The Psychology of Eating – Marc David – HPP 70
It really is convenient for us, in today’s times especially, to freely choose any type of food we want to eat at any given time. It’s quick and easy to order anything and have it delivered to your doorstep, if it’s a given option. While this certainly feeds the appetite more, is it really helping us mentally in a way that’s healthy for us?
Being mindful of what we eat has always been a precaution taught to us from an early age. But will consuming the food we always take comfort in really impact us in a negative way? Or is there something more profound that we are yet to learn behind that? And where does trauma come into play behind all this?
In today’s exciting episode, we explore how food and its relationship with the body affects us emotionally and mentally, ultimately shaping our understanding of our consumption behaviors. We are truly honored to converse with a best-selling author that brought us Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet, and the founder of the Institute For The Psychology Of Eating, Marc David.
The Psychology of Food and Eating: How It All Started – 02:28
“I asked my mom to change my diet. coincidence or not? She did. And my health started to change. So right there, I was bitten with the bug, and the obsession that food had an impact on my body in a profound way. And that led to a profession and led to a noticing at some point in my early 20’s”
Why We Sometimes Struggle with Dieting or Eating Well – 04:40
“if you just control your food amount and your exercise, so right there begins our plunge into the rabbit hole. Because we’re trying to use these things to love ourselves and be better; and from that place of fear and stress, we don’t always make wise choices, and we’re very susceptible to quick fix methods”
The Food and Body Relationship – 09:40
“I think what’s missed is that 97% of the population does not have a clinical eating disorder, but we have a relationship with food that doesn’t get addressed. There’s no bucket to catch us because it’s either eating disorders or budget. And on top of that, because it’s generally, I believe, the males of the universe that have been figuring all these things out and taking the charge”
Finding the Best Diet that Fits – 12:26
“To me, I believe there are as many accurate nutritional systems as there are people on the planet. Yours is the best for you. And if you’re willing to be a nutritional explorer, let’s try this and see what happens. I’m going to try being vegan or vegetarian. I’m going to try paleo. I’m going to try eating more quality food. Let’s see what happens. I love those experiments”
Understanding How Food Affects How We Behave – 16:45
“So if I’m doing something that goes against my best wishes, there’s a reason for it, usually when somebody says, I know what I’m supposed to do, I’m just not doing it. It’s because there’s another voice in us that’s sitting at the head of the table that’s making the decisions”
Discovering Ourselves Through Awareness and Curiosity – 24:06
“Just because somebody is binge eating and they can’t stop, or their emotional eating and they can’t stop, I don’t Look at that person as broken—None of us are broken. We’re on that journey. And we’re rediscovering our wholeness, we’re re-identifying that wholeness”
The Impacts of Trauma On What We Eat – 27:06
“You know, I will especially see evidence of trauma in a subset of human beings who are dealing with weight loss resistance, they could do everything they could exercise their brains out, they could starve themselves, and then lose weight, they can go on a medical fast for 10 days, and eat virtually nothing, and they’ll gain a pound, which supposedly is counter to what science says”
Learning Who We Are Through The Food We Eat – 37:56
“For the average human being what I have found is you can almost keep them on the same kind of foods that they’re eating but if you increase the quality of those foods, so instead of store bought juices you get in fresh organic—all of a sudden, you are increasing the nutrition, you’re increasing the micro nutrition, which is what so many people lack”
The Food and Body Relationship: The Relaxation Response – 43:17
“that’s just how we’re wired. It’s not a fanciful notion. So everything becomes and for the human being, it’s all about how do I create an atmosphere around me and within me that creates the optimum state of digestion assimilation, calorie burning appetite regulation in which to take in this wonderful food I just put on my plate”
Full Episode Transcript
Keith Kurlander, Marc David, Dr. Will Van Derveer
Marc David 00:01
I think our relation with food and the body is teaching us something different. And it’s teaching each one of us in our own way. And so we start there, okay. Your relationship with food is a great teacher. Let’s explore that for you. Okay, oh, wow, I’ve discovered that if I eat a certain way, I feel good. But why don’t I eat that way all the time? Why do I deviate? So there we go into that part of the conversation. Okay, so how do we learn from that?
Keith Kurlander 00:32
Thank you for joining us for the higher practice podcast. I’m Keith Kurlander with Dr. Will Van Derveer. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Welcome back. So I’m pretty excited about today’s episode, we’re really going to explore the psychology of food and eating. And we’re really going to focus today on what happens when we think about eating. Why do we choose the foods that we choose to put into our bodies? What drives up behavior? How does behavioral patterns get entrenched with food that sometimes harm us, and kind of really the really unpacking and untangling just the psychology behind this thing that we have to do all day long in order to get nutrition into our body. So we have an expert on here today on the psychology of eating. You know, there’s a lot of people that have obviously focused on nutrition and food and eating disorders and all that. This person has really focused specifically on what happens in our minds, and our identity. And when we think about food, he also has a very large Institute, called the Institute for the psychology of eating. So Marc David is the founder and primary teacher of the Institute for the psychology of eating. He’s a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in nutritional psychology, and the author of the classic, groundbreaking and best selling books, Nourishing Wisdom and the Slow Down Diet. For over three decades, Marc has been an innovator in eating psychology and nutrition. Let’s welcome Marc to the show. Hey, Mark, welcome to the show.
Marc David 02:23
Keith, thank you. Will, thank you. It’s great to be with you, gentlemen.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 02:27
Great to see you, Marc.
Keith Kurlander 02:28
So Marc, we’re gonna take a deep dive here into the psychology of eating and what comes up for people around that, which is a lot, at least for me, and really just unpacking that. And maybe a good starting place is just to hear a little bit about your journey if you’re up for that around food and why have you spent your career on this topic, and maybe we just start there. How’d you get here?
Marc David 02:55
Great question. I think like so many of us who get into the helping professions, it’s all based on my personal journey and my own needs. I came into this world sickly, asthmatic, immunocompromised, my earliest memories are of almost dying because I couldn’t breathe. And I was born in the days of junk food and TV dinners. And when Velveeta cheese was all popular, and carnation instant breakfast, I don’t think I ate anything natural. And my parents took me from doctor to doctor, nothing worked. And at around the age of five, don’t ask me why or how. I hear this rumor that fruits and vegetables are good for you. I asked my mom to change my diet. coincidence or not? She did. And my health started to change. So right there, I was bitten with the bug, and the obsession that food had an impact on my body in a profound way. And that led to a profession and led to a notice at some point in my early 20s, I was practicing in New York City, on Wall Street. And my clients would come back to me after a week or two, especially my weight loss clients. They would come back and they say, I know what you told me to do, I know what I’m supposed to eat. I just couldn’t do it. And that was the epiphany moment of Oh my goodness. All this knowledge about nutrition does mean nothing unless I understand the mind and the heart and the soul of the eater. So that really got me on the path to eating psychology. That’s sort of the 35 second condensed version.
Keith Kurlander 04:40
What if we kick off here with you know, obviously, we’re in a dieting culture, right? And we’re in a culture where a lot of people are constantly trying, either not trying to manage what they eat or they’re trying to manage what they eat, I think there’s a lot of struggle in just how to eat well with your own body type, and what does that look like and how to stay consistent? I struggle with that a lot, right? Where my fluctuation now is nothing of what it used to be like, but there’s still fluctuation where I’m sort of like, oh, gosh, I know, I don’t feel great the way I’m eating right now. And I kind of have to reel it back in. So I’m just wondering some thoughts on the meta level of like, What’s going on here? Like, what’s all the struggle with dieting and getting off track getting on track? And what if we just start kind of meta?
Marc David 05:30
Yes, human beings, if we’re going to start with meta are interesting creatures on this planet, animals pop out with a very instinctive sense of what to eat. Yes, their parents will teach them, but it’s pretty simple. And their diets will tend to be pretty simple, unless you’re a cockroach, which will eat anything. So, animals have that instinctive nature. You’re not going to see a bunch of cows standing around a field wondering, you know, what should I eat? Or should I be losing weight? Humans need to learn what to eat. And we are born into a complex world, a complex society, where we don’t have agreement, you can get the best nutritional minds in the universe together in one room, and you won’t get agreement. So, I think it’s useful to embrace that we collectively are in the wild west when it comes to our understanding of what nourishes the body. And to me, that’s okay. Because it means we’re discovering, so I think what happens is humans in our journey to figure out well, how do I best nourish myself? Part of that is for health and nutrition. But Keith, you are implying there’s also this place where well, what about my weight? Because when we say dieting, we’re often talking about weight. And there’s this fascinating concept that sort of lands in human beings that goes something like, I am not good enough as I am. I’m not lovable as I am. Now, we can take that to mean how much money I make, how tall I am, how I present myself in the world. Or we can take that to mean, how much I weigh, and what you all think about my body or what I think you think about my body. So, consequently, from that place of I’m not good enough, I’m not lovable as I am, we’re looking to Hmm, how do I be good enough? Well, what I’m told in the media, what I’m told in the images in the movies, in the magazines, and everything is, you know something? You can control how you look, how much you weigh, and therefore your lovability, if you just control your food amount, and your exercise. So right there begins our plunge into the rabbit hole. Because we’re trying to use these things to love ourselves and be better; and from that place of fear and stress, we don’t always make wise choices, and we’re very susceptible to quick fix methods. That’s my quick meta level piece on that.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 08:17
So from the very beginning, there’s this sort of dichotomy between dieting for the purpose of meeting the cultural, what do I look like on Snapchat kind of expectation versus, so to speak, dieting. I’m putting in quotes because it’s sort of like the nutritional intervention, which is a different mentality, or it’s more of a choice around what is going to make my body most healthy.
Marc David 08:43
Yes. And those two will often get confused, because you will have many people walking around, and they will show an interest in fasting. They will show an interest in cleansing. And really, what’s hidden behind that is I got to lose weight. I’m too fat. I got to shrink my body. I got to shrink my belly. And, people will often do that through the guise of health.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 09:11
So, this is a big industry, weight loss.
Marc David 09:16
$500 billion a year worldwide is the current guestimate. And you want to keep that industry going. You know, Weight Watchers, my grandma was doing Weight Watchers back in the 1960s. Notice the term weight watching. You’re just watching your weight. They don’t necessarily want you to lose it. It’s too good of a business.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 09:40
Well, it’s interesting, you know, thinking from the point of view of my own training as a psychiatrist, I tend to think a lot more with the clientele that I’ve had, the patients I’ve served more about the nutritional dimensions of what should this person be eating? What food sensitivities do they have? What’s causing gut inflammation? I haven’t been so much in the eating disorders space; but what you’re saying is really broadening my perspective about the role of self image and self esteem, even way outside the boundaries of what we would traditionally define as an eating disorder.
Marc David 10:16
You know, part of the challenge, Will, is that we have, we, the collective we, the scientific we, the psychological and psychiatric we, we’ve taken eating disorders, we’ve put it into the clinical universe. And eating disorders are really on one level, just the extreme manifestation of a relationship with food that is not serving us, that’s harmful, and that’s kind of bringing us down. Every human being has a relationship with food and body. We all have that. And there are people who don’t have a clinical eating disorder, but who have a relationship with food. I overeat, I binge eat, I emotionally eat, I want to lose five pounds, 10 pounds, that’s not an eating disorder. That’s a relationship between food and body where it is. I think what’s missed is that 97% of the population does not have a clinical eating disorder, but we have a relationship with food that doesn’t get addressed. There’s no bucket to catch us because it’s either eating disorders or budget. And on top of that, because it’s generally, I believe, the males of the universe that have been figuring all these things out and taking the charge, that we often miss that so much of the eating challenges have affected the females, the women, the girls of our culture. Just observationally, a woman, a female, a girl, is far more sensitive to critique about physicality, about beauty, than is a male. Does that mean males don’t have eating challenges and can have an intense relationship with food and body? No. But what I’m saying is we often miss what the feminine psyche is going through around all this. I just happen to be a guy who’s noticed this and became obsessed with it, and just wanted to dive in and do my best to figure out okay, what’s going on? And how do we address this in an honest and truly more holistic way?
Keith Kurlander 12:26
So when you teach Marc, do you teach about like a spectrum of eating that there’s wellness and the opposite of wellness? Or is it not the way you even speak about it?
Marc David 12:37
When I’m thinking about nutrition itself, the science of nutrition, I’m always wanting to create the biggest tent possible. So there’s room under the tent for everybody, I don’t care what you eat. If we really look at it, there is a spectrum of nutrition. Part of the challenge in the nutrition field, is that everybody’s shooting back and forth at each other. For every PhD, there’s an equal and opposite PhD. Drink alcohol, don’t drink alcohol. Determinism is good but determinism is bad. You show me one study, I’ll show you the opposite. And what’s left is most people, most laypeople are nutrition refugees. They’ve read the books, they’ve heard the arguments, they’ve listened to the details, they’ve heard the science on either side, and they don’t know what to believe. My perspective is, it’s all good. It’s all true. And it depends. What’s the right diet? What’s the right nutritional approach for you? Well, it depends on your age, your level of health, your lifestyle, your belief system, what you’re trying to accomplish, your genetics, the season, the environment that you live in, plus your own personal experiment. We keep trying to do a one size fits all approach. The heroic approach, this is the one diet I found it. This is the one diet that’s the healthiest for all humans, or here’s the one weight loss diet that’s the best for all people. And we keep waiting for the nutrition hero. Whereas, I think it is quite different than that. So from a nutrition perspective, once people can relax into their own nutritional journey. To me, I believe there are as many accurate nutritional systems as there are people on the planet. Yours is the best for you. And if you’re willing to be a nutritional explorer, let’s try this and see what happens. I’m going to try being vegan or vegetarian. I’m going to try paleo. I’m going to try eating more quality food. Let’s see what happens. I love those experiments.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 14:46
So, sort of more teaching people to re-establish a conscious relationship with their embodied experience, their physicality, how they respond to these experiments, for example. Is that what you’re talking about?
Marc David 15:01
Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s empowering. Because then you can see for yourself what works. Because most people who are really interested in nutrition, they’ve read so much. And they’re oftentimes still confused. And they’re still uncertain because they’re looking for certainty in a world that doesn’t really grant us certainty. You and I can do everything that’s great for our health, we know a lot. But that doesn’t guarantee we’re not going to die in a week, we don’t know. So we do fight and we listen to the body, and we gather data and information of what feels good, my own lived experience.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 15:45
Right. It’s sort of like, to me, it’s an extension of the remark by Nietzsche, 100 years ago that God is dead, like, you’re not going to get information from the US RDA pyramid from the 1970s that’s actually helpful for you personally. For some people, maybe the minority of people having that big of a carb load in their diet is going to be okay for them. But as a one size fits all, for probably most people, that’s actually not going to work. So, this sort of notion that we have to take, we have to be activists and take our own health into our own hands and educate ourselves and empower ourselves.
Marc David 16:21
It’s an empowering notion. To think, Oh, I have a say in this. And I can discover things about my body that nobody else knows. You’re the expert on your body. You can go to the best nutritionist in the world. And at the end of the day, I’m interested in what you have to say about your lived experience and your own nutritional experiments and what happens.
Keith Kurlander 16:45
Right. What’s kind of your philosophy? I’m working with people who are struggling in that process of exploration right? They’ve come to the conclusion that Okay, I know a lot of things that I feel really good when I do, nutritionally. And I know a lot of things that I don’t feel good when I eat this way, nutritionally. And there’s just that struggle, right? That it doesn’t get very consistent over time. And how do you frame that? And how do you work with people around that?
Marc David 17:13
I love that question? So my overarching approach, my first commandment in eating psychology is that our relationship with food and body is a great teacher, period. It’s just a great teacher. It’s here to teach us. So we’re often trying to get it right. There’s a belief that’s floating around there that once I get it right, I’m going to hit this perfection thing. And then I’m never going to make a mistake again. I’m only going to eat when I’m supposed to eat, when I’m supposed to eat, and I’m going to feel good after I eat it. No more worries, no more downs, no more artificial ups. I’m just going to hit the target every time once I figure it out. And I think our relationship with food and body is teaching us something different. And it’s teaching each one of us in our own way. And so we start there, okay. Your relationship with food is a great teacher. Let’s explore that for you. Okay, oh, wow, I’ve discovered that if I eat a certain way, I feel good. But why don’t I eat that way all the time? Why do I deviate? So there we go into that part of the conversation. Okay, so how do we learn from that? Let me just play with that for a moment. Whenever I hear anybody tell me, I know what I’m supposed to do. I know what works best for me. I don’t do it all the time. Where I go is, there’s always a brilliant reason that’s rooted somewhere in biology or psychology, or both as to why we do the things that we do. So if I’m doing something that goes against my best wishes, there’s a reason for it, usually when somebody says, I know what I’m supposed to do, I’m just not doing it. It’s because there’s another voice in us that’s sitting at the head of the table that’s making the decisions. Example, look at an infant. And you watch a crying, screaming little baby. I know you’ve both seen this before, and they’re crying and screaming and all of a sudden they get mama, they get the bottle, they get the breast. Boom! In a second, your metabolism and your emotions are completely regulated. You’re calm, they’re relaxed, and to an infant’s mind, food, mother, touch, love, warmth, connection. It’s all one. It’s all experienced as one. The infant’s not laying there thinking, Oh, this is my mother touching me. This is the taste of food on my tongue. This is her sweet voice. It’s all experienced as one. So we have that memory, feel bad, eat food, feel better. And we retain that into adulthood. Now oftentimes, what happens is, that infant voice in us also has immediate gratification built in. An infant wants immediate gratification. A child wants immediate gratification. I want what I want when I want it. Don’t tell me, mommy, that this ice cream that I’m going to eat, I should need it because I’m going to get diabetes in 45 years. You’re not going to say that to your kid. They can’t hear it, okay. But you and I, we will retain, I believe, a pantheon of different voices, or personas, or archetypes in our mind. And those voices, those personas, those archetypes, it’s their collection of characters. And at any given moment, any one of them can be sitting at the head of the table. So sometimes, even though the adult in me knows I’m supposed to eat this, that immediate gratification voice just wants to take over. Sometimes it’s the rebel in me. And that rebel needs an outlet. If the rebel in me isn’t having an outlet, if I can take my rebel energy and use it in the world as an adult in a good way, I use my rebel energy in my work. I go against the grain. But if I wasn’t doing that, I might rebel against my own self. You know, nobody tells me what to do, not even me. I’m not going to eat well. I’m not going to exercise. So oftentimes, those voices get turned against us when they’re down in the dark, and we don’t bring them into the light. I don’t know if that was addressing what you were talking about, Keith. But that’s sort of where my brain went.
Keith Kurlander 21:38
You did address it. I mean, what I took from that is what you’re basically saying is, there’s a path around relating to your food. And there’s ways in which we can eat in different ways. And it’s serving something, even if we frame it in our head like this hurts me. There’s still some way it’s serving us. We may not be aware of it. And then we frame, this is what makes me feel good and there’s some way that serves us. And so it’s all in service. It’s just, there’s a lot to learn about why we’re doing the things we’re doing with our food.
Marc David 22:11
Yes. And understanding who’s sitting at the head of the table when we make a choice? Is it the adult in you? If you’re a man, is that the king in you? If you’re a woman, is it the queen in you? Or is it the teenager in you? Is it the child in you? At any given moment, if I’m sitting with a client and they’re talking about their relationship with food, I can sometimes see or I’ll play with how old is this person really, right now, as they’re talking about their struggles? Because oftentimes will time transport to an earlier day, when my mom told me I was fat, or the first kid made fun of me, or I just didn’t know how to make a good choice for myself, and a part of us pitched our tent there. And so if my relationship with food is a great teacher, oh, I’m learning how to nourish myself. And that’s a practice. I’m learning how to feed myself in a way that works. That’s a practice. I’m learning that even if I emotionally eat, or even if I make a choice that I know is going against myself, can you forgive yourself? Or do I go down the path of, I can’t believe you ate that, you jerk. You’re bad. And this is probably to me, you want to talk about autoimmune diseases, I think the most prevalent and damaging autoimmune disease is self attack. The silent self attack that so many people go into, particularly around food and body. And it’s that self attack that keeps us locked in and circling in the same spot. It’s often teaching us forgiveness, it’s often teaching us how to interact with ourselves in a better way.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 24:06
Sounds like your approach, which really resonates with me as an approach of really bringing an elevated level of consciousness to what part or you could say what archetype is, as you said, sitting at the head of the table, as a further exercise of curiosity and self knowledge and coming with it sounds like a real stand for genuine curiosity rather than a kind of shaming, judgmental, how do I put myself in a box type of questioning.
Marc David 24:38
Bingo. And at the same time, I’m making the assumption that we’re not broken. Just because somebody is binge eating and they can’t stop, or their emotional eating and they can’t stop, or they gain 75 pounds because they’re soothing with food. I don’t Look at that person as broken. Because if I do, then Okay, well, we got to fix you. Something is wrong, and then we’re looking for the fix. And then if I as a practitioner, I’m looking for the fix, then it sort of becomes about ego. If I fix you, I’m a good practitioner. If I don’t fix you, have a bad one. Likewise, if you fix yourself, or if I help you get fixed, congratulations, you’re better. No, my client is not broken. None of us are broken. We’re on that journey. And we’re rediscovering our wholeness, we’re re-identifying that wholeness. And oftentimes, it’s just, that’s the journey back to wholeness.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 25:42
Right. I mean, it reminds me a little bit of the work of Dick Schwartz with internal family systems, I don’t know if that’s a framework that’s meaningful to you. This notion of a protector part who has been because of the intensity or the shaming, or the adverse childhood experience, that part took on the mantle of self judgment, or self hatred as an ultimately at the depth of it with a positive intention of trying to keep that vulnerable person safe. The idea that I’m safer judging myself, getting to the judgment of myself before someone else judges me kind of thing. And then unraveling the relationships between these parts.
Marc David 26:23
It’s always such a challenge, because it’s a personal journey for each one of us in our own unique relationship with food and body. And at the same time, we’re existing in a world that has a lot of spoken and unspoken weight hate. It has a lot of spoken and unspoken dietary rules, depending on who you are, and where you are, and who surrounds you. And we’re swimming in that. So, for so many people, it’s difficult to tease all that out. And what’s my environment? It’s a fascinating challenge.
Keith Kurlander 27:06
It’s a complex question with a complex answer. You know, you mentioned the inner child, basically. And when the younger part is kind of at the seat, how do you see trauma fitting into all this childhood trauma or into the food conversation?
Marc David 27:25
I think it’s pretty big. And especially assuming that trauma exists on a continuum, you know, mild, medium, and hot and everything in between, I will tend to make the assumption that if one is a human being on planet Earth, we’ve experienced some kind of stress that lives in a system that oftentimes is needing to work itself out. You know, I will especially see evidence of trauma in a subset of human beings who are dealing with weight loss resistance, they could do everything they could exercise their brains out, they could starve themselves, and then lose weight, they can go on a medical fast for 10 days, and eat virtually nothing, and they’ll gain a pound, which supposedly is counter to what science says. And oftentimes what happens is if you and this is not for everybody who has weight loss resistance, but for a lot of people, you can trace it back to various kinds of traumas, physical trauma, sexual trauma, emotional traumas, abandonment, etc. And in that state, what happens is, if it’s the kind of trauma where I need to protect myself, I need to defend myself. The biggest creatures tend to be the safest ones in nature. If you suffered sexual trauma, the biggest humans will tend to be the least sexually attractive. Oftentimes it’s a double edged sword because people want to lose weight. But the weight is there to begin with as a protection as the body and the beings natural protection from I don’t want to get hurt again. Likewise, if we suffer an early trauma that can often live in the digestive system, the digestive system is fantastically sensitive to emotions and to experience the enteric nervous system, the brain in the belly is very richly innervated. You know, scientists say there’s as many neurons as many nerve cells in your digestive system nervous system as there is in your central nervous system. In other words, there’s a lot of information contained in the gut. So if there’s an offense that happens if there’s a stress that happens early on, that can literally create digestive shutdown. And then people are going to be doing digestive aids, they’re going to be doing all kinds of diets. All kinds of nutritional strategies. And until we poke around and start to get to the trauma and unwind that no amount of digestive aids are really going to help. That’s just some thoughts about what you brought up, which to me is very, very powerful.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 30:15
The first piece that you mentioned, Mark reminds me of the original root of the adverse childhood experiences scale, which was Vincent Felitti, at Kaiser Permanente in the 90s, was a bariatric surgery physician. And he was blown away that a subset of people who got gastric banding and gastric surgery, regained the weight. And he investigated that and he found that when certain people who had had sexual trauma earlier on in their lives, did not feel safe at normal BMI. And so he found almost universally that the people who gained the weight back after bariatric surgery had suffered sexual trauma, and they needed to be heavy to feel safe. And that resulted in this 10 item questionnaire, the ACE questionnaire, which is in wide use in primary care and psychiatry today. It’s interesting to me, Gabor Maté was giving a talk in our institute a few weeks ago, and he said that one of the things that he finds lacking in the ACE questionnaire is that their questionnaire I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it has very specific things like divorce, sexual trauma, was there an addict in your home, did anybody go to prison when you’re a kid, that kind of thing, but it doesn’t ask about the positive things that often are lacking. So it’s like the absence of attunement, the absence of warmth, the absence of physical touch, the absence of parents with a healthy relationship to eating, for example. So it’s interesting, because I think I agree completely with you that a trauma is so pervasive and under recognized. And the other thing that came up when you were talking about the impact on the gut is, you know, it’s well known that in veterans who come back with PTSD from combat, they have huge issues with digestion, constipation and diarrhea, both at the same time. And oftentimes, what I see is when we’re able to get after the PTSD, the gut symptoms often settle down. It’s really interesting.
Marc David 32:15
That’s such a profound one. And so listeners here can have a basic understanding. And forgive me, if you all know this, but in a classic stress response, and a classic fight or flight response, which is a necessary response, when the lion is chasing you nature knows you got a minute or two, you’re either going to get eaten, you’re going to get away or you’re going to defeat the creature trying to eat you. In the moments that one is dealing with a life threatening situation, blood is rushing to your head for quick thinking to your arms and legs for quick fighting or fleeing digestive system completely shuts down in a full blown stress response. Because you don’t need to be digesting your pizza when the lions attack you. The body re-routes all metabolic energy into survival. So in that traumatic moment, when stress kicks in and the digestive system shuts down, we might never truly unwind from that. And it sits in the body. What’s interesting that I have found, and then I’ve noticed over the years, is that there’s some certain powerful beliefs that to me function as a trauma to the system. I’ll give you an example. My number one example that I’ve noticed is people will have the toxic dietary belief that food is the enemy. Why is food the enemy. So many people are taught that from a very young age, food makes you fat, you’re fat, you’re not lovable, you’re not okay. This especially hits the females of our world. So food makes me fat. Fat makes me unlovable. Therefore, food is the enemy. Now, if food is the enemy, the stressed brain doesn’t necessarily distinguish between a real or an imagined threat. You can think about the guy that did you wrong 20 years ago and go into the same stress response as when it actually happened. So if three, four or five, six times a day I’m hungry, which we will be, and it’s time to eat, but I have the notion, food is the enemy if as soon as my brain senses an enemy, I’m in a stress response. And what happens in that stress response in the moment, I am creating some degree of digestive shutdown. stress response D regulates appetite. So when you’re running from a lion, you don’t need appetite regulation. So when I’m day in, day out stressed, my appetite will be dysregulated. The majority of people will tend to eat more under stress. Some people eat less, some people it’s a combination. Additionally, day in day out, stress increases cortisol increases insulin for so many people, they secrete those hormones, actually says day in day out, that’s gonna cause weight gain, inability to lose weight, fat storage, inability to build muscle, your calorie burning tissue. So we can literally create this biochemical mill you from the belief, the false belief, food is the enemy, which is getting repeated like a mantra every day. And I can’t help somebody with their overeating, their binge eating, their emotional eating or their weight loss until I help them let go of that false concept. Because otherwise, for the rest of their life, their appetite is going to be deregulated, their digestion and assimilation is going to be off, their calorie burning capacity is going to be skewed. And they’re going to be in this strange battle, every time they’re hungry. Wow, that’s a tough place for a human being to be.
Keith Kurlander 35:54
Yeah, and you know, it’s definitely opening up things in my head as you’re talking like, it’s food doesn’t have to be the problem, it can be the solution, rather than the problem in terms of the relationship to food can can ultimately, like you’re saying it’s more of a path and an exploratory process. And it sounds like a lot of what you’re identifying here is that it’s charged as a problem for so many people, that food itself and the way we’re going about it, and that charge itself doesn’t really help us get into right relationship with it or healthier relationship, it’s not my labeling it as a problem that’s not really going to solve anything.
Marc David 36:35
Bingo, because if I’m labeling it as a problem, I’m broken, I’ve got to fix myself, I’m looking for the fixes, I’m looking for the quick fixes, I’m looking for the magic bullets, I love supplements, but people are going to look for the pills, they’re going to look for the quick fix diet. And there’s always going to be this background conversation of what’s wrong with me. I’m a willpower weakling. I’m a loser. And we’ve just gone off into a dark place. Knowing your relationship with food is here to teach you. Here’s where I’m at right now. Okay, this is where I am. And from that place, I’m going to start to unwind that, so I can get to where I want to go, which is to have a healthier relationship with food and body that’s nourishing me, where I can have a sense of freedom. And like any other practice in life, it’s gonna, it takes time, it takes work. And in particular, what I’m finding for a lot of people, it takes some guidance, because there’s just not a lot of good wisdom out there. You can Google from now until you die, you’ll get all kinds of nutritional information. But you’re not going to Google a heck of a lot of wisdom. When it comes to your relationship with food and body.
Keith Kurlander 37:56
Well, let’s look at the food itself for a second. But you know, outside of the person, if we look at food now today versus food hundreds of years ago, and we see now obviously, very highly processed foods, highly processed, refined sweeteners, a lot of different things we can put in our mouth, and that have very different properties than hundreds of years ago. But how would you frame that part of the conversation, which is, you know, we’ve got chemical agents and foods that might even be more addictive on certain levels when with refined sweeteners. And how do you frame that whole part of the conversation about what’s available to us today and how it’s affecting our psychology.
Marc David 38:36
Yes, it’s what we eat, I’m going to say it is 50% of the equation when it comes to creating a healthy human being. So as it relates to food, the what of what we eat the specific foods, that’s 50% of it. To me, the other 50% is who we are as eaters. What’s going on in my mind. Firstly, you probably know people who eat the healthiest food in the universe, and they’re still sickly, they’re still unhappy, they’re still miserable. So eating the healthiest food guarantees us nothing. If I’m constantly eating in a stress state, there’s many reasons one would eat under a stress state, post traumatic stress, toxic beliefs about food about myself about the body, my own environment, I’m eating just in a stress state all the time, you will excrete nutrition in a stress state literally piss it away. So there’s really two kinds of wings to that. So when we look at the weighing of actually what to eat. Let me take the field of nutrition and condense it into what I think of the general three most important concerns that we should be looking at. Number one, I’m going to say food quality. For the average human being what I have found is you can almost keep them on the same kind of foods that they’re eating but if you To increase the quality of those foods, so instead of store bought juices you get in fresh organic. Instead of the store bought vegetables and fruits, you get them organic instead of the poor quality meats, you give them free range, you start to improve the quality of the food, all of a sudden, you are increasing the nutrition, you’re increasing the micro nutrition, which is what so many people lack. So just as physical beings, we have gotten far away from the natural, I’m always looking to help somebody think in terms of quality of food. Surprisingly enough, not a lot of human beings are thinking of quality, we think of quantity, look at all the information that’s hurled at you, you know, McDonald’s dollar meal, you get all this stuff for $1 quantity, you know, you go to the supermarket, and you get the big box of doughnuts for two bucks quantity. So you get people thinking more about quality. I think that’s an important nutritional distinction. Probably one of the most powerful nutritional experiments we can do is experimenting with macronutrient balance, a significant number of diets that you see out there are just switching ratios of protein, fat and carbohydrates. A lot of human beings for a while starting in the probably late 60s, we adopted a high carb diet, or the high carb foods. And that will have an impact on a significant number of human beings. There’s a lot of people who are macronutrient imbalance for you, you know, some people do well on a lot of carbohydrates, grains, let’s say some people do very poorly on depends on the body, it’s an experiment, there’s people you can take them, you can be feeding them more food and more fat, but you’re increasing their ratio of protein and fat in their diet, and their body will shift their health will shift energy will shift, weight will shift. So macronutrient balance is something I will always look to experiment with, based on what a person has been eating based on what their complaint is. Third thing I think to be aware of, in the big nutritional picture, our food sensitivities and allergies, your body is unique, everybody is unique. Some people it’s glutens, the big one, some people are immune to it, they could eat all the gluten in the universe, and it doesn’t matter. Other people can sniff gluten, and it will give them a headache, it will put them under for a day. Those are the people who have celiac disease who are completely intolerant. So there’s a gradation in terms of people in their sensitivities. And you can have all the food allergy testing in the world. And the gold standard really is one’s own experiment. You get rid of certain foods for a couple of weeks, see how you feel, reintroduce those foods, see how you feel that determines so much. If I just work with those three principles. With most people, you can create some wonderful changes in the most common health complaints that people show up with. Yes, are there more arcane nutritional problems? Yeah, but that’s three, four or 5% of the population.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 43:17
That’s really helpful Mark, very practical. I’m wondering about the other side of the 50/50 equation with the psychology piece. And what’s coming up for me is this theme that we’ve been talking about the sort of the negative self talk that I’m a loser, the food is the enemy, the stressful eating is part of your teaching around. I’ve heard and I haven’t dived deep into the research on this. But if it really matters to actually take a moment or two or a few minutes to sit with your food in front of you to pause to check the level of regulation in your system to maybe say, at least internally some sense of gratitude for having the abundance you’re about to consume and so forth. How big of a role do you think that plays in terms of shifting the energy and the gut for digestion?
Marc David 44:04
Will, everything you just described, my brain took that and reinterpreted that as creating a relaxation response. What I heard you say, yeah, everything you mentioned, awareness creates a relaxation response. Attention creates a relaxation response. Focusing on any particular sensation can create a relaxation response, prayer. Meditation thoughtfulness, creates a relaxation response. It just so happens and we’ve known since the 1930s that the human body is optimally designed to digest, assimilate, appetite, regulate a meal and calorie burn in the physiologic relaxation response, parasympathetic nervous system dominance, it’s how we are wired. When the brain is in a relaxation response, digestion and assimilation fully turned on appetite, reading Fully turned on the moment the brain switches into stress response, sympathetic nervous system dominance, you’re decreasing appetite regulation, you are decreasing digestion, necessarily, because the body thinks I’m in trouble. And I got to reroute my energy into a survival moment.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 45:18
So rest and digest right?
Marc David 45:21
Yeah, that’s just how we’re wired. It’s not a fanciful notion. So everything becomes and for the human being, it’s all about how do I create an atmosphere around me and within me, that creates the optimum state of digestion assimilation, calorie burning appetite regulation in which to take in this wonderful food I just put on my plate. Or if it’s not wonderful food, you will better pulverize your junk food meal in a state of relaxation, than if you’re in a state of stress. Plain and simple. So it’s, you know, everybody has their stressors that are part of life, my husband, my wife, my kids, my job, the money, the world, everything that’s going on. And oftentimes, what’s happening is there’s a lot of self chosen stressors that are impacting us, which are often the beliefs that we have. I shouldn’t be eating this, this is no good for me, I’m too fat. I shouldn’t be eating this food, I should be eating fat, I should be eating this protein, whatever it is that we’re believing about ourselves about the food about the meal, that creates stress. Those thoughts are then translating into the body as stress metabolism, which is then impacting our meal. interesting statistic. America consumes more calcium than any other nation on Earth. Except I believe it’s Denmark, or Norway, more calcium than any other nation on Earth, except for one, we have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world. And scientists can explain that. the first time I read that, I thought, that’s a layup. That’s easy. I could explain that in a second. Yeah, we consume more calcium than anybody else. But we’re excluding more calcium than anybody else. What would cause calcium excretion, stress causes calcium excretion, phosphoric acid found in most sodas, calcium excretion, sugar causes calcium excretion, cigarette smoke, alcohol, you know, the list goes on. So you could be eating a ton of calcium, but if you’re pissing it away, ah, it doesn’t work. And then you get the message. Do you need a calcium supplement? No, not exactly,
Dr. Will Van Derveer 47:41
We are too stressed out to hold on to our calcium. All the things that we consume, you know, literally suck the calcium out of our bones. So yeah, well, that’s a great point. Thanks, Mark for that.
Keith Kurlander 47:54
As we transition, Marc, what should people be on the lookout about how to learn from you or what you’re up to, or anything you want them to know?
Marc David 48:02
Thanks for asking Keith. To learn more about my organization Institute for the psychology of eating and what we teach psychologyofeating.com, if you just forget that Google psychology of eating, and we should hopefully, come up abundantly in the first few pages of Google, I have a couple of lovely books out there, nourishing wisdom and the Slow Down Diet, nourishing wisdom has been around 30 plus years, it’s still in print from Random House. That’s all about our relationship with food. So that’s a great way to learn about our training program. And just more about this work. Our Facebook page, also Institute for the psychology of eating has lots of good content, it’s all free, we have a ton of free content.
Keith Kurlander 48:46
It’s great. I think I read nourishing was almost 20 years ago when I came across it. It was a big book for me, I really appreciate it. When I found that book.
Marc David 48:56
I’m honored writing a book is a labor of love. And it’s just really a blessing that it still has a life. It’s still out there. And it’s still helping people.
Keith Kurlander 49:06
But we end with the same question for every guest, which is a few out of billboards that every human would see once in their lifetime, there was a paragraph on it, what would you want them to know?
Marc David 49:17
Mm hmm. I would want people to know, especially as it relates to food and body, that really the journey informs the destination. Most people want to be healthy, or they want to have the right weight. And they want to have the right diet so I can be happy. I just say really, I’m gonna be happy. I’m going to be the real me. And what often happens is that in order to have the right weight in the right diet, we believe I have to punish myself. I have to limit myself. I have to hate myself. I have to talk negatively to myself in somehow that journey that’s filled with limitation, extremes, extreme dieting, extreme exercise and extreme negative things. thinking and talking that somehow that’s going to end up in self love. So yeah, choose to eat healthy. And yeah, work on your weight, if that’s what you want to do. But look at what the end result is like, Who’s that person that you’re going to be at the end. And notice how you can start to be that person. Now, I find when I can help people do that, their health journey, their weight journey, their body image journey becomes a heck of a lot easier.
Keith Kurlander 50:30
Thank you. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Marc David 50:34
It’s an honor to be with you both loving the work that you’re doing and loving your mission and loving what you’re putting out. And great job, gentlemen, I’m just happy and proud and really blessed to be a part of this.
Keith Kurlander 50:51
So valuable to have Marc here on the show and just really talk through with us what he’s learned over 30 years now of really diving deep into working with people around how they relate to food. And he has a pretty diverse background, working more in the kind of clinical nutritional segment and then more on this psychology piece and really diverse in that way. And I’ve known Marc for a really long time. So it’s great to just get him on here to converse with them in this way. If you haven’t given a review to the higher practice podcast, I really encourage you to just go on your phone right now. Reviews are tricky to give on phones. They’re hard to find on podcasts. But if you go to the kind of highest level of the podcast, you scroll down at the bottom of the episode, just see all the reviews. But I really encourage you to do that because that’s a way that we can share this with a lot of people, share this information. And it’s something that we’re just passionate about to get information psychology, how to help ourselves, things like food and, of course, every way that we can optimize ourselves into the hands of everyone. So please go ahead and share a review if that’s something you want to do. We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of the higher practice podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.