I used to feel crazy around food all the time– like something was wrong with me.
I was either dieting, white-knuckling, undereating, over-exercising, or bingeing.
I wanted to lose weight and maintain my weight loss, but …
The obsession just never stopped.
If you can relate, then I want to tell you why this is happening.
In 1944, Ancel Keys ran a study called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
Essentially he took 36 conscientious war objectors during WWII who were willing to starve themselves in lieu of signing up for service, and starved them for 6 months during a 12 month experiment.
The first three months the men were fed what would be considered their maintenance calories (3200 per day), then for 6 months the men were fed 50% of their maintenance calories, averaging 1600 calories a day, and then for 3 months after, they were rehabilitated with increased calories (different groups had different caloric levels for rehabilitation).
So, let me tell you about some of the symptoms the men in the study experienced…
- Obsessive thoughts about food
- Desire to lengthen meals/eating times so their food would last longer, add water, volume to their food to be more filling
- Fascination with collecting recipes about food when they had never been interested in food before
- Dream, read, talk and fantasize about food
- Licked their plates (ummmmm– guilty).
- Noise during mealtimes was bothersome and disturbing
- One man reported chewing up to 40 packs of gum a day
- One man cut off three fingers and later didn’t remember why.
- Subjects experienced severe emotional distress and depression.
- And the list goes on.
I’m sharing this because while there were over 400 men who volunteered for this experiment, only 36 were considered to be in well enough mental, physical and emotional state to participate.
Men who had never had issues with food, suddenly became OBSESSED!
Here’s where it gets even more interesting.
In the rehabilitation (refeeding) phase, men reported eating in excess:
- Multiple milk shakes a day.
- Eating caloric loads in excess of the planned 3200 per day. In some cases men ate up to 11,000 calories a day for many days of their rehabilitation.
- 12 men stayed for an extra 8 weeks to continue to be monitored, consuming 5000 calories a day steadily.
- Many participants reported feeling a sensation of hunger months after the rehabilitation.
- Unsatisfied cravings even when their stomachs were filled.
The fascinating thing about this study is that the collective “we” as a culture don’t identify dieting as starvation, but look at the number of calories they were eating in a “starvation experiment” compared to what would be eaten on a diet.
I know many women who think they should eat the equivalent for their bodies (1200 calories) to lose weight, and then beat themselves up for not being able to stick to it.
In fact, we applaud people when they lose weight by starving.
“You did the HCG diet and ate 500 calories a day and lost weight (and your period)– Good for you!”
So you decide to take a day off because it’s your birthday, or you hit your goal weight, and your body is rejoicing “YAY! The famine is over!
It eats (more than you think it should) because it is feasting to both compensate for the past restriction, and it is preparing for the next famine, which you train it to do by restricting again the next day.
Poor body. It just wants to be fed, so it can keep you alive.
So, here’s where we go wrong…
We tell ourselves that something is wrong with us!!!
We blame our willpower, and suddenly we label ourselves as “bingers” or “emotional eaters.”
We think our bodies are broken for not behaving how we want them to; for not being sated on air, and keeping us youthful, glowing and skinny so everyone will love us, think we are fabulous and beautiful, while on the inside we are starving and going to punch the lady in accounting for bringing in donuts– don’t you know flour and sugar are the devil, Karen!?
So how to we stop these extremes?
We open our eyes to the fact that there is a beautiful rainbow of options available to us.
So many of us have our blinders on that we don’t realize that if we just look to the right or the left, we can experience our lives, our bodies, and our relationship with food in a new way.
What this means in practicality is that you have to hit the pause button.
Your brain will love to tell you stories of the past because it’s like “NOOOOO– don’t go do that new thing because that’s a lot of work for me, and I’d rather be safe and wrapped comfortably in this warm, cozy chinchilla blanket from Z-Gallerie, so if you do something that makes me change, I’m gonna stomp and scream like a 2-year old screaming for a Snickers in the check-out stand of the supermarket, mmm-kay?”
Everytime the chatter comes up- hit pause, and ask yourself this question…
If I had balance in my life when it came to food and eating and weight and body, what would that look like?
What are things I can do today to support that change?
What are the crappy thoughts my brain offers me that would get me to turn away from this work?
What would be something empowering to say back to my brain to keep me focused on creating this balance?
After the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, the men went back to their natural body weights. Even the men who ate excessively. Even the men who ate 11,000 calories a day. They all went back to normal.
What if instead of extremes, you just went back to normal?
You don’t have to live in crazy land if you don’t want to.
Choice is yours.