Food for Body and Soul - part III.No "Free Lunch"

23. February 2023.

Having said all that in “Food for Body and Soul” part I and part II (see previous two blogs), we can conclude that, by and large, obesity, overweight and related chronic diseases result primarily from a prolonged disbalance between energy input and energy output. If that is the case, there are two ways to regulate the outcome: You can either reduce the energy intake, or you can increase the energy output. Everything else is hocus pocus. Once we have understood this, and once we have adapted our behavior accordingly, we can then still talk about fine tuning of more sophisticated physiological factors that can influence energy intake and output, but which really should not be of primary concern for our discussion here.

But if it really is as simple as that, why are we not doing it? Well, I said it was SIMPLE, but not that it was EASY! It is simple, because you don’t need to be an expert to understand that every calorie you eat must go somewhere, and that it must either be burned as fuel for your metabolism and exercise, or stored as fat in those places you hate to look at in the mirror. Nor do you need a PhD to understand that “junk food” is just that: “junk” and that, therefore, it probably is not good for you. Because, after all, your entire body is nothing else than a compilation of cells made from all the food you have eaten, and it does not take rocket science to realize you cannot build and maintain a healthy body from nothing but processed sugar, fats and artificial additives.

So the hard part is not to understand the truth, the hard part is to adapt our behavior to the truth. Being ordinary humans, we all tend to look for magic diets, “scientific” doctrines and quick solutions that will allow us to fool ourselves, just as long as we can stick to our old bad habits. But why are we like that?

Where do we get it wrong?

One of the main problems, I think, is that we live under the illusion of a “credit mentality” leading us to believe that we can get joy and happiness without taking full responsibility for our lives. In reality, you can do whatever you want, but pay day always comes. In life: there (really) is no “free lunch”!

In practice, this means that there is no cheap food. If you think that good quality food, organic products and fresh fruit and vegetables are too expensive, wait until you see the health costs of a lifetime of junk food, from the medical bills of your doctor to the pain, discomfort and disability caused by a deprived and neglected body. The same applies to physical activity, taking time for yourself, buying and preparing healthy food instead of having a quick stop for junk food somewhere. The truth is that, whatever you do, you WILL end up paying the full price, either now at the grocery store, or later at the hospital, but then with a hefty interest depending on how long you have been postponing “pay day”.

Most importantly, we have to become aware of what we are trying to nourish when we eat – our body or our soul? Because, as we already discussed, if calories are our only source of nourishment, we will stay hungry for the rest of our lives. Hungry, exhausted, and too tired to move. Tired not because we have done too much, but because we have done too little of what sparks a light in us.

And while obesity and overeating are still defined by some medical practitioners “as a normal physiological response to an abnormal environment”, other nutritionist and/or psychologist are less ambiguous, conceptualizing both obesity and overeating as a form of a “addiction” to food, similar to addictions to excessive shopping, drinking, smoking, Internet, work, drugs, sex, etc.

For example, Gabor Maté, a brilliant physician specialized in the field of substance dependence and psychology, clearly categorized overeating as addictive. He says that if you want to understand addiction you cannot look at what is wrong with addiction, you have to look what is right about it, what the persons get from the addiction that otherwise they do not have. And, what addicts are getting is relief from pain, a sense of peace, a sense of control, a sense of protection (maybe through some additional layers of fat tissues as layers defending them from the outside world). Unfortunately, whatever “substance” we are addicted to can only temporarily relieve the painful symptoms of what is missing in our lives, but cannot remove the source of the problem. So the question is not “why the addiction?”, but “why the pain?”

Addiction always aims to forget, not to be ourselves for a few hours, to avoid the discomfort of being in our own skin, to escape from our own mind, so some people are destroying themselves with work, others with drugs, shopping or food. It is all about trying to fill an inner emptiness from the outside.

And if you want to understand why people are in pain, you cannot look at their genetics only, but must look at their lives. Because many people that are in pain have been abused in some manner: physically abused, or maybe sexually abused, neglected, abandoned or emotionally hurt, exposed to an environment that did not give them the love and acceptance. As a consequence, they did not develop brain chemicals such as dopamines (motivational component of reward-motivating behavior) or endorphins (chemicals to relieve pain or stress), so now they seek to fill this hole with all kinds of things from the outside.

In order to feel loved, understood and accepted, we suppress our own needs and start living someone else’s life, seeking acceptance of others, a sense of being “needed” (through work achievements), filling this emptiness of something we needed, but never got. But the truth about addiction is that it never works, because any inner emptiness we are trying to fill in this way will remain a hole without a bottom.

Maintening or restoring health means getting in touch with our own self, our body and emotions and honoring who we are. What about being honest about what is lacking in our lives emotionally, and deciding not to try to suppress these needs with junk food and senseless entertainment, but to actually look for activities and relationships that stimulate our mind and nourish our soul?

Changing our habits towards a healthier, balanced and more fulfilled life can be scary, because it may go far beyond our menu of foods and drink. But remember, everything comes at a price and, in the long run, the costs of staying in an unhealthy place are always higher than the potential costs of changing your habits. All changes are hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end. If it is not hard at first, it is not the real change! A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid that the branch could be breaking because its trust it is not in the branch, but in its own wings. Until you spread your own wings, you have no idea how high and far you can fly.

Take the leap and you may discover wings you never knew you had.

Dr. Katarina Melzer

Be balanced, be free!