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Well apparently I fooled someone into believing I know something about weight loss, because I recently received a request to review a new book on childhood obesity. Since I don’t make any money off of blogging, I don’t think I have to mention this, but obviously the publicist GAVE me a copy of the book, called “Overweight: What Kids Say”. I actually had them send it to my work address because it’s a topic we care a lot about there (I work at a non-profit health center).
My first thought upon receiving the book and materials was to dismiss it, because of the packaging. I can’t help it, I’m in marketing. Really unprofessional-looking, self-published books with hideous fonts (comic sans serif !?!) just BUG me. I mean, it may not look like it, but I actually paid someone to design my blog so it would look reasonably professional. Impressions matter, after all.
But, darnit,the old saying is true. You can’t judge a book by its cover. Or its inappropriate font usage.
The bottom line is this, the author reviewed comments from thousands of teenagers over the course of a decade who visited a website where they could talk about obesity. I’m thinking that working with teens must have influenced the kind of typeface, graphics, and writing they used.
Not that that’s a bad thing. As Seinfeld would say.
The beauty of it was that they moderated subject content so as to eliminate (what I would call) the “mean girl syndrome.” If kids posted scary, dangerous or hurtful words the comments were deleted. This created a venue where kids could come anonymously with all their fears and challenges and talk about them openly. They also ensured that only kids who were truly overweight could participate by asking them to self report their height, current weight and goal weight. So it’s a place where kids can have at least some assurance that they are not being judged or made outcasts.
There’s nothing terrifically suprising to me in the findings, but I think they’re valuable anyway. As anyone who’s ever attended a Weight Watchers meeting will know, weight gain happens due to an energy imbalance, but it’s not enough just to tell people to eat less and move more. Kids already have access to a lot of health information. What causes them to overeat isn’t about lack of self control, it’s about lack of self-esteem.
To me, personally, the most amazing thing that the author hypothesizes is that food behaviors in overweight kids can reasonably be assumed to have an addiction basis. Not just that the foods themselves have addictive qualities, but the consumption of food becomes an uncontrollable BEHAVIOR. Weight Watchers totally needs to address this!
Anyway, here’s a quote:
Most kids hate being fat, yet they struggle to resist cravings for highly processed foods e.g. junk food and fast food, knowing full well that eating those foods will result in additional weight gain and further damage to their lives. Many kids post that their eating is out of control. This is compellingly suggestive that an addictive quality or substance dependence on highly pleasurable foods is a significant cause of the childhood obesity epidemic.
It’s likely simple pleasure, to begin with, which causes kids to overeat. They eat “because the food is there.” But once their brains realize that pain is eased by the pleasure of the food and the stress is relieved by the deplacement activity of eating, even if only for 30 seconds, kids may be driven to continue the behavior, even though they become distressingly overweight or obese because of it. They may become unknowingly ‘hooked’ on using food to comfort themselves and cope with stress. For the majority, this comfort eating appears to be unconscious.
Of course what this does is beg the question — how could we address such unconscious addiction? And the answer isn’t pretty.
What these kids say suggests that in order to break their dependence on highly pleasureable foods, they must go through a ‘withdrawal’ period of intense cravings, antsiness, irritability, even depression - similar to coming off tobacco, alcohol or drugs. Withdrawal is what happens when a substance or behavior, which eases pain, is suddenly removed. It’s the brain’s way of reacting to the jolt. The emotional discomfort of withdrawal may be worse than the emotional discomfort which started the addictive behavior in the first place. this is perhaps why many kids quickly give up on weight loss and go back to overeating again.
This description of withdrawal totally reminds me of how I felt when I joined Weight Watchers in 2002, and quit eating sweets. It also potentially explains why I’m struggling now with getting back on track. If the cure is as unpleasant as all that, is it any wonder we don’t just stop overeating right away?
What do you think?