Monthly Archives: May 2013

Phase 2, Step 4: Emotions and Food (Exploration)

Experential phase

Worries go down better with soup.  Jewish saying

Chowder breathes reassurance. It steams consolation.   Clementine Paddleford

It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption.  Edward Bunyian

Emotions and weight gain

bored eating          betty white angry eating  

Don’t we all want to eat a healthy diet?  With all the information we can  find about food and weightloss we pretty much know what to do.   In theory.  However, when it comes to food, we are not rational beings. Emotions and past habits rule.

I have often heard my clients say:  “ I eat  too much when I am anxious, when I am depressed,  or angry at somebody.”  More psychologically minded clients will even say:  “I eat my emotions. “

Numerous articles and book talk about emotional eating.  It is true that when dessert was used as a reward or consolation by her parents, a person will tend to adopt this habit.  It worked at the time: the child felt cared for, the physical or emotional  booboo was forgotten.

Michele May MD, describes the connections between emotions and weight gain and concludes: “Foods themselves cannot satisfy emotional needs. If we are depressed, eating chocolate chip cookies may stir the memories of a carefree childhood, but they do not remove the cause of that depression. Indeed, the foods we are eating may be creating the emotional problems we are trying to escape from.”

A cookie or a cup of ice-cream can make up for a broken toy, it will not comfort you for situations adults face: being laid off, losing your house, failing a class, having a car accident, or even a flat tire. If one cookie does not work, a box will not work either.

I have seen a lot of clients becoming experts in identifying their emotions. They can find the source of their eating habits in different events of their childhood and still being unable to lose weight.

They may succeed in restraining themselves when they are emotional and tempted to eat too much or some fattening food.  For a while.  Sooner or later, their restrictive diet, their guilt and shame when they eat the forbidden food will throw them in a hellish (and fattening) cycle: Deprivation, mindless eating, guilt, and deprivation. 


Matching the right food to the emotion, as thin people do

Realize that all of us eat different food according to our moods, and specific emotional states. Thin people also eat while experiencing emotions but they have a better way to adjust their diet to them.

If you are very frustrated and want to chew on someone (in your imagination), a mouthful of ice-cream will not give you the satisfaction of working your jaws and teeth, while thinking about this person. 

So become aware of your emotion first and choose to eat what is more likely to calm or satisfy you. Here are the most common examples of adequate food, from my personal and professional experience.

Emotions Inadequate food for emotion Why it is inadequate More Adequate
joy Bland food No great taste  in mouth Bubbly drinks. Brightly Colored food. Gourmet food (expensive food in small quantities)
Sadness/ worries Meat, cheese, nuts No comfort in belly warm and high volume food for comfort: soup, chowder, stew, ratatouille. Hot drinks.
Boredom High calorie food with high content of sugar and fat, (donuts, cookies, candies) or drinks/smoothies  with high content of sugar Eaten too fast. Artichokes, shrimps,  celery, lettuce…Tea, herb tea, Yerba Mate
Disgust/contempt Salty food No sweetness in mouth high quality chocolate and pastries  melting in the mouth
Fear Cold food. Sweets. No comfort in belly Hot drinks (hot cider, hot wine with cinnamon, hot milk)
Anger Soup. Ice-cream. Pastries. Buns and white bread. No action from teeth., jaws Celery, meat, cucumbers, apples, any crunchy food.

Here is the big “secret”  

angry swarsernager   1203385_large 

The problem is not that you are “eating your emotions,” everybody does. Since diet don’t work and no one can shut off all his emotions, the only way is to choose the food that fits the emotional need.

This week explore what kind of food feels intuitively right, for the emotions I mentioned and take notes about what works for you.


Phase 2, Step 4: Taste (Exploration)

Experential phase

The Buddha told this story:

A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to the precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.


Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted !


from 101 Zen Stories

Heightened sense of taste can promote weight loss

In a 2008 scientific experiment, lead by Alan Hirsch, MD. , director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, a group of people of an average weight of 208 pounds ate bland tasting food sprinkled with flavored crystals. The flavors used were cheddar cheese, onion, horseradish, ranch dressing, taco, or parmesan, cocoa, spearmint, banana, strawberry, raspberry, and malt. People in this study were not submitted to a diet and lost an average of 30 pounds in 6 months, compared to 2 pounds for the control group.

Hirsch theorized that subjects lost weight because the added flavors made them feel full faster and they therefore eat less. He said he believes this approach works because, unlike most diets, it is not based on food restriction.

Some of the subjects even stopped the study before 6 months because they already had reached their ideal body weight–an unexpected result, Hirsh said.

Weight loss Using taste and smell sensations

 In another 2009 a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, a study by John M. Poothullil, M.D., showed that participants lost weight by becoming aware of taste and smell sensations. Seven women learned to stop eating when they became aware that the food was no longer pleasant to eat. By the end of 1 month, significant weight loss took place in the study group, and was maintained throughout the study period of 1 year.


Better tasting food requires a lesser quantity

Ayurvedic medicine –an ancient Hindu system of medicine- recognizes six types of taste.

  1. sweet
  2. sour
  3. salty
  4. hot
  5. bitter
  6. astringent

The six tastes should be balanced in the diet for optimum health and nutrition. (from

Without necessarily choosing to follow an ayurvedic diet –it would be another topic – it is great to keep these six tastes in mind. Then, you can see what kind of taste you are missing in your diet..

Examples  of sweet, salty, hot and sour taste are easy to find. The following are examples of foods and spices for the bitter and astringent tastes:

Bitter Taste:

  • bitter melon and gourd
  • Japanese eggplant
  • turmeric
  • fenugreek seeds
  • leafy greens
  • barley
  • basil
  • nettle
  • jicama
  • lettuce
  • aloe vera

Astringent Taste:

  • apple
  • pomegranate (tastes sour on the tongue but is both astringent and bitter)
  • pear
  • quinoa
  • legumes
  • tofu
  • sprouts
  • beans
  • lentils

Bitter food for health and pleasure

Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Director of the University of Washington Nutritional Sciences Program, is one of the main advocates of bitter foods: spinach, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, radicchio, and dark chocolate prevent many diseases including cancer, because they contain phytonutrients. Unfortunately the food industry has removed and masked the bitter taste that has become undesirable. We are treated like spoiled children who only want to eat sweets, and very salty food.

Chocolate is one of these foods that is pleasantly bitter. If you eat a very sweet chocolate -35% cocoa- you cannot appreciate fully the taste of cocoa. You need a bar to taste the flavor. If you eat the best bitter chocolate -85% cocoa- you only need a square to fill your mouth with flavor for a long time. Don’t take my word for it, try it.

A very tasty nutrient-rich shopping list

Dr. Adam Drewnowski, is at the origin of the Nutrient Rich Foods coalition. Among other useful information the website has a ready-made grocery shopping list with examples of nutrient-rich foods. It helps remind you to enjoy a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods and beverages  (

Try discovering new flavors this week and enjoy a week filled with many tastes…