Returning to the Roots of Natural Healing

Healing Obesity With Whole Foods

The analogy of mental health is like a puzzle which needs to be put together, whereupon sometimes pieces are missing and we cannot always see the big picture. 

I was working at the food bank in 2006, Union Gospel Mission, and was teaching a course for the clients on eating by the rainbow. It was called ‘The Rainbow Program’. They included homeless people, people on limited income, and First Nations clients. I was applying what I knew about nutrition to people who couldn’t afford to eat, let alone see a nutritionist. I wondered how they would respond to my recommendation of eating by the rainbow, when all they were really being offered in the next room was a free meal and free white bread to take home.

I had worked previously as an eating disorder counselor and knew that preventing hunger went beyond just eating disorders, but also addressing malnutrition wherever it occurred in society.  Here it was occurring right in front of me, and I had to come up with how to shop on a limited budget and how to prevent diabetes in people that had little or no income.

When people don’t have enough to eat, various illnesses can occur. When people don’t have adequate knowledge of nutrition and how to eat, they can eat poorly, which over a lifetime leads to cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact, when people are malnourished they overeat in an attempt to get the nutrients they need.

There are so many psychological and social aspects once obesity begins that the ingrained patterns of fear around eating, fear of gaining weight, fear of losing weight, fear that food equals fat, mean that the malnutrition goes deeper, and the eating of wrong foods becomes more desperate in an attempt to correct the problem.

Young women and even men today are developing eating disorders at an alarming rate: anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating.

But beyond the actual symptomatology, in our society even young children are influenced by the diet culture and develop anorexic thinking, with deeply ingrained fears around food.

Besides developing nutritional deficiencies, children who are malnourished will lack the desire to engage in sports and exercise, have poor concentration, lack incentive, and make poor moral decisions.  

Our society promotes certain stereotypes that can get us on the diet treadmill for the rest of their lives.

Some examples of stereotypes:

People gain weight because they eat too much.

Overweight people need to just get off the couch and exercise more.

If you want to lose weight you should go on a diet.

Try to think like an anorexic, but don’t go too far.

Try the latest diet in this magazine, it worked for my friend.

Low carb is the way to go.

Low carb diets make people meaner than a junk yard dog.

Follow the Canada Food Guide religiously.

Have a shake for 2 meals, then eat a normal dinner.

Thus we see the diet roller-coaster. We go back and forth all day with these logistics in our heads. We may change our minds on what is true from one day to the next. We may see a dozen professionals with different advice, different supplements, and different rules about food. We diet and then eat. We graze and then rigidly eat three meals a day. We apply our minds over the wild horse of hunger. We feel starved and overeat out of the ice cream bucket. We stop for fast food, and settle for junk food. We buy vitamins to make up the difference.

There is food everywhere, but hunger is our enemy. It is something to be controlled and subdued. Anorexic people are to be envied.

But reality sets in eventually.

The truth is, as soon as someone starts to fear gaining weight, or thinks they are overweight these cultural stereotypes start to take hold. The typical result is that an overweight person may try to eat as little as possible all day, then eventually hunger overcomes them and they break down and eat most of their calories in one meal. This is the kind of unhealthy eating pattern that can lead to an eating disorder, or create within the person a constant fight with food and with their weight.

Instead of eating at scheduled times when we would normally become hungry throughout the day, some people develop the unhealthy pattern of fighting their hunger signals because all food equals fat.

Without nutrition education, and appropriate social cues as to when and how much to eat, how do we really know what foods contribute to weight gain and which ones don’t. Do we have to count every calorie we eat, and burn them off every day at the gym.

At some point to heal our anorexic minds, and our diet and body-conscious society we have to build a bond of trust.

We have to learn to trust our bodies, even when it seems they are giving us symptoms and messages that contribute to our problems.

How do we learn to build a bond of trust with our bodies so we can restore their balance?

The same way a counselor works to build a bond of trust with an anorexic person, for them to begin to heal.

The same way we have to work to build a bond of trust with children in order to educate them and teach them.

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