Food for thought

Freeing yourself from emotional eating

By: Chandrea Serebro

If the last two years have taught us nothing else, it has shown us that keeping healthy is a number one priority. In any era. But what makes it hard in today’s age is the ubiquitous anxiety that informs much of what we do and feel, getting in the way all too often with even the most common daily routines. Whereas in the olden days (whenever that was), man’s survival was literally about putting food on the table and getting through the day intact, in this modern world we pretty much have that down pat, for the most part, but we have opened ourselves up to a whole other can of worms.

If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – widely used in health and social work as a framework for assessing what a person needs to be happy and healthy – our basic physiological needs and safety needs are generally taken care of (which was not so in previous generations – think disease, war, and battle). We now find ourselves enlightened beings, higher up on Maslow’s chart, with the time and space to spend our energies focusing more on ourselves and our personal growth and development. “Love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation are what, according to Maslow’s hierarchy, we find ourselves focussing on today. And when not met, these unfulfilled needs cause great anxiety. This anxiety, rather than external to us as in days gone by, now stems from inside of us,” says Dr. Yardena Bauer, Specialist Endocrine Dietician.

Worry and fear is so prevalent in our lives that we second guess everything, not least our appearance, our weight, and how society perceives us – from a young age. “We are anxious about our weight, so we eat to feel less anxious, and then we feel anxious because we ate.” Today the perception of attractiveness is based on how our bodies look, largely underpinned by a desire to be thin. This is based on culture and society, explains Bauer. Beauty wasn’t and isn’t always about being thin though. For example, African cultures value bigger hips. In the 1950s, curves were the ideal, like Marilyn Monroe. It’s hard for men, and even more so women – particularly younger girls – to keep up with the ever-demanding vision of what society deems beautiful. But what if we put the external appearance aside for a moment, and look at what is going on within? “What if we decide we don’t care how we look on the outside, that it’s only the inside that counts?” asks Bauer.

There are two different pathways in our brains, explains Bauer. Homeostatic eating, which is the drive to eat for survival; and Hedonic eating, which is the joy we get from food. Both of these neurological networks are driven by hormones. “Homeostatic eating is choosing good food options and stopping to eat when we are satiated. Hedonic eating is choosing dessert after a three course Shabbat meal. We know we are not physiologically hungry, but the desire to eat the double-chocolate-caramel-cream-cake will override the hormonal message to stop eating.” And this is largely dictated by our emotional state and our need for satiety, not necessarily physical. Because weight and food are hardly ever about the food alone. There is most often a backstory, born out of a lifetime of experiences, or a childhood trauma, or everyday stress and anxiety. “It is what I like to call our ‘food story’,” says Bauer. “Being a dietician means I understand the science of food and the physiology of how our bodies work. But the food story that we have, each and every one of us, is something we have to unravel together.”

We eat when we are stressed, to change the neurotransmitters in our brain, to shake up the hormonal balance, and it works! There is a real emotional effect which occurs when we eat. “Sugar is one of the easiest ways to soothe the unwanted anxious feelings, without us even knowing it.” And it is a slippery slope from there – once the sugar kicks in, it’s hard to stop eating, and we end up in a cycle of overdoing it, yet it isn’t entirely our fault. Neurotransmitters and hormone activation play a role in what we eat and when. Reigning in is not all about appearances and perceptions, though – there are real health implications of being too large or being too thin. Being underweight leads to vitamin deficiencies, dry skin, hair loss, moodiness, and bone loss. Being overweight puts you at risk of heart problems, stroke, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. The weight balance is a real struggle, says Bauer. “When we understand how sugar works on the brain and hormones, we can be less hard on ourselves. Instead of living in shame over what we ate to keep us calm, we can learn different tools to help us manage our anxieties. The reason your best friend lost weight on the same diet as you is not your fault. It’s probably a delicate mix of your hormones, your food story, and your mood.”

“We don’t experience our emotions in isolation. All our emotions go somewhere. Our bodies go through all the emotional trauma that we undergo as well, and this trauma finds its way somewhere, to an organ in our body, which will hold onto it until we release it. Anxiety settles within us, and where it settles will lead to predispositions to pain, upset, or injury in that area.” Bauer went on a journey to explore various techniques to get at the heart of our body’s connection to food, in order to help her clients unravel their ‘food story’ and how their emotional relationship to food is expressed with hormonal imbalances and the anxieties that we live with on a daily basis and where they lie. And one of these techniques, visceral manipulation, spoke volumes, and is being used to great effect.

Visceral Manipulation is a very gentle, hands-on treatment that manipulates your internal organs and their surrounding tissues which promotes normal organ functioning, says Physiotherapist Liora Leslie. Visceral Manipulation was developed by French Osteopath Jean-Pierre Barral, who linked the postural complaints of his patients with the post-mortem studies and the state of their organs, which led him to develop visceral techniques.

“Every organ (viscera) has its own natural (physiological) movement within the body. Each organ has its own attachment to connective tissues surrounding it – to blood vessels, nerves, and other organs. If there is altered movement of an organ due to a restriction or inflammation, this will cause an impairment on the functioning of the organ and any of its attachments. Infections, direct trauma, repetitive movements, diet, environmental toxins, and emotional stress are some of the factors that can cause restrictions,” says Leslie.

“Visceral Manipulation works on the premise that free movement within the body is vital, and so any restriction will adversely affect health. It evaluates and treats the dynamics of motion and suspension in relation to organs, membranes, fascia, and ligaments. Visceral Manipulation relies on the palpation of normal and abnormal forces within the body, with the specific goal of encouraging normal tone and movements, both within and between the internal organs, their connective tissue, and other structures of the body where normal motion has been impaired. It’s a high precision technique, with minimal force. Light pressure and repetitive movement will be done in different positions, using comfortable, gentle, exact movements over the target area. Through this, therapists can evaluate how abnormal forces interplay, overlap, and affect the normal body forces at work.” says Leslie. Sounds complicated, but it’s basically about narrowing down where the pain or impairment is in the body to help it return to normal function. In doing so, this technique also removes any compensatory symptoms, whatever their source.

“Medicine often fails to treat the whole body and neglects the role that physical and emotional trauma has on our bodies and our minds. There is a new surge of physicians who have connected the dots of how physical and emotional trauma held in people’s systems can create an inflammation in our bodies and brain along with having a detrimental effect on our healing process and immune system.” We experience this with visceral emotional feelings in any of the organs in our bodies. Think of a time you had a bad experience and notice where you have a sensation in your body. Did you eventually have physical symptoms which then cropped up? Then you would benefit from visceral manipulation.

For more information contact Dr Yardena Bauer #NutrimedWellness at

For Visceral Manipulation contact Liora Leslie on 0116400123.

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