Fatty TendenciesPosted: August 26, 2010
(WARNING: You will see the word “fat” to describe overweight and obese people, including myself. I have embraced this term, just look at the title of the blog. I think it cuts through to the truth of the matter. I don’t mean it to be disparaging.)
When I was a kid, my family had a saying to describe our insatiable appetites and our proclivity for overeating–fatty tendencies. “She has fatty tendencies,” my mother would say in reference to family and friends who shared this trait. A sure fire way to spot someone with fatty tendencies was detecting any hint of exuberance on that person’s part about an upcoming meal or eating opportunity:
- A friend saw that my sister would be holding the popcorn during a movie and gleefully requested, “Sit here Dina, sit here!”
- My 8th grade self, upon hearing that my mom got Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner, excitedly asking, “Did you get the extra crispy? What about the mashed potatoes?”
My family members periodically recall these incidences to describe what we mean by fatty tendencies. They are illustrations of how we could never mimic the casual indifference thin people had towards food and eating. The cravings and desire for food were so powerful, often bursting through with these excited proclamations.
What we didn’t realize when we coined the phrase was that we were identifying the true reason for our raging appetites when we said “fatty tendencies.”
Fatty Tendencies = Raging, Uncontrollable Cravings
Cravings so powerful they pretty much dominated my life and thoughts from the time I started eating a whole can of Chef Boy R Dee Raviolis for lunch (around age 6) until about two years ago when I began to question everything I had been told about how to eat and lose weight.
So, when I recently heard an interview with Dr. Allen Levine, Dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota and Head of the Minnesota Obesity Center, I was hopeful I would hear new insights about cravings and their role in making me/us fat. He had many interesting things to say about food culture in this country. He also had a lot of insights into food policy.
However, when asked why people overeat, he responded that it all occurs “between the ears.” I got excited thinking that finally I would hear an expert share insights about the brain’s role in inducing cravings. But rather than discuss the complex interplay between hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, he went on to say that people who maintain their weight make a cognitive decision to eat less. Ugh. He went back to the age old belief that fat people are fat because they lack will power and choose to eat poorly. While it is true that fat people often do make poor food choices, I am constantly amazed that no one asks or answers WHY other than to say that fat people lack willpower. Couldn’t cravings have at least something to do with it? I know my cravings for processed food (and food in general) put me on automatic pilot when it comes to eating.
Also, what about satiety? Because overweight people are told to cut out fat in our diets, we never feel nourished and satisfied after we eat. We are left wanting more and more. In my experience, no amount of decision making is going prevent me from eating a hunk of cold pizza when I am feeling under-nourished and deprived! Cravings induce what I call “itchy tongue syndrome”–that feeling you get after you’ve eaten your last meal for the day, you are full, but you still want more and you don’t know why. I would find myself trying to relax in the evenings (after dinner used to be the worst time for me), and I could practically feel the cookies, leftover birthday cake, and cold pizza staring at me from the kitchen. I never felt OK until I had eaten this food, and it was safely in my belly where it couldn’t stare at me anymore.
So, Dr. Levine was right about where controlling hunger is happening (between the ears), just not in the way he thinks. It’s not all about willpower and decision making. It’s about eating foods with enough protein and fat (including saturated fats like butter) to not only satiate myself, but also to build critical neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that calm cravings (see The Secret to Weight Loss? Good Nutrition! by Kara Carper, M.A. for more information about cravings and weight loss.) Nourishing myself in this way has taken the misery out of eating. Who wants to live their lives counting calories and feeling under-nourished? I have become almost indifferent to the foods I used to feel staring at me. For me to say this after over 20 years of fatty tendencies is truly amazing. To do this, I had to confront the stale conventional wisdom that I had no will power.
In the interview I heard, Dr. Levine advises that to control hunger, you should have a talk with yourself and just make a decision not to eat/overeat. I say, “EAT. OFTEN.” Currently, I am eating my way to weight loss. In the next post, I will literally show you what I eat to stave off cravings and lose weight.