The end of the affair with chocolate cake
Starting a diet after the excesses of Christmas is, for many, a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.
So says Sunita Pattani, psychotherapist and author of the recently published My Secret Affair with Chocolate Cake – The Emotional Eater’s Guide to Breaking Free. This London-based counsellor who specialises in eating disorders writes from personal experience. Her binge-eating disorder nearly cost her her marriage.
Pattani ballooned to a size 20 because she was “possessed by a food demon that made me devour around 4,000 calories worth of cream cakes, crisps, chocolate and ice-cream per day.
“With my binge eating disorder, I stopped socialising altogether. I literally became a recluse. My ankles swelled and I suffered lower back problems. I was so embarrassed about my eating that I hid my problem from my husband, Hinal, by buying and eating food in secret and hiding it in cupboards and under the bed. It was only when Hinal left me because of what I was doing to myself that I was shocked into action.”
The couple separated for 18 months and are back together. Pattani is a size 14 and still losing weight. She is an advocate of “intuitive eating”. She traces her troubled history with food back to her teenage years when she started a diet/binge cycle. When a stressful period in her life resulted in Pattani being unable to face any more dieting, she began to binge more and more.
Pattani has tried every diet but says diets don’t generally work because they don’t address the underlying reasons as to why people overeat. “Our relationship with food is actually quite complex. On one level, we are hard-wired to eat when we’re hungry. It’s part of our biological programming that comes from our ancestors. So, literally, when we go on a diet, we try to over-ride our natural body signals and it tends not to work.”
Falling off the wagon
For people who have a history of yo-yo dieting, the start of the New Year is a good time to address their relationship with food.
“If you’ve put on weight over Christmas and you’re going on a diet, it will succeed for a little while. But you’re probably going to fall off the wagon. People overeat for a number of different reasons; they might be rewarding themselves or numbing out their emotions. For some, the problem goes deeper.
“I’ve had clients who suffered abuse and tried to block it out with food. In my case, because I dieted so much, I became accustomed to black-and-white thinking.
“For me, there were good foods and bad foods. Every time I’d have something that could be classified as junk food, I fell off the wagon and continued to overeat. It was an all or nothing approach. There was no middle ground.”
Intuitive eating is “all about listening to your body, tuning in to your hunger and your fullness. When you’re not hungry, live your life to the full as opposed to eating just for the sake of it. When you speak to people who are naturally slim, food is very simple for them. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re satisfied.
“Of course, what you eat is important. You have to think about nutrition. But I believe that if we listen to our bodies, we will be guided into eating normally. Nutritional education is needed. It’s not rocket science. We all know that fresh food is better for us than packaged food. We also know that sugar in excess is not good for us.”
In developing a healthy relationship with our bodies, Pattani says, the starting point is accepting our natural body shape. “Nowadays, we’re quite influenced by the media and the fashion industry as to what our body shape should look like. But not everybody is born to be tall and slim. A good strategy is to look at our family line and accept the basic shape of our bodies.”
Pattani says that hunger and thirst “sometimes feel very similar. If you’re unsure, have a glass of water. If you’re still hungry, go ahead and eat something nutritious.”
She advocates keeping a food diary. It shouldn’t just focus on what a person eats. “It should also be about how you feel before and after you’ve eaten, whether you were hungry before you ate and whether you felt satisfied afterwards.” Chew slowly and eat mindfully, enjoying nutritious food.
This year, she will be broadening her work to incorporate instilling healthy attitudes towards food in children. Her message is that it’s time to make peace with food – and get off the dieting treadmill.
My Secret Affair with Chocolate Cake by Sunita Pattani is published by J Publishing Company and is available on amazon.co.ukand in bookshops.