Isabel Kirk, MA, LPC

Isabel Kirk is a bilingual mental health counselor psychotherapist offering individual and group services in the Washington DC metropolitan area and distance counseling (online and phone).

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    Can you eat without worry? Making peace with food


    With the beginning of the spring the other day I saw one of the many TV commercials motivating people to lose weight so they can look great this summer. It made me think of the current blog title. Yes as the title implies I am going to talk about food but mostly about the problems with food. If anorexia or bulimia is the first thing that comes to your mind, let’s forget them for a moment because most of the population doesn’t fall under those categories. I am going to talk about most of us because not only people with anorexia or bulimia freak out during spring, most of us do, unfortunately.  

    Consider for a moment, is there any woman these days (well men as well) but my question is more directed to women, that can eat without worrying about gaining weight, how many calories they are taking, whether they food they are eating is good or bad, what they would do next to compensate for the calories they took in etc etc etc? I wish the answer were yes. But the reality is much sadder as more and more the mentality of constant dieting, preoccupation with being healthy, the obsession with the perfect body, and the pursuit of thinness as a synonym of happiness have become the common subject of everyday life. Moreover, many women cannot conceive being happy if they have a few extra pounds.
    What happened?  Have we lost the compass?. Where did we get from that we have to eat every day exactly the same number of calories to prevent weight gain, that we have to eat healthy all the time otherwise we feel guilty, that we have to exercise daily to burn exactly the number of calories ingested because if not they will become fat by the next day, that rice and sweets are fattening, and that if we do not have the perfect body our lives are a disaster?. These thoughts and rules unfortunately govern the eating of most people and, even worst is that they have become “normal.” Let’s clarify that I am using the term “normal” as what most people do and it does not necessarily mean what is correct. In April of 2008, Self magazine reported on a study done with Cynthia Bulik, PhD – a specialist in the field of eating disorders – which indicated that 75% of women had eating issues of some kind. Only 10% of those qualified for the types of eating disorders we often hear about, such as anorexia and bulimia. This means that a whopping 65% of women may fall into the EDNOS category, regardless of the fact that they may never have heard of it. That means that at any gathering at work, with friends, on the street…, more than half of people do not have a healthy relationship with food. The figures are alarming. What are we doing to change this? A similar study has not yet been done among men, although we know that many of them suffer as well.

    The source of the problem is that according to the human brain as soon as we prohibit something, the more we want. Think about it, if I tell you not look at something or not do something, the more eager you will be to do so. Well the same happens with food. The most recommendable is to try not to think about food in categories of good or bad, or healthy and unhealthy, fattening and not fattening. Ideally, start again to see the food as it is, a source of energy and nutrition needed to live. Even junk food is okay once in a while. The secret of eating well is not different from any other aspect of life. The secret in life is balance and flexibility. Yes, indeed. Like everything in life, extremes are dangerous. In this case, any extreme thought or attitude can be harmful to mental balance. In life we ​​need balance, even when it comes to “good” or “healthy” things, our bodies and minds need variety. So it’s to good exercise, but also to rest; to eat fruits and vegetables but occasionally to eat bacon and a cupcake to sweeten the palate; to surround yourself with friends and people but also to enjoy time by ourselves; to work and to take vacations, so forth and so on. As you see, the list can be endless, but the idea is that we allow both without judging or feel guilty when we are in the process of indulging.
    It is sad really to see people of all ages and in all parts of the world start the day with no intention of achieving something good or appreciation for what they have, but thinking about whether or not to have breakfast or hoping their pants are a little more lose. So you might wonder, but what can we do to change this situation? If we all start taking a more balanced attitude towards life and not allow this kind of talk about food and weight occupy most of our interactions, I think we can start creating a healthier and happier society. It is not easy, but we can no longer idle. Do your part and maybe we can even get to eat without worry … someday!

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