Top nutrition doctor confesses: My eating was out of control

by | Dec 22, 2010 | Anxiety, Depression and Stress, Nutrition & Diet, Personal Stories | 0 comments

There’s a certain amount of expertise you can gain from books.  But true mastery of a field can only come when you combine ivory tower learning with gritty personal experience.

I heard an inspiring story from a chiropractic colleague when we got together for an informal 30-year chiropractic class reunion.

My friend has read towering stacks of books and scientific articles on the science of food, nutrition, and the psychology of eating.   But the power punch behind his knowledge comes from his personal struggle to overcome 40 years of a compulsive eating disorder.

His parents operated a French pastry shop.  The displays of tempting desserts were a child’s dream come true.  But, introduced at a tender age to the family business, his relationship to food turned into a nightmare.

I spent most of my childhood eating

I spent most of my childhood eating, and in fact, most of my adult life compulsively eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  And the only reason I wasn’t obese most of the time was because I played football and lifted weights.  By the time I was 38, though, and without the athletics I was well, well over 200 pounds.  I was out of control.

I knew something had to change…I couldn’t go on.  But I knew I couldn’t stay on any sort of diet.  So I started reading everything about food:  our psychological feelings about food, dietary approaches, depression, metabolism …anything that came in sight.  I just read everything.  I wanted to be able to live a life that wasn’t governed by the next thing I got to shove in my mouth.

I knew I could never do portion control.  It’s still not something I believe in.  I have a psychological need to eat that’s separate from hunger.

If what you’re looking for is purely weight loss, but you’re happy with who you are, how you behave, your social life, your food choices, if you’re happy with all of that, your chances of changing your life are minimal.  If you’re not in a crisis situation you’re just going to be going through somebody’s program in order to get a result – once you’ve failed, or even once you’ve been successful, you’re just going to back to doing whatever you like to do.

I work with 11 doctors who eat garbage

I’m at odds with – pretty much 80% against – the accepted advice given by our establishment.  If you look at someone we immediately look at their appearance – if they’re thin we think they’re healthy. If they’re overweight, then there’s something wrong with them.  The decision of what to eat has to do with whether it’s fattening or not fattening.

It’s an absurd way to look at food.  Most people can survive on non-nutritious crap and look good in their body.

I work with eleven doctors who eat garbage.  For them it’s all about ‘Well I can eat a little bit of this (bagel and cream cheese with no nutritional content) because I’m not too heavy’ – it’s all about personal appearance and self-indulgence.

We’ve been conditioned not to think about anything other than what we want.  If we don’t get what we want we have no tolerance for frustration.

Hierarchy of basic human needs

This doctor helps his patients understand their relationship to food by outlining the hierarchy of our basic human needs.

Our most basic human need is for shelter and protection from physical harm.   Fortunately, few people in this country have to worry about being attacked by packs of wolves.  So this rarely drives our behavior.

Once our need for physical safety has been met, our next most fundamental need is for food.  There are unfortunate exceptions, but most of us have never experienced true hunger or the fear of not knowing where our next meal is coming from.  Anxiety about food availability isn’t a driver of or behavior.

It’s the next area of human need that gets us into the most trouble – the need for human companionship.

Intimacy and social connection are innate needs that aren’t taken care of well in our society.  Our family and community structures are weakened.  We don’t have an established social order any more that tells us our place in the world.  We don’t have guides for our behavior.

The way our society works today, the more aggressive you are, the further you can go in life.  Companionship and social connections aren’t as highly rated.  With the weakening of family cohesiveness, having a strong emotional base isn’t automatic.

Food – always so readily available to us – is the way we compensate for our social anxieties, and the lack of basic human interaction.

Don’t try to “lose weight”

Don’t try to “lose weight.”  For most people, that effort is doomed to failure.  Instead, build a deeper understanding of the reasons you use food to fulfill human needs which are better fulfilled in other ways.

That’s one of the key insights that makes his approach so powerful.

Dr. Lavine has been an innovator in the use of movement and touch to promote health since 1981. He practices in New York City and Princeton, NJ.

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