Therapy Digest 01

Recent musings, topics and insights on the theme of therapy and self-help from therapist Sally Baker

To Fast or not to Fast – that is the question?

Intermittent fasting (IF) was the shiny new kid on the block of the last couple of years. People in their droves bought the best-selling fasting diet books and tried the most popular 5:2 IF plan of fasting for two days out of seven or alternate days.

Other lengths of intermittent fasting such as skipping breakfast or skipping both breakfast and then lunch are known as 19:5 – signifying nineteen hours of fasting followed by a window of 5hrs to eat one daily meal. Nineteen hours can seem interminably long when hungry and certainly puts the body under a great deal of pressure.

The consensus was even though it could feel challenging to go for extended periods without food it was easier for some people than having to be conscious about the calorie content of every meal.

Fasting’s bubble was burst however by scientists at the recent European Society of Endocrinology’s annual meeting which reported fasting could have damaging side effects.

The research into IF was carried out by a team at Sao Paulo in Brazil. Ana Bonassa who lead the research said: “This is the first study to show that, despite weight loss, intermittent fasting diets may damage the pancreas and affect insulin function in healthy individuals which could lead to diabetes and serious health issues.

Previous research has also shown that short-term fasting can produce free radicals that can cause damage to the body’s cells and possibly increase the risk of cancer.

The team of researchers followed the effects of fasting every other day on normal adult rats over a three month period. It came as no surprise that the rats did lose weight but the amounts of fat tissue in their abdomen increased. Cells in their pancreas that release insulin it was reported was also damaged.

The conclusions from the study suggest further investigation using adult humans is needed to fully explore how people may be affected, particularly those who are pre-diabetic or diagnosed as diabetic.


My Girl Lollipop

Kim Kardashian West faced recent controversy over the paid-for content on her Instagram feed.

She was photographed posing coquettishly with a lollipop in her mouth from manufacturers The Flat Tummy Co lollipops.

It was claimed that the lollipop can be used as an appetite suppressant due to it containing Satiereal, a saffron extract which supposedly activates a neurotransmitter that combats the urge to overeat.

Only a limited scientific study has been undertaken of Satiereal’s effectiveness for weight loss even though it is a growing favourite ingredient in weight loss products.

It involved a mere sixty 60 ‘healthy, mildly overweight women’—half of whom took a twice-daily capsule of Satiereal, while the others received a placebo.

The study found over a two month period that 99 percent of the women in the Satiereal group had ‘significantly greater body weight reduction’ than those in the placebo group.

That study was considered favourable enough to be the foundation on which Kim Kardashian West’s  Flat Tummy Co. created its range of supposedly appetite busting products.

Appetite suppressants have had a chequered history as an aid to weight-loss.

Fashion-conscious ‘It’ girls in the 1960s swore by smoking as an effective way to reduce their appetite. If they felt hungry, they would light a cigarette instead of eating. Early cigarette advertising targeted women’s desire to stay slim by launching specially created cigarettes for the female market.

By the late 60s tobacco giant Philip Morris had launched a brand called Virginia Slims, so named to play on the belief that smoking helped you slim.

Urban legends say zero-size catwalk models who face a constant battle to achieve the tiny body measurements the industry’ demands often suppress their appetite by eating calorie-free cotton wool balls which swell in their stomach to make them feel full or eat only one sliced apple a day. 

You can read the fascinating memoir of a catwalk model in Victoire Dauxerre’s book entitled ‘Size Zero: My Life as a Disappearing Model’ Click to buy it here from Amazon.

Another popular appetite suppressant was marketed with the brand name Ayds (pronounced ‘aids.”) It was an appetite-suppressant toffee-style candy launched in the late-1970s and early 1980s.

By the mid-80s, as public awareness of the disease AIDS increased it caused problems for the brand due to the phonetic similarity of names. It was eventually withdrawn from the market.

The search for the holy grail of effortlessly eating less continues right up to date with tens of brands of exotic teas promising to curb eating or to provide an effective detox. It would seem that none of them currently stand up to scientific scrutiny.

In work Liz and I do with our weight loss clients we find the best way to suppress your appetite at lunchtime is to have had a hearty protein breakfast, and the best way to not over-eat at dinner-time is a protein-rich and satisfying lunch.

It has been shown that your body will continually crave nourishment until you provide it with a balanced and healthy way to eat. Your body will also hold on to every last gram of fat it has if you are constantly yo-yo dieting and restricting your calories which replicates the effects of famine.

We explain this more thoroughly and how to eat for nourishment in our book ‘How to Feel Differently About Food’ from Hammersmith Books Click to buy it here from Amazon.

Breaking Bread together is key to happiness.

The University of Oxford’s Professor of Psychology, Robin Dunbar, led a recent study, which aimed to shine a light on the UK’s mealtimes and how often we eat with others. It found that the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.

Researchers examined the link between social eating and an individual’s happiness, the number of friends they have, their connection to their community, and overall satisfaction with life.

The results suggest that communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of well-being, and enhances one’s sense of contentedness and embedding within the community.

Despite over two-thirds of those questioned recognising that they thought sharing a meal was an excellent way to bring people closer together, the survey shows that many meals in the UK are eaten alone.

The team’s findings concluded that over a third of weekday evening meals are eaten in isolation, and the average adult eats 10 meals out of 21 alone every week. Busy lives and hectic work schedules are the main causes of this solitary dining trend.

Even when living with others, the opportunity to sit down together and enjoy a meal can be rare – almost one-quarter said their routine means they eat their evening meal at a different time to others in their household.

For those over the age of 55, they are most likely to eat alone. Only one in four in this age group said sharing an evening meal with others wasn’t a usual occurrence for them.

Shared meal-times isn’t just about general happiness either.

Stopping eating together is very common amongst couples whose relationship is breaking down. Re-introducing ‘breaking bread’ together is one of the first-steps Liz or I encourage when working with couples who have come into therapy to improve their mutual connection and renew their commitment to each other.

Often one part of a couple will complain more than their partner about the lack of sex in their relationship and express a desire for this to be corrected as soon as possible. This same partner will often view sexual activity as the main barometer of the quality of their relationship.

As therapists, we take the pressure off renewing sexual activity by actually banning any sexual union for 28 days. Couples who haven’t had sex for many, many months find this mildly amusing but the ban encourages incremental steps back towards full intimacy at the rate both partners are comfortable with.

An important marker for recommitment and reconnection begins with shared meal times the approach being that few couples who do not eat together will desire to have sex together.

Continuing with Professor Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford’s Experimental Psychology department, he said: ‘A significant proportion of respondents felt that having a meal together was an important way of making or reinforcing their social networks. In these increasingly fraught times, when community cohesion is ever more important, making time for and joining in communal meals is perhaps the single most important thing we can do – both for our own health and wellbeing and for that of the wider community.’

In another recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association about the recovery rate from heart attacks, the importance of social support was seen as paramount for a positive health outcome. Senior study author Dr Harlan Krumholz, director of the Center of Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, said in a journal news release.

‘We shouldn’t just be concerning ourselves with pills and procedures. We have to pay attention to things like love and friendship and the context of people’s lives. It may be that these efforts to help people connect better with others, particularly after an illness, may have very powerful effects on their recovery and the quality of their lives afterwards,’ Krumholz said.

So if friendship and connection are so important to recovery from major health incidents imagine if breaking bread and sharing a meal is also included while spending time with friends.

It would seem to offer the optimum for well-being as well as recovery and all of us would benefit from sharing meals with friends.

The full paper, ‘Breaking Bread: The Functions of Social Eating’, can be read in the journal Adaptive Human Behaviour and Physiology.

Sweet temptation

A recent article in a Middle Eastern newspaper detailed the daily strategies a woman went through to make sure she didn’t succumb to her self-acclaimed sugar addiction.

According to the article published recently in the Jordan Times, her need to eat sugar is the first thought that enters her mind upon waking and is the last thought she has at night as she judges how ‘good’ she has managed to be that day.

She goes on to describe how many of her daily routines are there to help her avoid her sugar cravings from making sure she drinks plenty of water in the morning through to avoid the temptation of going to the supermarket in case she can’t resist buying sugary treats.

Parties and celebrations are a mine-field for her. How she feels about herself and her self-esteem is wholly tied up with whether or not she fills her plate with the sweet delicacies on offer.

It sounds exhausting!

The idea of sugar as an addiction is disputed amongst many nutritionists and psychologists. It has been discovered that sugar causes responses in the pleasure centres of the brain and because of this, it has led some experts to consider sugar to be addictive. However, some of the very same pleasure centres in the brain also respond to classical music, but no-one complains they’re addicted to Beethoven! 

Russell Brand said in his book ‘Recovery’ about his past addiction to alcohol and heroin, ‘Drugs and alcohol are not my problem. Drugs and alcohol are my solution.’

In a way, I feel the same way about sugar.

Johann Hari in his book ‘Chasing the Scream’ that explores and proposes to debunk the accepted wisdom about addictions said ‘If you are alone, you are vulnerable to addictions.’ It begins to address what I believe is the emotional motivation behind the sugar cravings that some people struggle to overcome.

What if sugar was merely a substitute or a distraction from the real thing you crave?

What if sugar was a convenient way of self-medicating to deal with the frustration and even the pain of not achieving what you truly desire?

In my therapy work with clients and their issues around eating we discover time and time again that it’s never about food or a lack of willpower but something a great deal more profound.

The therapy process is to unfurl those layers of substitution and distraction to find the real triggers to either sugar cravings or other kinds of emotional eating. It is only once those triggers are resolved can a person feel free to eat for nourishment and take their power back from food.

I’ve written a more comprehensive blog post about Sugar Cravings that you can link to here.