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Thursday, June 3,2010

Feeling out food: Why we eat the things we do

By Katelyn M. Feldhaus

The food that we put into our body affects how we feel, and who doesn’t want to feel good?

What we eat should nourish our bodies and harness our attitudes. From social pressures to evolutionary factors, the emerging field called the “psychology of eating” examines complex human behaviors relating to what we eat and why we eat it.

“The psychology of eating is perceived in society as concerning only anorexia, bulimia and extreme obesity,” says Marc David, a health and nutrition consultant and eating psychologist. “This is like defining health as ‘cancer, heart disease and diabetes.’ What’s more, anorexia, bulimia and extreme obesity cover about 0.1 percent of the population — a tiny fraction of people.”

What about the rest of us who have a body, a need to eat and a unique relationship with food? Nutritionists, doctors and psychologists study the spectrum of eating behaviors, and people like David help us understand the eating psyche of our body and mind.

David is the founder and director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and is the author of The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy and Weight Loss, and Nourishing Wisdom: A Mind-Body Approach to Nutrition and Well Being. He began exploring the psychology of eating as a child, learning to understand the mind, heart and soul of the eater. “I couldn’t help but notice the fantastic amount of pain and suffering in our culture around weight, body image, over-eating and health. Clearly, what to eat is only half the story of good nutrition. The other half of the story is who we are as eaters,” David says.

Every person has a unique, ever-changing and compelling relationship with food and the body. David explains that what we believe about food, body and life powerfully influences our behaviors, our health and our happiness. Dynamic eating psychology affirms the primary importance of everyone’s relation ship with food. “The concept sees food as a doorway into deeper parts of our inner world, and recognizes that our experience with food and body is intimately connected to, and influenced by, other primary areas in our lives — relationships, family, work, sexuality and our search for meaning and fulfillment.”

The institute of psychology David founded in Boulder was created to usher in a new understanding of eating psychology and a new approach to nutrition as a teaching center for a positive and inspiring approach to food, mind and body. Boulder’s reliable breeding ground for health and for sustainable living is a perfect place for a holistic business to progress, grow and flourish. David feels that Boulder is the center of the universe for conscious business, a combination of city and country, business and beauty. “It has world and monetary flow and is still ground in the natural world; the natural world is everywhere in Boulder, never more than a fiveminute drive. The grounded nature keeps us true to the unspoken mission of Boulder, to be a thought reader; as a city we push the envelope here with food, health, business and environment, and you can’t find many cities that do it better.” David says. “Some places around the globe are extremely fertile in terms of planting things in the earth and watching them grow. I consider Boulder exquisitely fertile in the realm of ideas. When you plant a conscious business plan, a higher idea, a fresh natural concept in Boulder, it grows.”

People who learn to have awareness about health and the environment know what is going on inside their bodies, how everything works, and they make choices consciously. According to David, with people who are trying to make a change in unwanted habits that are automatic and unconscious, the only way to actually change is to introduce consciousness. “The ability to witness one’s self is a muscle that we have to develop.”

Humans learn certain behaviors through cultural, societal, familial and individual factors that are engrained in our systems, building habits that are hard to break. The concept of choice is complex, and the foods that we choose to eat arise from habits that have been formed early on. People have a familiar way of feeding themselves that feels comfortable because it is how we have always been. “Being a better eater is a natural outgrowth of bettering oneself in living. Life changes — so do diet and nutritional needs.

Our health and metabolism are not always certain — we often face unknowns with the body. Everyone has a unique expression of self, and our nutritional needs are unique and dynamic as well. Can we be big enough to let life, and our relationship with food, be an ongoing exploration? Can we be inspired enough to try new ways of relating to the world, and new ways of thinking about food?” David asks.

The foods that are good and bad for you can be discovered by understanding how your body works and thinks. There is a large food spectrum. Many foods cause our bodies to digress and negatively break down, while many foods are more naturally compatible and align with the core needs of our body chemistry. According to David, “The more we’re in tune with the body, with our own naturalness, the more we can be instinctively directed to the best way to nourish ourselves in any given moment.”

Being in tune with our bodies has a lot to do with our emotions. Mind body nutrition explores how thoughts, feelings and beliefs affect nutritional metabolism and health. “Whenever we are in even a mild stress response, we go into some degree of digestive shutdown. We excrete nutrients, and calories burn less efficiently. Conversely, the optimum state of digestion and assimilation is actually the relaxation response. The bottom line — you can be eating the healthiest food in the universe, but if it’s eaten under stress, we will never receive the full nutritional value. And, we’re more likely to encourage weight gain. That should be front-page headline nutrition news,” David says.

People need to learn how to transform their relationship with food and approach eating in a more pleasurable and nutritional way. The embedded idea of weight gain and loss through overeating or restricting has done a lot of damage. Working toward a “perfect” body and health is not always the healthy choice. “Around the corner from the search for perfection is always some form of self-abuse. People are suffering from the confusing messages given to them. Too many people are spending a lifetime dieting, self-judging, and in a constant search for a fix that’s never quite forthcoming. We need a new way to view these issues and new strategies to empower each other when it comes to food, and self,” David says.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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