Posts Tagged ‘emotional eating’

Emotional Eating: Podcast Interview Of Dr. Siegel

September 7, 2012

This week’s blog is a change of pace–it is a podcast of Morty Lefkoe interviewing Andrew Siegel on the subject matter of Dr. Siegel’s book.  The interview delves into maladaptive, emotional eating patterns and tactics and strategies that can be employed to develop healthier eating behaviors.  Click on the following link to access the interview :

Morty Lefkoe is president and founder of The Lefkoe Institute, and is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a series of psychological processes that result in profound personal and organizational change, quickly and permanently. He is also the author of Re-create Your Life: Transforming Yourself and Your World.  Morty has written over 100 articles and columns for such publications as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He has also appeared on over 100 radio and TV shows, including Today, Leeza, ABC World News Today, and Fox Cable News. He is a member of the American Counseling Association and has written articles describing the Lefkoe Method in The California Therapist, The Group Therapist Perspective, and the California Psychologist. In addition, Morty has spoken before groups such as the American Management Association, Vistage, American Psychotherapy Association, American College of Counselors, American Association of Integrative Medicine, National Wellness Coalition, Managed Health Care Congress, Association for Fitness in Business, and the American Psychological Association-National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. He has conducted over 200 seminars for groups of CEOs on “A Proven Method for Successfully Instituting Change” and “Limiting Beliefs, Business and Personal: How to Identify and Eliminate Them.”

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

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Sleep To Slim

July 20, 2012

Andrew Siegel, M.D.      Blog # 67


On many levels, sleep has a vitally important role. Our brains and bodies require this critically essential down time to “recharge.” Our sleep cycle includes restorative deep sleep phases and rapid-eye-movement sleep phases.  Our bodies need sufficient time to complete all phases of sleep to maintain our well being and to promote tissue repair, memory reinforcement and the release of hormones that function in regulating growth and appetite.

Who does not relish the blissful experience of a great night’s sleep, in which we awaken feeling alert, rested, energetic, optimistic and ready to tackle life with vigor? Throw in some great dreams and we have the recipe for the beginning of a wonderful day. Conversely, we have all experienced a very poor night’s sleep, in which we awaken feeling physically exhausted, mentally spent, lids heavy, dark circles under our eyes and in a disassociated state, totally unprepared and unenthusiastic about facing the new day.

Many of us do not realize the profound association between sleeping and eating.  The bottom line is that an adequate amount of quality sleep helps keep us on the healthy eating wagon, while insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation can throw us off it.  Fatigue eating is a very real phenomenon and is one of the circumstances that drive my own bouts of mindless, unnecessary eating.  Many of us, when physically and mentally exhausted, in a “zombie”-type state, often seek refuge in the refrigerator or pantry in spite of not being genuinely hungry. It seems that this FATigue—an altered state of mind and body—would best be served by seeking refuge napping in our beds, but mindless food foraging all too often serves as a surrogate activity.

In addition to the dis-inhibition of “eating discipline” that occurs with fatigue (similar to that which occurs with alcohol), there appears to be a physiological basis for this fatigue-driven eating. Fatigue or sleep deprivation causes the following:

  • decreased levels of leptin, our appetite suppressant
  • increased levels of ghrelin, our appetite stimulant
  • increased levels of cortisol, one of the stress hormones
  • increased  glucose (blood sugar)levels

Thus, fatigue results in internal chemical changes that can drive our eating.

Acute sleep disruption is associated with increased appetite and caloric intake and chronic sleep deficits result in an inability to be attentive and focused, interfering with our mindfulness, which can wreak further havoc with our eating.  The disassociated “zombie” state lends itself to dysfunctional eating patterns and, as such, weight gain is a predictable consequence. Additionally, a chronically fatigued state will also affect our ability to exercise properly, if at all.

The following are pointers to help achieve a good night’s sleep:

  • A quality mattress and box spring, topped by a cushioned mattress pad, are wonderful investments since we spend up to one-third of our lives sleeping; amortized over many years, they really prove quite a bargain.
  • Same goes for pillows—some like them firm, some fluffy, so you must find what works best for you.
  • Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule in terms of time going to sleep and time arising, making an effort not to disrupt the pattern too much on weekends.
  • Caffeine restriction after a certain hour, depending on the individual—this means coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate (which contains a caffeine-like chemical).
  • Limit daytime naps.
  • Don’t overdo it with alcohol during dinner and the evening hours; even though alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant (which one might think would aid in sleep), in reality, it interferes with our natural sleep rhythms.
  • Easy on late-night eating—going to bed bloated with churning intestines is counter-productive in the effort of getting quality sleep.
  • Don’t overdo it with fluid consumption in the evening that can cause sleep-disruptive nocturnal urinating.
  • Exercise early since evening exercise tends to stimulate our brains and bodies and cause insomnia.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature—generally, a cool room promotes quality sleep.
  • Keep the room as dark as possible—black out shades are terrific.
  • Try to keep the ambient noise to a minimum so the sleeping environment is quiet.
  • For some, white noise can be very helpful—I go to sleep to the sound of machine-generated surf; not quite as good as when I lived in Manhattan Beach, California right on the ocean, but helpful nonetheless.
  • Have a pre-sleep relaxation and tension-reducing ritual such as reading, a hot bath, meditation, romance, etc.

Take home points:

— The fatigue resulting from insufficient sleep interferes with our mindfulness and can result in unnecessary eating as a surrogate activity for sleeping.

— There is a biochemical basis for this sleep-deprivation eating.

— When we find ourselves succumbing to fatigue eating, it is best to try to muster up the wherewithal to head to the bedroom instead of the refrigerator—we will feel much better about ourselves in the morning and will have saved ourselves needless calories!

— On a general basis, it is best not to use eating as a substitute for other activities.

—  Try to consistently get enough sleep in order to avoid FATigue and its many pitfalls!

Andrew L. Siegel, M.D.

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

Available on Amazon Kindle

The Mind-Body Connection: How it Relates to Our Eating Behaviors

December 31, 2011

 Blog # 40

(Much of the following first paragraph is excerpted from the December 29, 2011 obituary of Dr. Robert Ader, written by Paul Vitello and published in The New York Times.)

Dr. Ader was an experimental psychologist who was among the first scientists to show how mental processes influence the body’s immune system, a seminal discovery that changed modern medicine.  You might say that he was the father of the “mind-body” connection.  His research was a touchstone for studies that have shown the communication network among immune cells, hormones, and neurotransmitters.  This field—psychoneuroimmunology—provides the science behind notions too often considered “magical thinking”:  that meditation helps reduce arterial plaque; that social bonds improve cancer survival; that people under stress catch more colds; and that placebos work not only on the human mind, but also on cells themselves.  Dr. Ader demonstrated that stress worsens illnesses, sometimes even setting them off, and that stress reduction is essential to health care.  To summarize Dr. Ader’s work in one phrase: Stop worrying or you’ll make yourself sick.

The fact that mental processes affect the immune system, hormones, and neurotransmitters has a profound influence on our eating behaviors.  An understanding of our mind-body relationship is fundamental in the effort to conquer eating issues.

Carly, age 40: “When I am stressed or have things on my mind or I am really tired, I eat sweets, like cakes and cookies. I don’t even give it any thought. I feel bad after and think about eating better or exercising, but I don’t act on these thoughts.”

Although it is convenient to think of our minds and bodies as separate and discrete entities, our emotional and cognitive sides do not exist independently of our flesh and physical beings. Our minds and bodies are very much commingled, and our mind-body connection is extensive. Our bodies house our minds, and our minds control our bodies, but our minds are made of matter just as our bodies are, and our bodies have a vast array of neural networks running through them that essentially are peripheral extensions of our minds. When our minds are unhealthy, often our bodies become unhealthy, and vice-versa. Optimal human functioning and performance requires a coordinated and harmonious relationship between our minds and bodies.

The following are a few examples of the mind-body connection:

When you become embarrassed your cheeks get a crimson flush.

When you are driving and the car in front of you comes to a sudden and unexpected stop, you respond by slamming on your brakes and just miss a rear-ending collision, your heart races, your pupils dilate and your breathing pattern is rapid and deep. 

When you are fatigued after a hard day of work but can muster up the fortitude for a workout, you can emerge physically and emotionally invigorated, stress relieved, fatigue washed away—refreshed with a wonderful feeling of well-being.

The above examples show how our minds can affect our bodies—blood flowing to our face in the blush response and the classic physiological stress response; and how the body can affect the mind—physical exercise transforming an emotional state. The essence of the mind-body connection is that our thoughts, feelings and emotions can affect our body chemistries and cause a physical response, and conversely, our physical actions, like exercise or laughter, can influence our brain chemistries and affect our thoughts, feelings and emotions.

How is the mind-body connection relevant to eating?

We are highly emotional creatures and it these feelings that are one of the key features that separate us from other members of the animal kingdom. We bring our emotions to every situation, and on a certain level we are all emotional eaters since we all bring our emotions “to the table” in this sense. It is impossible to separate emotions from eating and, with this in mind, it becomes easier to understand how our emotions can cause unhealthy eating patterns.

There are wide ranges of emotions that can trigger eating. Exhaustion, stress, boredom, anxiety, anger, loneliness, sadness, depression, frustration, resentment, disappointment, issues of self-esteem, and interpersonal conflicts are some of the negative emotions that can drive eating. Positive emotions including hopefulness, happiness and confidence can also spark emotional eating. In general, it appears that negative emotions demand neutralizing and positive emotions fuel our passion for eating. There are many among us who use food as a refuge from negative emotions, and for whom food serves as both a “friend” and “therapist”; however, there are certainly, some of us who turn off from eating under the same circumstances. Thus, there is a wide range of eating responses to emotions and all of us “metabolize” our feelings differently.

Stress seems to be our most compelling emotional drive to eat, second only to hunger as a motivation to eat. It is the rare person who does not lead a stressful existence. Stress seems to pummel our souls and eating serves as a mechanism to sooth our beaten-up inner beings— a means of distracting us from our troubles and escaping from the real-life problems and unpleasant aspects of our daily lives.  Life can oftentimes be very tough and food can provide an immediate source of comfort and relief, just as a cigarette can to a smoker or alcohol to a drinker. Many of us, particularly after a very stressful day, head straight for the refrigerator after arriving home from work, seeking solace, refuge and sanctuary.

Interestingly, it seems that when we eat for negative emotional reasons we tend to gravitate to unhealthy foods—it would appear that we desire the kind of foods that will match the emotion driving the eating. Self-destructive emotions beg for self-destructive eating behaviors and self-destructive foods.

In accordance with the work of Dr. Ader, there is a biochemical explanation for stress eating. The adrenal gland hormone cortisol—released in response to stress—can stimulate our appetites and cravings for sugar.  This is the very reason people on corticosteroid medications tend to have enormous appetites, gain weight, and have a tendency for obesity. Cortisol also functions to reduce the satiety hormone leptin, further stimulating our appetites. Additionally, the consumption of certain foods, especially those containing sugar and fat, can cause release of endorphins that are powerful morphine-like chemicals with pain-relieving properties. Is it any wonder that food serves a role as a sedative?  It is of great interest to note that exercise can also release large amounts of these endorphins, so better to head to the gym than the fridge when stressed!

In summary, our emotional state—in a constant state of flux—affects our neurotransmitters, hormones and immune cells.  The variable state of our internal biochemical environment that occurs in response to our emotional state is capable of profoundly influencing our behaviors, including eating. In spite of the biochemical imperative to eat driven by certain emotions, understanding the influence of the mind-body connection is one of the first steps towards overcoming unhealthy eating patterns.

A healthy and sunny 2012 to all!

Andrew Siegel, M.D. for more info on my book: Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship With Food

Boredom Eating

October 15, 2011

Life is not always thrilling and exhilarating—at times it can be mundane, and sometimes dull and monotonous…such is life.  Some of us try to fill these voids in excitement by placing food in our mouths.  This boredom eating is one of the more subtle types of emotional eating that often occurs without awareness and is capable of loading us with unnecessary calories that can lead to needless weight gain.  Anytime we eat for a reason other than genuine hunger it is generally not a good thing. Boredom is the devil when it comes to eating.

The act of eating is an activity—something to do to keep us busy.  We enjoy staying occupied and productive and find that when we have nothing on our “to do” list, eating can serve the purpose of keeping our hands occupied and our time utilized. Eating piques us with a barrage of sensory stimulation: creamy, crispy, grainy, hot, cold, crunchy, tingly, sweet, spicy, bitter, salty, aromatic, etc., which for a moment can relieve us of our ennui.

The truth of the matter is that had we been engaged and absorbed in another matter, the thought of eating would never have entered our minds. Human beings have an incredible need to productively pass time, and boredom-driven eating does not qualify for constructive time usage and should always be considered a self-destructive pastime.  Many persons who I interviewed for my book reported that they do not even think about eating if busy and not bored.  One 28- year-old stated the following: “I eat on weekends when I am home, when I am bored, inactive and have nothing to do, primarily to keep myself occupied during downtimes.”  Another 27-year-old reported:  “Boredom prompts me to eat. I was unemployed for 8 months and gained 10 lbs. When I have nothing to do, I eat—now that I am employed, it is less of an issue.”

Activity swapping is a constructive maneuver in which eating behavior that is driven by boredom is exchanged for an alternative behavior that will keep us away from unwanted calories. This substitute activity might be sleep, exercise, reading, phoning a friend, getting out of our home, taking a walk, taking a bath or shower, doing household work or errands, having sex—anything to relieve the boredom. Substitute endeavors may include participating in a hobby or interest that will be a less caloric activity than eating—gardening, woodworking, painting, knitting, whatever.  A 54-year-old related: I conquer boredom grazing with a substitute activity such as crocheting.”  A 49-year-old told the following story: “I used to eat because of boredom. I would get home from work at 3PM, but my husband would not come home until 6PM, so I would have a cocktail with chips, nachos, cheese, and some cookies. I joined a gym, so now I exercise instead of drinking cocktails and eating food.”

Staying busy and productive is important on so many levels—aside from giving us a sense of value and worth, it also helps us maintain a trim figure by reducing our caloric intake and increasing our caloric expenditure. So many of us, when engaged and occupied, do not think about eating; in fact, when we are truly absorbed and immersed in the matter at hand, may forget to eat completely! Many of those I interviewed reported that their situation was well controlled during the day when busy and occupied at work, despite ample opportunity for temptation, but poorly controlled in the evening when home.

Mindful eating—being conscious and aware of precisely why we are eating—goes a long way forward in recognizing and arresting boredom eating.

Bottom line: The hollow in our lives cannot be filled with food.  In behavioral terms, the best antidote to boredom eating is avoiding boredom by engaging in activities that keep us happy, occupied and productive, particularly those that occupy our hands and preclude eating.  In cognitive terms, the best solution is to eat mindfully, always aware of the underlying reason as to why we are putting food in our mouths.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

This is a taste of what you will find in Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food. The book website is:

It provides information, a trailer, excerpts, ordering instructions, as well as links to a wealth of excellent resources on healthy living.  It is also available on Amazon as a paperback or e-book for Amazon Kindle.

My “Freshman Fifteen”

August 20, 2011

‘Tis the season for the start of the academic year so I thought it would be worthwhile doing a short blog on the weight gain that many college freshman experience…also known as “The Freshman Fifteen.”

Many moons ago, as a freshman at Middlebury College, I developed a very bad habit of consuming two glazed doughnuts every evening at around 10PM!  An enterprising fellow student made the doughnut rounds in the dormitory and I found them to be an irresistible and soothing tonic to the stress and anxiety brought upon by the first semester in college and a demanding premedical curriculum. My nocturnal habit of regularly downing these gooey, sticky, sugary treats contributed towards my gaining 20 lbs or so by winter break.

The following is a breakdown of the behavioral chain of events in psychological terms: The prompt to eat was stress, the impulse to eat led to the act of the doughnut consumption and the compensation was the stress relief derived. Fortunately, I was ultimately able to give up this seemingly innocent but pernicious behavioral pattern that was not doing me nor my waistline any good at all. I came up with the following thought process: doughnuts have more than 500 calories; they make me feel disgusting; my weight gain, which I find abhorrent, is in a large part on the basis of these late-at-night unnecessary calories; my tight pants repulse me; I went jogging in Florida with my brother over winter break and could not keep up with him because I was so out of shape. This is opposed to the following lines of thought that goaded me to consumption: doughnuts taste great and are something to look forward to after the tedium of studying for hours on end; they soothe, calm and sedate me; I owe myself this reward because of my hard work; I do not wish to deprive myself.

Mindfulness is a useful tool when applied to figuring out what drives internal prompts and how to deal with them in an appropriate and healthy manner.  So, the concept of mindfulness disrupted what had become an ingrained pattern of behavior. Essentially, in psycho-speak, mindfulness functioned to de-condition the link between the compensation and the prompt, to disrupt the cycle.  Both the internal prompt of stress/anxiety and the external prompt of seeing the tray of doughnuts being paraded around the dormitory helped drive my behavioral pattern.  The stress and anxiety from the change of life of moving away from home and starting college, as well as the intensity of studying, etc., drove the desire for “compensation.” As we all have to adapt in response to changes in our environment, so would I adjust to this new life, and I would need to learn to deal with my emotions in a healthier and more appropriate fashion. I substituted swimming for the doughnut habit, a much more suitable activity! Once again, it came down to the mindfulness of swapping an alternative behavior—exercise—equally effective as a doughnut or two in terms of dealing with stress and anxiety, believe it or not. An additional effective tool is that in knowing how we may succumb to our weaknesses, we can limit our exposure to such external prompts, which in my case was by purposely avoiding the doughnut vendor.

Whether the prompt is “managed” by comfort foods or exercise, the same “cocktail” of internal chemicals, including endorphins, is released into our bloodstreams, resulting in compensatory relief of the altered emotional state. We are all stressed to some extent, and one thing for sure is that stress is unlikely to disappear any time soon.  If it is not one source of stress, it will be another. So when the root cause is not necessarily remediable, the next best bet is to deal with it in a healthy way—healthy in terms of psychological, emotional and physical health. So why not seek relief with the more appropriate and healthy means? I could also have had the mindfulness to trade the doughnut consumption for a healthy replacement food item such as an apple.

I realized that by giving in to my impulses, I merely received the benefits of a short-term and temporary reward that did not truly address the problem at hand. In psychological terms, this enabled and facilitated a vicious cycle and a dysfunctional habit and thus the creation of a secondary problem . . . .now I faced stress over school as well as new stress over my unseemly weight gain. By actively not indulging my impulses, I managed to weaken the behavioral pattern that had been established, helping to break the cycle. I did lose those 20 lbs., but by no means was that an easy feat.

Andrew Siegel