional” eating is the dirty-little-not-so-secret coping mechanism.

Many people (I meet several every week) are stuck in years-long dysfunctional relationships with “emotional” eating. They’re all using the wrong tool for the job: willpower. They believe their life is just fine as it is and the reason they eat junk food when they’re not even hungry is because they lack the willpower to stop. So they “abstain” for a few days, while the desire to eat junk food builds and builds and builds and builds, and they eventually “indulge”. Our reward centers need to be stimulated and they’ll get what they need one way or another. If you don’t allow yourself to have the connection and overall enjoyment you truly desire, your reward center is going to keep asking for chips and cookies. You can’t resist nature. There’s no better example than the Catholic church. Catholic priests take a vow to live without having sex and what happens? They have sex, in secret, with boys and girls. You can’t put nature in a box. It’ll always escape.

This is what “emotional” eaters do too. They hold it together, hold it together, hold it together with “restraint”, then bam, the floodgates open and they’re binging on junk food again. Why do they fall apart? Because they’re using the entirely wrong tools for the job: willpower, abstinence, restraint.

I help my clients overcome “emotional” eating every week. It’s quite simple, and quite easy because we use the right tools for the job: sex and rock ’n’ roll.

Great, sensual, connected sex truly does work well. As does any deeply intimate, deeply harmonious connection. Our brains’ reward centers love connection. With a lover. With a friend. With anyone we’re close with or becoming close with. Connected people have satisfied reward centers.

Rock ’n’ roll works really well too. So does jazz or hip-hop or ambient music. Or anything you enjoy. Rock ’n’ roll, in this case, is a facsimile for enjoyment, for fun, for pleasure. A person living a truly fun-filled, pleasure-filled life has little need for chips.

When a wellness professional’s only tool to help you overcome “emotional” eating is willpower, they’re showing that they slept through both their physiology and psychology classes. My clients put “emotional” eating behind them for good because together we do the work to help them meet their needs for connection and overall enjoyment. Here’s where this gets really good. Most people who are failing to meet their needs for connection and enjoyment don’t believe they deserve connection and enjoyment. They think loneliness, stress, and boredom is all they deserve. Their relationship with themselves has become corrupt and we do the challenging, meaningful, life-changing work together to clean up and restore their relationship with themselves. That’s true wellness coaching. That’s true transformation.

Frankly, it’s the only way to get the job done. Trying to curb “emotional” eating with willpower is like trying to drain Lake Erie with a spoon. A woman who’s in a marriage in which her husband doesn’t pay any attention to her, who’s running around from morning to night shuttling her kids to activities, and who’s come to the realization that having the trendiest sports-utility vehicle doesn’t fulfill her, isn’t going to stop binging in the afternoon using willpower. Her brain, her body, every ounce of her being needs those cookies. The reward center of her brain is starving because she’s lonely, stressed, and bored. The reward center of our brains has evolved over millions of years. It needs stimulation and it will get it. Your measly willpower doesn’t stand a chance against millions of years of evolution.

You were made to rock (to enjoy the sensory, sensuous, sensual nature of life), and you were made for vibrant community, friendship, and sex. If you’re not living in alignment with the vary fabric of your being, your reward center has an obligation to inform you. It’s not working against you with those after-dinner cravings. It’s working for you. If you listened closely to the cravings, you’d be able to tell that junk food isn’t what you really want and need. When you allow yourself to have what you really want and need, that’s when your life will really take off. This is when you’ll start to thrive. Yes, you’ll put “emotional” eating away quickly and easily. And you’ll get so much more! Because when your relationships improve, everything in your life will get better. And when you start allowing yourself to enjoy your life, it’ll have massive ripple effects for how you approach your work and all of your life. You’ll shun drudgery and embrace play. You’ll be truly happy and healthy. You’ll thrive.

I challenge you to ask yourself if you believe you deserve a life you love, full of the kind of connection, fun, and pleasure you were made for. If you hesitate at all to say “Yes!” I challenge you to do the work, with help if you could use help, to be able to say “Yes!” and to walk your talk. Because, then, and only then will you be able to fully step into a life that meets your needs. And when you do, “emotional” eating will stop being a monster. It’ll be pesky fly you don’t even notice. “Emotional” eating isn’t even a thing for a thriving person.

*The word materialism, as it is used in our culture to mean a reverence of meaningless things has a negative connotation and it should. It’s true, 3,000-square-foot homes for four-person families and cheap plastic goods aren’t serving anyone. Contemporary materialism is pornography of true materialism which is actually a wonderful perspective. A true materialist finds the rocks and the water (in lakes, rivers, the ocean, etc.), the clay and the trees, and all of Earth’s “material” as simultaneously gorgeous and perfectly useful. As such, he/she appreciates the material word, respects the material word, reveres the material world, and stewards the material world.

**The word industrialism, as it’s used in our culture to mean growth and expansion of economies for any reason at any cost has created a faulty, useless, destructive abstraction. People now value the moving of money around for the sake of moving money around and the selling of anything for the sake of selling and not for actually enhancing the quality of life for anyone. It’s rare that anyone’s life improves through abstract growth and expansion or selling anything some fool will buy. For example, is the life of an ordinary United States citizen better today than it was 25 years ago? The wellness metrics say it’s worse. As one example, far more people, including far more children, suffer from both depression and type-2 diabetes today than they did 25 years ago. But, of course, the United States and world economy has grown and much more stuff is being sold. True industrialism is the perspective and actions of of an individual or group who use their talents and abilities to make the day-to-day experience of life better for themselves and others. They use their life to create that which matters.

Author’s Note: Drugs light up the reward center of our brains like magic too, but they also fuck your life up faster than Hollywood stars fall from grace. I don’t recommend them.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

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The Lean, Thriving People Who Eat Only Carbs, Sugar, Fat, Saturated Fat, Flesh, and Guts

Photo 156--Kitava

Kitavans are lean, thriving people that live on an island that’s part of Papua New Guinea. Cardiovascular disease is virtually nonexistent in their society. Sickness, in general, is rare in Kitava.

What’s their secret? Are they watching their carbs? Making sure not to eat too much saturated fat?

That’s not it. (This article works best if you follow this link.)

But, yes, their way of eating is a big part of their wellness. Kitavans, who live as subsistence farmers who also continue to fish, eat really well. They always have an abundance of delicious food. Their staples are coconuts, fish, fruit, and tubers. Let’s do a basic nutrition breakdown of the foods Kitavans thrive on.

Coconuts are made up of more than 75-percent fat with small amounts of carbohydrate and protein. The fat in coconuts is about 90-percent saturated fat.

Fruit is made up of more than 90-percent carbohydrate with very small amounts of protein and fat. The carbohydrate in fruit is about 75-percent sugar.

Let’s pause here for a moment and make this perfectly clear: The Kitavans, who are kicking the United States’ ass in terms of cardiovascular-disease prevention have as staples of their diet high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods. Not just any carbohydrate, but sugar. Not just any fat, but saturated fat. If you’re world is being rocked, hang in there; we’ll get through this together.

Maybe they’re vegetarians? Not, that’s not it either. Remember, Kitavans are island people who regularly eat fish. They eat a wide array of fish, both finfish and shellfish, and eat every part except for the bones, gallbladders, and scales of finfish and, of course, the shells of clams, mussels, and oysters. They eat fish guts. They eat fish eggs too. Fish eggs are particularly popular with Kitavan children. (If you think you’re wealthy living in the suburbs feeding your kids GoGurt while you’re rushing around in your borrowed (the bank owns it) crossover vehicle to get back to your borrowed (the bank owns it) colonial house, consider the fact that Kitavan kids are regularly eating caviar while living on an island paradise with their debt-free parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.)

Photo 157--Kitavan Children

Kitavans are also big fans of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other tubers which are staples of their diet since they grow so well in Kitava. Tubers are more than 90-percent carbohydrate with very small amounts of protein and fat.

If you’re wondering why news anchors are always telling you to cut carbs and to be careful not to eat too much saturated fat, my hunch is they’re spending too much time working on their spray tans and permanent fake smiles to be well-informed. Let’s stand out from the crowd and inform ourselves with direct quotes from the physicians and scientists who’ve studied the Kitivans:

“In Kitava, the intake of Western food is negligible and stroke and ischemic heart disease are absent or rare.” (1) (My comment: Western food refers to food-like packaged goods, like 365 Everyday Value Organic Cheese Crackers, for example.)

“The population is characterized by extreme leanness (despite food abundance), low blood pressure, low plasma plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 activity [a marker of thrombosis related to the development of the metabolic syndrome (the cluster of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and related diseases) and cancer], and rarity of cardiovascular disease. Tubers, fruit, fish, and coconut are dietary staples whereas dairy products, refined fat and sugar, cereals, and alcohol are absent and salt intake is low.” (2) (My comment: Kitavans are very lean and hardly ever get cardiovascular disease. Among their food staples are coconuts which are almost entirely saturated fat. They also don’t eat any food-like packaged goods.)

“On the island of Kitava, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, a subsistence lifestyle, uninfluenced by western dietary habits, is still maintained. Tubers, fruit, fish and coconut are dietary staples. Of the total population, 1816 subjects were estimated to be older than 3 years and 125 to be 60-96 years old. The frequencies of spontaneous sudden death, exertion-related chest pain, hemiparesis, aphasia and sudden imbalance were assessed by semi-structured interviews in 213 adults aged 20-96. Resting electrocardiograms (ECG’s) were recorded in 119 males and 52 females. No case corresponding to stroke, sudden death or angina pectoris was described by the interviewed subjects. Minnesota Code (MC) items 1-5 occurred in 14 ECG’s with no significant relation to age, gender or smoking. ST items [a measure of heart function] (MC [Minnesota Code] 4.2 and 4.3) were found in two females and Q items [a measure of heart function] (MC [Minnesota Code] 1.1.2, 1.3.2 and 1.3.3) in three males. Stroke and ischaemic heart disease appear to be absent in this population.” (3) (My comment: Among the Kitivans; people whose food staples are coconuts, fish, fruit, and tubers; cardiovascular disease is so rare that researches used the word “absent” to describe the results of their study. Wow!)

“Low serum insulin may partly explain the low prevalence of cardiovascular disease in Kitavans and probably relates to their marked leanness.” (1) (My comment: Kitivans eat a lot of fruit and tubers and they have low blood-insulin levels. About 70 percent of what they eat is carbohydrate.)

Now you know about the Kitivans: the lean, thriving people who eat only carbs, sugar, fat, saturated fat, flesh, and guts.

Let’s be real clear about something: Kitivans aren’t eating low-fat coconuts. They’re not eating I Can’t Believe It’s Not a Coconut. They’re eating full-fat, full-saturated-fat, full-flavor, full-life coconuts. They’re not eating low-carb sweet potatoes or low-sugar bananas either. Fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, and sugar are…wait for it…wait for it…wait for it…nutrients. They’re not villains, they’re nutrients. And there aren’t good and bad nutrients. Bad nutrient is a misnomer. There are simply nutrients.

Kitavan food hasn’t been destroyed by industry, by processing. That’s all. That’s their secret. All whole, natural, real food, from spinach to almonds to venison to raspberries and everywhere in between—ALL whole, natural, real food—is nourishing. That’s 99 percent of what you need to know about nutrition.

Some people will learn about the Kitavans and mistakenly think coconuts, fish, fruit, and tubers are superfoods. These aren’t superfoods. There are NO superfoods. These are very simply the Kitavan’s local foods. They eat wild-caught fish and organically grown vegetables and fruit that grow well in the region of Earth where they live. That’s what you can do too to reap the benefits the Kitavans do from their way of eating. If you’re ready to be done obsessing over nutrients, if you’re ready to let your food villains go, you’re now free to do so. Just eat real food.

To emphasize this point, none of you “food”-entrepreneur types (who don’t make food, but make food-like packaged goods) should go out and try to make Kitava Bars made from coconuts, red snapper, mangos, and sweet potatoes with a drawing of a Kativan lifting a barbell on the package. Kativans aren’t doing boot camp, and taking food and processing the crap out of it to make a shelf-stable bar is exactly the problem. Don’t be the problem. Just eat real food. Any real food. All real food.

“But Jason, it isn’t only the news anchors who tell me to avoid certain nutrients. My physicians, including my cardiologist, are always telling me to cut back on this and that.”

Cardiologists are smart dudes/dudettes. And if you want to know the right pill to lower your blood pressure or you want to have a stent properly inserted into your body, there isn’t anyone better for the job. But these folks aren’t the best people for the job of helping you eat well. In a 2017 study article published in Current Cardiology Reports (a medical journal that focuses on cardiology) (4), the researchers state:

“Medical students receive an average of fewer than 20 h [hours] of nutrition education, largely confined to basic sciences and discussion of vitamin deficiency states.”

“Current guidelines for Internal Medicine [sic] residency and cardiovascular fellowship training do not contain any specific requirement for nutrition education.”

“A recent survey showed that the vast majority of cardiologists report having received minimal nutrition training, although most cardiologists believe it is their personal responsibility to provide nutritional counseling to their patients.” (My comment: That’s like someone who’s never taken drivers’ ed believing it’s their personal responsibility to drive an 18-wheeler over an icy mountain pass in Montana.)

“Cardiologists typically receive minimal training in nutrition and are not well equipped to deliver effective nutritional counseling and recognize opportunities for appropriate referral.”

We’ve known (the few off us in the know) about the Kitivans since the early 1990s, yet if you ask most cardiologists if they’ve heard of Kitava, they’ll probably ask you back if it’s a brand of sailboat they can buy. You’re on your own people. Popular culture is cesspool of misinformation regarding eating well. The television and your physicians’ offices offer little guidance. I’m not knocking physicians or the medical system. Cardiologists, in their own journal, are being forthright and telling you they don’t know what they’re doing. Besides, it takes millions of people (and billions of dollars) to do this crazy tango. Medical-insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and millions of sick people all work together with physicians to create the medical system. If there weren’t so many sick people, the medical system wouldn’t be so dysfunctional. If you want the medical-insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and physicians to be less of a factor in your life, be well. Live well and be well. The Kitivans make it perfectly clear that for those with a lifestyle that meets their needs, cardiovascular disease, and sickness in general, is a non-factor.

My client Mary recently asked me, “Jason, when did people become so afraid of food?” It’s a poignant question. From birth, most of us have lived in a culture of food exclusion. Ask anyone you know today what they do to eat well and almost every single person will answer with something like, “I watch my carbs,” “I’m gluten-free and dairy-free,” “I limit my red-meat intake and watch my portions.” Our entire discourse around eating well is about what we’re scared of. The advice on what to be scared of, that you get from your news anchors, Weight Watchers, and nutrition professors, is, of course, always changing. The same people/organizations that told you to eat a low-fat diet 20 years ago tell you to eat a low-carb diet today. Mainstream eating advice is a decidedly unappetizing mix of fear and ignorance.

I invite you to imagine what a fear-free, enjoyment-full relationship with food, eating, your body, and yourself would be like for you. It’s glorious.

Because I feel the need to be thorough (my articles are the opposite of 30-second sound bites and five-minute medical appointments; they’re the plenum of truth), it’s not only the Kitavans’ way of eating that creates their wellness, it’s their lifestyle in the fullest sense of the word. Among other factors contributing to the Kitavans’ wellness are the facts that they spend a lot of time outdoors in nature, live in close-knit communities, and do work that’s inherently fulfilling to them. These factors all contribute to lives low in chronic stress. That’s what happens when you meet your needs. That’s the key to wellness in both the present and the future.

Papua New Guinea, Kitava Island, The Trobriands, dancer

I invite you to stop drinking from wells of fear and ignorance and enjoy great meals made from well-sourced, delicious real food with your close ones. That’s really all there is to it.

(1) Low Serum Insulin in Traditional Pacific Islanders—The Kitava Study. Metabolism, 1999, 48(10), 1,216-1,219.
(2) Age Relations of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Traditional Melanesian Society: The Kitava Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1997, 66(4), 845-852.
(3) Apparent Absence of Stroke and Ischaemic Heart Disease in a Traditional Melanesian Island: A Clinical Study in Kitava. Journal of Internal Medicine, 1993, 233(3), 269-275.
(4) Nutrition Education for Cardiologists: The Time Has Come. Current Cardiology Reports, 2017, 19(9), 77.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Fat People Live the Longest

It’s true. According to a study article published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association (1):

“Relative to normal weight, both obesity (all grades) and grades 2 and 3 obesity were associated with significantly higher all-cause mortality. Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality.”

The key part:

“…and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality.”

Compared to “normal weight” people, “overweight” people had significantly lower all-cause mortality.

I know what you must be thinking: It’s bad science. When a scientific study presents results that are counter to a deeply held belief, many people start by attacking the science. I get that. And truly, all scientific studies have flaws, but yet still have the capacity to teach us a great deal. I also know that your know-it-all aunt who did Weight Watchers and your bro personal trainer all know better. They easily spout, “Lose weight and everything measure of wellness gets better.” According to this study, one important measure of wellness is better for fat people: living.

Back to the quality of the science. This is JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the most prestigious and longest-running medical journals in the world. You can’t do a scientific study in your basement, write up the results, send it over to them, and get it published. They have one of the most rigorous peer-review processes of any medical journal in the world. These are extremely intelligent scientists and physicians reading thousands of study articles submitted by researchers from around the world, who are also extremely intelligent scientists and physicians, and selecting only the study articles that describe the most well-executed scientific studies that meet their rigorous criteria. If it doesn’t meet the standards of JAMA, it doesn’t even get a sniff. This is like Hollywood: You don’t call them; they call you. As far as standards for quality of science, it doesn’t get any better than JAMA.

Photo 155--The Journal of the American Medical Association

It must seem impossible in our body-fat-obsessed culture, but there’s not a dose-response relationship between leanness and wellness. That’s what the science tells us.

In the study, subjects were classified as “normal weight” (body-mass index of 18.5 to 24.9), “overweight” (body-mass index of 25 to 29.9), or “obese” (body-mass index of 30 or more). The mortality risk for “normal weight” subjects was designated 1.0. Relative to the mortality risk for “normal weight” subjects, those classified as “overweight” were determined to have a 0.94 mortality risk and those classified as “obese” were determined to have a 1.18 mortality risk. The fat people lived longer than the “normal weight” people. The “normal weight” people lived longer than the very-fat people. So, yes, to some degree, fatness kills, but only for the very fat. It’s not a linear relationship.

Looking at the data a bit more closely, when subjects classified as “obese” were subclassified as “grade 1, 2, or 3 obese”, those classified as “grade 1 obese” (body-mass index of 30 to 34.9) were determined to have a mortality risk of 0.95, again lower than the mortality risk for “normal weight” subjects. So both “overweight” and “grade 1 obese” subjects, were determined to have a lower mortality risk than “normal weight” subjects. Being classified as “overweight” or “grade 1 obese” was associated with greater longevity.

In this study, fat people (excluding the very fat) lived the longest. It took a body-mass index over 35, a full 10 points over the top end of “normal weight” before subjects were determined to have a lower mortality risk. So, yes, again, the very fat were determined to have the highest mortality risk. But the “pleasantly plump” lived the longest.

Here’s another helping of truth: Exercising well and eating well, along with meeting all of your needs, prevents virtually every ailment, and fosters wellness. That’s right, exercising well and eating well are two of the best things you can do for yourself.

“But Jason, you just said fat people live the longest. I’m confused.”

Good. I have you right where I want you: shaken loose from the doldrums of decades of misinformation. As you meet your needs, including your needs for nourishing movement and nourishing food, you’ll be well and you’ll thrive. I wholeheartedly recommend you consistently meet your needs including doing exercise you love and eating well-sourced, delicious real food. I also recommend you stop obsessing about your weight. Your body-mass index. Your body composition. Whatever you want to call it.

This is my message in no uncertain terms: Untangle the shape and look of your body, of you, from the happiness, health, and wellness of you. Separate them completely. Ask yourself each day, “What can I do to take care of myself and live a life I love?” Then do those things. Not because they alter your shape or look. Fuck that. Let it go. Be normal. Be a person. Live.

Obsessing over weight trips so many people up on their paths to greater wellness. If you untangle shape/look from happiness/heath/wellness, it’s a much smoother ride. I’m here to encourage you to be super well. To thrive. And to let your body be. Accept it. Let it be and rock your life.

If you’re still shaking your head thinking it just can’t be, if you’re wondering how could everyone have lied to you all these years, I have an answer for you. We live in a society fueled by, even founded upon, the most spectacular half-truths (half is being generous). The founders of our country wrote in the United States Declaration of Independence that it’s a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. This, while the blood on their knives was still drying from their slaughter of 30 million “indigenous” Americans (twice the number of people killed in the Holocaust). At the very same time, 15 million African men, women, and children were building this country as slaves. Oh, and women wouldn’t be allowed to vote for 144 years from the date of the signing of that document. All and equal wasn’t (isn’t) honest. The United States is good at subtle lies, half-truths, and massive propaganda whether it’s to get you to buy a diet shake or to go to war. Things are rarely as they seem around here.

The truth will set you free and I’m glad to bring you some today. There’s more where that came from.

(1) Association of All-Cause Mortality with Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2013, 309(1), 71-82.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Your Nutritionist Throws Up After He/She Eats

“Twenty percent of the dietetic majors indicated some degree of vomiting after they stuffed themselves. This was in contrast to the combined total of approximately four percent for the other two majors.”

This, according to a study article published in the Journal of Nutrition Education (1).

You might be seeking help to improve your eating habits. You might want to feel better about yourself and have better relationships with your body and eating. I understand that; I really do. And I warn you: Be careful where you turn for help.

According to a study article published in the scientific journal Nutrition & Food Science (2):

“Nutrition students had a low mean BMI [body-mass index] of 21.8 kg/m2 [kilograms per square meters]. Despite this, the majority (90 per cent [sic]) were dissatisfied with their body; with 83 per cent [sic] wishing to be thinner and 60 per cent [sic] overestimating their body size. The BITE [Bulimic Investigatory Test, Edinburgh] questionnaire [a measure of bulimia and other eating disorders] revealed that 30 per cent [sic] scored for disordered eating and 10 per cent [sic] scored for Bulimia Nervosa [sic].”

You might expect nutrition students, who are soon-to-be nutrition professionals, to be masters of eating well and to have very loving relationships with themselves, their bodies, and eating. This isn’t the case. You might expect nutrition professionals to be able to help you learn to eat well and to improve your relationship with yourself, your body, and eating. But a person can’t give you what they don’t have.

Keep in mind that this third or so that meet the criteria for disordered eating are only the leading edge of this problem. Disordered eating occurs on a continuum ranging from clinical eating disorder, to subclinical eating disorder, to various neurotic approaches to eating. Considering that fact that 60 percent of subjects in this study overestimated their body size, 83 percent wanted to be thinner, and 90 percent were dissatisfied with their bodies despite having a low body-mass index says only one thing: epidemic. Nutrition departments are both welcome homes and breeding grounds for these troubled people.

What’s being done about this? Not much according to a study article published in the Canadian Journal of Dietary Practice and Research (3):

“We developed a questionnaire specifically for this project and distributed 664 copies electronically, using contact information obtained in collaboration with Dietitians of Canada and the International Confederation of Dietetic Associations. Using the 101 questionnaires returned from 14 countries, we found that 77% of respondents felt eating disorders are a concern among nutrition students; however, only 15% of programs had policies/procedures to help address these disorders. Forty-eight percent of respondents thought screening for eating disorders would be a good idea; however, 78% of them believed screening would involve ethical issues. In conclusion, eating disorders are a concern in nutrition faculties around the world, and while most feel something should be done, ethical dilemmas contribute to confusion over the best approach.”

It appears the fox is guarding the hen house. The nutrition students of yesterday are the nutrition professionals of today and the cycle continues. It’s the blind leading the blind. The troubled leading the troubled.

And the troubled leading you. The leaders of eating well in our communities struggle in droves with body-image disorders and eating disorders. This means not only the direct services you might receive from these professionals, but also the articles, books, and all the media they put out are deeply tainted. Both highly dysfunctional approaches and overt disorders are being passed on to you, the consumer of eating advice.

This has been going on for decades according to a study article published in the scientific journal Health Education Research (4):

“As early as 1989, Betty Larson wrote about a new epidemic of females in food technology and dietetics training who were exhibiting characteristics of eating disorders, including body size overestimation and a pre-occupation with weight, shape and food. She then commented about the ethical dilemma of allowing these young women with eating disorders to study in such careers that revolve around food and health, both for their own well being [sic] and that of their future clients. Research in this area has since confirmed that body dissatisfaction, dieting and disordered eating behaviors as well as sub-clinical and clinical eating disorders are indeed more prevalent in this group of food and nutrition professionals.”

This is the very culture where diets, calorie counting, and ever-changing lists of “good” and “bad” foods come from. These are the epic failures the body-image-disorder-infested, eating-disorder-plagued nutrition profession have given us. This is the very culture, through the aforementioned practices, that’s created the epidemic of weight cycling (a.k.a. yo-yo dieting) and introduced a whole new eating disorder to the world in the last two decades: orthorexia.

I’m not criticizing any person for struggling with body image and eating. I’m open about my struggles with body image as a teenager and into my early 20s. I have great compassion for anyone who struggles in these ways. I coach many people, including many people you wouldn’t expect to struggle with body image and related exercise disorders and eating disorders, including world-class athletes, esteemed counselors, and yes, many nutritionists. They come to me referred by someone who knows I have both the sensitivity and acumen to help them learn to eat well on top of learning how to heal from their body-image disorders and underlying shame. Sometimes they come directly to me when they meet me and they can tell I have what they want: true, deep acceptance of myself and my body along with freedom to exercise and eat peacefully and joyfully from that foundation of acceptance. I’m not criticizing anyone struggling with these challenges.

My concern is that everything that comes out of the nutrition culture is created in this toxic petri dish. The aforementioned study subjects who struggle in droves with these matters are the very people working in nutrition laboratories, doing nutrition dissertations, giving nutrition talks, even shaping public policy around nutrition. Many physicians, without the expertise or time to help their patients with eating well, often unknowingly refer their patients to these same nutritionists. Many of them are unaware of the studies I’ve described here.

I invite you to question the primary products of the nutrition field: diets, calorie counting, and ever-changing lists of “good” and “bad” foods. Diets are also called cleanses, detoxes, and similar names. Calorie counting in other forms is counting grams of carbohydrate, fat, and/or protein or counting “points” of different food types. The “good”-and-“bad”-foods approach created the disastrous low-fat movement of the 80s and 90s and the disastrous low-carb movement of now. The common denominators are exclusion and restriction. That’s really what the troubled nutrition field has given us: exclusion and restriction (and now you know why!). Exclusion and restriction are insane approaches to the life-giving act of eating.

It pains me deeply when someone comes to me and says, “I’ve struggled with my weight and with eating my whole life.” If you’re one of these people, you have my fullest compassion. You must break away from the mainstream nutrition community and find someone to work with who can help you establish a loving relationship with yourself, your body, and eating. You must look more than skin deep. If you look only for a lean body, you’re not looking for the right stuff. Have a conversation with a professional and listen well. Do they have a loving relationship with themselves, their body, and eating? Do they truly understand your struggles? Are they genuinely compassionate? Do they possess a real acumen for helping you feel better about yourself and more confident in your ability to eat well? When you find such a person, breathe easy. You’ve finally found someone who can help you learn what you’ve been trying to learn all these years. Things are about to turn around for you.

Photo 154--Excited Woman

(1) Comparison of Eating Patterns Between Dietetic and Other College Students. Journal of Nutrition Education, 1985, 17(2), 47-50.
(2) Body Image Dissatisfaction Among Food‐Related Degree Students. Nutrition & Food Science, 2012, 42(3), 139-147.
(3) Dietitians and Eating Disorders: An International Issue. Canadian Journal of Dietary Practice and Research, 2012, 73(2), 86-90.
(4) Body Image, Dieting and Disordered Eating and Activity Practices Among Teacher Trainees: Implications for School-Based Health Education and Obesity Prevention Programs. Health Education Research, 2008, 24(3), 472-482.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Food Shopping: It’s Big Fun If You Do It Right

I love food shopping! Seriously—I look forward to it every week!

Most weeks I start by going to the farmers’ market where I get to enjoy several of my favorite experiences all at once. I get to be outside, listen to live music (there are always musicians there), take in other beautiful art (especially the pottery that’s always on display and for sale), and spend time with my peeps. I always run into someone else I know from town too. I have some of my best conversations strolling through the market or sitting under a century-old oak tree while someone with a spectacular voice sings folk songs. I get to experience the seasons too as the food changes from sweet potatoes and kale to tomatoes and cucumbers to delicata squash and pumpkins, all of which is life itself. Selecting food to buy and chatting with my farmers is big fun too, of course. I love food and this is my chance to bring home the brilliant goods I’ll cook and eat that week. There’s lots to enjoy at the farmers’ market, but the real reason I enjoy food shopping is because, to me, it’s an outing, not a chore.

“This is the real secret of life: to be completely engaged in what you’re doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize that it is play.”
–Alan Watts

And bored, I don’t do bored. I suppose if I were walking the aisles of a big-box store with horrendous muzak as my only companion, I might want to get the whole thing over with. But if you go somewhere fantastic, with your close ones, how could food shopping be boring?

Photo 151--Farmers' Market

I also enjoy going to the fish market. I live right near the ocean and I get to walk to fish markets with fresh fish from a stone’s throw a way. I walk over and get some cod, oysters, scallops, or whatever looks good that week.

Photo 152--Fish Market

In the right seasons, my next stop is a farm just out of town where I pick my own strawberries, blueberries, and apples.

Photo 153--Blueberry Farm

None of this is a chore to me; it’s all an adventure.

Many people rush through chores (and all of life) thinking when they’re done what they’re rushing through, they’ll get to the good stuff. But this is the good stuff. Picking blueberries with your kids or your brother or your friend on a beautiful day is the good stuff.

Why would you rush through a chore—when right there, right then, you have food, your close ones, art, and nature—to get to somewhere else in the future? Where/when else do you want to go? These “everyday experiences” are the heaven religious people seek. Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ray Kinsella spell this out nicely for us in Field of Dreams. Heaven is here—in Iowa, in Maine, in Istanbul, or wherever you are—now.

Every day, people travel miles to go somewhere to spend time outdoors. Every day, people read relationship books, go on dating websites, undergo fertility treatments, and spend hours on Facebook, all to experience connection. Every day, people pay big bucks to go to concerts. Every week, I experience the beauty of nature, joking and teasing and deep conversation and laughing my face off, and all kinds of art, all while food shopping and you can too.

This is the good stuff and it’s available to us right here, right now, not when we’re done our boring chores.

“As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being. If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted yesterday, I am likely to get nothing more than the thin, sketchy outline of the few things that you noticed, and of those only what you thought worth remembering. Is it surprising that an existence so experienced seems so empty and bare that its hunger for an infinite future is insatiable? But suppose you could answer, ‘It would take me forever to tell you, and I am much too interested in what’s happening now.’ How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such a fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god? And, when you consider that this incalculably subtle organism is inseparable from the still more marvelous patterns of its environment—from the minutest electrical designs to the whole company of the galaxies—how is it conceivable that this incarnation of all eternity can be bored with being?”
–Alan Watts

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

Is Tom Brady Really That Sexy?

We’ve all heard the reports that Tom Brady is the first one to arrive at the Patriots’ training complex and the last one to leave. They say he’s a workout machine. He’s made it to the top of the National Football League and stayed there longer than anyone ever has because he works out so hard so the reports go.

But is he sexy?

Photo 150--Two People Kissing

Some might say I’m not in position to answer this, as a straight man who’s never owned a pink number 12 Pats jersey, but I’m going to take a crack at it anyway: He’s not sexy; the science says he’s probably not even that sexual.

In a study article published in Medicine & Science of Sports & Exercise, men who worked out at low and moderate loads were much more likely to have normal and high sex drives compared to men who worked out at high loads. (1) Here’s how the researchers summarized their findings:

“Exposure to higher levels of chronic intense and greater durations of endurance training on a regular basis is significantly associated with a decreased libido scores in men. Clinicians who treat male patients for sexual disorders and/or council couples on infertility issues should consider the degree of endurance exercise training a man is performing as a potential complicating factor.”

A study article published in the Journal of Endocrinology dug deeper into the hormonal underpinnings of the decreased sexual function in excessive exercisers. (2) Researchers studied men who exercised two hours per day five days per week at two different intensity levels. They found low testosterone and suppressed overall sexual and reproductive abilities among the subjects. These effects were worse in the high-intensity group. How bad was it?

“After 24 weeks of exercise, the subjects exercising with high intensity demonstrated significantly declined semen parameters compared with those exercising with moderate intensity.”

You might swoon for his dimpled chin, but TB12 might be all show and no go, along with other excessive exercisers.

Exercise is, of course, great for maintaining a high sex drive and there are countless studies backing this up. But the devil is in the details. Doing moderate exercise keeps us well in all ways and high sex drive is one marker of wellness. But excessive exercise makes us sick in all ways and low sex drive is one marker of sickness. Two studies on women drive home this nuance really well.

In a study article published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, women filled out questionnaires (this served as the control condition) or ran on a treadmill for 20 minutes then watched porn (the researchers referred to it as “erotic films” in the study article, but who are we kidding) or some boring shows (these were referred to as “neutral films” in the study article). (3) While they watched the videos, subjects’ levels of sexual arousal were measured. Running on a treadmill significantly boosted sexual arousal compared to the control condition. The researchers, who definitely can’t complain that their job is boring, reported in their study article (3):

“Several studies have demonstrated that moderate exercise increases genital response to erotic stimuli in women. The increase in genital arousal could be the result of various changes that can occur in response to exercise including changes in hormone levels, neurotransmitter levels, mood, and autonomic nervous system activity.”

But what happens when your exercise load slides from moderate to excessive? What happens when you go “hardcore”?

A study article published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility offers clear insight. (4) In this study, measures of time to pregnancy were taken from women who worked out at various exercise loads. In all women except those categorized as “overweight” or “obese” in the study, workout load was associated with time to pregnancy in a dose-response manner. The harder a woman worked out, the longer it took her to get pregnant. This statement summarizes the findings of the study:

“In this prospective cohort study of Danish women aged 18-40 years, vigorous PA [physical activity] was associated with reduced fecundability [the probability of becoming pregnant within one menstrual cycle] in all subgroups of women examined, with the exception of overweight and obese women (BMI [body-mass index] ≥25), among whom PA [physical activity] of any type either modestly increased or had little effect on fecundability [the probability of becoming pregnant within one menstrual cycle]. In contrast, moderate PA [physical activity] was associated with a modest increase in fecundability [the probability of becoming pregnant within one menstrual cycle] overall and did not appear to have any deleterious effect on fertility among lean or overweight/obese women.”

The authors of a study article published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology summarize this understanding about moderation very well:

“A healthy amount of exercise in men can be beneficial. Physically active men who exercised at least three times a week for one hour typically scored higher in almost all sperm parameters in comparison to men who participated in more frequent and rigorous exercise. Moderately physically active men had significantly better sperm morphology (shape) (15.2%), the only ones to be ranked above Kruger’s strict criteria [a measure of sperm morphology (shape)] in comparison to the men who played in a competitive sport (9.7%) or were elite athletes (4.7%).”

Those are some stats you’re never going to hear on ESPN!

“Physical activity has been shown to confer a protective effect on fertility when coupled with weight loss in obese women. However, excessive exercise can negatively alter energy balance in the body and affect the reproductive system.”

Excessive exercise simply diverts resources from your sexual and reproductive systems!

Being really fit is confused with being really well. We need a modest amount of fitness to thrive. The science on this is very clear. In a study article published in the prestigious Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the researchers report (6):

“Accumulating evidence suggests that exercise practices that are ideal for promoting health and longevity may differ from the high-volume, high-intensity endurance training programs used for developing peak cardiac performance and superb cardiorespiratory fitness.”

“From a population-wide perspective, physical inactivity is a much more prevalent public health problem than excessive exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for 150 min/wk [minute(s) per week] or more of moderate-intensity aerobic PA [physical activity] or 75 min/wk [minute(s) per week] of vigorous-intensity aerobic PA [physical activity]. A recent survey of a half million adults in the United States reported that about 10 of every 20 people fail to obtain this suggested minimum weekly dose of PA [physical activity]. However, extrapolation of the data from the current Williams and Thompson study to the general population would suggest that approximately 1 of 20 people is overdoing exercise, potentially increasing the risk-to-benefit ratio. Individuals from either end of the exercise spectrum would probably reap long-term health benefits by changing their PA [physical activity] levels to be in the moderate range.”

“On the basis of multiple studies, it might be prudent to limit chronic vigorous exercise to no more than about 60 min/d [minute(s) per day]”.

“A weekly cumulative dose of vigorous exercise of not more than about 5 hours has been identified in several studies to be the safe upper range for long-term cardiovascular health and life expectancy.”

If excessive exercise is killing you, then it’s certainly going to suppress your sexual and reproductive wellness. In reality, you need only a modicum of fitness for thriving sexual and reproductive wellness. Think of all the people you know who’ve made a baby. How many were crazy fit? How many were not very fit at all? Once you’re fit enough to maximize your wellness, additional fitness isn’t going to make you any more well. This would be like trying to put 100 gallons of gasoline in your 13-gallon gas tank in an effort to make your car drive faster or further. Your car can only hold so much gasoline. In a person, pouring in more exercise beyond one’s capacity for exercise, uses up resources needed for vital functions, including making hormones. Low sex drive and poor reproductive abilities among excessive exercisers should come as no surprise, really.

I get where the mistaken thinking comes from. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you probably have images in your mind of macho men snapping towels in locker rooms raving about their sexual prowess. It’s part of our culture to think of athletic men as superheroes with invincibility, certainly not impotence. But the scientists and physicians publishing the findings of their studies in the likes of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the Journal of Endoncrinology, and the Mayo Clinic Proceedings tell us an entirely different story. (I assume similar tall tales are being told wherever women tell tall tales.)

I know I’m not winning any popularity contests by knocking Tom Brady off the false-god pedestal many people have placed him on. But I want more people to enjoy sex if they want to. And I’d want more people to have children if they want to. So I feel it’s important to tell the truth about “hardcore” exercise as it relates to sexual and reproductive wellness.

While I’m knocking down out-of-date paradigms, I think there’s another reason to challenge TB12’s sexiness. Do you find a person who’s living their own life alluring? Someone doing their thing? Being themselves? Being an original? I sure do. I’m drawn to people who are blazing their own trail, unafraid to be themselves. Frankly, I couldn’t think of a less original life path for a man in contemporary United States than to be a quarterback married to a model. Was that really his idea? He might be winning the matrix, but that means he’s firmly in the matrix. What’s sexy about that?

(1) Endurance Exercise Training and Male Sexual Libido. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2017, 49(7), 1,383-1.388.
(2) The Effects of Intensive, Long-Term Treadmill Running on Reproductive Hormones, Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Testis Axis, and Semen Quality: A Randomized Controlled Study. Journal of Endocrinology, 2009, 200(3), 259-271.
(3) The Roles of Testosterone and Alpha-Amylase in Exercise-Induced Sexual Arousal in Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009, 5(4), 845-853.
(4) A Prospective Cohort Study of Physical Activity and Time-to-Pregnancy. Fertility and Sterility, 2012, 97(5), 1,136–1,142.
(5) Lifestyle Factors and Reproductive Health: Taking Control of Your Fertility. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 2013, 11(66), 1-15.
(6) Exercising for Health and Longevity Vs Peak Performance: Different Regimens for Different Goals. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2014, 89(9), 1,171-1,175.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Pour Some Sugar on Me

It’s mid-afternoon. You’re not hungry, but you find yourself tempted to have those brownies someone brought into your office. “Nah,” you say to yourself, “I’m not even hungry. I just had lunch two hours ago.”

But they keep calling you, and calling you, and calling you…and you have a few, maybe more than a few.

You feel bad afterward. Sluggish, and mad at yourself. “Why did I do it again?” “What’s wrong with me?” you ask yourself in a condemning tone. You’re a disciplined person. You get to work on time. You get the oil changed in your car. You pay your bills on time. You have your life mostly under control. But brownies, cake, cookies—you just can’t stop yourself sometimes!

“That’s it, no sugar!” you boldly declare. There, you’ve sworn off sugar, again. And it sticks—for a few days. Then you’re back it it, kind of like a junkie. You just can’t stop. Yeah, you really do feel like a junkie.

You see a report on the news that sugar is as addictive as heroin. “Aha!” you proclaim. You knew it all along and now you have proof.

Well, this is the part of the article where I either burst your bubble or give you really good news, depending on your perspective: You’re not a sugar addict and sugar isn’t even addictive (and I can prove both of these facts to you). My proof: soldiers and rats.

Let’s start with soldiers. During the Vietnam War, United States soldiers become addicted to heroin in droves. When these soldiers left the war and returned home, very few of them continued to use heroin at all, let alone addictively (1,2). If heroin was addictive and they were heroin addicts, there’d be no way they could just stop. But they did, without intensive drug rehabilitation. All they did to stop was leave the war and come home. (1,2)

War is as stressful as life gets. You think your to-do list is daunting; imagine one like this:

  1. Make your bed.
  2. Clean your rifle.
  3. Kill Vietnamese people.
  4. Hold your friend while he dies in your arms.
  5. Breath in napalm.

Right?

We experience stress whenever we fail to meet our needs. Being at war is about as far as a person can get from meeting their needs. War is inhuman. It could be the definition of inhuman. Very few human needs are being met for anyone at war.

Something very important happens when we meet our needs. The levels of reward chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, etc.) in our brains, in our bodies, in us, go up. This feels good.

When we don’t meet our needs, of course, our levels of these reward chemicals drop. For those soldiers in the Vietnam War, their levels of reward chemicals were crazy low. This feels bad. Really bad.

These reward chemicals are very powerful. They’ve driven human behavior for millennia and helped ensure our individual survival as well as the survival of our species. In other words, it’s part of our nature to do that which boosts our levels of these reward chemicals.

What do you thinking taking heroin does? It rapidly and powerfully boosts a person’s levels of reward chemicals.

Here’s what happened with these soldiers:

  1. They were living in an extremely high-stress environment that failed to meet their needs as people.
  2. Their levels of reward chemicals dropped precipitously. They felt bad.
  3. They were offered a substance which, when ingested, dramatically boosts one’s levels of reward chemicals.
  4. They tried the substance and it boosted their levels of reward chemicals. They felt better.
  5. War continued to be stressful and failed to meet their needs. Their levels of reward chemicals dropped repeatedly. They felt bad.
  6. They took the substance again and the cycle repeated. (They were addicted to the substance.)
  7. They left the war and returned home. This new environment was relatively low stress and mostly met their needs. Their levels of reward chemicals were consistently relatively high.
  8. Their cravings for heroin went away.
  9. They stopped taking heroin.

Were these soldiers addicts? Perhaps they were situational addicts. They certainly weren’t always addicts or they wouldn’t have been able to stop taking heroin so easily when they returned home.

Is heroin addictive? Perhaps it’s situationally addictive. It’s certainly not always addictive or the soldiers wouldn’t have been able to stop taking it so easily when they returned home.

Perhaps there are addictive situations? Addictive environments?

Now let’s talk about rats, lab rats. For years, researchers conducted various studies in which they’d bring lab rats heroin and observe what happens. The rats would, in fact, become addicted. Once rats were given heroin, they’d keep taking it. If it was taken away, they would exhibit signs of withdrawal. Numerous scientific studies showed similar results. The researchers had all the evidence they needed: Heroin is very addictive.

In comes pioneering researcher Bruce Alexander. He made an observation: All the rats in these heroin studies were living, as lab rats tend to do, in cages. They were living in large columns and rows of cages. This meant their daily lives included no contact with other rats. They only people they saw were the people who brought the food, water, and, um, heroin, a few times a day for a few minutes of total time. Alexander hypothesized that this might have an impact on the results of heroin studies. (3,4)

Rats are used in scientific studies because their behavioral, biological, and genetic characteristics are similar to those of people. Rats are social creatures, just like us. We all know what happens when a person goes into solitary confinement; they basically lose their shit and go crazy. Like war, solitary confinement is one of the most stressful environments there is. And these rats were effectively living in solitary confinement for their entire lives. Again, Alexander thought this was important. (3,4)

So he made Rat Park. In his laboratory, he designed and created an area for rats to live. They had lots of space to move around. They had other rats to socialize with. They had plenty of food and plenty of water. They had toys rats love to play with. (3,4) Their needs were met.

Then he gave them heroin. (3,4) What happened?

  1. Almost all of the rats tried the heroin. (3,4)
  2. Most of the rats never took heroin again. (3,4)

Just like the soldiers from the Vietnam war, when they were in an environment that met their needs, heroin wasn’t appealing. They were quite content. Sure taking heroin felt good. But not any better than making out with other rats and playing with colorful toys.

Again, we can observe not addictive “people” (rats in this case) or an addictive substance, but an addictive situation, an addictive environment. These examples show us that war and solitary confinement, stressful situations, foster addiction. They also show us that situations that meet our needs lead to freedom from addiction.

The results of the Rat Park studies, which were conducted in the 1970s, were validated in a 2010 study of a similar nature (5). Here’s what the researchers from that study reported in their study article:

“Adult Wistar rats housed in short-term isolation (21 days) consumed significantly more morphine solution (0.5 mg/ml [milligrams per milliliter]) than rats living in pairs, both in one-bottle and in two-bottle tests. No differences were found in their water consumption. This effect was observed in both males and females and the results were also replicated after reversal of housing conditions.”

“We also found that as little as 60-min [minutes] of daily social-physical interaction with another rat was sufficient to completely abolish the increase in morphine consumption in socially restricted animals.”

Back to you and the brownies: Could this same phenomenon help you? I hope I have you at least considering the possibility of your long-sought freedom. If a rat hanging out with his/her rat friend for one hour can eliminate morphine cravings, certainly there are ways you can get free from your sugar cravings.

I witness it every week with my clients. I witness my clients getting free from “emotional” eating rapidly and powerfully. How do they do this? By meeting their needs.

Photo 149--Free Woman

“Meet your needs”, I know, sounds like the tagline for an all-women’s pampering retreat in the Berkshires. It sounds fluffy and intangible, I get it. But meeting your needs changes you “physically”. It changes the chemistry within your body. It gives you abundant levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and other reward chemicals. Just like it did for the soldiers when they left the war and came home and just like it did for the rats when they were released from solitary confinement and put up in luxurious Rat Park.

The most common unmet needs that lead to “emotional” eating are sleep, rest, time in nature, and connection. Contemporary Western culture is a petri dish of these unmet needs, so if this speaks to you, know you’re not alone. Imagine a person who got six hours of sleep, commuted for an hour by themselves on the beautiful (sarcasm alert) highways outside a major city, then put their earbuds in and got to work coding and occasionally instant messaging with their “team” in Pakistan. Shit, if that was me, I’d have a cupcake in the afternoon too. Sugar cravings and binges, however, can be nicely attenuated by simply making some changes to the environment in the petri dish you swim in. Creating a life with consistent good sleep and rest is huge. Add a regular dose of nature, even simply getting outside for 10-minute breaks during the day will help a lot too. And connection, that’s where the magic happens. Connection boosts levels of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and other reward chemicals like nothing else.

I’m in the business of reading, writing, and talking about scientific studies, not designing and implementing them, but If I were going to run one, here’s what I’d do. I’d recruit 1,000 subjects who really struggle with “emotional” eating and put them in two groups, an experimental group and a control group. The subjects in the experimental group would get eight hours of sleep per night. They’d also get two hours of rest per day on workdays and six hours of rest per day on weekends. They’d eat one meal per day together in a group of five. They’d exercise four days per week doing the type of exercise of their choice. They’d have the option of exercising with others if they wanted to. The men subjects would participate in a men’s group that met once per week. The women subjects would participate in a women’s group that met once per week. All subjects would take a course in tantric sexuality and be encouraged to practice with their lovers. The subjects in the control group would continue living their lives as they were. Measures of “emotional”-eating levels would be taken from the subjects at baseline, three months, and six months (post-study). Measures of dopamine level, serotonin level, oxytocin level, endorphin levels, and levels of other reward chemicals would be taken from the subjects daily.

My hypothesis is that the subjects in the experimental group would have much lower levels “emotional” eating and much higher levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and other reward chemicals. (They probably wouldn’t want to go home either.)

This study is unlikely to ever be conducted because it wouldn’t get through an ethical review board because it might impose excessive enjoyment of life (my sarcasm is flowing today; please excuse me) on the experimental subjects.

In any case, you could try this experiment in your own life. Perhaps you can’t live in my study paradise with me, but you could replicate it as best as you could (i.e., get more sleep and rest, spend more time in nature, and cultivate great connection).

The beautiful thing about this approach is that not only does it not have any side effects (that’s the trying-to-be-benign term pharmaceutical companies use for side problems), but it has side benefits. That is, enjoying more sleep and rest, enjoying more time in nature, and rocking your relationships won’t only curb your “emotional” eating, it’ll make literally everything in your life better. That’s thriving. As far as I can tell, that’s the real “go big or go home” we’re here for.

Author’s Note: The phenomenon of situational addiction relates to behavior addictions like being addicted to gambling or exercising, not only to substance addictions like heroin or sugar. These behaviors, like these substances, boost one’s levels of reward chemicals. in a person who’s not meeting their global needs, these behaviors can become situationally addictive and these people can become situational addicts.

Author’s Note: I put “emotional” in quotes when using the term “emotional” eating throughout this article (and with the word “physically”) because there’s no separation between our “physical”, “emotional”, and “mental” existence and our “physical”, “mental”, and “emotional” processes. This is made abundantly clear by the effect experiences like those described in this article have on chemicals (undeniably “physical” in nature even by those who hold on to the notion of division of a person into parts) that are us.

Author’s Note: Throughout this article I’ve referred to sugar instead of processed sugar because it made for less-clunky and sexier (to me anyway) writing. However, processed sugar is what we’re technically talking about here. No one I know is complaining of cravings for or binging on bananas, kiwis, and raspberries which are loaded with sugar. Sugar is a nutrient that naturally occurs in many real foods that are very nourishing.

(1) Narcotic Use in Southeast Asia and Afterward. An Interview Study of 898 Vietnam Returnees. Archives of General Psychiatry, 1975, 32(8), 955-961.
(2) How Permanent Was Vietnam Drug Addiction? American Journal of Public Health, 1974, 64(12S), 38-43.
(3) The Effect of Housing and Gender on Preference for Morphine-Sucrose Solutions in Rats. Psychopharmacology, 1979, 66(1), 87-91.
(4) The Effect of Housing and Gender on Morphine Self-Administration in Rats. Psychopharmacology, 1978, 58(2), 175-179.
(5) Social Isolation Increases Morphine Intake: Behavioral and Psychopharmacological Aspects. Behavioural Psychology, 2010, 21(1), 39-46.

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.