Archive for November, 2011

Promiscuous Eating—Food Naughty Behavior

November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving evening, I lay slumped on the couch in a semi-stuporous state, plied with alcohol, turkey tryptophan, a much larger butterfat and carb load than my body is accustomed to, and exhaustion from an early rise and a good afternoon workout. As I struggled to keep my eyes open to watch Miracle on 34th Street on television, it occurred to me that what better time than Thanksgiving—a holiday where we are given license to eat with reckless abandon–-to discuss what “promiscuous eating” is all about.

Let me start with a story: A close friend of my wife told me that after a particularly stressful day, she had consumed a “boatload” of unhealthy food late at night. She had devoured it with intensity but without enjoyment, and she was left feeling bloated and angry with herself.  The following morning after awakening from a fitful night of sleep, she felt guilty and disgusted because of such indiscriminate eating.  It seemed that her emotions were in line with what one might feel after a meaningless, casual sexual relationship.  She had essentially experienced a “one night stand” with food.  I blurted out that her eating behavior seemed promiscuous and hence the term “promiscuous eating” was born.

The word promiscuous refers to behavior that is indiscriminate, casual, and potentially dangerous.  Although usually applied to the sexual realm, I recognized that it could be just as readily applied to the eating domain. The term promiscuous eating was coined to mean the unrestrained, unreasonable, unselective consumption of foods without regard to consequence.

Promiscuous eating is an unhealthy relationship with food: the promiscuous eater lacks a long-term commitment to quality foods and to eating for the right reasons, in the right quantities and in the right manner. It entails the reckless consumption of food in inappropriate amounts at unsuitable speeds, times and places, often without enjoyment of the eating process.  It involves knowingly making poor food choices and consuming food for purposes other than satisfying genuine hunger.  It often leaves us feeling physically bloated as well as psychologically stressed and guilt-ridden. Stress may have been a factor responsible for bringing on the bout of promiscuous eating, but the secondary stress created may be even worse than the prompting stress. After a bout of promiscuous eating, we do not feel good about ourselves the next morning.

Eating and sex are primal gratifications. We have been designed for survival of the individual, which is predicated upon having food to fuel us. We have evolved in such a way that the act of eating, similar to the sexual act, is an enjoyable and stimulating sensual activity that drives the behavior.  What a clever bait and switch scheme conceived by nature’s forces! We consume food seemingly in the pleasurable pursuit of satisfying our hunger, but in reality—determined by this evolutionary sleight of hand—for the purpose of keeping ourselves well nourished and energized.

Imagine if we derived no pleasure from eating and it was done perfunctorily—solely for the purpose of energizing—in similar fashion to when we dispense fuel into our cars, with an emotionally neutral and joyless demeanor. What would happen is we would be doing a lot less eating and obesity would be unheard of; in fact, many would probably be undernourished, which would not benefit survival.

We have also been designed for survival of the species.  Nature conceived the same bait and switch scheme with respect to the sexual domain. Driven by libido and hormones, we seek the pleasure and sensual experiences of sex but nature tricked us for its ulterior motive of reproduction.  Imagine if we derived no pleasure from sex and that it was only performed in order to reproduce the species…there would be a whole lot less sex happening and the world population would not be 7 billion!

My point is that highly rewarding and pleasurable activities can be easily carried to extremes and often require some degree of balance between pleasure-seeking aspects and the need for restraint.  That said, the maxim “everything in moderation” is always relevant, particularly with this very happy holiday.  As my friend Drew relates, Thanksgiving is a time to be “food naughty after a year of nutritious eating and working out!”

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food


My Favorite Quotes: Health, Wellness and Miscellany

November 21, 2011

Genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. (Anonymous)

Nature, time, and patience are the three great physicians.

(Chinese fortune cookie)

The best disinfectant in the world is fresh air and sunshine.

(Joel Salatin)

You really only have two choices in life—the pain

of discipline or the pain of regret.  And I’d rather have

the pain of discipline than the pain of regret.

(Joseph Plumeri)

Today the most common form of physical abuse is disuse.

(Stephen Seiler)

Those who think they have no time for exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.

(Edward Stanley)

The first wealth is health. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.  Let food be your medicine.  (Hippocrates)


The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease. (Thomas Edison)

Don’t worry about upgrading your equipment; upgrade your body.  (Anonymous cyclist)

No alcohol. No caffeine. Nothing with a face. (I’m eating organic eggs once in a while – they don’t have a face) No gluten. No processed sugar. I’d rather GO HUNGRY than eat crap. I’m super strong, sleep like a baby, have tons of energy and FIRED UP! Why would I ever eat meat, ice cream, cheese, bagels or chocolate again? Radical? Rare? Revolutionary? Maybe. Does the way I feel supersede a few minutes of oral satisfaction? Without a doubt. Will I make healthy adjustments over time. It’s possible. Workout discipline is step one. This is the final piece to the ultimate health and fitness lifestyle. Food discipline. Eat the healthiest foods you can find – ALL OF THE TIME. Period. Let the naysayers find loopholes and make excuses. If I ever hear one of them bitch and moan that they’re tired, or bloated, or sick, or moody or weak or can’t lose weight, I will have little sympathy. Find a way to control what your mind tells your hand to put in your mouth. It’s about the FOOD. It always has been. It always will be. FOOD POWER!

(Tony Horton)

When you see the Golden Arches, you are probably

on your way to the Pearly Gates.  (Dr. William Castelli)

To continue to treat illnesses while ignoring prevention

is like a plumber mopping up a kitchen floor rather than

turning off the tap in an overflowing sink. (Dr. Denis Burkitt)

Pain is temporary.  It may last a minute, or an hour, or a

day or a year, but eventually it will subside and something

else will take its place.  If I quit, however, it  lasts forever.

(Lance Armstrong)

Just as distracted driving causes car accidents, so distracted eating causes eating accidents.  (Leslie Siegel)

It is the curse of the middle-aged male body simultaneously to shrink and enlarge. Your belly pooches out, ever more parabolic, while your legs dwindle down to mere sticks, two knobby rods with the surface tension of plucked poultry. One day you look down at your  half-sphere atop its two spindly rods and realize ‘I’ve turned into a Weber grill’.

(Henry Alford)

Most diets fail because the conscious forces of reason and will are simply not powerful enough to consistently subdue unconscious urges.  (David Brooks)

It does not belong to medicine to produce health,but only to promote it as much as possible. (Aristotle)

What surprises me most about humanity is man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.  (Dalai Lama)

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Exercise To Exorcise

November 13, 2011

I just read a great blog by Inspire Fitness Now that can be accessed at:  The subject was “sweat a little to feel a little.”  I wholeheartedly recommend subscribing to her blog.  Reading her wise words inspired me to expand a bit on the subject of exercise and how meaningful it is me and to our health in general.  Like healthy eating, exercise is one of the cornerstones of wellness.

Exercise dependency, in which exercise becomes your “drug,” is one of the few healthy dependencies you can have (although it certainly is possible to carry it to an extreme). The euphoric state achieved by jogging, for example, is often referred to as “runner’s high”; I personally find that it takes me at least three miles of running to achieve it. When you can achieve this Zen-like state, monotony actually can become pleasurable and repetition can become a source of comfort! This “entranced” state is ideal for letting the mind ruminate and meditate; I keep a notebook and pen close at hand and often have to stop for a moment and scribble down an interesting thought or idea.

This phenomenon of achieving a Zen-like state is not exclusive to running as any prolonged aerobic endeavor can result in this calm, lucid, mood-elated feeling. The “runner’s high” certainly does not occur every time I engage in an aerobic exercise, but I always do end up feeling better after then before I began exercising. An added bonus is that one always looks better, too—there’s nothing quite like the “afterglow” of a vigorous, sweat-inducing workout.

Exercising is useful for exorcising your demons away, whatever they may be. I find myself using the salutary, short-term effects of exercise to combat fatigue and stress. That’s right: expend energy to gain energy!   It sounds counter-intuitive but is not at all! As a physician, I am subject to quite a bit of stress, and exercise serves as a fine tonic to help deal with these issues.  Working out is absolutely transformational under many circumstances including to cure the ills associated with traveling and to serve as an antidote to jet lag.

I find that when I attend a medical conference that requires sitting and listening to lectures for more than a few hours, I am left deeply fatigued and feeling unwell because I am an energetic individual who relishes activities. My only solution for assuming a state of normalcy is very aggressive, sweat-drenching cardiovascular exercise, functioning to transform me back to my typical energetic self. The same holds true for putting in a long day in at the office—after ten hours or so of seeing patients, I often find myself exhausted AND very stressed. As soon as I get home, I change into workout clothes and head downstairs to my basement. After a good aerobic workout coupled with some strength training, followed by a nice, hot shower, I emerge—physically and emotionally invigorated, my stress released, and fatigue having gone by the wayside—to join my family for dinner with a cathartic fresh outlook and a heady sense of well-being.

I contend that we, as humans, have an amazing pharmacy within our own bodies, one that is capable of naturally manufacturing a significant portion of all the pharmaceuticals that we will ever need. Exercise is able to tap and manipulate our pharmacy within to release a symphony of chemicals that can help make us feel happy, alert, and alive.         Simultaneous with our body sweating out “poisons” (sodium, chloride, potassium, uric acid, urea, ammonia, and lactic acid), our brains and glands are producing a whole cocktail of drugs, including hormones, neurotransmitters, etc. These may include endorphins (morphine-like chemicals with pain-relieving properties), serotonin (which may be responsible for causing heightened emotions and senses), corticosteroids (naturally-occurring anti-inflammatory hormones), and phenylethylamine (also found in chocolate and somewhat similar to amphetamines in terms of its ability to improve mood and ability to focus and purportedly released in the brain when people fall in love). At the same time, exercise causes levels of adrenaline (our stress hormone) to decrease.

While the specifics and reactions of the chemicals involved remain largely elusive, vigorous aerobic exercise can and does for many people cause a “rush”–like sensation, heightened awareness, and a feeling akin to the infatuation state of a loving relationship! Internal chemical release may also be responsible for the improvement of joint pain in those suffering with arthritis, decrease in hot flashes in women going through menopause, and improvement in the symptoms of many chronic conditions and diseases.

When I found out that my father had prostate cancer, I was flabbergasted. Similarly, when I received the call from the laboratory that my wife was a carrier of the BRCA-1 gene that is associated with a markedly increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, I was in a state of shock, anxiety, and confusion. On both occasions, my immediate means of attempting to cope with these horrible medical reports was to put on my running shoes and go for a long, slow jog. I was literally drawn to run, almost by an external force—not music-inspired, happy running, but angst-inspired physical exertion, allowing me time to ruminate, mull, and contemplate—somehow, this meditative, physical exercise helped me deal with the psychological issues at hand.  I found consolation by finding my running shoes—fitness and exercise being my “religion” on many levels.

 So what I am saying is that exercise actually IS the drug Norvasc (lowers blood pressure), and Lipitor (lowers cholesterol), and Aspirin (helps prevent untoward cardiovascular events), and Lexipro (helps manage anxiety and depression) and Viagra (helps manage erectile dysfunction) and then some!  It is exercise that is my performance- enhancing drug! If the benefits of exercise could be incorporated into a pill, it would be a blockbuster for any pharmaceutical company!

In summary, the short-term positive effects of exercise are the psychological and physical benefits of stress busting, improvement of mood, fatigue reduction, and increase of energy. What about the long-term benefits? These include reduction in risk for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, hypertension, some cancers, osteoporosis, chronic medical problems, falls, and physical disability. An exercise regimen is also useful for increasing muscular strength and tone, reducing body fat, and helping with weight control. Exercise and its resultant weight reduction will help lower blood pressure, total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and raise “good” cholesterol (HDL). Biological aging is thought to be partly on the basis of oxidative stress, which is reduced by exercise, so exercise can keep us looking and acting youthful.


“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”

Edward Stanley, The Conduct of Life

If you would like to watch my ten-minute video on exercise, go to:


Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Eating Mantra

November 5, 2011

Halloween has just passed and this weekend we shift the clocks back one hour, the real beginning of the dark and cold season that begs soothing and relief with comfort foods.  Later this month is the Thanksgiving feast and soon to follow, holiday parties galore.  With the change in season, decreased opportunity for outdoor exercise and recreation, and the eating opportunities that abound, all of us easily have the potential to be thrown off track in terms of healthy eating and exercise, the cornerstones of wellness. I for one am usually good for a few pounds of weight gain over the winter season of hibernation that I fortunately shed in the spring and summer.

Despite wonderful breakthroughs in science, technology and medicine that allow more sophisticated treatments of many diseases, the important paradigm shift in healthcare delivery is the prevention of illness.  In terms of averting sickness, healthy eating habits are essential.  When it comes down to eating, I recommend being mindful, attentive, and conscientious.

The following paragraph is a “mantra” that captures the essence of my book Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship With Food. It can be used as a general template or modified to suit your individual needs.  If you heed these words carefully, it is likely that you will experience a kick forward on your journey of becoming an enlightened eater with an improved relationship with food.

“I will attempt to eat mindfully and conscientiously, with purpose, attention and focus, recognizing that the primary goal of eating is to fuel myself with quality foods that will promote my health and wellness and avoid preventable diseases. I recognize that eating can be a highly rewarding and pleasurable activity, and as such, has the potential to be abused. I will make every effort to achieve a balance between the pleasure-seeking aspects of eating and the need for disciplined restraint. I will try to avoid eating when I am not hungry and when certain emotional states of mind give me the false sense of hunger. I recognize that this hunger, although perhaps soothed by eating under these circumstances, in reality represents an emotional need that should instead be addressed by an alternative and more appropriate behavior than eating. However, if I must succumb to the desire to eat for emotional reasons, I will make every effort to eat foods that will not cause me to feel guilt or regret, and will promote my good health and wellness.”

Andrew Siegel, M.D.