The world out there is full of uncertainty. From economic recession, to political stressors, and a constant barrage of negative news about killings and injustice, we’re stressed and as a result of this, overeating has shot up.
In a discussion with Deborah Kesten, an international nutrition researcher, award-winning author, and health journalist, we were able to uncover exactly why this happens.
Anxiety triggers and worsens overeating behaviors
When you eat high-sugar, high-carb foods, your brain releases a natural hormone called serotonin, which calms and relaxes you, temporarily curbing anxiety and distress.
These foods don’t have all the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber that makes our mind and body feel relaxed and balanced. In essence, you feel better for 5-10-20 minutes, but since this food does not contain any essential nutrients, you “crash.”
This further causes stress and triggers overeating behaviors.
So how do we recover from eating disorders?
Today’s hustle culture encourages isolation and overworking to pay the bills. Therefore, regulating our eating habits becomes harder during times of crisis. “We’re completely disconnected from others and no longer balanced in our relationship to food and eating,” Kesten explained.
We work alone and eat alone, which also damages our wellbeing. “It’s become more and more normal to eat by yourself in front of the computer in Western cultures,” Kesten added. “Earlier, the whole community used to eat together around the fire. That social aspect is crucial when understanding how we relate to food.”
The detriments of eating alone can be best explained by a study conducted by researcher Robert Nerem.
In 1978, Nerem began experimenting to see if he could create clogged-artery atherosclerosis in rabbits if he fed them a very high-cholesterol diet. He discovered about two-thirds of the rabbits did not develop clogged arteries when the research assistant held them in her hands while they ate.
He couldn’t believe his finding and repeated the study multiple times; ending with the same result: the rabbits held with loving regard while eating were happier, healthier and immune to disease.
This is why dieting doesn’t work. When you’re dieting, essentially, you’re alone. You have guidelines on what to eat and how to eat, but you’re missing the social, compassionate aspect – and that’s another reason as to why dieting fails.
For a better eating experience and healthier impact; Kesten advised preparing food compassionately and eating it socially.
“The Bhagavad Gita (Hindu Holy Scripture) tells us to cook with love because we believe your Prana (life force/energy) is infused into the food and when you eat the food, you ingest the Prana in which the food was prepared,” she said, reiterating Indian physicist K. L. Chopra’s words at a conference in New Delhi, India. “When you’re fusing food with love, you’re fusing yourself with love as well.”
This insight and enlightening experience started her nutritional journey around the world, which today has culminated into five books; her latest titled: Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity.
“I researched what different world religions have to tell us about love and [studied] the Eastern healing system such as Ayurvedic medicine, yogic nutrition and African American soul food,” Kesten commented, explaining the process that went into making a holistic, scientifically-backed program that helps build a healthier relationship with food, eating and weight.
“Food can [nourish] us physically, but it can also heal and balance our emotions through spiritually eating with mindfulness, gratitude and loving regard,” Kesten said.
Her program Whole Person Integrative Eating is designed to help people put this into practice. In her book, she outlines seven overeating styles and their remedies.
One of them includes Food Fretting: Dieting and obsessing about the best way to eat.
Counting calories, weighing yourself daily and treating your body like a statistic figure is detrimental to your wellbeing. Instead, Kesten suggests perceiving food and the experience of eating as a social, ceremonial, sensual pleasure, rather than focusing on watching numbers.
“Our ancestors blessed food before eating. This habit is fading from our culture,” Kesten explained.
The habit needs to come back because it is also helpful for combatting sensory disregard and mindless eating - habits where we neglect the eating experience and focus on other tasks like watching TV or checking emails.
Kesten also gave details on how to combat this unhealthy habit, “Just pause when you take a bite of food and enjoy it without watching television or looking at your computer. Taste the food and perhaps think of a person that you love or a wonderful dining experience.” “Savor food and its flavors, aromas, colors and texture. Bring moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness to each aspect of a meal.” Kesten advised.
Most importantly, be with what is happening and accept it. Be aware of your feelings and thoughts before you eat, during you eat and after eating, she adds.
This kind of mindfulness sounds cliché, but it works. If you find it difficult to do it alone, grab a friend. Do this on Zoom if you have to, but be proactive about your wellness.
Dealing with eating disorders can be hard, but using resources like the ones outlined in Whole Person Integrative Eating can give you the much-needed head start to radically changing your life.