Americans have a cultural obsession with weight and weight loss. This is evidenced today by the growing annual revenue of the U.S. weight-loss industry, which at this time is approximately $20 billion including diet books, diet drugs and weight-loss surgeries. The obsession has gone high tech as more gadgets—such as GoFit and Polar bracelets— now keep track of calories consumed, daily steps and heart rate.
Despite all this, obesity and diabetes are still on the rise nationwide. Nearly 37 percent of U.S. adults have some level of obesity, according to 2014 statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, which are named as some of the leading causes of preventable death. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was an astonishing $147 billion in 2008.
To explain this, many experts point to the explosion of processed foods lining about 62 percent of most grocery store shelves. It makes sense since more than 80 percent of calories consumed from grocery stores in 2012 were from ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat food items.
While the idea of keeping a healthy diet and/or losing weight has consumed many Americans for decades, new information is leading us to understand that our physical weight is tied to thoughts, emotions or possible past traumas and, ultimately, is less about the food we eat than most would think. Food choice, of course, plays an important role; however, until we can make peace with issues around the why, what, when and how we eat, we may continue to try and fail again and again.
“Everyone has a complicated relationship with food,” says Melissa Conroy, a health coach at Roots Rising Alchemy in Naugatuck. “Diets are not a one-size fits all.” Conroy points to the Eat Right for Your Blood Type book, written by Fairfield County resident Peter J. D’Adamo, ND, as a revolutionary approach when it was first unveiled because it was individualized. The eating program revolves around how each blood type has a unique way of digesting and metabolizing certain foods. Those with blood type O, for example, thrive on lean meats, seafood and vegetables, whereas those with blood type B thrive on green vegetables, eggs and low-fat dairy.
Conroy says another problem with weight is that we’ve been brainwashed by society in how we feel about ourselves and our bodies. “Some people have lost touch with their body’s intuition,” she explains.
Roots Rising Alchemy, like other Fairfield County and New Haven County practices, offers a mindset change to create results over time. Conroy offers a 90-day total transformation program, which is designed to increase energy with a dozen 45-60-minute sessions, and a 14-day plant-based cleanse, which is a simple elimination diet to remove toxins in the cells. Conroy says they both help shift mindset.
“One big part of losing weight is not just the action people take to get results, but it’s the underlying beliefs and thought patterns that come up if you lose the weight,” Conroy explains. Her program digs deeper into the subconscious brain, where emotional and energetic issues may be associated with food. Conroy works to help clients unbury those feelings.
She points to one client who used to eat well. Then she had children and life “got a little bit crazy”; she started buying and eating more processed foods, and baking muffins and cookies. “Providing these foods for her family was one of many ways of creating love, safety and belonging with them. So on the quest to lose weight, subconsciously, there is a fear about no longer baking sugary baked goods on her own personal quest to no longer eat sugar to lose weight. And that by failing to do so, there would be a possibility that the love, safety and belonging that baking goods created would be negatively impacted,” Conroy says.
Conroy also notes that even if we don’t have a supportive partner or friend in life, the true weight loss shift is internal; it comes from loving and taking care of ourselves.
Conroy asks her clients investigative questions, including why they want to make changes. If the answer is just about fitting into a bikini, Conroy considers that superficial and digs deeper to find out if maybe the client is really wanting to feel more confident.
The second question is about what foods gives her clients energy or makes them feel good? And, on the hand, what saps their energy? She also asks why they eat certain foods and when. Eating junk food—and a lot of it—is often “mindless,” Conroy says.
It’s possible, someone is “head hungry” Conroy calls it, which means they are looking for something else—like relaxation or stress release after a hectic and long work day. Maybe they really need a massage. “So bring awareness to what you are eating, why you are eating it and when you are eating it. And stop and ask, ‘Am I physically hungry? ”
Conroy helps people get more in tune with actual physical symptoms of hunger. Once they are able to identify when they are actually physically hungry or not hungry, as a coach she can aid them in developing alternative activities.
Next, Conroy helps clients to chew food, enjoy it, and stretch a meal to at least 20 minutes. She asks them to try using visual tools to envision scenarios. For example, if we want to start running regularly, imagine putting on running shoes, start running and think about what we hear and smell and see, and then finish the run in our mind. It creates positive feelings in the brain. “It essentially creates a habit, a rehearsal,” Conroy states. “The more you have practice doing something, the more times the brain is wired to do that. You’re rewiring the neural pathways in your brain.”
Until we are guided to dig deep to the underlying thoughts and feelings that are stopping us from acting and getting the results we want, “this is where you usually end up doing the same thing over and over and never getting the results that you want,” Conroy divulges. “The definition of insanity!”
Diane Bahr-Groth, a hypnotist and the owner of the Mind Body Transformation Hypnosis clinic in Stamford, says by the time people arrive in her office, they are often at the end of their ropes and have no control over their eating.
Similar to Conroy’s experience, Bahr-Groth sees weight problems that align with anxiety or past traumatic experiences. People are eating to push the emotions down; they eat white flour and white sugar, which release endorphins, and makes them feel better temporarily. “It’s like a brain on cocaine—the same areas of the brain lighten up when on sugar,” she says. “And chemically, your brain learned it will help you feel better if you just eat a cookie or have a piece of bread. Then it becomes a habit or addiction. And you feel awful.”
Bahr-Groth also uses kinesthesiology (also known as applied kinesiology) as a “human lie detector” test. When people are forced to lie, they become weak and can’t hold the same strength, so she’s able to push their arm down.
“I have people think about losing weight. And that weakens their energy and that releases anxiety, because they have learned that they feel better by eating chips and pizza; if you’re taking that food away, that will create more stress.”
If someone doesn’t want to give up bad foods consciously, Bahr-Groth suggests she probably cannot help. “They may have an unconscious desire to sabotage that we can help with but they need to want to change something or improve something in order for any change to happen,” she says.
For those who want to break the pattern, she uses Thought Field (TF) therapy, discovered by psychologist Dr. Roger Callahan of Westport. Bahr-Groth says she can help clear mental and physical ailments using “tapping”. It’s the act of tapping fingers at meridian points on certain parts of the body and hands, where she can sense which areas are undercharged or overcharged; this means where blocked or negative feelings or beliefs are stored, preventing someone from being free of unwanted behaviors or responses.
At some point, she asks which emotion is the root cause of the weight problem, and then discovers the age and circumstances surrounding the issue. “It’s usually related to a past traumatic moment which causes an unwanted emotion, response or behavior,” Bahr-Groth explains.
Hypnotist Joann Dunsing of Milford also uses a tapping therapy, called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is like acupuncture without the needles. It “clears up the negative energy and thought processes” clogging the body.
Dunsing adds that diets don’t work because they deprive the body. Some people might want to hold onto weight after they marry because they don’t want to be sexually attractive to others; they may be using the weight as a safety mechanism.
One type of hypnosis is a virtual gastric band program; people are hypnotized to feel as if they physically had surgery to shrink their stomachs, but nothing changed in their bodies. Their minds changed, Bahr-Groth says.
Christina Surtees, an eating psychology coach and owner of GenuinelyNourished.com, says the time in which someone eats is almost more indicative than what someone is eating. She points out the difference between eating during holidays and during the typical work week. More people can “get away with” actions—like drinking more and not feel badly afterward or eating more sweets during holidays—when they are relaxed. But during “normal life”, when most people are more stressed, the body often shifts from optimum digestion to being in a stress or “fight or flight” response; this reaction comes from man’s early days of existence when the body would shut down digestion if predators such as lions are literally chasing them.
Surtees first asks her clients questions about relationships, work life, and if someone is happy. “What I’m looking for is their routine—are they happy? Are they skipping meals and eating a lot at dinner? Or are they coffee junkies?”
Coffee isn’t necessarily bad, but it is a “powerful substance” that has different effects on different people, Surtees says. Some might thrive on it, or some get agitated or jittery after a cup or two; the latter is the body trying to say it’s bad for them. She associates ingesting too much coffee and sugar with “being whipped”, or feeling extremely tired and lethargic.
In addition, medications can sometimes have the side effect of draining our energy. Surtees will look up the side effects of a medication after a session to consider if that might cause energy loss in someone. Or someone might be seeing various doctors who prescribe different medications, and they don’t interact well with each other, thereby triggering energy loss.
Having lived in Switzerland for years, Surtees realized how most Swiss ate whole foods, mainly because processed foods weren’t sold at local markets. “In Europe, people like food and enjoy their meals,” she says. “Here, we have an ambivalent relationship to food. And a lot of people worry about the last five pounds they want to lose. But then they have to face the fact that their marriage isn’t so great, or their job stinks, or they have kids that are draining them.”
And it’s always socially acceptable to talk about weight and dieting. “They see food as the enemy and every time they eat it’s a battle,” Surtees says. “That’s tiring for them. But they also know its nourishing.”
Dunsing concludes that the most important element to remember is that it’s not about the food. “We have to change the programs that we have running in our heads,” she says. “Being able to love and accept yourself, just the way you are, is so important. It lightens your load, literally.”