Saturday, September 26, 2009


We were having a "delicious" conversation the other day on a list serve that I belong to. One member explained that she struggled with overeating when she was younger, but is now an attuned/intuitive eater. She has always had a "sweet tooth" and continues to crave chocolate almost everyday - she becomes crabby if she wants it, but it's not available. Yet when she eats chocolate, she feels completely satisfied - sometimes after a few bites, sometimes after more -and doesn't feels uncomfortably full or that she is overeating/bingeing. She wondered if because of her need for chocolate every day, and sometimes more than once a day, people might consider her to be addicted to chocolate.

Here was my response:

"The beauty of intuitive/attuned eating is that everyone gets to decide what types of foods are right for them. So, you are someone who needs chocolate every day - enjoy! As you said, you feel good after you eat it and stop when you've had enough - you sound very in tune with yourself. In my work with clients, I rarely share the types of food that I eat because I don't want someone to ever think that there is a "right" way to feed oneself. But the one thing I do find myself offering from time to time is that I eat chocolate every day (and often I'm in the mood for sweets more than once a day...). I want to normalize that because it's still so much of the diet mentality that has seeped into our culture to think that somehow you shouldn't have sweets every day.

As for the thought that maybe a craving for sweet is a need for fruit (mentioned by another list serve member) chocolate and apples feel really different in your body. Sometimes I want chocolate and sometimes I want an apple, and I'd be as off eating an apple when I crave chocolate as I would eating chocolate when I crave an apple. Again, listening and taking out the judgement are key."

Our list serve discussion got me thinking more about chocolate. I had just finished a novel in which one of the characters, a precocious 12 year old girl, briefly contemplates her love of chocolate:

"This afternoon, after school, there was no one at home. I took some hazelnut chocolate from the kitchen and went to eat it in the living room. I was comfortably settled on the sofa, nibbling on my chocolate and ruminating on my next profound thought. I was thinking it would be a profound thought about chocolate or the way you nibble it, in particular, with a central question: what is it that is so good about chocolate? The substance itself, or the technique of chewing it?"

Just what is so good about chocolate? I'm at a loss of words myself to describe what makes it so wonderful. But I do know that it appeals to a lot of us, especially women. In fact, nutritionist Debra Waterhouse has an entire book devoted to this topic called Why Women Need Chocolate. When Ellen and I wrote Beyond a Shadow of a Diet, our book for mental health professionals, we included the following:

"Debra Waterhouse emphasizes that female food cravings are a 'normal, biological need for a specific food that will balance a woman's body and mind and revitalize her well-being.' She explains the brain chemistry of food cravings, noting that sugar and fat from chocolate boost serotonin and endorphin levels, resulting in positive mood and renewed energy. 'No study has ever found that women frequently crave tofu, Spam, or nonfat cottage cheese, and no study has ever found that men frequently crave chocolate...Only women crave these foods consistently.' "

Many years ago I had a booth at a health fair. A woman looked over my materials and said, "No, I don't have a problem with food. Except that I like to eat some chocolate every day" I explained to her that eating chocolate was natural and fine, and she replied, "You mean I can stop feeling guilty?" "Absolutely," I told her. What a shame that she had to feel that eating chocolate was "sinful" in the first place, but how nice that she seemed willing to let that belief go.

So back to my own chocolate cravings! While some women notice an increase in their desire for chocolate prior to menstruation, I like to eat chocolate all month long. When I eat chocolate it's because in addition to the way it tastes, it gives me just the right feeling physically in my body. Sometimes I prefer it with a glass of milk, sometimes I prefer it by itself. But I always make sure I have some with me wherever I go - to work, on vacation, at a conference.

I was in Costa Rica a couple of years ago, and, thankfully, had brought some chocolate with me. A woman on the trip was celebrating her birthday and said the only thing missing was some chocolate; she liked to have some every day, and couldn't find any at the hotel. I told her that I had chocolate in my room and would be happy to share some with her. Her face lit up - and I was glad to give her this small gift. Yes, you can always rely on me to have chocolate on hand!

So am I "addicted" to chocolate? I also happen to eat a banana every day, but I've never heard of anyone talking about an addiction to bananas! Like my list serve colleague, I eat chocolate in a way that's a perfect match for me.

And I don't need advertisements to tell me things like: My Moment - My Dove. I'll eat my Dove chocolates whenever I'm hungry for them, but not as a way to take time for myself - as women, we need to take time for ourselves when we need it, without feeling that we need to use food as an excuse to slow down. Yet the act of relishing my chocolate - or whatever food I'm hungry for at a particular time - does make for a satisfying moment.

If you're a chocolate lover, enjoy your cravings and the satisfaction that comes from this amazing substance. And if you have a way to describe just what it is about chocolate that tastes so good, please feel free to give it a try!

Eat well! Live well! Be well!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Open House

Last week I attended Parent's Night at my son's high school. I always look forward to getting a firsthand view of my children's teachers so that I can have a better sense of what their life is like during all those hours they spend away from home. While gym class isn't high on my priority list of exciting presentations, I was looking forward to seeing Mr. P. who I've known from previous years.

I entered the big gym and chatted with some of the parents that I knew. Mr. P. started the typical shpiel about what types of activities the students would do throughout the year, the importance of attendance, and what it's like to work with Freshman boys. That's when my ears perked up.

After telling us that he comes off as a tough guy in the beginning - even though he's actually a pretty low-key kind of guy - he offered his philosophy for making physical education a positive experience for everyone.

He told the parents that he will absolutely not tolerate any negative comments about weight. He stated that people naturally come in different shapes and sizes, and that by the time the swimming unit comes around next spring he wants everybody - yes, he meant Every Body - to feel comfortable and have fun. By letting the boys know his expectations from the outset, he believes he can encourage a safe environment for each and every student.

Wow! Did I hear that correctly? I have to admit that when I attend PE, Consumer Ed, and Health classes at various open houses, I usually brace myself for some comments about staying fit to prevent obesity or eating healthy foods to prevent obesity. (I'm all for fitness and understanding nutrition - but I want it to come from a positive place that promotes wellness for all children, rather than from a fear of getting fat that stigmatizes larger students.) I'm generally pleased when no comments are made about body size, but to hear a message to the kids and parents that supports size diversity is downright inspirational!

And it got me thinking. Can you imagine if every single teacher had a "no tolerance policy" regarding bullying, teasing and making negative comments about weight? What if they took that next step and regularly referred to the wonderful variations among all human beings, including body shape and size? Wouldn't that promote self- esteem for all students and help all of our children grow into more compassionate adults?

Here's my next question: How did Mr. P. become so enlightened? After the presentation, in the brief moment I had to greet him, I thanked him for his words and told him how wonderful I thought it was that he teaches his students about size diversity. He seemed pleased to hear my compliment; I couldn't tell if he realized that what he is saying is quite different from the usual messages that are given both overtly and covertly to students about body size.

Or so I think. After we left the open house, I told my husband how impressed I was by Mr. P., and how rare it is to hear a teacher promote the idea that people come in different shapes in sizes.

My husband's response was, "How do you know that? How do you know there aren't a lot of teachers out there who have a size positive attitude?"

Well, there was the Report on Size Discrimination put out by the National Educational Association in 1993, which concluded that within school systems, large students experienced "ongoing prejudice, unnoticed discrimination and almost constant harassment," while teachers experienced "socially acceptable yet outrageous insensitivity and rudeness" regarding their own weight.

But that was in 1993 so perhaps things have improved since then. Yet in my work with clients, at workshops and conferences, and among my colleagues dedicated to Health At Every Size, I've hear innumerable stories of harassment at the hands of gym teachers because of weight, leaving these former students feeling shamed, embarrassed and humiliated. At the same time, I know that there have been some wonderful curricula developed in recent years to teach body-esteem to students - and teachers - that may changing attitudes toward fat and tolerance of negative comments about body size.

So here's my question for you: Is Mr. P. one in a million? Or is he part of a new trend? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Eat well! Live well! Be well!