This is the first part of a series on managing a healthy weight. In this article we will discuss common causes and disorders. Next month we’ll begin discussing the dangers and fads of diets and weight management tools.
Most people will have issues with weight control during their lives. I have personal experience and have dealt with these issues for most of my adult life. Maintaining a healthy weight is frequently more difficult as we get older but becomes even more important as we age. Weight gain and obesity can predispose us to high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Many factors play a role in maintaining a healthy weight and good eating habits.
One of the first things to check is our endocrine status. Low thyroid function or adrenal gland problems can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include
- Fatigue and weakness
- Dry hair or hair loss
- Cold intolerance
- Memory loss
There are simple blood tests your physician can order to check for these problems. Treatment is usually medication.
Many factors play a part in our eating patterns. Hunger is the first one. That is our survival instinct. Our hunger comes on gradually and is not an overwhelming feeling. We eat to satiety and not beyond. We can enjoy the taste of our food. Other factors can play a part in our eating patterns that are not as healthy. Bulimia and anorexia are eating disorders that cause one to either not eat, eat less than one needs to maintain a healthy weight and vomit the food one eats. These represent an attempt to control a part of one’s life when they feel out of control. One has an altered body image and may feel ashamed about that and have poor self-esteem. Bulimia is characterized by eating and then vomiting and a feeling of a loss of control of what they are eating. One’s body weight may be normal with bulimia. Anorexia is a disorder that causes one to have a weight well below what would be considered normal for their height and weight. One’s body image is altered and the person may think they are overweight or normal weight when they are seriously underweight. This may be due to poor calorie intake, intense exercise, laxative use or a combination. It is usually a problem for younger women. These are serious medical problems that should be addressed by a health care professional.
Emotional eating occurs when we eat to affect our negative emotions. We eat to try to change a negative feeling or emotion much like one might drink or take drugs to affect our mood. There can be many triggers such as stress from work, relationships, finances and health issues. It can happen as a learned response to negative feelings and can start very young. It is an attempt to change those negative feelings through food. This can be binge eating, eating when you are not hungry or not even tasting the food you eat. Your mood may temporarily improve with eating but the emotional triggers are still present. You may then realize that you overate and can feel even worse. We are more prone to these episodes when we are lonely, angry or tired. Women go more for chocolates and ice cream and men go more for pizza and burgers. Some people use cigarettes as a substitute for food and say they cannot stop smoking or they will gain weight. By using food to try to deal with these negative emotions, we do not learn better coping mechanisms for these stressful feelings.
You might be emotionally eating if:
- Your hunger comes on all of a sudden
- You crave specific foods especially ones high in sugar or fat
- You eat with minimal tasting of the food
- You eat without satisfying your hunger
- You eat to reward yourself
- You feel guilty about eating
These sensations should not part of our usual eating routine and leads us to disconnect hunger from eating. This can lead to increased calorie intake and weight gain and can lead to a vicious cycle.
Some strategies to fight emotional eating include:
- Ask if you are really hungry. You can also take a few moments before you eat to see if you are really hungry for this. This may allow the anxious or negative feeling to subside.
- Use a food diary to track what, when and why you ate. This can help you find triggers and help change your responses to these feelings.
- Distract yourself and fight boredom. Go for a walk, exercise, read a book, watch a relaxing movie or program, call a loved one or friend, pursue activities you enjoy, treat yourself to a warm bath or a cup of hot tea, anything that will stop that negative or anxious feeling and redirect your emotions from the cookie jar or chocolate bar.
- Snack healthy and remove tempting foods.
- Forgive yourself if you have an episode and do better tomorrow. Try to stay positive and learn from your experience.
- Use some of the stress reducers we have discussed previously such as exercise and taking time for yourself. I like to take my dog, Domino, for a walk and give him a good rub.
When I was a child, my Mom would sometimes reward me with an ice cream cone or give me a piece of candy to make me feel better if I was down. We need to avoid making that connection. Mom is usually right but she may have been a little off here. Domino has a better solution.
About the author:
Dr Schutz was born in Newport News, VA and grew up in Flemington, NJ. He attended Rutgers University and New Jersey Medical School where he graduated in 1985. He was selected as a “Top Doc” in NJ Monthly Magazine and is the former President of the Medical Staff at Shore Memorial Hospital. He is married and has 3 children. He is active in religious and youth activities.