Sargent Pepper’s Lonely and Hungry Hearts

So it turns out that loneliness contributes to overeating. We knew that already, but John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, recently outlined his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference. His work shows that social isolation contributes to decreased blood flow throughout the cardiovascular system and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which affects the immune system and may influence appetite and metabolism and yes, even depressed mood.

Lonely people are more apt to quit an exercise program and they are more likely to eat high calorie foods in large portions to self-soothe. Food can become the best companion and the preferred entertainment on another lonely Saturday night. It comes as no surprise that an extra serving ot two of lasagna followed by enough cannoli to leave a diner in physical distress may seem like the perfect sedative when sleepless nights have become routine. But the short-lived comfort leaves a wake of restless tossing and turning, stomach aches and demoralizing self-talk that can be more stressful than the pre-binge anxiety.

If we can retrain our habits so that we learn to recognize the triggers (the creepy boss or the incredibly annoying date) that got us even thinking about self-soothing with cannoli, we can get a handle on slowing down the process and eventually allow ourselves to gently intervene in the lonely food-is-love practice. By mastering a set of skills aimed at praticing new ways of finding the support and comfort we crave more than Mom’s lasagna, we can groove new tunes to repair our lonely hearts.


03 2009

The Nutritional Value of Blackberries

People are becoming increasingly aware of the way we humans have been wired to eat foods which distract us from what we thought we had planned to eat only a few hours earlier. Imagine the irresistible smell of walking by your favorite restaurant just after you’ve gotten out of a long meeting and missed your regular meal time. Your brain experiences the enticing visual and olfactory sensations which drive your behavior in a new direction. In this case you might stop in for at least a sample of the best blackberry cobbler in town, say, even if it means that you will be late for your next meeting. This culinary diversion sends powerful signals to the brain’s reward center even when you only get a few bites into the thrill.

But just as you bite into the warm and gooey sensation, you get a call from your kid’s babysitter, who tells you that you need to get home in time to take your darling to dance class. You decide to rush through the rest of the cobbler, but by now your mind has shifted to the next task, and you are barely even present, when you down what started out as a self-care opportunity.

Distraction from eating is what generated the entire mindful eating craze. Now nutritionists write books, develop programs and coach willing participants into slowing down, literally smelling the cobbler, and allowing themselves to more fully experience eating, in the hope that the focus will enable them to learn to balance fueling their spirits with the kind of nourishment that fuels their bodies.

Enter the BlackBerry to make the learning curve even steeper. Now we all have to learn to experience life in twits and chirps. Bringing the BlackBerry to the table can seriously put a dent in the mindful eating experience, leaving a motivated dieter to be confused beyond belief. If neuroscientists are correct that we can only multitask so much at one time, then doesn’t it stand to reason that the out-of-control eating that seems to be driving the obesity epidemic, will be made even worse by our increasing reliance on tools like the BlackBerry that remove us from the experience of everything we do, from cooking, to eating, to conversing over a meal?

I once had the pleasure of hearing Julia Child herself as a keynote speaker at an American Dietetic Association conference. She managed to both charm and alienate some in the audience by pooh-poohing the association’s focus on nutritional value of foods, but she emphasized the loss of the family table as the main culprit to the health woes of Americans. Might she have checked her messages on a BlackBerry as she sipped wine and turned out culinary delights? I doubt it.


03 2009