Archive for April, 2011

My Own Promiscuous Eating: Fatigue Eating Redux

April 26, 2011

Yesterday (April 25) was a typical day for me—a very full, long and busy one.  Up at 5AM, showered, big mug of black coffee and a slice of whole wheat bread with organic peanut butter followed by an hour of reading before work.  Bustling office hours from 7:30 to 11:30AM; had banana and tangerine for snacks over the course of the morning.  Healthy lunch: colorful salad, small piece of pizza, water  to drink, and pear for dessert.  Hectic afternoon hours 12:30-5PM or so—had miserable and disturbing responsibility of informing two men with spouses present that their prostate biopsies showed cancer and would require treatment.

Arrived home by 5:30 on a picture-perfect day.  After a horrendous winter and very rainy April, this day was a gift, so took my Trek bike out for the first time since Fall, pumped up the tires and did a glorious 20 mile hilly ride.  Felt great and was surprisingly easy for my first ride after a long hiatus. Showered, had awesome and very satisfying dinner with family—grilled wild salmon over whole grain pasta, salad, glass of Pinot Grigio; peanut butter on small croissant with herbal tea for dessert.

Checked email and watched Robin Williams on Charlie Rose with my wife and daughter. Was so tired could barely keep eyes open, but snuck off to kitchen, opened fridge and stumbled upon Chinese food from night before.  Standing up, “inhaled” cold leftovers right out of the carton—one of dishes looked less than savory with that white, ugly fat scattered through the sauce, since  refrigeration caused the liquid oils to become solid fats—didn’t stop me, though.

My wife was actually quite insulted: “Didn’t I make a great dinner?”  “Yes, you did, hun, it was just me fatigue eating again. I wasn’t the least bit hungry and it was not at all satisfying and I’m really very pissed at myself…I’ve done this so many times before and it’s foolish and I know better.  It’s amazing I’m not overweight…I’m fortunate I’m so active and just burn fuel rapidly.”

Went upstairs, climbed into bed, struggled to read a few pages and quickly fell asleep.

Alert this morning, thought about this repeat episode of fatigue eating, concluding: enough already, unnecessary, silly… I will not let this happen again. I thought of a quote that I had recently come across by Jacob A. Riis:

Look at the stonecutter, hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without so much as a crack showing in it.  Yet, at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

Not sure why, but think that this fatigue eating “rock” has finally got a crack in it.  Have asked my wife to help me out when she senses that I might fall prey to this—the “buddy system” is very useful under these circumstances.

For more info on fatigue eating, please refer to my April 3, 2011 blog entry entitled FATigue eating.  Access at click “blog” on front page.

Andrew Siegel


Strategies for Combating Opportunistic and Temptation Eating

April 24, 2011


Opportunistic eating: every opportunity presents a challenge!

Opportunity is a potent force driving our eating.  This is recognized and understood by many of us and often managed by undermining it by simply not having tempting and fattening foods available in our homes. Another alternative is to keep these types of foods relatively inaccessible, for example, high up on a top shelf in the pantry. Human nature being what it is—with a tendency towards gravitating towards the path of least resistance—causes us to be less inclined to eat something if it is not readily available, particularly when access is difficult and especially when hunger is not the motivating force. The adage about the low hanging fruit getting picked before the high hanging fruit is very relevant here.

Unexpected and unanticipated food opportunity can simply ambush our good intentions. When opportunity coexists with desire, eating will inevitably occur. The problem is that even if opportunity exists without desire, eating may often be the consequence. If we confront a box of enticing doughnuts that is readily available and accessible, even if we are not hungry, it will take some willpower to avoid indulging in the opportunity that has presented itself.  If we do cave in, we often feel that we are innocent victims of circumstances beyond our control.

During the course of our day, many of us have numerous opportunities for food consumption, particularly at work, where there may be plenty of available and tempting food for the taking. It may be a colleague’s birthday and a great big piece of birthday cake with gooey icing is sitting there, just begging to be consumed, with the peer pressure to indulge being almost palpable.

What to do?

Option A: Enjoy the piece of cake and delight in the camaraderie of helping our colleague celebrate.

The problem is that the indulgence is unhealthy processed goop, and if we are concerned about our weight, health and wellness, consuming it is a poor choice. 

Option B: Decline the cake, demonstrating our ferocious willpower and agonizingly watch our colleagues joyfully devour their pieces.

The problem with this approach is that it will likely engender a sense of deprivation and denial that might just backfire, resulting in over-compensating later with an even higher caloric indulgence.  Additionally, it makes us look like anti-social ascetics!

Option C:  I like to use a tactic that I refer to as vaccinate and inoculate.  We are accustomed to getting vaccinated and inoculated with a small dose of virus or bacteria to prevent an infection at a later date. The same concept can apply to eating.  Take a small piece, a teeny but satisfying taste—a vaccination if you will—a small dose that will preclude us from coming down with the disease—the obesity disease.

The benefit of this compromising approach is enjoying the moment and the camaraderie without deprivation, yet maintaining an overall healthy eating style by a very moderate indulgence.

 Vaccinate and inoculate works for me—a real coup, if you will, but it will not be successful for everyone. There are some of us who have such a profound addiction to certain trigger foods that even a small exposure to that food can set off a cascading cycle that demands more and more of that particular food. For this subset of the population, total avoidance is the key, being similar to an alcoholic not being able to have even one drink.

 A very useful strategy when we anticipate being in a situation that will expose us to opportunistic eating is bank and burn. Say, for example, that we plan on attending a celebration, a holiday dinner or go on vacation. Very simply, prior to our “event,” we show caloric restraint (this reduced caloric intake is a “deposit” in your “bank,” to be used at a later date), and ramp up the exercise (burn) so that we can have a moderate over-indulgence and feel no remorse about it.


Temptation eating

We may be watching television and see a food or beverage commercial that whets our appetites and entices us to consume even if we are not hungry. Food or drink was not on our minds, but just the sight of it is enough to drive desire. Reading about food, talking about it, or even thinking about it can tempt us—as can the actual sight and scent.  This might happen if we are walking past a restaurant and imbibe the smell of burgers being barbecued or if we are strolling by a bakery and the aroma of sweet, buttery cookies tantalizes us. The bottom line is that any form of sensory stimulation brought upon by food itself or food cues is simply enough to trigger eating, regardless of our hunger status.

What to do?  It comes down to options A, B and C as delineated above.  It is not a good idea to have a big indulgence when we are not hungry, yet the tempting indulgence may be too difficult to resist completely, so certainly the “vaccination” alternative is reasonable…have a little taste and get on with our lives! If push comes to shove and we must succumb, portion control rules.

Another option is food swapping—substituting a healthy, low-calorie food for an indulgence that is likely laden in calories, fat, sugar and salt. This exchange can result in satisfaction without the calories, guilt and remorse that can ensue from a bout of intemperate eating. That stated, swapping might not always be satisfactory if we are having a carnivorous urge and try to slake it with carrot sticks!

Another possibility is activity swapping—instead of eating, occupy ourselves with an alternative, equally compelling activity that will get our focus off food. This substitute activity for eating might be sleeping, exercising, reading, phoning a friend, getting out of our home, taking a walk, bathing or showering, participating in hobbies, doing household work or errands—anything to get our minds off the craving.  Sex is certainly a healthy alternative! 

A pragmatic strategy when eating occurs due to opportunity or temptation is acceptance and compensation. This means that we willingly acquiesce to our eating desires but do so with the mindfulness to indulge in moderation and to not beat ourselves up too much over it.  We can compensate by accelerating our physical activity and exercise thereafter, as well as being more attentive to healthier eating following this overindulgence.

This is just a taste of what you will find in Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food. The website for the book is: provides information on the book, a trailer, excerpts, ordering instructions, as well as links to a wealth of excellent resources on healthy living.

Food perspectives

April 12, 2011

There are a number of different perspectives to view and think about that enticing food item you are about to pop in your mouth.  I break them down into fuel; building materials; pleasure source; psychoactive drug.


Fuel: In similar fashion to our cars, we need energy to run our engines.  All of our food energy is solar-derived—through a miraculous chemical process called photosynthesis, plants are able to “capture” the energy of the sun by using the solar radiation to fuse water and carbon dioxide to form glucose.  We consume plants and gain the energy derived from the sun; alternatively, animals eat the plants, and we eat the animals, again fueling ourselves on solar-based energy.

Point: fuel yourself with premium fuel when possible!


Building Blocks: The human body is in a constant state of dynamic flux—tissues are continually being destroyed and reconstructed.  The fodder for the repair process comes from the constituents of our diet.  So we literally are what we eat!

We are what we eat eats, and what we eat eats eats as well.  In other words, if that salmon fillet you had for dinner last night was from the Pacific Northwest and itself dined on krill and other natural foods, its composition would be very much different from the farmed salmon brought up on corn products and processed salmon feed.

Point: let your building blocks be high quality components, just as you would use if you were replacing vital parts in your car!

Pleasure source: Eating is downright pleasurable for most of us, including myself.  It is entertaining, fun, and piques all of our senses.  What a clever bait and switch scheme conceived by nature—we are spurred on to eat seemingly by the delight, gratification and sensual stimulation of food, but what nature really had in mind was assuring our fueling for survival purposes.  Imagine if eating was boring and perfunctory, like fueling our cars—this would not be beneficial to survival.

Point: Even though eating is for purposes of survival, it is a highly stimulating sensory experience, so try to eat slowly and deliberately, savoring the moment and attempting to balance our hard-wired eating drives with our mindful ability to exercise restraint.

Psychoactive Drug: Food can function as a sedative drug to soothe us.  Consumption of certain foods triggers addictive responses in brain reward circuits by the release of a cocktail of chemicals in our brain involved in the reward circuitry: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, etc., driving compulsive eating patterns.  These chemicals are capable of making us feel better, relieving stress, anxiety, etc.  So there is a biochemical basis for the consumption of highly pleasurable comfort foods—often comprised of refined carbohydrates, sugar, fat and salt—involving the same mechanisms that underlie drug addiction.

Point: Certain foods, usually unhealthy processed junk, can act as a short-term fix for our emotional wounds.   Alcohol, tobacco, drugs and comfort foods are maladaptive oral habits that can pacify our frazzled souls.  Recognize that comfort food is a nothing more than a band-aid, and what needs to be addressed is the cause that underlies the need for pacification.  If the root cannot be addressed, then a compensatory mechanism that is not maladaptive can be a solution.  Interestingly, exercise is capable of tapping into our own pharmacy within and releasing the very same cocktail of reward circuit chemicals!


Seasonal eating and weight gain

April 3, 2011

For many of us, myself included, fall and winter are the seasons for weight gain.  Fortunately, spring and summer are the seasons for getting back to “fighting” weight, good fitness, and healthier eating patterns.

It all seems to start around Halloween when the kids bring home bags full of sweets that are tempting antidotes to the cooler weather and the shorter days.    Soon it is time for Thanksgiving feasts and then we have the December holidays upon us, with abundant opportunities for parties, festivities and celebrations.

The French word for winter is hiver, which has the same etymological origin as hibernation.  And truly, many of us go into hibernation mode in the winter—perhaps a vestigial biological imperative to eat more to store up energy for the leaner months ahead.  This may well be on a neuro-chemical basis having to do with our chemical response to light stimulation.

One thing is indisputable—cold and dark seem to foster a foraging behavior for many of us. Unhealthier, “heavier” comfort foods, including stews, creamy soups and starches seem to be the remedy for cold weather and darkness.  During the winter months we tend to be more housebound, with ample opportunities for “boredom” eating and less distractions from eating that are possible in the warmer times of the year.  Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.)—an affliction that many of us endure due to the very short winter days—is characterized by variable degrees of melancholy, which can certainly beg for relief by means of comfort foods.

Obviously, there is less opportunity for outdoor exercise and outdoor activities during winter.  There is also less availability of healthier fresh fruit and vegetables that are more readily available in summer.  There is less opportunity for grilling, a healthier form of cooking than many alternatives.  Finally, many seem to care less about their appearance during winter when they are less likely to need to get into shorts or a bathing suit, so are less attentive to their more disciplined eating patterns that are typical of spring and summer.

The solution to seasonal weight gain is to be mindful of the process by which winter promotes weight gain and to attempt to be moderate when it comes to eating behavior.  Balance the potential for weight gain with augmented physical activity and by staying busy and productive.  Joining a gym, attending yoga class, playing in an indoor tennis league, taking adult education classes, etc., are all terrific ways of staying active, busy and out of the kitchen.  And if you do gain a few pounds, spring and summer provide ample opportunities for shedding them.

April 3, 2011