Is this you (or at least “weekend you”)?
Is this You on a diet?
From my experience working with people to better their health through food, fitness, and lifestyle, I am probably pretty close, if not spot on.
Dieting, restricted eating, or what is clinically referred to as “restrained eating”, is inherently unpleasant. In the words of my wife, ex-figure competitor, “dieting SUCKS!” But is the distaste (pun intended) for restrained eating/dieting simply a matter of psychological shortcomings of weak willed individuals?
There has been A LOT of research demonstrating that restrained eaters, when exposed to “palatable”, or more appropriately, diet restricted foods, like pizza, ice cream, or meat, will overeat, especially relative to unrestrained eating, non-dieters. The most interesting research to me has shown that seeing, smelling, or just thinking about “palatable” foods, creates a much higher amount of salivation in restrained eaters vs unrestrained eaters. To appreciate the importance of this finding, let’s discuss digestion.
In simple terms, our digestive system breaks down food to deliver energy (macronutrients)and vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) to all of our cells. The better our digestion, the better we can access, produce, and use energy and micronutrients. Salivation is one of the first products of the digestive process called the cephalic phase.
From Biology for Dummies, “The cephalic phase comprises those stimuli that originate from the head: sight, smell, taste, or thoughts of food, as well as emotional state. Stimuli that arouse digestion are relayed to the hypothalamus, which in turn initiates nerve impulses in the parasympathetic vagus nerve. These impulses innervate nerve networks of the gastrointestinal tract (enteric nervous system), which promote contraction of smooth muscle (which causes peristalsis) and secretion of gastric juice. Stimuli that repress digestion (emotions of fear or anxiety, for example) innervate sympathetic fibers that suppress muscle contraction and secretion.”
Looking at digestion, coupled with the unconscious, hyperarousal of salivation, indicates to me that state of arousal may not only influence how you digest your food, but may reflect what foods are best for you. An increase in salivation is an increase in digestive function. It might just be one of your body’s way of saying, YES!
But what happens if you ignore your body’s communication in favor of your diet plan?
The most common finding is that restrained eaters (someone on a diet) will eventually overeat compared to unrestrained eaters. An example of this research is to observe dieters and non-dieters in grocery stores when they are exposed to food sampling. Dieters eat a lot more samples than non-dieters.
One of my favorite studies looked at the amount of ice cream eaten by dieters (restrained eaters) vs non-dieters (unrestrained eaters). Both factions were split into 3 groups. One group had to drink 1 milkshake, the next had to drink 2 milkshakes, the third received no milkshake. After the milkshake was finished, all 3 groups were given a big tub of ice cream, and were given 10 minutes to eat as desired. When the time was up, the researchers returned to collect the tub of ice cream and measure how much had been eaten.
In the unrestrained (non-dieters) group, the more milkshake you consumed, the less ice cream you later ate. Makes sense. They were full. But in the restrained eating (dieters) group, the trend was the exact opposite. Dieters who did not receive a milkshake didn’t eat the ice cream. The dieters who had 1 milkshake had some ice cream. But the dieters who had 2 milkshakes ate the most ice cream of them all (also the lower the subject’s self esteem, the more they ate).
According to research restrained, restricted eating is statistically the single best predictor of future weight gain. It’s also a surefire way to not only be over tempted and interested in “off limit” foods, but also nearly assures that you will binge on them at some point.
But what happens if all “my body wants” is junk food?
Stress (of any kind) can increase the body’s needs for more food (think energy and nutrients). In particular stress can lead the body to need more carbohydrate and fat. It’s probably no coincidence that’s the primary ingredients of most “junk” food.
Additionally, during distress digestion becomes more inhibited. This drives the body to seek more easily digestible foods. “Processed” foods are, by their nature, quite digestible.
In other words, if your body is really only interested in “junk” food, at that time, you probably need it. If you’ll eat what works with your body, you can use it to address the stress in your life which will lead to better eating and health.
Anecdotally, I have been more restrained in my eating than most you will ever meet. I have experienced incredible distress because of that restraint. So when I first began to eat unrestrained my “junk food” appetite was insatiable. I ate nothing but bread (all things gluten), fast food, ice cream, chocolate, meat, and gallons of gatorade.
I was psychologically challenged. But I was physically very energized (and relieved)! And after just a few days, I became neutral to food for the first time in years! I was finally able to eat (and live) without struggling.
Today, even with an open and stocked cupboard of refined and processed foods, I find myself usually more interested in the foods that people generally consider to be “healthy” (Parents, same is true for my kids). And when I feel in need of the health “restricted” foods, I no longer overeat, binge, stuff, or sicken myself with them (or my thoughts on what I just ate). In fact, when I need them, processed foods have become a very healthy part of my diet. But that’s just me.
Earlier I mentioned my wife, the figure competitor and chronic dieter. Well, she no longer diets. After years of disordered eating she’s abandoned the restricted and regimented ways of restrained eating. She feels better, looks better, and is stronger than most guys I know (me included)! With a monumental increase in “allowed foods” she is really healing her body and relationship with food. Do you know what kind of freedom and health that allows for in life?
(My Wife and Kids…Pretty Healthy Group of Unrestrained Eaters, huh?)
One of the main tenants of The Movement is to go with the body, not against it. What might happen if you go with your digestive action and bodily inspired food interests instead of disciplined restraint and dietary dogma?
You can’t struggle to be healthy. Those concepts are antithetical. Feeling better and functioning better are the essence of health, and I believe that any foods that allow for such positive outcomes are healthy.
It’s simple: pay attention to your body’s cues, and be willing to follow. For better digestion, better health, more energy, more productivity, more satisfaction (in all things), consider eating what satisfies your body, whatever that may be. Healthy eating can be a piece of cake!