Today’s show is “The Psychology of Eating” with Marc David. I’ve had his book for a while now, and I just reread both of his books this weekend.
They are, Nourishing Wisdom: A Mind-Body Approach to Nutrition and Well-Being and The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss. I took so many notes, and wrote down so many questions, it was just so interesting to me. I have always suggested a mind-body approach with my clients. You know, encouraging them to slow down when eating and not automatically say, “You need digestive enzymes or this supplement or this way of eating.” But ask them how fast they are eating because it defiantly makes a difference. I know I constantly have to remind myself to eat more slowly and now it is fresh on my mind from reading these books. So, I think as you listen to the show you might experience the same thing, and as you go through this week.
Marc David is the founder for the Institute for Psychology of Eating (IPE). A leading visionary, teacher, and consultant in nutritional psychology, and the author of the classis and bestselling works, Nourishing Wisdom, The Slow Down Diet, and Body Nutrition. His work has been shown on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His book has been translated into over 10 languages and his approach appeals to a wide variety of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring, and innovative messages about food, body, and soul. The Institute for Psychology of Eating is the world’s only teaching organization that is dedicated to a forward-thinking, positive, and holistic approach to nutritional psychology. IPE is unique and revolutionary in its approach, teaching students and professionals how to effectively work with the most common eating challenges of our times in its internationally acclaimed Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training. You can learn more about Marc and his program at www.psychologyofeating.com.
Evelyne: Marc, welcome to the show!
Marc: Thanks so much for having me Evelyne.
Evelyne: For sure. So first of all, I love to ask my guests this question: Where did your passion for nutrition come from? How did you get started in this field?
Marc: You know something; I like to believe that oftentimes we get into a field not so much because we choose it, but because it sort of chooses us. I think that is what happened to me. You know, when I was born I was asthmatic, I was allergic, I was sickly, my immune system wasn’t in such good health. I almost died a number of times in infancy and as I got older, the situation didn’t get much better. So I remember my early childhood, going from doctor to doctor being intensely asthmatic. What does a little child know? To me that was normal, but, wow, was it not fun. Nothing was helping, and this was back in the early 60’s. At some point, check this out: I was five years old and I asked my mom to buy me apples and peas and carrots in a can because I heard a rumor that fruits and vegetables were good for you. [Evelyne laughs] That was my concept at the time of fruits and vegetables because I was raised on TV dinners and I don’t think I had seen anything natural. So my mom buys me this stuff and coincidence or not, my health started to change.
Marc: Yeah, and at a really early age I made, really, what was a magical, magical connection between the food I put in my body and then watching my body change for the better. So that just put me on a fanatical course for the rest of my life, really. To first study nutrition, and learn everything I possibly could, and then that really naturally led me to eating psychology. Early on in my 20’s, as I was seeing clients, I had a very educated clientele: wealthy, educated. I was working on Wall Street. I would tell them what to do, they would perfectly agree to do it and then they would come back and tell me they couldn’t do it. I realized, ‘My goodness, if I don’t start to understand the mind of the eater, the heart and soul of the eater, it doesn’t matter how much nutrition I know.’ So that is kind of the short answer of how I got into this. It was by necessity, and necessity can eventually become sort of passion.
Evelyne: So, everyone is always searching for what we call, ‘the perfect diet.’ What are your thoughts on this?
Marc: Well, it’s interesting because I think a lot of us humans get caught in the trap of perfectionism. “I want the perfect diet. I want the perfect body. I want the perfect house. I want the perfect partner, and then I want to give birth to the perfect kid.” [Evelyne laughs] And it sounds good on paper, but especially when it comes to the perfect diet, I started to notice, because I was searching for the perfect diet. What is the best way to eat? Then of course people are looking for the perfect weight loss diet. What is the perfect thing for me to eat to lose weight, have the hottest body, but still give me lots of pleasure and lots of energy? So I noticed that people who search for perfection, that oftentimes right around the corner from their perfectionism is self-abuse. Because if I can’t follow my perfect diet perfectly, at some point I’m going to overeat and binge eat; if I can’t have the perfect amount of money that I am making, I’m going to start to self-reject and feel like I’m no good, and not enough. So there is an emotional and psychological cost, because perfectionism is inhuman, it is impossible, we can’t achieve it and we usually crash.
From a more factual standpoint, I think there is this invisible, floating, nutritional belief that is kind of in the atmosphere that there is a perfect way to eat and all we have to do is find it. There are many experts, you know this, you can walk into a bookstore where there are hundreds of nutrition books and they are all written by an MD, a PhD, a nurse, some expert, a dietitian, and they are all going to tell you a different way to eat. They will even give you scientific proof about why their different way to eat is better. At some point, I looked at this through the eyes of the nutritional scientist within me, and I concluded that there is no perfect diet. Indeed, the perfect diet might exist for you or me for today, or this week, or this month, but it is always changing. If we can get down with change and accept the fact that, you know, seasons change, your lifestyle changes, where you live changes, your age changes. When I was in my mother’s womb, I had a cord coming into my belly with liquid nutrition and that was the perfect diet. Then when you pop out of momma’s womb, you are getting breastfed. There is the perfect diet. Then you are eating mushy food. It is always changing. So if we can embrace that, then I think what people would discover is that there are probably as many amazing, powerful nutritional systems as there are people on the planet.
Evelyne: I love that. I love that you wrote, “There are no good foods or bad foods, just different dietary systems are effective for people under different circumstances.” You also wrote that ‘You eat what you are’, versus something that we hear often which is ‘You are what you eat’ or some of the other things like: ‘You are what you absorb or digest’, or ‘You are what you ate.’ So how does your attitude about foods affect the reaction in your body?
Marc: Yeah, great question. It is a pretty common, but powerful statement that, ‘You are what you eat.’ I think people have heard it so much that we get a little numb to it, but it’s so important and I think perhaps equally important, and sometimes more important is when I say, ‘You eat what you are.’ I mean, who we are: what we are thinking, what you’re feeling, what you are believing at any given moment. It will often influence the foods that we reach for, meaning, if I’m lonely, miserable, upset, stressed and anxious, I will likely reach for foods that somehow medicates that or supports that. So oftentimes when we are stressed and anxious, we eat an excess amount of food, which actually over time will relax us and make you feel like a couch potato because you have a huge amount of food in your belly. Eventually your body will kick in to parasympathetic dominance or the relaxation response because it has to digest all that food. It needs to be relaxed. So, if we are anxious, upset, and rushed, we might eat foods that almost support that; going for crunchy junk food and chips, or a ton of sugar. With a lot of people who are lethargic and depressed, I noticed that they eat foods that actually support less energy and depression. So we tend to attract the state that we are already in. We always want to pay attention to, who we are bringing to the table. Who is the ‘me’ that is eating? If it is the me who loves health and loves life and loves nourishment, I’m going to reach for a certain kind of food. If it’s the me who is just feeling rebellious, then I’m going to eat my rebellion foods. You know, I have my list of foods I eat when I rebel, or foods I eat when I am not liking myself. I know when I eat these foods they are going to make me feel worse, so I’ll prove that I’m not likeable; if that makes sense?
Evelyne: Mhm, Yes.
Marc: From that place our relationship with foods, becomes like a mirror. It’s a metaphor. It is a place where we can see ourselves and learn about who we are, beyond the food itself.
Evelyne: Mmhmmm. I’m going to skip ahead to something I was going to bring up later in the show, but I think it applies to this. What is the biggest struggle people face when it comes to emotional eating? You actually had an interesting story in The Slow Down Diet, about someone who considered herself a nighttime binge eater, but you actually had a different thought on that. Can you share that?
Marc: Well, you know, in general, emotional eating has kind of a bad name. Part of the challenge people have around emotional eating, is that we think it is wrong. Then we attack ourselves for eating emotionally, we judge ourselves for eating emotionally, and then buy books about how we cannot be an emotional eater. What I find is, before we label ourselves emotional eaters, we have to examine that label. Essentially the label says, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re bad, you’re not doing it right. If you were doing it right you would be sort of an unemotional eater! You wouldn’t eat to find love; you wouldn’t eat when you’re lonely or anxious. You wouldn’t eat if you really need connection and intimacy and you’re reaching for food.’
Here is what I want to say about that. We are beautiful and brilliant, emotional beings. We can’t help it. Even your friend, who is the coolest cucumber, still has emotions. We bring our emotions everywhere. When I go to a party, I party; I’m emotional. When I go to a Thanksgiving dinner, I emotionally eat, meaning I’m eating and I’m happy and I’m celebrating. Christmas dinner: I’m eating and I’m happy and I’m celebrating. Yeah, there are times when I finish a long day of work and if I’m by myself and if I struggled all day and think, ‘I need some love and connection and there is nobody around,’ then yeah, I might emotionally eat. I might eat so I can get love and pleasure and connection. What I want to say is: there is nothing necessarily wrong with that. Eating is a beautiful symbolic substitute for love and it is very much ingrained in us. As a cellular memory, that food is love.
When you and I were tiny little infants and your mother was holding you and feeding you with the bottle or the breast and she is singing to you and touching you, the infant mind doesn’t distinguish between a mother’s touch and warmth of her skin and this is the milk I’m drinking, this is the love I am feeling. The infant mind experiences it all as one. So we have encoded in our cellular memory, that food is love. So, of course, if someone came to me told me they were emotionally eating and gaining weight, I’m certainly going to want to help them transform that but the first move to make is to welcome our emotional personality to the table. We have to love it to see the benefit in it, the beauty in it.
From there, it is easier to make choices, to manage it better, when we are not fighting ourselves over it. Does that make sense?
Evelyne: Absolutely. So the story I was referring to about the nighttime binge eater, she thought she was doing that, but then you had her look at what she was eating during the rest of the day, which ties into my next question. You say that willpower isn’t the problem, but awareness. How are willpower and appetite connected?
Marc: Yeah, so often what happens, a lot of people for various reasons don’t eat enough or skip meals at certain points during the day. I have had plenty of loved ones and clients over the years who, they are super busy with kids, being a single mom, being a married mom, or being at work for 70 hours a week. So they rush through small meals during the day and then eat a huge meal at night. Then after the huge meal at night, they eat and binge after that at 10, 11, or 12 o’clock and they think they are a willpower weakling. But, here is the thing: Oftentimes it is predictable if you say to me, “Marc, I’m skipping my breakfast and just having coffee. Then maybe I will have a small piece of fruit or a small candy bar at midmorning. For lunch, sometimes I just skip lunch or will have a small salad with non-fat dressing.” If someone starts to tell me that, I am going to think that they are probably overeating, or binge eating at night, because the body is registering a nutrient deficit. Your body clocks, it accounts for everything you have eaten and everything that it needs.
We don’t do nutrition on a meal to meal basis; we do it on a day to day, or week to week, or even a month to month. The body is counting. So if I didn’t get my nutritional needs met during the day, because I’m so stressed and anxious and busy, oftentimes the brain finally screams at us, usually at night and it screams HUNGRY. The brain isn’t smart enough to tell you, “Hey, you really should have had a nice, robust, healthy sit-down breakfast. You should have had a more nutrient balanced and nutrient dense lunch.” The brain at 11 o’clock at night, just screams, “Hungry.” [Evelyne laughs]
It is looking for essential fats, amino acids, the micronutrients that it didn’t get, and then we think we have a problem. Now, dieters especially do this, particularly women who think if they skip breakfast or lunch, they think they are a good dieter and they are going to lose weight because they aren’t eating food. But then what happens in the recipe for binge eating, if you don’t eat breakfast and have a tiny lunch, you will binge eat in the early afternoon and evening.
So, the good news is, we don’t have a willpower issue. We are not these willpower weaklings when it comes to food. In fact, there is really not a whole lot of need for willpower when it comes to controlling my appetite, and there are a number of reasons for that. One reason people overeat or binge eat is, even if they eat a big meal, they might not have been very present or aware. So, has this ever happened to you? You sit down to the big meal, but you weren’t paying attention. Maybe you were on your cell phone or something. You finish the big meal and your belly is actually full, but your mouth feels hungry. Have you ever had that experience?
Evelyne: Oh yeah. [laughs]
Marc: So that essentially is the brain in your belly. The nervous system in your belly is going, “Wow! I got a lot of food in there, I’m full.”
Now the head brain is going, “Wait a minute, I don’t remember tasting anything. I don’t remember pleasure. I don’t remember satisfaction. I don’t even remember eating actually.” It is because you weren’t present. The brain is not smart enough to say, “You should have been present, you should have been aware, you should have gotten pleasure and taste and aroma.” The brain just tells you it is hungry, because that is the best it knows how to do. Really what is going on is there is confusion. Dietitians said this, I don’t know how many decades ago. One of the great things to come out of dietetic wisdom and research is that the body takes about 20 minutes to realize it is full, which I love. It is essentially saying your brain, your body wisdom, your metabolism, your genetics, takes time, these 20 minutes or more to assess the nutritional profile of a meal. When your body doesn’t have that time, it’s a distinguishing circus. Its ability to discern, its ability to give you ample feedback about the nutritional profile of your meal is simply diminished. Again, in those circumstances, the brain is looking for food but it didn’t get what it wanted, because it didn’t have time to scan the meal so it just thinks it is hungry. So we eat more and think we have a willpower problem, but all you needed to do was eat when you were eating. Get the taste, get the aroma, and get the satisfaction. A lot of that has to do with slowing down, because we move kind of fast. I think the good news is I have seldom met a person who has a willpower issue with food; it is usually an awareness problem. It is a slowing down problem. It is a problem of presence rather than a need to control an unruly, monstrous appetite.
It is natural, when you eat good healthy food and you are present and pay attention, and you enjoy it, your appetite will naturally regulate itself and you will never have to worry about it.