Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and writer of “The Slow Down Diet”, explains in a discussion on The Fat Summit, organised by the Institute of Functional Medicine:
“For a very early age, I made the connection of what went into my body had an impact on me!
“I had a practice on Wall Street, and I had some of the smartest, wealthiest, most motivated clients you will ever meet in your life. And, I will give simple changes to make as they wanted to loose weight, they wanted to feel better, all of the common complaints and so many of them will come back after a week or two and say ‘I know what you told me to do. I know what I am supposed to do, I just could not do it.’
“If I don’t learn the psychology of the eater, then I really don’t know a lot.
“So that let me to really kind of develop the field of psychology for everyone.
“Here is what an eating psychologist looks like. Here is why we’re binging… Here is why we overeat… Here is why we emotionally eat… and what is the interplay of my psychology and my metabolism, and nutrition then I think where you weave the two, there is an interesting dance that happens.”
Marc replies to the following question:
“As we are shifting our thoughts on how we should be making recommendations for patients and what the newest studies are showing […], how things have changed overtime from the low-fat recommendations from a psychological standpoint to now these higher-fat recommendations, where we are learning that may be we did not make such a good choice as scientists and practitioners recommending people to eat a low-fat diet all the time?”
“We, all of us, need to get on board with remembering that the world, that science, that nutrition, that medicine, that psychology, all of it is an evolutionary process, and really if you look at the field of nutrition in the Western World, it’s new! It’s not really more than a hundred-ish years old. And if you look at some of the concepts that we had in colonial times, in this country [US] about nutrition, it was one nutrition concept, and that nutrition concept was that it was some universal principal in all food. They called the universal element that somehow gave you what you needed, so it did not matter if you ate a piece of meat, a piece of cabbage, an apple, an insect, it all add the same value.
“We were telling people since the 1960s ‘Go low Fat!’
“We started looking around and seeing that there are certain people who seem to be eating high fat, who seem to be having certain problems. So now I must try low fat diet. At that point, we didn’t distinguish between healthy fats and the kind of fats we might necessarily not want to have in a diet. Industry was then off to the races in pumping out cheap foods that had poor quality fats, stripped bear of their essential nature, and we have been suffering the consequences ever since.
“So if a low fat diet truly worked, let’s just say at the simplest level when it came to weight and weight loss, and be a natural way, it would have done so already. We had sixty years of experience trying this and people are in misery and suffering and it is not happening…
“The Industry don’t always care about health, they care about profit, so sometimes we are in a bit of a battle here to get the good information out there to make a difference.”
“We have to expend our understanding that every human is different, and medicine, science, and even nutrition is only catching up to that.
“The media, the big studies that are done, they want to make global statement, ‘Eat like this!’ ‘We shall all follow this diet!’
It defies common sense!
One of the worst insults that a scientist can hurl at another is to say that your evidence is anecdotal, meaning this is just a story. In my world, that is the most valuable evidence, because the story of your body and your metabolism, and your life, and your lifestyle, and where you were born and your genetics, is way different than my story.
So how do we manage the fat phobia and should we? Some people think money is bad, some people think that money is evil… Money can be used for evil and can be used for bad. People do nonsense to earn money. What if we saw money as neutral and it depends on how you use it. The reality is everyone pretty much needs money in this world at this time. You need money. Those are the tickets to get you the things that you need to survive.
Let’s not even look at it as good or bad, it just is and is necessary. Fat is necessary! If we sucked all the fat out of the human body, you and I would cease to exist. We would not have a nervous system, we would not have a pumping heart, we would not have hormones, our cell well will collapse to nothingness…
“Is sunlight good or bad? Sure if you bake in the sunlight too long, not so good… but why are we fearing the sunlight when there is no reason to fear it. Let’s be in a good relationship because I can stay in the sunlight much longer than my next-door neighbour who is very fair skinned and comes from Irish ancestry. So it is not that the sun is bad, it’s just that we both have to modulate it differently.”
“If you have a fat phobia, that has to be put it to rest!”
“We have to learn how to manage our own fear! Point and simple! If you want to become a parent you have to manage your fear about parenting… if you want to have a new job you’re gonna have to manage whatever fears come up.”
“We have to be a lot more adult in our relationship with food, because a lot of people tend to get into their little scared child around food, ‘if I do this, I gonna gain weight!’ The fear is: ‘I am going to gain weight and if I gain weight nobody will love me!’
“In fact, if you look around if you gain weight, it seems everybody picks on you, nobody likes you, you are not going to meet a man, a women, your true love, you are not going to be socially acceptable. Research shows that the fatter you get you less you are apt to get that job compared to your slender counterpart. So we are accurately perceiving that weight is sort of a scarlet letter in this world.
“We have to learn to see and step back and say “This is a fear that it is now time to put to rest!” because it is affecting us, it is affecting our health, it is affecting our weight, and it is actually sending us in the opposite direction, for most people, or for many people, in terms of where they want to go. Strictly talking about weight loss, and health, if we are stuck in the fear of fat then we are putting ourselves in a dangerous territory.”
If a Low Fat diet truly worked, let's just say at the simplest level when it came to weight and weight loss, and be a natural way, it would have done so already. We had sixty years of experience trying this and people are in misery and suffering and is not happening...
The next question was: “so talk about the difference about the fear of fat on our body and the fat that we eat”
“Here is the challenge! If you haven’t studied linguistic and language, it is hard to appreciate the power of language. Every great linguist will tell you the same thing, and it is that our language, our words, [our thoughts and inner conversations] create our reality!
“So many of us are walking around in positive and negative ways, and we have certain mantras that we repeat to ourselves. We have certain beliefs.
“I meet people who have gone through a lifetime thinking: ‘I am not very bright!’ ‘I am dumb!’
“Because someone told them that… So they went through their whole life thinking they are stupid and suddenly they discover ‘I am not stupid!’
“Those three or four words have created that person’s life, and their reality. We are walking around with beliefs, language, words that are strong together that says: “I am not good!” “I am not loveable!” “I am not enough with who I am!” and these are very powerful.
“Linguistically, here is the trap. There is that substance in food. There is that macronutrient called Fat. And indeed, if you dive a little deeper it is actually called essential fat, in terms of what the body needs… So if we look what the body needing nutritionally we termed EFAs. We termed them Essential Fats because we need them. So you then hear the word essential fat or your hear the word fat in food and then we think fat on my body, and we end up confusing and conflating those two words as if they are the same, and it is a very unfortunate linguistic conundrum, because we get stuck believing, and here is the false belief: people are walking around with the absolute false belief that fat in food equals fat on my body. And what I am simply saying is ‘It ain’t true!” and all the research is saying otherwise. Yes, poor quality fats, hydrogenated oils and all the artificial oils. So all the poor quality fats, all that is going to put you in a bad part of the probability curve for health and weight. That we know… Healthy fat is a whole different thing and we have to be intellectually flexible. We have to be emotionally more courageous!”
“I have mentioned colonial times, all foods had the same value, and suddenly we have discovered the macronutrients, the big nutrient in food. And what happened after that? We started discovering the macronutrients. The smaller substances we are consuming, smaller in size, smaller in quantity. And then what happens? We are discovering even more ancillary substances and nutrients. So the game is getting more and more refined, and we need to catch up.
“Yes, there is that thing called fat but guess what, there are all of these distinctions, there are classes of substances, and now we are going to talk about saturated fat, monosaturated fat, then I am going to look at olive oil, and I am going to look at what is exactly canola oil anyway, which of the oil seems to be useful and helpful. I guarantee you thirty years from now; we will have incredible distinctions between cod oil and salmon oil. Because there is a whole chemistry there, and we have looked at it yet.”
“Taking people who are low on good essential fat and putting them on good essential fats. For some people, it will clear up their long-standing constipation, for some people their mood elevates. For some people it blows their mind because they are eating more fat and more calories, and they start to loose weight. For some men, it starts to bring back their sex drive. For some people their mental clarity all of the sudden, like they’re here again. I have had some clients tell me ‘the lights came on!’ when they started eating more healthy fat. It’s shocking for people.
But this is about your personal nutritional experiment. Try it out! See if it works for you…"
I truly like this last statement. It was the answer to why some people thrive on a low fat diet, some other on a vegan diet, yet some really do not.
We have to learn how to manage our own fear! Point and simple
“The point is: your diet is your diet, and it may work for you but not to the people around you.
“Does that mean everyone around your table should be eating a different dinner? Probably not, but if food is causing ill-health symptoms, would you not want to do something about it?
If your fears are destroying any kind of relationship with food, let it be fat, sugar, or meat, then the thoughts that are invading your mind will negate any good you think you are doing by forcing yourself to follow a specific diet or lifestyle.
The amount of pressure on the brain and on the body will affect the way you are getting the energy from the food you consume, but mainly the digestion and absorption, and utilisation of that particular food. Fear is stress to the body, and a stress response is generated every time that particular food (or food group) is mentioned or presented in a plate in front of you.
If our survival is being threatened, all of the sudden, every ounce of our energy of our genetic programming goes into surviving
Marc Davis just confirms that: “The brain is essentially polar and we are divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Stress response – Relation response. Every organism, from a single-cell organism on up to the most complex creature on planet earth, has this survival mechanism: safe – unsafe! Good – not good for me! Pain – pleasure! Nourishing – not nourishing! Our main imperative is to survive. Anything that threatens survival is the number one concern of our physiology and our psychology in the moment. If our survival is being threatened, all of the sudden, every ounce of our energy of our genetic programming goes into surviving. So for we as human beings, what that means it the moment the brain senses stress… What’s interesting is according to the scientific definition of stress; it is any real or imagined stress, and the body’s response to that stress. In other words, if a guy starts chasing you right now, you are going to a stress response. If you think about the guy that chased you twenty years ago, you can go into practically the same stress response within yourself. What does that mean? It means your heart goes up; your blood pressure goes up; your blood is shunted away from your mid-section to your arms and legs for quick fighting or fleeing. Blood is going to rush to your head for quick thinking, because in those survival moments, you either wanna to fight this creature or you want to get the hake away. You need to have all of your metabolic energy going into your strength to fight or to flee. You need all your brainpower to figure out ‘ok, what’s going on?’ and there is something beautiful that happens and very intelligent, your digestive system completely shut down in a full-blown stress response.
“Because it takes so much metabolic energy and blood flow to digest a meal.
Now here you are in your office [having a stressful day], and you go ‘Aaaahhhh!” (Stress…) Your brain doesn’t know that’s not going to kill you. Your brain just goes: stress! To some degree heart rate up, blood pressure up, blood moves away from the mid-section depending on the intensity, depending on our individual body. But here is the interesting thing: during the stress response, we would excrete nutrients. Mostly what we’ll see is we will excrete water-soluble vitamins, we will excrete minerals, to a lesser degree and most research starting to come out, fat-soluble vitamins, and we’ll inhibit the absorption of them. In other words, what is happening is your body is just being in survival; it is not in the optimal state of digestion, and assimilation, and elimination, and appetite regulation, and day-in-day-out calorie burning. We think calorie burn them all when we’re anxious and stressed. A small percentage, yes, but most people when they are in that constant anxious state and we are hyper-producing more Cortisol, and insulin will tend to track Cortisol, and we are producing these hormones in excess day in and day out. They will tend to signal the body to store weight, to store fat; not build muscles.
“Because you are giving your body the signal that it is under threat, under constant threat. In the state of constant threat, the body goes back to square one: ‘Let’s see what is that stress’. It is usually one of two things: a creature that wants to eat you, or it is your food source that has been cut off. Those are the primary threats to survival to the primitive brain. So if the creature is bigger than me, trying to attack me, best thing to do is get bigger. So that’s why a lot of people who have Post Traumatic Stress [PTSD] from past history of sexual abuse or emotional abuse will gain weight. Statistically, we see that. The why, in my opinion, is that it balloons the body because you become less of a sexual target the bigger you are, plus you are bigger. If you are bigger, the bigger creatures are the safest. On top of that, when our food source get cut off – like if we find ourselves stranded on a desert island – our brain is going to scan and look around: ‘Desert island… No food…’
The brain wisely goes into a long-term survival response: slow down metabolism, slow down muscle building. In fact, muscle building will probably stop to a great degree. Why? Because it takes a lot of energy and a lot of nutrition to build muscles.”
The question was Marc Davis was asked made the most sense to me when it comes to people and food restriction, especially self-imposed restrictions, as in calorie-controlled diets, Raw Vegan diet (even more so when deciding on regime for the very first time, and living in a colder country), and any diet eliminating specific food or even entire food groups from their diet (when there is actually no medical reason, or health issues), and this choices do not make them happy, nor give them pleasure. They are loosing the pleasure of eating. They are loosing the pleasure of nourishing the body, and give it what it needs: the building blocks necessary for it to heal and repair, which is also affected by the stress imposed on the body.
Remember that digestion functions are also reduced, assimilation compromised and utilisation of nutrients reaching suboptimal levels; giving rise to bloating due to undigested food reaching the intestine, gut discomfort and may be pain, inflammation and Dysbiosis.
The question he was asked was: “Do you see the low-fat diet doing that? Because we remove that nutrient and so to our body fat now becomes a stressor?”
His answer could not be any louder: “Bingo!!!”
“It’s a brilliant strategy of the body. The brain is not smart enough to say: “Hey! You’re not eating enough fat! You’re still stuck in the low-fat craze from fifty years ago!’ The brain scans the nutrients in the meal and scans what is going on in the body and says: ‘There is not enough Essential fats; I must be on a desert island. I’ve got an issue here! My food source is getting cut off. I better store fat vigorously. I better slow down calorie-burning metabolism, because the more I can store fat, and the more I can slow down my metabolism, the longer I will survive.’
“When we are denying the body of Essential Fats, the body intelligently responds by slowing down calorie-burning metabolism, and storing body fats.
“Here is the other piece: if you or I are low in a macronutrient, in this case Essential Fats, the brain has one usual strategy that works: it screams ‘hungry!’ It is not smart enough to scream ‘Hey! You do not eat enough Essential Fats! You do not have enough protein’. The brain just goes ‘hungry!’ so then we start eating and what most of us tend to reach for when we want to binge on something, because I am so hungry. We are going to reach for a carbs snack, especially if we are in dieting consciousness and especially if we are believing in toxic nutritional beliefs that fat in food equals fat on my body. So then we are physiologically driven – so understand this is not a will-power issue, this is your brain driving you to survive, but driving us in the wrong direction. Because the brain is not smart enough to say you need more Essential Fats. It’s smart enough to say: ‘hungry!’ – and reach for anything because in survival when we are in the jungle trying to survive the brain is not saying: ‘Hey! Just go for a high-fat animal!’
“No! You go for whatever you can get. That is the name of the survival game.”
“When we eat too quickly, the brain does not have enough time to scan the nutrition of the meal. Research came a long time ago and was popularised by the dietary profession that it takes twenty minutes for the body to realise it’s full, which is just an estimated way of saying it takes the body time to discern the nutritional profile of a meal and what’s happening: ‘Is this enough food? Did I get enough macronutrients? Am I still hungry? Do I still need to eat more?’ These are all natural processes.
‘Now, if we artificially interfere with that process, because I eat very fast (Have you ever had the experience of eating a big meal, you ate it very quickly, your belly is full, but your mouth is still hungry?). So there is a perfect psychological reason. The Enteric Nervous System – the brain in the belly- is going: ‘Hum! Distended! Loads of food in here…’ but the brain in the head, especially for humans, we require taste, pleasure, aromas, satisfaction, the visual of the meal. This is what the human brain is looking for. So if the brain does not register tastes, pleasure, aromas, satisfaction, which helps us determine the content of the meal itself: those are some of the cues. So when fat is not registered on the tongue, when sweet is not registered on the tongue, salty, bitter… The brain is not smart enough to say: ‘Hey! You’re eating too fast, you need to slow down so you can get more taste and awareness’, the brain just screams: ‘Hungry!’
“When the head brain and the gut brain are having this argument, usually the head brain wins, and we eat more.”
“Ideally, in a perfect world, we have at least twenty minutes for a meal. Even if you don’t. Even if you have five minutes to eat that meal, we can still relax in those five minutes.
“One of the easiest way to create a relaxation response in less than a minute, is to count the in breaths. Whenever we adopt the breathing pattern of relaxation, which is regular and rhythmic, and deep; and you deep breathe for less than a minute you start to relax the body. You literally fool your physiology in thinking it is relaxed, and […] digestion starts to come back online, […] and you will find your natural appetite regulation.”
He explains further that we need to take responsibilities, and embrace who we are, that loosing weight can only happen if we are aware of the psychology of eating, to be mindful and relaxed, especially at meal time. Eating without distractions is crucial, or having a conversation when you actually feel good. He adds: “There are been fascinating research when the brain is multitasking, and eating at the same time, nutrient absorption goes down. So, let’s be present when we eat. Indulge yourself in an eating experience. Let your body relaxed. Even it is five or ten minutes, let that time be your time to be present with the food.”
Useful advises, Marc Davis gave during his speech included eating smaller meals, when having a really busy day at the office, breaking down a huge meal into smaller meals, so that even if it is for only five minutes, during these times we can still rip the benefit from eating food, and be relaxed, and focus on food for a little bit. “Eating a large meal in a small amount of time again is a huge stress for the body.”
Marc Davis shares his approach in amazing details in his health and nutrition coach pamphlet, in a way that is easy to understand and quite fascinating, but also rings true in nature.
“Pleasure chemistry helps drive digestion, assimilation, natural appetite regulation, and day-in-day-out calorie burning capacity. In other words, when you’re turned on by food, you literally turn on metabolism. Far too many of us have been taught to believe that pleasure is something frivolous. It’s time to correct that.
Think of pleasure as a new vitamin called Vitamin P.
Pleasure is a psychophysiology requirement of the human body. It’s demanded by the oldest and most fundamental part of your brain, and it’s hardwired into your genetics. All organisms on planet Earth, be they lion, lizard, amoeba, or human, are programmed at the most primitive level of the nervous system to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The class of chemicals most people associate with pleasure are the endorphins. These are produced throughout the body, most notably in the brain and the digestive system, and they exist, in part, to make us happy. The simple act of eating raises our level of endorphins. What’s most unusual about the endorphins is that not only are they molecules of pleasure, but they also stimulate fat mobilization. In other words, the same chemical that makes you feel good burns body fat. Furthermore, the greater the endorphin release in your digestive tract, the more blood and oxygen will be delivered there. This means increased digestion, and assimilation, and greater efficiency in calorie burning. There’s another fascinating biologic fact about pleasure: It’s crucial to appetite regulation. That’s because if you’re eating and not paying attention – and here we are back to the Cephalic Phase Digestive Response again – the brain will drive you to seek more pleasure via overeating. What’s worse, if you’re stressed while eating, the excess cortisol in your system actually desensitizes you to pleasure. So you’ll need to eat more food in order to get the pleasure you are seeking. And why would cortisol, a stress hormone, desensitize us to pleasure? It’s actually quite simple. During the true fight or flight state, body and brain are completely focused on survival. We want to have all of our pain sensors heightened, and we don’t want to get sidetracked by an activity like looking for chocolate. If we’re fighting a lion, all of our metabolic energy must be devoted to escaping the lion and avoid being a tasty meal.”
I am really happy I had the privilege to listen to this amazing speech because it was such an eye-opening day and self-confirmation, backing up all the information I have gathered in the articles already written in the first three parts of my newsletter on stress.
He made it so clear and easy to understand, using simple words and anecdotes, that anyone, even outside of the medical scope could relate and use this to take the first steps in making lifelong lifestyle changes, and learn to relax, be more thankful and grateful. In his conclusion, he said:
“Trust, faith, self-love, love coming from the outside, […] thankfulness and gratitude help [us] relax. It is really these higher states of being that helps us to be physiologically relaxed.”
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