Two Diet Myths

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A story out of Kansas State University tells about Mark Haub and his “Convenience Store Diet”. Dr. Haub is a professor of human nutrition at the university, and he wanted to make a point. He watched his calorie count for two months while eating almost all the “bad” foods we are told to avoid. He lost 27 pounds, dropping from 201 down to 174. His cholesterol numbers improved as well – LDL down 20% and HDL up 20%.

It wasn’t totally junk food; Dr. Haub also had one protein shake and a multi-vitamin pill a day. All in all though, he made his point: Weight loss is primarily about calorie intake. By reducing the number of calories he ate in a day (by 30%) he lost weight. The headline might as well have been, “It’s the calories, stupid.” And that is the first myth about weight loss: that the quality of the food matters more than the calorie count.

But busting this myth adds a bit to another one. For those who are addicted to food, it isn’t about calories or taste or sugar content. It’s about the way food makes us feel. First the stress builds up; then there’s the release that comes with eating; then the guilt; then the stress builds up… an endless cycle that mirrors other addictions.

To say to a food addict, “Just eat whatever you want, only limit the calories you consume and you’ll lose weight” is nonsense. It never was the calories, it’s the process of losing one’s self in the process of eating that matters. Weight gain is as much a side effect of a food addiction as rotten teeth are for meth addiction.

Like other addiction problems, the food addict is corrupting what would be a normal and necessary part of our biology. Eating feels good. A full stomach does release pleasurable sensations in our bodies. While the cocaine addict gets a shot of dopamine that mimics the pleasure we all feel when we are enjoying something, so too does the craving and then satisfaction with eating rely on inborn gratification systems.

The treatment for food addiction is then, not restricting calories or focusing solely on weight loss, the treatment revolves around changing attitudes about food as medicine. Medicine? Yes, medicine for depression or anxiety or stress. This is what makes the condition so difficult to treat – how do you reframe something that everyone else looks at as normal and necessary?

For the food addict, a new diet might seem like something of interest, but in truth it is a poor patch that doesn’t address the root problem.

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