Dynamic Eating Psychology
Reflections on Mind-Body Nutrition
What is Dynamic Eating Psychology?
The field of nutrition is like the wild west. People of all ages face health challenges and unwanted eating behaviors that create stress and confusion, yet there is little agreement about what to do and how to find relief. It’s not that there isn’t information out there. Western medicine, science, the internet and diet and nutrition books offer mountains of meal plans, recipes, quick fixes, exercise regimens and costly supplements, all of which are supposed to pave the way to health and happiness. This leaves many of us overwhelmed and discouraged.
If you've read this far, you’ve probably had some experience with calorie counting, avoiding fat/carbs/dairy/gluten/sugar, working in handfuls of supplements each day, and drinking so much water you think you’ll burst. Maybe you’ve experimented with different kinds of exercise which, if you’re like me, means you’ve made long-term donations to gyms you don't use. The possibilities are endless and there's always a new theory around the corner.
You probably also know from experience that these approaches don’t work in the long run. Or, maybe you think they don’t work for you because you don’t have enough will power, discipline or time. The fact is that 45 million Americans diet each year and it's estimated that 95-99% of people who lose weight, will gain it back within a year. The bottom line is, it’s not you or me or the 95-99% of people who fail at diets. It’s the diets that fail us.
This is where Dynamic Eating Psychology, founded by Marc David of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, offers something truly new and truly revolutionary. Mind Body nutrition looks beyond the pantry, gym or scale, and presents a framework for making health an inside job. Mind Body Nutrition teaches that the way thoughts, feelings and beliefs impact digestion, assimilation and calorie burning is where the action is at, and where we can begin to access authentic health and happiness.
A simple way to play with this is, consider your typical state-of-mind when you eat. Do you eat at your desk? Do you watch the news? Do you multi-task, managing children, driving, or engaged in uncomfortable conversation? Do you feel stress when eating? These are important questions because when we’re in a stressful state, the sympathetic nervous system is in charge. This is fight or flight mode -- the body's reaction to danger, either real or perceived. A part of fight or flight is that digestion shuts down so energy can be focused on coping with the danger. When danger has passed, the parasympathetic nervous system can kick in, which allows for rest/relax/digest. When we become conscious of stress, and choose to eat in a relaxed state, we improve digestion, metabolism and nutrient assimilation. It may take some practice, but over time you can make relaxed eating your default setting for mealtime. Try it out for yourself and see how you feel!
Teenagers are assailed with constant and insistent messages about how they should change themselves with clothing, makeup and hair products, but most dangerously, how they should be thin. One-half of all teenage girls and one-quarter of teenage boys have dieted. Most of these girls (33%) are already a healthy weight.
There’s plenty of information available, both on the internet and in scientific journals, about the incidence of dysfunctional eating in teens and the reasons why it’s so prevalent. Scientific evidence indicates a 100% association between diet quality and depressive symptoms in adolescents. Additionally, adolescent dieting is strongly associated with an increased risk of long-term weight gain. The cause for concern is clear and urgent.
For all the evidence of a significant problem, there’s very little offered as effective intervention. Both the scientific and culturally mainstream approaches emphasize creating a healthy nutrient balance for teenagers and educating them about healthy eating as solutions. If you know a teenager, or remember being one, you know this falls far short of a true fix. It would seem that we have no idea how to help our teenagers in the realm of their relationship with food.
Mind Body Nutrition teaches that how we "do food" is usually how we "do life". That our relationship with food can be a doorway to something that needs attention and love. As with unwanted eating challenges in adults, the remedy for teenage dieting is not placing another layer of scrutiny on their eating behaviors, but helping them look more deeply and consciously at life to see what the body is trying to express. One possibility is the deep need for love and acceptance in a world that often screams "you're not enough!" The mind body doorway can be a rich starting point to explore and experiment with all kinds of questions that can lead to growth and healing, making a difference now and for a lifetime.