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Obesity, dieting and weight loss – what do we know? 

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the effectiveness of weight loss programs and diets by people who feel fat and want to lose weight.  We concluded that losing weight is not the solution.  Even after losing weight, guilt, deprivation and “feeling fat” can persist.  The solution is to acquire the skills to control when you start eating and when you stop eating.

In Part II of this series, we looked at what it is that starts and stops us from eating – the determinants of eating behaviour – and why it is that we have to eat in the first place.  We will discover that “the real problem” has nothing to do with willpower.

In Part III of this series, we will look at the extremely complex internal mechanism that regulates our eating behaviour.

Willpower. on Pocket Watch Face with CloseUp View of Watch Mechanism. Time Concept. Film Effect. Pocket Watch Face with Willpower Text on it. Business Concept with Vintage Effect. 3D Render.

PART III:  The Internal Automatic Regulatory Mechanism (ARM)

We now recognize that the balance needed for the existence of life is extremely ‘delicate’ and that the control of this balance is simply too important to be left to conscious control.  To think that humans regulate their weight and their food intake by consciously thinking about it and making calculated decisions, is simply absurd.  It is important to keep these things in perspective.

Obviously, there must exist some type of mechanism – a regulator – which controls the balance of energy.  The analogy which is often made is to a thermostat in your house.  The thermostat in your house controls the temperature of your house or the quantity of heat in your house.  It does this by measuring the temperature – a measure of heat energy.  Something in the thermostat – a type of metal or mercury or some other substance – changes with temperature (it expands or contracts) and this can turn on a switch which turns on the furnace which generates more heat.  When heat is generated and the temperature rises, it changes the thermostat which in turn shuts off the switch.

This is known as a “negative feedback system”.  That is, the more the furnace works, the more it shuts itself off.

A similar system must be operating in your body.  When you need energy, something measures the need and turns on ‘hunger’- the drive to eat.  This is also a negative feedback loop in that the more food you consume, the less eating you should want to do – eating should shut itself off.  When there is enough energy, eating is shut off – i.e. ‘satiety’

But how does this system work?  Let us look at this in more detail.

What Is Being Controlled

In your house we know that what is being controlled (the controlled quantity is heat as measured by the temperature of your house).  But what is it that is being controlled in your body?  Think about it.  What is it in your body that is being measured and controlled?  Is it your body weight?  Is there something inside which can measure your body weight and when you begin to lose weight you start to eat and as you gain weight you are compelled to stop eating?  Or is it your body temperature?  Or is it energy in general, as measured by calories?  What is it?

Before we begin to try to answer this question, let us look at some of the research studies that have been done so that we can get a better idea of just how well the system works and what affects it.  The studies that will be discussed here are just a very brief summary of the many studies that have been done with a variety of different types of animals as well as with humans.

The first step is just to gather more information so that we can get a better idea about what is going on.

  • Random Diet

What do you think would happen if you take animals (e.g. laboratory rats) and give them a ‘cafeteria’ diet?  That is, if you give them many different types of foods that they can partake of freely in a fairly comfortable and relaxed environment.  You could give them chocolate chip cookies, bananas, specially prepared well-balanced laboratory diets, and all sorts of other foods that humans eat.

What do you think happens when animals are put into such environments and allowed to eat as much as they wish at any time?  Do you think that they gain weight?  Lose weight?  Binge on only specific types of foods?  Maintain a well-balanced diet?  Maintain their weight?  What do you think?

Well, unless the circumstances are very abnormal or extraordinary, you would find that the animals tend to eat a well-balanced diet, maintain their caloric intake and maintain their weight.  The regulator works very accurately under these circumstances.

  • Artificial Weight Gain

Animals can be made to gain weight artificially through a number of means including such things as force feeding (as is done with geese and other animals which are bred to produce certain types of foods) or through injecting insulin which increases the uptake if sugar and causes animals to eat more and gain more weight.  What do you think happens when animals who have had their weight artificially raised are allowed to eat food freely without continued insulin injections or force feeding?  Do you think that they continue to gain more weight?  Maintain their elevated weight?  Lose weight?

Animals in this situation will decrease their food intake below what they normally eat until their weight decreases and levels off back within a normal range.  They will then maintain their food intake and caloric intake at an appropriate level to maintain their weight.

The regulator continues to work!  Even when animals are made artificially fat, their weight returns to normal and their eating is maintained at an appropriate level.

  • Artificial Weight Loss

Animals can be made to lose weight by decreasing the amount of food they are given – i.e. depriving them.  What do you think happens when rats are artificially made to lose weight by being deprived of food and then given their food back freely?  Do you think they continue to maintain a lower weight?  Do you think they gain weight?

When allowed to eat freely again, the animals actually increase their food intake beyond their regular levels until their weight comes back into the normal range.  They then level off their caloric intake to maintain their weight within the normal range.

Again, the regulator works very accurately even if you try to trick the system by artificially decreasing body weight.

  • Caloric Dilution

It is possible to dilute the number of calories in an animal’s food by adding non-nutritive bulk such as cellulose to dry food or water to a liquid food like Metrecal.  What do you think happens to the rats if you dilute their food in half by adding non-nutritive bulk?  Obviously, in order to eat the same number of calories they would have to eat twice the quantity of food.  Do you think the animals eat more?  Eat less?  Eat the same?  Do you think they gain weight?  Lose weight?  Stay the same?

Studies clearly demonstrate that animals increase the amount that they eat in relation to how much you dilute to food.  If you dilute the food in half, they eat twice as much.  They maintain their caloric intake at a constant level; they maintain their weight; and the regulator continues to work even though they have to eat twice as much.

  • Concentrate Calorie

It is possible to increase the number of calories in an animal’s food (the calorie density) by mixing very high caloric substances in with the regular food.  For example, one can include glucose in with the regular food.  In fact, animals prefer this mixture if given a choice between their regular food and food mixed with the sugar solution.  But now, the same quantity of food has significantly more calories.  What do you think animals do in this situation?  Do you think that they eat more food and gain weight, or do you think they eat less food and maintain their weight?

Again, the regulator works!  Animals in this situation, even when presented with food that they find appealing and prefer, will actually decrease the total amount that they eat in order to maintain a constant caloric intake and maintain their weight.

  • Aversive Flavour

Obviously, one factor which affects eating is the taste of the food.  Just as sugar makes the food more appealing or preferred, the same food can be made less appealing and even aversive by adding some substances.  Quinine, for example, is an extremely bitter substance which animals and humans find very distasteful if added even in small amounts.  If you add a very small amount to the regular food of a rat and give the rat a choice between a quinine adulterated food and another food, the rat will never eat the quinine flavoured food.  However, what do you think the animal does if you don’t give it a choice and it only has the quinine flavoured food to eat?  Do you think it eats less?  Do you think it eats the same?  Do you think it loses weight?

Well, as you may have guessed, the animals will continue to eat the same caloric quantity even though they appear to hate the food – to the point where the food literally becomes poisonous and makes them ill.  The regulator works again!  Animals will continue to eat the number of calories required to maintain their weight even when the food is very aversive and bad tasting.

In summary, therefore, we can see that the regulator works very well indeed.  Even when extraordinary attempts are made to ‘trick’ the system, the system still works very accurately.  While there are always exceptions, this is generally the rule for all animals under normal situations and, if you think about it, it is true for most people as well.

How does it work?

It is quite clear that caloric intake is being regulated very carefully.  So is weight.  The question is now, how does it work?  If you were going to build a system inside the body to monitor and regulate the caloric intake, how would you do it?

Going back to our example of a thermostat in the house, we know that mercury expands with increased quantity of heat (temperature).  The mercury will vary exactly with the amount of heat – the quantity we wish to control – and we can connect a switch to the mercury level and consequently it is easy to measure and control the amount of heat in our house.

But how would we measure the amount of energy being taken in or used up by our body?  What would be equivalent to that column of mercury in our body?  What system or systems in our body do you think could be used to tell us when we need or do not need energy?

This very question has been the centre of much interest for more than 100 years of scientific investigation.  There are volumes written about this.  Let’s just look at some of these briefly.

  • Gastric Motility – Stomach

The stomach and its activities is an obvious possibility.  Stomach ‘growling’ and sensations are frequently associated with ‘hunger pangs’.  Not surprisingly, this was one of the earliest areas of research.  Many years ago some researchers felt that hunger was in fact simply the sensations of stomach contractions.

While there is absolutely no doubt that the stomach plays a very important role in controlling and monitoring our eating, there is already some evidence that indicates that the stomach, by itself, cannot be the controlling factor.

Remember what we observed with our rat?  When food is diluted of calories, the animals eat much more.  Stomach distention by itself, therefore, cannot be the ruling factor.  In addition, there is clear evidence that humans with partial removals of their stomachs as well as those with denervation of their stomachs regulate their weight very well, although meal patterns change somewhat.

Therefore, the stomach, although it may be important, is by itself not even necessary for accurate regulation.

  • Oral pharyngeal Factors

The mouth and throat, chewing and swallowing, taste and smell, all play significant roles in affecting our eating.  There have been numerous studies which indicate a significant involvement of all of these factors.

For example, the simple acts of eating and swallowing alone, even without the food entering the stomach, will have the effect of stopping the eating of an animal (for a short term).  Similarly, our taste buds are affected by many aspects of the physiological condition of our body, including our specific needs for various nutrients or what we have just eaten.  This in turn influences how different things taste to us – sweet, salty, good or bad – and consequently affects our ‘appetite’ for different types of food.  It has also been demonstrated, for example, that when certain substances such as sugar are taken into the mouth, these substances may permeate the lining of the mouth and actually enter into the blood and brain well before the food becomes digested in our stomachs.  This allows our brain to monitor what we are eating very rapidly.

However, other studies indicate that actually eating the food is not even necessary for maintaining caloric regulation and weight.  Studies on animals with tubes inserted directly into their stomachs indicate that animals will learn to press levers to have food injected directly into their stomach without even tasting or swallowing the food.  These animals will maintain appropriate caloric intake and maintain their weight.  Even if you dilute their food, they will increase their intake appropriately.

Therefore, although oral pharyngeal factors are clearly important and significant, they also cannot fully explain how the system maintains caloric intake and weight regulation.

  • Body Temperature

The various temperatures of different parts of our bodies have a major effect on our eating behaviour.  When our ‘core’ (deep internal body) temperature rises, eating behaviour becomes inhibited.  For example, when people have fevers, there is a definite suppression of appetite.  The relationship between core temperature, brain temperature, and body surface temperature is quite complex and its effect on eating is also very complex and unclear.

However, there is also evidence which indicates that temperature and eating can be separated.  For example, many drugs which are used to supress appetite actually decrease temperature.  So it can be seen that body temperature and eating behaviour can be separated and temperature by itself cannot be the controlling factor.

  • Lipostatic – Fat Metabolism Rates

There have been suggestions that the metabolism of fat in our body is a critical factor in affecting our eating behaviour and the regulation of calories.  We already know that when we have excessive calories, physiological changes can take place to convert excess sugar into fat.  When we require energy and have a deficit of readily available calories, our physiology shifts in the other direction to convert fat to sugar.  There have been some suggestions that this mechanism itself is the critical factor indicating hunger (fat to sugar) and satiety (sugar to fat).  The most obvious limitation with this particular theory is that the process is so slow it would not begin to stop eating during a meal until far too many calories had been consumed.  Therefore, while this metabolic cycle may in fact be important, it by itself cannot account for the precise and delicate control of eating behaviour and caloric regulation.

  • Blood Borne Factor

It has been well known for many years that factors in the blood affect eating behaviour.  There have been numerous studies which have shown that such things as infusing the blood of a hungry animal into the body of a satiated animal will cause that animal to begin eating.

While there are numerous possibilities as to what these various blood-borne factors might be, one obvious factor is the blood glucose (sugar) level.  The ‘glucostatic’ theory suggests that the amount of sugar in the blood controls whether a person is hungry or satiated.  Increasing the amount of sugar in the blood of an animal which is eating will cause eating to stop.  However, there is no relationship between the amount of sugar in the blood and the beginning and cessation of eating.

The glucose utilization (A/V ratio) suggests that the critical factor is not the absolute concentration or amount of sugar in the blood, but rather the amount of sugar in the arteries (the blood vessels that take the blood to the cells of the body to nourish them) and the amount in the veins (the blood vessels which take the used blood away from the cells).  Obviously, if your body does not need energy and is not using sugar, the amount of sugar in the arteries will be the same as the amount of sugar in the veins.  However, if your body does need energy and is using sugar to provide that energy, then the amount of sugar in the arteries will be greater than the amount of sugar in the veins.  There is a good relationship between this ratio and onset and cessation of eating behaviour.

However, there are problems with these theories as well.  Diabetics who have notoriously high blood sugar levels are also well known for having voracious appetites.  The fact is, that eating behaviour and blood sugar levels can be separated and although this is clearly an important factor, it too by itself cannot be the only factor which controls and regulates our caloric intake, our eating behaviour and consequently, our weight.

  • Brain – Hypothalamus

It is obvious that our brain is intimately involved in the control of eating behaviour.  In particular, a small area of the brain known as the hypothalamus is critical in controlling and integrating not only our eating behaviour, but other behaviours such as drinking, temperature regulation, and other behaviours critical for survival.

So what is the conclusion?  It is obvious that the regulator – the internal automatic regulatory mechanism (ARM) – is expectedly complex.  Although a great deal is known about this, it is still poorly understood.

The regulation of eating behaviour is even more complicated than simply regulating calories.  For example, the body must also carefully control the balance of salts and water, and what we eat affects this.  If, for example, the concentration of salts in our bodies is too high, and we do not have enough water, we become thirsty.  However, if there is no water available for us to drink, it would be detrimental for us to eat foods.  That would increase the salt concentrations in our body.  Consequently, when we are in need of water, there is an active suppression of appetite.  There is decreased eating.  Similarly, temperature regulation also plays an important role.  Since it is critical that our temperature levels are carefully guarded and that our concentrations are maintained in addition to our energy balance, all of these factors interact in an extremely complex way.

The fact is that the system is simply too complicated to be left to our willpower or conscious control.  To think that humans regulate their weight and their food intake by consciously thinking about it and making calculated decisions, is simply absurd.  The internal automatic regulatory mechanism cannot be corrected and there is no magic solution.

its complicated, 3D rendering, traffic sign

In Part IV of this series, we will discover the solution to the problem.  At the present time, the solution may not appear to be obvious to you and you may not have the skills.  But, be patient, the solution will become obvious and the skills are easily acquired.



Chaput JP, Tremblay A. (2008, November 11). The glucostatic theory of appetite control and the risk of obesity and diabetes. International Journal of Obesity. Doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.221

Garcia, J., Hankins, W., Rusiniak, K. (1974, September 6). Behavioral regulation of the milieu interne in man and rat. Science. Vol. 185, Issue 4154, pp. 824-831.  DOI: 10.1126/science.185.4154.824

Jordan, H. A. (1969). Voluntary intragastric feeding: Oral and gastric contributions to food intake and hunger in man. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 68(4), 498-506.

Stunkard, A., Fox, Sonja. (1971, March). The relationship of gastric motility and hunger: A summary of the evidence.  Psychosomatic Medicine

White, C, Purpera, M, Ballard, K, Morrison, C. (2010, June 6). Decreased food intake following overfeeding involves leptin-dependent and leptin-independent mechanisms. Physiology and Behavior, Volume 100, Issue 4, Pages 408-416



In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the effectiveness of weight loss programs and diets by people who feel fat and want to lose weight.  We concluded that losing weight is not the solution.  Even after losing weight, guilt, deprivation and “feeling fat” can persist.  The solution is to acquire the skills to control when you start eating and when you stop eating.

In Part II of this series, we will start by looking at what it is that starts and stops us from eating – the determinants of eating behaviour – and why it is that we have to eat in the first place.  We will discover that “the real problem” has nothing to do with willpower.


We use the term ‘hunger’ all the time.  But what is hunger?  Have you ever spent any time thinking about it?  Put yourself in the position of a scientist who wants to discover and understand what hunger is.  Is hunger simply a feeling?  Where does this feeling come from?  Is it always related to a true state of need?  If so, are overweight people experiencing a feeling of hunger when they are driven to eat?  They certainly are not in a state of need.  Is hunger a primitive instinct with which we are all born?  Is it identical for all of us?  Is it a feeling that is always the same and is related to specific physiological events (e.g. stomach contractions)?  Or is hunger something that we may learn?  Is hunger different for different people?  Are there different types of feelings that we tend to call hunger?  Do different people call different feelings hunger?  What is it?  What causes it?  What effects it?  How do you know what someone else calls hunger is the same as what you call hunger?  Does it even exist as a simple singular well-defined entity?  How do you know it exists?  Have you ever seen it?

Hunger is a concept.  It is a notion that has been invented by human beings.  Although we commonly use the term and we have feelings we often label as hunger, it is not something which is a simple fact, in that it is not directly observable by others and we are uncertain what others mean or feel when they say they are hungry.

HUNGER is a term we use to explain that which starts or ‘drives’ people to start eating.  Generally, it is a notion or concept that refers to a need state which results in a motivation or drive.

SATIETY is something which is rarely talked about, but is probably more important than the concept of hunger.  Satiety is the ‘drive’ state that stops or actively inhibits people from eating.  As you will discover, satiety is probably more important than hunger in the control of eating behaviour.

First, let’s begin at the beginning – the basics.  Let’s look at some simple biological principles and facts.

Life – what is it?  It is all those millions of chemical reactions that take place in living cells that we call life.  Most people do not appreciate the fact that these chemical reactions – life – can only exist under a very narrow set of conditions.  Think about it.

The sea is the best example of the conditions necessary for life to survive.  This was described a century ago by the French physiologist, Claude Bernard.  Life cannot survive much outside the boundaries of a sea environment.  Life requires a very delicate balance of electrolytes (various chemical salts in water) and if balance changes only slightly, life cannot survive.  That is why, for example, salt amongst other things is used as a preservative because it prevents all forms of life including bacteria.  The balance of various salts to water in the sea is that necessary for all forms of life.  The range of temperature is also critical and again best described by the sea environment.  Look at the range of temperature in the sea.

It obviously does not get colder than the freezing point of water, and it clearly does not become extraordinarily hot.  Don’t confuse this with the temperatures that occur outside of our bodies.  If our internal body temperature (where chemical reactions of life take place) changes only a few degrees from normal (e.g. a fever), our lives hang in a critical balance.  Our temperature cannot fluctuate like the outside temperature fluctuates.  Life exists within a very narrow range.  There are many other factors and conditions necessary for life including energy balances, the presence and absence of different chemicals (e.g. waste product in the form of nitrogen and urea which must be eliminated) and so on.

But what of animals and organisms that do not live in the sea?  They have to take the sea environment with them and maintain it within the critical boundaries of life or they will not survive.  So even though temperatures are ranging from well below freezing to well above critical fever level in the outside environment, these organisms must maintain their internal environment like the sea.  They must have systems for getting rid of waste products and maintaining salt water balances.  They must have systems for maintaining the critical chemicals required for life.

Claude Bernard termed this internal environment – the internal sea environment which land animals have – the ‘INTERMAL MILIEU”[1].

The Internal Milieu pertains to the very delicate and narrow set of conditions which are required for life to survive.  All living organisms must maintain this very carefully and very accurately or they simply will not survive.  Few people think about this very much and fail to realize how narrow and delicate the range of conditions are.

But how is this internal environment maintained?  Obviously, we must have some kind of a mechanism or process which allows us to maintain the delicate balance of all those conditions necessary for life to survive.  The process by which this is maintained is called Homeostasis.  “Homeostasis”, a term coined by the great physiologist Walter Cannon, MD Sc.D., of Harvard University.  In his famous book, The Wisdom of the Body (1932, W.W. Norton Publishers), Dr. Cannon explained how, regardless of conditions that may vary widely, the “bodywisdom” works constantly to maintain homeostasis.

So, homeostasis is the process by which our bodies maintain this critical balance that is complicated, delicate, and vital for the survival of life.  The range of conditions in which we can move is much narrower than most people think.  It is critical that the balance is guarded very, very carefully and very accurately.

So what role does eating behaviour and food play in homeostasis and maintaining life?  Let us begin by looking at why we eat in the first place.  Why do we need food?  What does life require that food supplies?

1.  Essential building blocks for growth and repair

A major reason we have to eat is to supply the various chemicals needed for the biological reactions within our body.  Our body has a structure which requires building blocks.  As we are growing we need to supply these building blocks and later we need to repair or replace damaged or continuously changing structures.  We are constantly growing new skin to replace the surface skin which naturally dies and is replaced.  You are probably familiar with many of these needed building blocks such as the vitamins, minerals, and proteins.  This will be discussed later under Nutrition.  The important point is that we need to eat to supply ourselves with the building blocks required for growth and repair that are essential for life.

2.  Energy (calories)

The second important reason that we require food is for energy.  Energy is measured in calories.  One calorie is the amount of energy that is required to heat up one millilitre of water one centigrade degree.  The commonly used term ‘calorie’ to describe the amount of energy in food is really a thousand of these calories.  It is really a kilocalorie.  In other words, the calorie (kilocalorie) that you eat is enough energy to heat up one litre of water one centigrade degree.

Why do we need energy?  Energy is essential for life and is the fuel that is required for the following:

  • Movement and work – muscles and glands;

Everything that we do requires energy.  All the work that our muscles do requires energy and the amount of energy varies with the amount of work.  Our glands require energy.  We sweat and shed tears just to clean our eyes.  All this requires energy.  Obviously the amount of work that our muscles and glands do varies from time to time considerably.

  • Temperature regulation;

As mentioned earlier, maintaining temperature is critical for the survival of life.  Heat is a form of energy and is needed to maintain temperature.  In cool environments we require energy to produce heat, while in very hot environments we require energy to allow our glands to generate sweat and keep us cool.

  • Metabolism – catabolism, anabolism;

Metabolism is a term that refers to the biochemical processes necessary to maintain life.  It is the breaking down (catabolism) and building up (anabolism) of the various chemicals and structures needed for life.  All of these chemical reactions which take place in our body require energy.  Often, the term ‘basal metabolic rate’ refers to the minimal amount of fuel that is required just to keep the chemical reactions going.  This in fact, requires a considerable amount of energy.

In summary, energy is critical for our survival.  We need it for movement and work, for temperature regulation and heat, and for metabolism to fuel all the activities of our body needed for the existence of life.

The balance of energy is very delicate and very critical.  Obviously, the amount of energy we use from time to time and day to day varies considerably.  Some days we are doing a considerable amount of work and carrying heavy loads, walking long distances for long durations, while on other days our activities may be drastically reduced.  Similarly, we may be in a very cold environment requiring a great deal of heat energy an on other days require very little energy for heat maintenance.  Therefore, the amount of energy you use from day to day varies considerably.

What happens if we take in more energy through eating than we use up?  What happens if our input is greater than our output?  You gain weight.  When energy input exceeds energy output, the energy can be stored in the form of fat and our metabolism shifts to produce more fat and stores it.  Consequently, there is a net weight gain.

What happens if we take in less energy through eating than we use up?  You lose weight.  When your body requires more energy than can be obtained through input by eating, the energy that is stored in the form of fat is then converted and used to meet the body’s needs.  In more extreme cases or with extremely rapid changes, energy can be obtained from other tissue types including protein as well.  This can have detrimental effects on your body.

Weight, therefore, is simply an index of how well the balance of energy is being maintained – whether input is balancing output.  If you use up more than you take in, you lose weight; if you take in more than you use up, you gain weight.  It is as simple as that.

Most people know this.  But do they realize how delicate the balance is?  The balance is so delicate that if you took in only 1% more energy than you used up, you would probably gain over 50lbs in a year!

In summary, it is quite clear that the balance needed for the existence of life is extremely ‘delicate’ and that the control of this balance is simply too important to be left to conscious control.  To think that humans regulate their weight and their food intake by consciously thinking about it and making calculated decisions, is simply absurd.  It is important to keep these things in perspective.

In Part III of this series, we will look at the extremely complex internal mechanism that regulates our eating behaviour.


[1] Gross, C. G. (1998, September). Claude Bernard and the constancy of the internal environment.  Neuroscientist, 4(5): 380-385.  DOI: 10.1177/107385849800400520


I’m sure we have all had those moments of craving something sweet or salty or savoury.  It feels like nothing would pleasure us more than satisfying that urge to indulge in what we may be craving in that moment.  Whether it’s a reward, a treat for ourselves, or a way of coping when we may be feeling stressed or down, it’s often quite a powerful sensation and urge that may at times be difficult to simply ignore.

The problem with cravings is if we buy into them too often, they can take over our daily diet.  The more we engage in those cravings, the more likely you are to find that you start to gain weight, realize you aren’t eating the nutritious diet you should be, and then secondary problems with mood, like guilt or shame, may arise.

Due to mindfulness’ popularity and our curiosity about the benefits it can provide, it did not surprise me to find that research has been undertaken to see the advantages it can provide to many areas of our life, including eating.  Through my own research I have found information relating to the benefits of mindfulness in not only effectively reducing food cravings, but also helping to lose weight and find space from troublesome thoughts.

“The results showed that participants in the experimental group reported significantly lower cravings for food after the intervention compared to the control group.  The findings are discussed in terms of possible mechanisms like prevention of goal frustration, disengagement of obsessive thinking and reduction of automatic relations between urge and reaction” (Alberts et al., 2010).

Check out this full article, to see all the details about what researchers have to say about using mindfulness to decrease food cravings.

Because of our expertise in Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), as you may have noticed from previous posts, we have created an ACT for Mindful Eating course to help you work through eating related challenges, including cravings!  For more information about our ACT for Mindful Eating course that starts this September, please contact Michelle Urbanc at 905-317-8890 or by email at today!


Alberts, H. et al.  (2010, March 23).  Coping with food cravings.  Investigating the potential of a mindfulness-based intervention.  Appetite, 2010 (199). DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.05.044


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that uses a combination of strategies to foster psychological flexibility including, mindfulness, acceptance, commitment, and behaviour change.  Rather than the focus being on ridding oneself of ‘negative’ internal or external content (i.e. thoughts, feelings, emotions, pain), ACT focuses on inviting individuals to be open to experiencing all that life has to offer us, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and to learn how to move towards the people and things that are meaningful to us, particularly in the presence of challenges.

The way we see ACT is not only as a type of therapy used in a wide variety of clinical settings for a wide range of clinical diagnoses, but also as a way of life, that each of us at OHS have adopted.  Our work at OHS is broad and so using a type of therapy that is also very broad is quite fitting.  We have been able to incorporate components of ACT into each and every one of our services, and have seen plenty of success in doing so.

In September 2017, we will be launching our ACT for Mindful Eating course which uses components of ACT to address the challenges and barriers that typically come into play in other weight loss initiatives (i.e. dieting, counting calories, restricting).  In preparation for the launch of our course we have been exploring what researchers studying ACT’s role on weight control and eating behaviour have discovered.  We came across research that revealed that ACT has shown favourable outcomes for long-term weight control outcomes.

“At 3-month follow-up, ACT participants had lost an additional 1.6% of their body weight, whereas the control group gained .3% and overall a significantly higher proportion of the ACT participants had maintained or lost weight.  The ACT group also showed significant improvements in quality of life and reductions in psychological distress and self-stigma” (Lillis et al., 2009).

Check out this full article, to see what these researchers have to say about using ACT independently or in combination with Standard Behavioural Treatment for weight control:

For more information about our ACT for Mindful Eating course please contact Michelle Urbanc at 905-317-8890 or by email at


Lillis, J. and Kendra, K. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for weight control: Model, evidence, and future directions. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3(1), 1–7


Statistics Canada says close to a third of Canadian kids under 17 are overweight or obese.  The rising prevalence of overweight and obesity in several countries has been described as a global pandemic.  In 2010, overweight and obesity were estimated to cause 3.4 million deaths, 4% of years of life lost, and 4% of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) worldwide.  Data from studies in the USA have suggested that, unabated, the rise in obesity could lead to future falls in life expectancy.  Concern about the health risks associated with rising obesity has become nearly universal; member states of WHO introduced a voluntary target to stop the rise in obesity by 2025, and widespread calls have been made for regular monitoring of changes in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in all populations[1].body-image

It is more apparent than ever that losing weight is not an achievable goal for the majority of people.  As incredible as it sounds, that’s what the evidence is showing.  For psychologist Traci Mann, who has spent 20 years running an eating lab at the University of Minnesota, the evidence is clear.  “It couldn’t be easier to see”, she says; “long-term weight loss happens to only the smallest minority of people”.  Traci Mann’s research on long term weight loss shows that on average, dieters only maintain a 1 kilogram weight loss over two years.

One solution would be to prevent weight gain in the first place.  “An appropriate rebalancing of the primal needs of humans with food availability is essential”, University of Oxford epidemiologist Klim McPherson wrote in The Lancet[2].  But to do that, he suggested, “would entail curtailing many aspects of production and marketing for food industries”.  As necessary as this may be, it is certainly not a “quick fix” solution.

Have you ever dieted?  Did you lose weight?  Did you gain it back?  Why are we obsessed about doing something that has been proven over and over again to not work?  There is an alternate approach, and believe it or not, it has been around for at least 35 years.

The SHAPE (Strategies for Healthful and Pleasurable Eating) Eating Control Program was developed by Dr. Arthur Cott and his colleagues at the Behavioural Medicine Unit (BMU), St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, in the early 1980’s.  Dr. Cott’s approach utilized the scientific evidence in the learning theory literature to design a comprehensive educational program for individuals who felt fat, wanted to lose weight and were fed up with the numerous diets, both mainstream and fad, that they had unsuccessfully endured.  I was privileged to be one of those who worked with Dr. Cott and would like to share his wisdom with you.

The SHAPE Program was a 24 week course that combined both lectures and small group tutorials.  The students in the course ranged in age from 16 years to 70 years.  Both males and females paid a hefty registration fee to attend this course which was taught at locations in Hamilton, Toronto, Kitchener and St. Catharines over a 10 year period.  The lectures were delivered by Psychologists from the BMU, including Dr. Arthur Cott, Dr. Harvey Anchel and Dr. Richard Marlin.  The tutorials were led by Behavioural Therapists who had been trained and

specialized in the application of cognitive behavioural therapy for chronic somatic and mental health conditions as well as behavioural issues, such as eating control.  Again, I was fortunate to have been a tutorial leader and eventually, the Manager of the SHAPE Program.

weight-loss-weight-gain-signRecently, I decided to investigate the current scientific literature regarding behavioural approaches to eating control and weight regulation.  I discovered the work of Dr. Brian Wansink, (Ph.D. Stanford 1990) who is the John Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University, where he directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.  He is the lead author of over 100 academic articles and books on eating behaviour.  Kelly D. Brownell, Yale University, has hailed Dr. Wansink as “the Sherlock Holmes of food”.

Clearly, Dr. Brownell had never met Dr. Cott.  I very quickly discovered that Dr. Cott’s approach from 35 years ago is just as relevant today as it was back then.  I had always believed that this approach was remarkable in its interpretation and implementation of science.  Now I know that it has survived the test of time.  Dr. Cott’s approach was truly ahead of its time.

At one point, the SHAPE program was featured in one of our Canadian magazines which resulted in an overwhelming response from readers across Canada who wanted to participate in the program.  To meet this need, those of us at the BMU at the time, made a decision to develop a “correspondence course” version of the program.  Being the pack rat that I am, I am extremely fortunate to have a copy of the course content developed by the BMU and I would like to start sharing it with you now.  This is the first of a 4 part series (check out our blog each week to find the rest!).


Believe it or not, even though many people think they have a weight problem, weight is not really the problem.  Look at the following examples.  All of these people thought they had a weight problem.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Maryanne is a 41-year old, full-time health care professional, married with 2 school-age children.  She’s been fat and she’s been skinny.  She has waged a constant battle over the last 10 years in her attempts to control her body weight.  She has tried low-fat diets, low-carb diets and counting calories.  Maryanne has struggled with frustration from Scarsdale to Pritikin to Beverly Hills Diets.  Some of them worked… for a while.  “I lost 44 lbs in 6 weeks and I’ve put it all back on” comments Maryanne.

Bill is 48 years old, married with 3 grown children, all of whom are living away from home.  The nature of his occupation, a senior manager in the steel industry, requires him to make several business trips a year and to attend numerous business functions, usually all associated with eating.  The impetus for Bill to do something about his weight had come from his family physician who had been treating him for the past year for elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  Bill had been monitored for 12 months as he attempted to stay on a prescribed diet, which included very few of his favourite foods.  Bill was discouraged and fed up with the ‘diet’, but still concerned about potentially serious health problems.

Elizabeth had dieted for at least 25 of her 30 years, attending every kind of group dedicated to losing weight.  She knows she’s fat while others claim she’s skinny.  She claims to have lost “at least 1000 lbs” and spent hundreds of dollars on diets.  For the past 2 years she has successfully maintained her weight at 120 lbs.  At 5’3” tall, Elizabeth appears to be a ‘normal weight’ person.  Elizabeth describes herself as ‘fat’.  She believes that her primary goal is to lose weight and listed her ideal weight as 110 lbs.

Each of these three people has one or more of the following problems:

  • “I feel fat!”
  • “I just look at banana splits and donuts and gain weight”
  • “I am always hungry”
  • “eating desserts makes me feel guilty, but when I don’t, I feel deprived”
  • “nothing seems to fit”
  • “I must be addicted to food. Once I start eating peanuts, I can’t stop”
  • “I’m always on a diet”
  • “whenever I’m on a diet, my family loses weight”
  • “going to the beach means wearing sweat pants and t-shirts, never a bathing suit or shorts”

The question is, what do any of these problems have to do with weight?  The answer is NOTHING!  Weight is not the problem.  Weight is simply the result or outcome of the problem.  The problem is lack of control of eating.  Your eating is controlling you – you are not in control of your eating.

Many of us complain of feeling guilty after eating certain kinds of foods.  Questions such as “should you be eating that?” or “is that in your diet?” are frequently heard as family members comment on what we are about to eat.  Some individuals report that the guilty feelings are so strong that they avoid eating in public as much as possible.  Instead, they consume large quantities of their favourite foods when they can be certain of no interruptions.

A second characteristic frequently demonstrated by people with eating problems, especially the constant dieter, is that of deprivation.  While everyone else is enjoying steak with béarnaise sauce, baked potato with sour cream and apple pie a la mode, the dieter is suffering with a tossed salad and no dressing, broiled fish and water.  Feelings of “why me?” and “it’s not fair” often result in secretive snacking.  Many of us have a long list of “forbidden fruits” or list of foods which we believe we should not eat.

It is not unusual for individuals to provide the following reasons for their inability to control their eating:

  • “I have no willpower”
  • “I’m weak willed”
  • “my mother made me clean my plate when I was a child”

We often feel miserable as a result.

None of these problems are related to weight alone.  Losing weight is not the solution.  Even after losing weight, guilt, deprivation and misery can persist.  The solution is to acquire the skills to control when you start eating and when you stop eating.

Control of eating is not always the entire solution to an eating problem.  Quite frequently, there is a second component which must be addressed and that is the problem of “feeling fat” or body image.  Body image problems result when an individual’s perception of their size is discrepant with their actual size.  In other words, the individual feels fat even though they are not fat.  For example, friends and family frequently tell them that they “don’t need to worry about their weight”, however, they continue to feel fat.

Individuals with ‘fat body image’ problems demonstrate behaviours such as:

  • Asking their spouse “does this look fat on me?”
  • Checking every mirror or plate glass window to make sure that their ‘fat spot’ is tucked in or covered up
  • Standing in the back row to get their photo taken
  • Wearing sweat pants and shirt to the beach
  • Avoiding gyms, reunions, and exercise

Weight loss alone is not the solution to a body image problem.  In fact, it can make the problem worse as the discrepancy between the size a person perceives themselves to be and their actual size becomes larger.  Once a body image problem has been identified, it is necessary for the individual to start behaving “thin”, thus leading them to “think thin” and eventually to “feel thin”.

Most people who say they have ‘weight problems’ usually have some concerns about their willpower or lack of it.  They are often accused by other people of lacking willpower.  They are often scolded by others for not using it.  What we know is that the control of eating is far too important to be left to willpower and conscious control and far too complex.

In Part II of this series, we will start by looking at what it is that starts and stops us from eating – the determinants of eating behaviour – and why it is that we have to eat in the first place.  We will discover that “the real problem” has nothing to do with willpower.


[1] Ng, Marie et al.  (2014, May 28).  Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.  The Lancet, 384 (9945), 766 – 781.  DOI:

[2] McPherson, Klim.  (2014, May 28).  Reducing the global prevalence of overweight and obesity.  The Lancet, 384 (9945), 728 – 730.  DOI:




Binge eating.  If you are or every have been a binge eater, I’m sure that simply reading the phrase elicits different feelings inside of you.  And if you’ve struggled with binge eating, I’m sure you’ve also tried many different diet and self-talk strategies to try and curb your eating; “My diet is going to start tomorrow”, “I need to get my money’s worth from this buffet!”, “Five more cookies and I’m done!” Sound familiar?  I could probably write a 15 page essay on all of the things I’ve ever said and done to curb my eating habits!

The problem with binge eating is that it doesn’t just end with food.  Researchers Hannah Woolhouse, Ann Knowles and Naomi Crafti (2012) explain that women who binge eat have an increased likelihood that they will suffer from low self-esteem, poor body image, interpersonal problems, depression and anxiety.  What their research and many others reveal, is that if we have a complicated relationship with our eating habits, we often have a complicated relationship with ourselves as well.


Woolhouse, Knowles and Crafti were interested in determining if mindfulness (the practice of being present or aware of what’s happening, free from judgement) could help women in controlling their binge eating habits.  They conducted a study where 30 women (ages 18-52) who regularly binge eat participated in a Mindful Eating Group (MEG) for 3 hours a day, for 10 weeks (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).  The women participated in mindfulness practice (such as formal and informal meditation and mindful or attentional eating), as well as CBT elements (including meal planning and food monitoring) (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).

A 3 month follow-up at the conclusion of the program found that participants who reported binge eating twice a week or more dropped from 80% to 14% (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 328).  Of all of the mindfulness practices introduced, mindful eating was reported to have the biggest impact on their habits, including slowing down chewing, paying attention to flavours and stomach fullness, and likes and dislikes of “binge foods” (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 329, 331).  There were also significant improvements in over-eating and dieting behaviours, and body image dissatisfaction (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).

The takeaway is that mindfulness has the potential to transform our relationship with food as well as with ourselves.  Improving our relationship with both food and ourselves can improve our eating habits and our overall mental health.  While more research is needed in regards to mindfulness-based intervention, early research shows that this growing practice is worth giving it a shot.

If you’re looking for some simple ways to become more mindful while eating, check out our “Tip Tuesdays” on Twitter @JMAssociatesInc, or on Instagram @odysseyhealthservices.  If you’re interested in learning more about identifying unhelpful eating patterns, body image and more comprehensive mindfulness strategies, enroll in our evidence-based mindful eating program (ACT for Mindful Eating) by sending us an email at


Reference: Woolhouse, H., Knowles, A. & Crafti, N.  (2012).  Adding Mindfulness to CBT Programs for Binge Eating: A Mixed-Methods Evaluation, Eating Disorders, 20:4, 321-339, DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2012.691791



I’m willing to bet that you’re here reading this because you are, or have at some time, tried to lose weight.  I’m also willing to bet that you’re well aware of information about which foods are “healthy”, that you should probably exercise more, and that you may need to eat less.  Weight loss, diets, and information on how to be “healthy” are all around us, but with so much information out there, what are we to believe?  We have all of this information flooding our computer screens and cell phones constantly, so why can’t we lose weight?  According to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the answer to this question lies in our behaviour as well as the way that we think about food and our emotions.


Dr. JoAnne Dahl, Ph.D., hosts an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) podcast, ACT: Taking Hurt to Hope, in which she delves into many different topics and difficulties that individuals face in their lives, and talks about how we can understand these difficulties from an ACT perspective.  In particular, Dr. Dahl explores the mechanisms underlying why we do what we do, and attempts to help us understand how we can alter our behaviour and our thinking in order to change that.

Dr. Dahl has four podcast episodes that cover the topic of eating behaviour and weight loss:

  1. Hope for weight strugglers: In this episode, Dr. Dahl speaks with Dr. Jason Lillis, a psychologist at Brown University, about the role of self-compassion in your journey to lose weight.
  2. Struggling with Emotional Eating: Feeding [or starving] your Feelings: Dahl teams up with Dr. Emmett Bishop from an eating disorder clinic in Colorado to discuss the mechanisms behind why we eat ‘junk’ food even when we know it will cause us to gain weight, and why people who suffer from eating disorders have such a difficult time changing their behaviour.
  3. Struggling with Choices: Eating Problems: Dahl, along with Dr. Joseph Ciarrochi of the University of Western Sydney in Australia, discuss the effects of unhealthy weight control behaviours, advertising, and more on the obesity rates of today’s children.
  4. New ACT book The Diet Trap: Dahl speaks about her book, The Diet Trap, and why this book is different from most books related to dieting and weight loss. The Diet Trap focuses on the emotional aspects of eating and why we turn to food for comfort, as well as how to change this.

To listen to any of the above episodes, simply click on the episode title and listen for FREE.  I would also strongly recommend listening to other episodes of the podcast, as the concepts in ACT that are introduced in the context of eating and weight issues can also be applied to other aspects of our lives.  Click here to access the main page and browse Dr. Dahl’s many podcast episodes.



Imagine this scene – you just left the dinner table and are headed for the TV room.  No sooner do you sit down than you feel an “urge to eat”.  You wander into the kitchen and search your cupboards, fridge and freezer hoping that you will encounter something that you feel like eating and not just boring fruits and veggies.  You wander back to the TV room with chips or ice cream or cookies or………….  And then you hear those words – “Didn’t you JUST eat?”

Many of us have had this experience and have probably even wondered “how could I possibly feel hungry so soon after eating?”  The answer is quite simple.  You were NOT hungry.  Instead you had an URGE TO EAT.  The triggers for an urge to eat are not internal but external.  They exist in your environment at home, at work, at the restaurant, at the cottage – in fact, everywhere that you eat.  Dr. Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, refers to this as the “See-Food Diet” – you eat what you see.


Wansink’s premise is to re-engineer our environment and eating habits so that we can eat enjoyably and mindfully without guilt and weight gain.  His mantra is: the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.  This is good news because you can actually make some very small, easy changes that will result in you eating and weighing less in the future.  You can make changes that will help protect you against mindless eating.

Here are 10 simple changes for you to try in your home.

  1. You are likely to eat what you can see. Clear your kitchen counter of snacks, cereal boxes, pop, etc.
  2. We tend to eat more in cluttered, chaotic kitchens. Spend some time decluttering your kitchen and moving things out of sight.
  3. When you open the fridge door you are most likely to choose something to eat from the top or middle shelf. Use your crisper bins to store the foods that you find most appealing and move the fruits and veggies to the top shelf.
  4. When you eat in many locations in your home such as the dining room, the kitchen, the bedroom, the den, the office, etc., you “condition” yourself to have an urge to eat in all of those locations. Establish one place in your home where ALL of your eating will take place.  You can eat what you want, but it must be in that location.
  5. The larger the plate, the more you will eat. Swap your 14 inch plates for a 10 or 12 inch plate and you will eat less and lose weight.
  6. When you buy groceries in bulk, you will eat most of it in the first week and then less from that point on. Either buy smaller portions, even if the cost is slightly higher, or repackage foods when you get home from the store and put them in a less accessible place.
  7. The more hassle it is to eat, the less we eat. Store the foods that tempt you the most in locations that require more effort for you to access such as a room in the basement or a fridge in the garage.
  8. When food is served from bowls sitting on the dining table, we eat more. Serve your plate at the kitchen counter.  Even better, store the leftover food in the fridge before you sit down to eat.
  9. Wrap leftovers in tinfoil rather than transparent wrap. No see – no eat!!!
  10. Change “eating scripts” from weight gain scripts to weight loss scripts: re-script dinner – start last, pace with the slowest eater, leave some food on your plate, decide how much to eat before the meal.

Practice the Power of Three:  Choose 3 easy changes that you can mindlessly make, without a lot of sacrifice.  If you choose 3 ways to save 100 calories per day, you can lose 30 pounds this year, and develop healthy diet habits.



Do you feel as though your clothes just don’t fit the way you would like them to?  Do you feel anxious about the upcoming summer months and losing the layers of winter clothing?  Do you feel like the battle to lose weight and feel great is an endless one?  Well, you’re not alone.

‘Do you feel fat?’ is an abrupt question and may be intimidating  for many to answer, but the reality is that it is, in fact, how many of us are already feeling, and the majority of us would respond ‘yes’.  I felt a bit apprehensive in using this very question as the title of my blog and the tagline of our advertising campaign for the month, but throughout my research for this blog, I came to learn that the fact of the matter is that asking people this question is really just getting to the point and not ‘avoiding the elephant in the room’, so to speak.  This trend is not surprising given the media’s influence on people’s perception of what is considered to be ‘fat’.  Responding affirmatively to this question does not necessarily mean that our weight or body mass index (BMI) falls within a category that is considered to be overweight or obese, nor would it confirm without a doubt that our body shape or size is posing any risk to our health.  I am not saying that feeling fat never equals being fat, but I am saying that the former can, and most definitely does in many cases, exist without the latter.

I was interested in collecting some numbers so that I could really see if what I thought was happening was really happening – if many people felt fat and were dissatisfied with their body.  I anonymously surveyed 100 people of varying characteristics, ages, genders, and cultures.  I asked them a series of questions, which were as follows:


The results were what I had expected, yet for some reason I was still surprised by what I saw.

I know that a lot of people feel fat, and I know that many are dissatisfied with their body, but seeing the numbers really drove the point home – people’s undesirable body image, whether justified or not, is a real problem.


Click here to see a bigger image:  do-you-feel-fat-surevy-results

As you can see in the graph above, the majority of people we surveyed feel fat, are not satisfied with their body, have tried dieting, would like to lose weight, compare their bodies to others, and are unhappy with the number on the scale.  Surprisingly, many even said that others would not agree with their perception of their shape and size, suggesting that this may be a group of individuals who feel fat, but perhaps would not necessarily meet the true criteria for being fat or may not be seen as fat by othersLet’s face it – we are typically our own worst enemy and toughest critic!

There are a number of assumptions we can make when analyzing these results.  Here are a few assumptions that I have made based on these results, but there are definitely still other angles that can be taken.

  • Many people are in fact overweight: It is known that overweight and obesity is a real problem in the current world, and perhaps the reason that many confirmed that they feel fat, are unhappy with the number on the scale, and are dissatisfied with their body, is because they are, in fact, overweight or obese.  Again, this is just an assumption we can make since we did not ask any information in our survey about weight classification or BMI.  Statistics Canada reported that in 2014, 61.8% of Canadian men and 46.2% of Canadian women were said to be overweight or obese based on their BMI classification (The Huffington Post, 2015).  If being overweight or obese is where the problem lies, then behavioural intervention (i.e. eating behaviour, exercise, education, etc.) is required to prevent weight gain to a level that puts people into these categories.
  • The majority of people have a negative body image: Whether or not individuals fall into the overweight or obese categories, it is evident that body image is a real issue that needs to be addressed.  The Canadian Women’s Health Network supports this point as it reports that 80% to 90% of women and girls in Canada are unhappy with the way they look (CWHN, 2012).  Women are not the only ones dealing with body image issues as many people may think.  The Guardian reported that more than 81% of men talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women (The Guardian, 2012).  The study also found that 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.  If body image is where the problem lies, then psychological intervention is needed to help individuals maintain a positive perception of their size and shape – a positive body image.
  • The media and cultural trends have influenced unrealistic and likely unhealthy perceptions of what is considered to be an attractive body shape and size: If we look back over the years, the ‘perfect’ body shape and size has changed drastically, and what may have been considered ‘attractive’ or ‘desirable’ decades ago, would now be considered ‘fat’, ‘unattractive’, or ‘undesirable’.  This video shared by BuzzFeedVideos in 2015 shows the ideal body types over time:  The media’s view of ‘the perfect body’ is not static and so why should we keep trying to chase it, rather than learning to love the body we have, as long as we are doing what is needed to keep it healthy.  If you feel fat, consider how much the media is playing into that feeling.  If the media and its strong influence over our perceptions is where the problem lies, then educational intervention is needed to help individuals understand that different body shapes, types, and sizes exist, and that striving to be something we are not can cause more harm than good.

There are indeed other interpretations or conclusions we can make based on the results of our mini study’s results, however, there seems to be one overarching issue that needs to be addressed, regardless of the root of the problem – people feel fat, are unhappy with their bodies, and are looking for solutions.  If people continue to feel fat, a chain reaction of other problems can begin.

Some studies, including one done in 2012 by The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, found that thinking you are fat or feeling fat can actually lead to you becoming fat.  They identified a number of reasons supporting why this may happen, such as the psychosocial stress of trying to achieve the ‘ideal body type’, skipping meals, and ‘yo-yoing’ on and off unsustainable diets.  Other studies, including a body image study done by researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital, and Brown Medical School, have looked at the effect of having a negative body image on psychological health.  This study and others like it have concluded that adolescents with negative body image concerns are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal than those without intense dissatisfaction over their appearance, even when compared to adolescents with other psychiatric illnesses.  They also found that in addition to higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidality, patients with shape/weight preoccupations expressed higher levels of dissociation (a coping style characterized by blocking out emotions), sexual preoccupation/distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that the majority of the adolescents in the study were not actually overweight.  This suggests that weight may not be the problem, but rather the perceptions that individuals have of themselves, whether or not they are in fact overweight.

At Odyssey Health Services Inc. we understand this issue, and have developed an effective psychological, educational, and behavioural solution.  Our approach to this issue may be different than others and may be new to many people, but it is supported by the scientific evidence, and we encourage it with confidence.  It allows us to tackle all of the issues that have been researched around ‘’feeling fat’’, including the true need to lose weight, the need for proper education around eating behaviours and perceptions of ‘the perfect body’ and psychological strategies around acceptance, engagement in life regardless of how you feel, and coping with challenges or barriers along the way.

Our solution is ACT for Mindful Eating.  This 10-session course begins in September of 2017.  Students will learn to approach all of their behaviours more mindfully, from grocery shopping to food preparation to eating in restaurants and at work, and to maintaining a risk free eating environment in the home.  Mindful Eating helps us to better understand, appreciate and, when needed, change our relationship with food.  Mindfulness helps us to foster a non-judgemental acceptance of things as they are in the present moment (i.e. our current body shape and size), notice what can and cannot be changed, move towards what is meaningful to us, and to continue along that very path regardless of the ‘stuff’ that interferes or may try to stop us on our way.

We can quite reasonably assume that many of you reading this will have felt fat at some point, may feel fat right now, or may know someone that feels fat, and we can help.  Please feel free to get in touch with us if you are interested in hearing more about what we can do for you.










small-shortsIt has been a LONG winter and now the sun is shining and you want to enjoy the outdoors.  You pull out your favourite pair of shorts and pull them on.  What the heck!!!!!!  WHO SHRUNK MY SHORTS?  Don’t worry, you are not alone!  You may ask yourself whether your partner washed them in hot water or you may wonder if these shorts belong to your skinny sister.  But deep down inside, you know that it is not the shorts that shrunk, but you who has grown bigger.

Now, if the answer to how you gained the weight isn’t immediately apparent, it could be due to something called the “mindless margin”.  There are many cues in our environment that lead us to overeat and for most of us they impact our eating without us even knowing about it.  And it doesn’t take much extra eating to pile on the pounds.  Did you know that eating just 3 jelly beans a day for a year is enough extra calories to result in a 1 pound weight gain?  That “mindless margin” is only 10 extra calories a day.  If you eat way too much, you know it, and if you eat too little, you can tell.  However, eating even 100 extra calories more or less in a day is not noticeable and is significant when it comes to your weight.  But 100 calories a day equals 10 pounds in a year!!!!


 So every time that you eat every last bite of your dinner, even though you were already full half way through; eating half of that cookie still sitting on the pan as you walk by the kitchen; eating the few bites that your child leaves on their plate – This is the “mindless margin”.  In all of the above instances, it’s not that you were consuming the extra calories because you needed them – you weren’t even hungry!  And if you had resisted them, you would never have missed them.  In each case, you may have just ‘slightly overeaten’, but the price you end up paying for this is high.

So what is the solution?  Being more mindful about our eating is one answer, and you can check out our previously posted blog (Who Stole My Chips?) for tips about how to do this.  But a safer response may be to change your everyday eating environment to protect you from the “mindless margin”.  Use a smaller plate or glass, sit further away from the buffet table, move the candy dish off your desk at work.  All of these have been proven – scientifically – to result in less eating.

You can learn how to do this and a whole lot more by registering for our eating control course titled ACT for ME starting in September 2017.



Source – Brian Wansink.  (2006).  Mindless Eating.

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