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Sunday, September 03, 2006

How to Change Your Eating Behaviour

One of the main problems with proposing diet adjustment as therapy is that our eating behaviours are deeply rooted in a psychosocial matrix, and are not rationally determined. Diet adjustment attempts to introduce rational determination of eating behaviours and food selection.

Unfortunately the social basis of eating patterns often conflicts with an individual’s needs, and opposes the attempts made to modify the diet as a means of restoring and maintaining health.

Eating - A Social Activity

Eating is a social activity and most people find it difficult to eat alone. Food selection is a kind of social cement. Social forces including ethnic traditions, religious rules, family traditions, etiquette, and the habits of the local community often determine eating patterns. Eating together with others is a prerequisite of close social grouping. The best way to become a social outcast is to eat differently than the people around you.

The social basis of eating patterns often conflicts with individual needs. The biologic need is to self-regulate - to find an individual, adaptive path. Individual needs may differ from the needs of the group.

When a patient is ill and needs to change food choices support tends to be short-lived. Therapists need to work with couples and families to modify one person's diet long-term. Usually there are group benefits. The best way to proceed with diet revision is with the full understanding and support of a social group.

When this is not possible, the individual needs extra understanding and motivation to cope with social pressures that resist changes, however beneficial they may be.

A Sensible Weight Loss Program

While important health benefits can be achieved through diet adjustments, there is resistance to lasting changes in food habits. Consider the following:

  • Different eating patterns go with different lifestyles
  • Eclectic eating patterns
  • Disorganized and Dysfunctional eating
  • Compulsive eating and food addiction

Food and beverages contain a variety of molecular switches that are usually well-concealed in the course of day-to-day living. In children on controlled diets with parents and teachers monitoring closely, flip-flops are obvious and can often be related to eating or drinking specific foods.

To keep matters simple, we refer to a "food reaction" which triggers behaviour change, but we infer that many changes are going on at the same time in the child's brain.

We Are Different

There are important differences between the experiences of different people, and also between men and women. Women may be more likely to eat food when they are short of love and affection, or when they feel depressed. Sometimes food abuse is connected to alcohol and drug abuse in both men and women who have had terrible experiences as children, especially sexual abuse.

Depression tends to push women especially into compulsive and disorganized eating. Too many women are trapped at home living an emotionally impoverished and constrained life with few rewards except food. For some women even then food pleasures may feel illicit. Some women attempt to hide their indulgences or go to extreme lengths to conceal evidence of over-eating (especially weight gain) by inducing vomiting, purging, or exercising in a fanatical manner.

A host of desires, fears, frustrations, and inhibitions tend to get focused on food and body image. Food can become a comforter and saboteur at the same time.

Men's denial tends to be more complete, and they seldom admit to feeling guilty. Men tend to become angry and withdrawn whenever their eating and drinking habits are challenged. Anger replaces guilt. Men turn their anger into an eating or drinking binge and feel totally justified.

They are less motivated by body image, but often want to be associated with an athletic image and identify strongly with sports. Even the most overweight, out-of-shape man can still imagine himself on the football field, calling the plays - with beer in one hand and hot dog in the other, he will protest loudly when the quarterback fumbles the ball. This is an emotional point-of-view that requires no physical fitness.

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