Don't substitute food consumption for Love

Over my 17 years as a registered dietitian, I can honestly say that I have seen and heard it all! I will begin with a brief history of my career. I have worked in hospital facilities, nursing homes and Air force bases. It was my job to help all of these obese patients meet their weight loss goal through careful planning, accountability, and persistence. I felt like a dietitian superhero able to leap tall cravings in a single bound! I organized weight loss clinics, customized patients meal plans, demonstrated healthy cooking classes, and formed a variety of support groups. I was conquering obesity with all my might! The patients were motivated, showing up, and completely enthusiastic at achieving their goals set out in front of them. Over the years, I always felt hopeful and full of passion to be the one to guide them along their path to a healthy lifestyle. Patients would come to me with a variety of different reasons of why they needed to lose the weight. These included: medical necessity, job requirements, and just to look and feel better. All of the patients would all start off positive and full of hope. We would make progress and then after awhile patients would not lose or worse yet gain back the lost pounds. I scratched my head and did some deep investigating into myself as a dietitian. I would send several emails, make personal followup calls, send recipes and even perform healthy cooking demonstrations. This was all a puzzle to me until one day in back in December of 2015. One of my favorite patients who I will call Ben broke the whole scenario down for me. He had some lofty weightloss goals ahead of him, and was failing to even lose 1 lb. In fact, he would weigh in with weight gains week after week. This was the moment that I realized that my job was much bigger than the organized plans laid out before my patients . In Ben's situation, he decided to come clean with a confessional secret that he had been withholding from me. He confessed that he would give into his food cravings at least twice a week by pulling up to the nearest Wendy's and ordering 6 value meals. The minute he pulled away he would begin his downward spiral that included making love to the Jr. cheeseburger deluxes that stood in his way towards achieving comfort. He went on to explain that the indulgence of the overeating felt so good, that he would overeat to the point of pain. This meant consuming large portions, barely chewing, and swallowing the food whole. He explained that the pleasure of the taste was worth every ounce of the pain that would inevitably follow the gluttonous act. Ben was recently back from being deployed, and had witnessed many painful events, this unfortunately started him on his path of having a very unhealthy relationship with food. There are more than 3 million US cases per year of diagnosed PTSD. In Ben's case, food numbed his pain. It was his love and comfort. Food in today's society has become a love substitute. Overconsumption of food has become a partner, a lover, a friend and a comforting blanket. People are using food to celebrate, reward, and mourn. Food has become an overconsumption comforting epidemic that's roots are deeply embedded starting in childhood. 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition. That is over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Youth mental health is worsening. The rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. These facts all point to the hard truth about many of the population who are lonely, isolated, in bad relationships. There is a definite association of food being placed on the top of the Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In actuality food wasn't even considered in this theory of human motivation. It is abundantly clear that food brings up feelings of fond memories of a loved one or childhood. Many have always used food as a reward or as an indulgence.

Before you decide to jump start your next diet, I beg you to try this first:

  1. Join a small group whether it be exercise, art, therapy, church, ANY small group. As humans, we need to feel like we belong, as if we are a part of something.

  2. Use your body. If the gym is not your thing, find something meaningful that uses your body every day.

  3. If you are not using your brain in your job or daily life, find a way to use it. Do crossword puzzles, go to a trivia night, learn about a new topic, or simply read a book.

This world can be overwhelming at times, and there are many things to conquer and overcome. Do not let food be your only comfort. I hope that you choose healthy relationships, activities, and form a sense of community to help combat mental disorders and sense of isolation.