Eating Psychology

Advice and information about emotional eating and eating psychology associated with crash dieting, weight loss and a dysfunctional relationship with eating and food.

Meal Timing, Thermal Effect of Food, CICO, and ‘Starvation Mode’ – Real or BS?

“If you don’t eat enough calories, your body will go into ‘starvation mode’ and it will hang onto fat, and you will gain weight.”

“You should eat six small meals instead of three to lose weight.”

I’m sure you have heard these before. 

The girl from accounting says them. 

I used to say it myself. Though I had no proof, it sounded like it made sense.  I mean, our bodies do respond to stress in times of crisis – so surely it is designed to literally ‘stall’ metabolic processing so that we don’t die?

This blog post is all about popular things people say to justify why losing weight is complicated and futile.

Spoiler alert: It’s not. But let’s look at the first item on our list:

Thermic Effect of Food

First, let’s look at TEF – the thermic effect of food or the amount of energy expenditure above the basal metabolic rate due to the cost of processing food for use and storage. (Whew – that was a mouthful!) The TEF averages at about 10% of a person’s caloric intake and varies based on macro groups – i.e. dietary fat is easier to process than protein. For example, when you consume 100 calories of protein, your body will only provide energy for 70-75 of those calories, whereas if you were to eat 100 calories from fat, your body will provide energy for around 97 of those calories.

via GIPHY

Meal Timing

Then comes the ‘How many meals/times should I eat per day’ discussion. There is much speculation (and misinformation) about how much and how often a person eats effecting their overall metabolism and weight loss efforts.

Again, something I believed, but through personal experience have discovered is also not true.

That’s where academic and scientific studies can help us to separate fact from fiction.

A recent study conducted by the University of Ottawa found that increasing meal frequency does not promote more significant weight loss when observing the weight loss progress between two groups of obese men and women.  Each group was administered either a high meal frequency (3 meals and 3 snacks per day) or a low meal frequency (3 meals per day, no snacks) diet throughout eight weeks.  Each group was instructed to complete the study under the same amount of energy restriction (total calories consumed). 

So, if eating three, four or six meals timed throughout the day is what works best for you – go for it, but know that there is no one hard and fast rule when it comes to the number of meals you eat per day.

What it really comes down to is our next item, calories.

CICO (Calories In, Calories Out)

Many people don’t believe this, but when it comes to weight loss, gain or homeostasis—it’s calories in/calories out (CICO). 

That is the rule, but of course, some exceptions and variables make the concept not 100% foolproof. An example of an exception would be in individuals with underlying metabolic and hormonal conditions and those who are not addressing the issue through medical and/or dietary means. And an example of variables that impact CICO is the thermic effect of food concept explained above

Hormonal conditions can prevent weight loss or even cause excessive weight loss or weight gain. Ultimately a combination of medication and diet working in harmony (for example, a low GI or ketogenic diet for individuals diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome to combat insulin resistance) along with a suitable caloric intake can help to regulate this issue. In some cases, without the need for prescription medication.  Notice, calories still continue to be a factor in this situation despite a change in dominant macros levels.

Now, it is true that when you reduce calories (and lose weight), the number of calories the body requires will decrease as well.  I think this is where people cling to ideas like ‘starvation mode’ and ‘long-term weight loss is unsustainable’.

Here’s the deal: If you change your lifestyle (i.e. lower your caloric intake and increase your physical activity) and then after reaching your goal go right back to eating the way you did before and not exercising – you’re going to gain that weight again and probably more. That doesn’t mean your efforts didn’t work – it means you stopped being consistent and didn’t adjust your lifestyle accordingly. Many people go through this when they don’t address the underlying issues they have with food. You can read about whether or not you have a toxic relationship with food here.

What we’re talking about are called total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and adaptive thermogenesis

TDEE is comprised of both resting (BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate) and non-resting energy expenditure (the combination of exercise energy expenditure, TEF, and non-exercise activity thermogenesis.)

Adaptive thermogenesis refers to the underfeeding-associated fall in resting and non-resting energy expenditure (REE, non-REE) – aka eating less than the body requires at rest vs when the body is active. 

Simply stated:  If a person eats fewer calories than their body requires at rest, they will create a surplus and their body will lose weight.  The more active this individual is, the more calories they will burn and used in tandem with a reduced calorie diet, will potentially create more significant weight loss results.

As the body reduces in mass, the caloric requirement will also drop — and as this happens cutting calories further will adjust the body to continue to lose weight or adjusting/increasing caloric intake to create an energy equilibrium, which will result in maintaining the loss of weight.   This is, of course, simplistic and can vary for issues such as hormonal imbalances and body composition variances. 

‘Starvation Mode’ (and that famous weight loss reality show study)

A few years ago, a study conducted by the Journal of Obesity, set out to measure long-term changes in resting metabolic rate and body composition in The Biggest Loser contestants.  

When published, I was caught in an 18-month period of time where I was reading all of Dr Linda Bacon’s research and books and immersing myself in the HAES community. As a result of this interest, I was very taken in by this study as I, as a fitness and nutrition professional, had found the show to be problematic in many ways. ( I am in NO way saying that I had lost my mind to believe any of the research Dr Bacon has done, but I have since changed my mind about some of it – but that’s for another post.) 

In the Obesity study, it showed how the contestants of The Biggest Loser had regained the weight loss on the show and damaged their metabolisms in the process. 

Okay, this is something that I have dealt with when working with clients who want to lose weight.  Most people want it off, like yesterday, and think that cutting out entire food groups or creating huge calorie deficits every day is the only way.  And while those methods may help them lose weight – rapidly – they will likely not keep it off, which is what this study proves.  However, the deception is that sustainable weight loss is impossible for obese individuals and that is not true.

“Diets don’t work.”  Okay, no they don’t when they are ‘crash diets’ or unsustainable and highly restrictive.

Hollywood juice diets, master cleanses and ‘detox’ – oh, how I LOATHE – pills will help you lose water weight in the form of excessive bowel movements and carbohydrate restriction. 

Cutting back 500-1000 calories per day and adding in 150 minutes of cardio per week will help most individuals lose 1-2 pounds per week and create a lifestyle (and weight loss) that is sustainable.

The difference between a person like a contestant on The Biggest Loser and an individual who decides to cut 500-1000 calories per day and incorporate more physical activity into their lifestyle is the rate and severity of the weight loss between their starting point, the timeframe and the overall amount of weight loss. 

In the case of TBL contestants, they were restricting calories at a severe level while also performing hours and hours of physical activity per day; this is the epitome of ‘crash dieting’!


And while it may seem like a contradiction saying ‘starvation mode’ isn’t a thing, the following example is one of those exceptions I addressed earlier in this post:
When a person who is 100+ pounds overweight goes from eating 4000 calories per day to consuming 1000 calories per day overnight, they will create a 3000-calorie daily deficit, which over a week amounts to a 21,000-calorie deficit or roughly a six-pound (2.7 kg) weight loss. 
Now add 5-7 hours of physical activity daily on top of that, and we’re talking an additional 1500-2000 exercise energy expenditure deficit in addition to the caloric deficit, so we’re talking something like 35,000 calories, or 10 pounds (4.5 kg) per week. 

In addition to TBL contestants severe deficit and exercise energy expenditure, we could also talk about the levels of cortisol, ghrelin and leptin that become impacted by the stress of limiting calories and performing that level of physical activity seven days per week.  Messing with stress and hunger-controlling hormones will make the body physically crave food because, at that point, it is in a state of crisis.  That is incredibly unhealthy, unrealistic and unsustainable.  That is what you do in an extreme competition or game show or …oh, wait, that’s what The Biggest Loser was. 

via GIPHY

I’ve heard people in support of Dr Bacon’s work say that The Biggest Loser study confirms everything they’ve said about how they cannot lose weight and that their experiences with restriction caused disordered eating and therefore they are fat, aren’t going to apologize for it or participate in diet culture when it is clearly futile. 

I am not arguing that weight loss is challenging – especially when the starting weight is 100 pounds or more above what a healthy (and I’m using the BMI chart very loosely here) for their height should be.  Weight loss is a simple concept, but something challenging to put into action and those reasons are more about the emotional component of food and a person’s relationship with itespecially when that emotional component is a symptom of trauma.

Weight loss is a simple concept, but something challenging to put into action and those reasons are more about the emotional component of a person's relationship with food #eatingpsychology #coaching #weightloss #health Click To Tweet

Diet culture, in my opinion, is the crash diet/snake oil salesman approach to weight loss.   Cleanses, weight loss teas and all of that bullshit which cuts corners or claims to suppress physiological urges to eat are gimmicks and do not offer a sustainable long-term approach to weight management. These things don’t work long-term because a) they are unhealthy and b) they go against every facet of common sense – ‘slow and steady’ – science of sustainable weight loss.

If weight loss is something you are looking to achieve to improve your health and the life you lead, I hope this information has helped to clear up some of the confusing rhetoric that exists. I want to stress that I am not here to tell anybody that they should lose weight or that it is the most important thing a person should focus on, but if it is something you have struggled with, this blog is a good resource for healthy, holistic weight management and lifestyle choices. Remember to subscribe to the blog to see new posts when they go live.

TL/DR: Starvation mode – in the way it is most commonly framed (i.e. following a moderate dietary framework) – isn’t keeping you from losing weight. Weight loss is a balanced science and is both adaptable and delivers results, but those results vary depending on where you start from, how you approach these changes and if you’re ready to make long-term, sustainable lifestyle choices to maintain the loss. It is not easy, but it is also (for the most part) not super complicated. The best place to start is to want to start and the best way to keep going is to always remember why you started.

Have You Been ‘Supply and Demand’ Dieting?

If you’ve ever taken a basic economics class, you’ve no doub heard of supply and demand, right?

The Law of Supply and Demand is the theory explaining the interaction between the supply of a resource and the demand for that resource, or the effect the availability of a particular product and the desire (or need) for that product has on price.

I’ve always thought that this law also sounds a bit like the act of restrictive eating and crash dieting.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND DIETING?

Now, think about supply and demand regarding your struggles with food and eating.

When you supply yourself with food (aka feed yourself), demand for it goes down.  And when you restrict food, the need for it goes way up.

In other words, when you limit the amount of food (crash diets) and your physical demand for it will increase. While if you give yourself the amount of food it needs then your physical demand for it will decrease.

With a success rate of less than 5%, crash diets do not work.

Supply and demand dieting is just another way to support the belief that crash dieting, especially extremely restrictive eating, doesn’t work long term.

I would know. Believe me. I’ve starved, cleansed, no carbed, low carbed, all carbed — and the only thing that got me on the road to real recovery was to change my relationship (and behaviours) with food.

And through the recovery and education process I discovered what truly does work is eating and moving in ways that make you healthy and happy.

So, the next time you want to embark on ‘just one more’ crash diet, think about the law of supply and demand.

And don’t do it.

I talk about this topic and more when you work with me to build your confidence with food.  Get in touch with me at erin@erinslifebites.com and be sure to sign up for my coaching emails, today!

And through the recovery and education process I discovered what truly does work is eating and moving in ways that make you healthy and happy. Click To Tweet

Why Am I Really Eating This?

I used to have a thing for Skittles.

It was more like a compulsion for Skittles.

At one of my former jobs, there was a vending machine.  If you work in an office, chances are there are one (or five) convenience portals to grab food.

The first six months of working in this particular office, I didn’t know anything about that vending machine.  Not a thing.  I couldn’t have told you one item that was in that machine.  You get it.

One day I was informed that I had to take on a new, challenging and time-consuming task that would take up approximately three days at the end of each month.   And then that one task turned into multiple responsibilities also expected of me each month.  And needless to say, some of these tasks did not come easily to me and often frustrated me to tears.

When I couldn’t balance out reports or my workload started to become completely overwhelming, I began to feel the stress.  At first, I tried to incorporate stress relief tactics like mindful breathing and going for a walk out to get some fresh air.  However, one of those days on my ‘time out,’ I decided to walk into the office kitchen and look into the abyss of the vending machine.

I bought a package of Skittles and brought them back to my desk and ate them all as I continued to work my way through stressful tasks.  I did the same thing the next day and the next day and every month-end after that.  In fact, I kept a bowl of change for the vending machine in my desk drawer to be sure that I could get my ‘Skittles on’ during the end of month duties.

After five months of my vending machine habit, I put on six pounds and spent about 400%  above the wholesale cost of Skittles in the process.  I also noticed the days I would eat sweets while trying to work through reports and reconciliations, I would go home feeling depressed and would eat more when I got home or drink one too many glasses of wine.  Stress begets stress begets stress, am I right?

Why am I eating this?

I have this saying that emotional eating is a lot like Dumbo’s feather.  I’m assuming most people have seen or read the story of Dumbo, but in case you haven’t, Dumbo had unique, oversized ears that enabled him to fly.   When Dumbo first discovered his talent, his friend and confidant, Timothy Q. Mouse, gave Dumbo a ‘magic’ feather which would enable him to fly.  In the end, Dumbo loses his feather but still manages to fly without a hitch.  The feather gave Dumbo a false sense of confidence, support and security.  My Skittles compulsion (and every other food I used in times of stress, pain, and sadness) were not so different than Dumbo’s feather; they provided me with a false sense of confidence, support, and security.

We emotional eaters all have a bit of that Dumbo’s feather element when it comes down to it.  

When we are feeling discomfort, pain, insecurity or shame, we turn to food to give us much-needed self-care that we need at that moment.

I’ve had people tell me over the years that they struggle with food (and subsequently their weight) because they were having a bad day.  They didn’t get that job, their friend got angry at them, nothing in their closet fit them, or something traumatic is lingering in their subconscious, and they need to “quiet the noise.”

I want to be clear, in my opinion, there is nothing inherently wrong with emotional eating.  It is an attempt at self-care — to soothe and manage our emotional discomfort.  Many people feel additional shame and discomfort when they emotionally eat because they feel like they are helpless or powerless to food.

Emotional eating is not about being helpless or powerless it is about feeling helpless and powerless over emotions.  Emotional eating is a behavioural response, and therefore it can be managed with the right support system, knowledge and tools.

Emotional eating is not about being helpless or powerless it is about feeling helpless and powerless over emotions.  Emotional eating is a behavioural response, and therefore it can be managed with the right support system, knowledge and tools.… Click To Tweet

One of the first steps that can be taken to manage an emotional eating trigger is to stop, look at the food and ask yourself, “Why am I  really eating this?” – and here are some questions to provide you with an honest answer:

1. Am I truly hungry?  True hunger is physical.  When we are truly hungry, there are physical cues supplied by our bodies such as weakness, depleted energy, lightheadedness, and shakiness.  If you are feeling physical symptoms of hunger, your body is telling you that, yes, you do in fact need to eat something.

2.  What is happening right now?  Stress and anxiety are two big triggers for emotional eaters.  In the situations when you have the urge to eat something, take an inventory of what is happening at that moment.  Are you at work?  Are you under the pressure of a deadline?  Did you see or hear something upsetting and you’re unsure what you can do to process your anxiety?  Did something or someone remind you of a painful memory?  At that moment take a minimum of two minutes to breathe and ask yourself, “What is happening right now?”  Write down your feelings and give yourself 15-20 minutes to take a break or grab a drink of water.  Giving yourself time to assess the situation and the feelings you are experiencing can help you become better aware of ‘why’ you are eating when you are eating.

3.  What can I do instead of eating?  Okay, so you have assessed the situation, and you know you’re not truly hungry, and you’ve taken your time to ask yourself what is happening at the moment – so now what?  What can you do instead of eating when you are feeling anxious or stressed?  You should not ignore your feelings because they are valid.  If you are feeling anxious, stressed or triggered in any way, you should work on strategies that will help you tackle those emotions.  For example, in my situation with stress eating Skittles while feeling under pressure at work – in hindsight, instead of turning to junk food during those times, I should have talked to my boss and told her I was struggling.  I am not blaming myself for not asking for help, but part of my emotional need to eat was based on feelings of insecurity about my work but led me to ignore the fact that all of us have to ask for help from time to time.  There is no shame in asking for help or admitting that we feel overwhelmed.  As you work on building confidence with food, you will become more in touch with what triggers your emotional eating, and that awareness will help to better equip you with strategies and solutions for the times you need to exercise self-compassion without using food to cope.

It is important to remember (and yes, I am a bit repetitive – sorry!) that emotional eating is an attempt to self-care.  It is also important to remember that emotional eating often leads to feelings of shame and that sense of guilt can lead to emotional eating.  While I do not believe there is anything shameful about wanting to care for ourselves and show ourselves compassion, I do think that it does negatively impact our ability to have confidence with food.  The ability to trust that we can make the distinction between needing food for physical survival and relying on it for emotional survival and learn the way to give ourselves the best chance of repairing the relationship between food mind, body, and soul.

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If you are interested in working on repairing your relationship with food by working with me one-on-one, please email me at erin@erinslifebites.com and don’t forget to subscribe to post updates!

What I learned When I  Quit Crash Dieting

Crash dieting used to feel like my full-time job.

Every time I tried to give notice, the insecurity over not trusting myself enough around food stopped me.

It felt familiar.  Crash dieting was second nature.

And so was my self-doubt and dissatisfaction with my body.

I tried every crash diet, pill, potion, cleanse whathaveyou over the nearly two decades of my toxic relationship with food and my body.

So, I tried something radical (for me):  I simply quit crash dieting.

And this is what happened in the aftermath of my decision.

What I learned when I finally quit crash dieting

I got to eat what I wanted without feeling any guilt.

When you don’t have restrictions placed on your diet left, right and centre it gets a lot less stressful when you decide to let yourself eat!

I spent so many years worrying about whether the food had the right amount of carbs, sugar, fats, macros that it took all of the joy out of eating.

Seriously, just making a decision to eat was like solving a puzzle when half the pieces were missing.

Frustrating AND boring.

When I stopped restricting myself, I also stopped shaming and depriving myself.  Deprivation is fuel to the diet and food-obsessed person’s inner motivation fire.

Without all the ‘self-policing,’ I was able to focus on listening to my body and becoming more in touch with what I wanted to eat rather than what I ‘shouldn’t.’

When you take restriction out of the equation, you no longer punish yourself for food choices.

I saved money even though I was eating more.  

I was a total sucker for energy drinks, diet snacks, and protein bars; not to mention diet pills, caffeine, and fitness-enhancing supplements.

All of these “health” products were slimming down my bank account and doing nothing for my well-being.

I soon discovered that eating whole foods was not only more satisfying but much more beneficial to my overall fitness level.  And because I was eating healthy, flavourful foods like healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and real protein sources, I found that when I did try to eat an odd “energy” bar, I was paying £2 to eat something that tasted like plastic and probably contained it too!

In the same respect, a piece of pie or cake for dessert tasted so much better.  Without eating processed foods, I appreciated the richness and flavour of the items I was eating.

Delicious food without a giant helping of guilt afterwards hit the spot as well!

I realised that I was never “addicted” to anything I ate.  

One of the most rewarding things about breaking up with food restriction is that you understand that the propaganda about being addicted to sugar and salt is not real.

I also started to recognise my true hunger cues and my body was able to lead me to a better understanding of my appetite and how to feed it.

I stopped being at war with my body

Arbitrary crash diet eating is an anchor for shaming ourselves.  When I ceased to shame myself for the foods I was eating, I also stopped the cycle of body negativity.

A new cycle of rational and healthy give and take begins when you quit crash dieting.

Eating what my body needs when it needs it, stopped the mental battle I was living through while I was engaging in restrictive crash dieting.

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I stopped continually being in a bad mood which I attributed to two things 1) Arbitrary food guides were no longer screwing with my digestion and bodily functions and 2) I stopped shaming the hell out of myself for not being compliant with a whackadoodle diet plan.

It is incredible how much better you will see your body when you stop punishing yourself for not putting it through unnecessary hell.

Self-compassion is something with which most of us struggle.  You’re only human, and there are enough causes in life to get passionate and fight against, your body doesn’t need to be one of them!

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I lost some weight (and it has stayed off)

Emotional and physical weight can be present in our lives in equal measure.  When I quit my crash diet cycle and began embracing self-compassion, it enabled me to shift weight without conscious effort.

As an eating psychology and behaviour change coach who utilises neurolinguistic programming, I can tell you that when you spend life thinking negative statements, you will also spend your life fighting against those thoughts, and 9 out of 10 times get the very thing you don’t want.

Your mind cannot process negative statements.  When you say to yourself “I can’t eat sugar,” your mind will only hear, “eat sugar.”  While you think you are commanding yourself into not to doing something, you are essentially talking yourself into the very action.

What I learned when I (finally) quit crash dieting. #health #eatingpsychology #coach #motivation Click To Tweet

Enjoy and appreciate your body every single day that you have it.  Feed it with love and compassion and skip the side order of hate!

If you would like to gain more confidence with food, contact me for a free 30-minute eating psychology coaching consultation at erin@erinslifebites.com!

Why a Revenge Body is Bad Motivation

As a wellness professional, I encounter various forms of personal motivation when it comes to fitness.

Some people want to be fit enough to run a half-marathon because it is something they have always wanted to do.

Some people have specific health concerns and are advised to start a fitness regimen.

And then some people come to me looking to “make their ex-significant other regret the day they broke up with them” by getting a “revenge body.”

Any tabloid magazine, on any given week, will post a story about the “revenge body” of a celebrity who is going through relationship woes or bad times.

Khloe Kardashian was paid a bunch of money on her E! show aptly titled, Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian to assist people in obtaining a ‘revenge worthy’ physique, and I’m not the only person who thinks this show is bad news.

I have a policy that I won’t work with individuals with body revenge goals.

Instead, I ask clients to focus on the power of a growth mindset; to have them take their desire for revenge and turn it into an exercise in self-compassion and forgiveness.

Why having a revenge body is a lousy motivator

Simply put, working towards a revenge body infringes upon your innate ability to embrace healing.

Kevin Carlsmith, in a 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, discussed that by seeking revenge we inflate the event or issue to a level of obsession, where it’s no longer something that can be “laughed about later.”

You’re willing to sacrifice your well-being to seek punishment towards somebody else.

When a client comes to me with a goal not based on self-care, my concern is that the individual runs the risk of possible long-term consequences.

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I am not making this claim based on speculation. I once sought out to change my physical appearance after being called fat. Before it was a buzzword (I’m ageing myself here), when I was fifteen years old, I started a revenge body diet and exercise regimen, and it turned into a fifteen year battle with bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder.

We see this scenario all of the time in the movies.  An individual gets rejected and, soon after, their mission is to rise from the ashes and make this person regret their decision to abandon or hurt them.  So, they falsely believe the best way to go about this is to become more physically desirable.

But what tends to happen in the end to our protagonists? They realise that they do not need nor desire to change for that person, and in sacrificing so much to ‘improve’ themselves, they understand that the individual wasn’t worthy of their affection and, ultimately, they are the better off without them.

Why do these characters finally realise, within a 90-minute time frame, that they need to accept who they are and be okay with it?

Because revenge inevitably brings us down to the level of the very thing we are fighting and compromises our integrity.

As humans, one of our most compelling traits is our ability to forgive ourselves and others.

So, when we apply our actions with the intentions of proving our worth or getting one over on others, we keep the pain associated with it alive and well.

We cannot heal and grow to our full potential if we are doing things for the benefit of needing to prove our worth to others.

For this reason, when I meet a new client now, and it is clear that they are in a vulnerable and transitional point in their life, I ask them to reassess what is upsetting them and the areas of their life they should focus on strengthening.

There are not many things that we as humans have control over in our lives.

Revenge dieting and bodies, as well as the entire concept of improvement based on outside justification and approval, limits what control you do have over your present and future well-being.

It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.

-Tony Robbins

We cannot control how people treat us or the decisions they make about who we are.

That’s on them.

However, we can control how we respond to things and grow from the experience.

Breakups, for the most part, tend to be multi-dimensional events and, upon reflection, there is much more to their demise than how our partners feel about our bodies.

Why a 'revenge body' is bad motivation. @beetsperminute Click To Tweet

So my advice is this:   Focus on living the best life possible on your terms because you’ll be living well and if it still matters enough, living well truly is the best “revenge”.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post.

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