This is the cover story that sure caught my attention in a recent New York Times Magazine edition (9/13). And it continued with: “Is Happiness Catching? Your friends and even your friends’ friends can make you quit smoking, eat too much or get happy…a look at the emerging science of social contagion.”
OK, leaving aside the fact that correlation does not mean causation, there are some compelling insights in this line of reasoning. As I read further, the obesity epidemic made more sense. Look around and you’ll see a spreading and, what appears to be unstoppable affliction in our culture.
I think most of us would agree, environment is one of the triggers that influence behavior, for better or worse.
Now there are some people who are totally in tune with their hunger and fullness signals, the primary drivers behind our eating cycles – they’re what we call instinctive eaters.
And they’re “immune” from the packing-on-fat that’s sweeping through.
But there’s a second pattern symptomatic of the epidemic, and that’s the over-eating cycle. And the trigger here really isn’t hunger; it’s advertising, special occasions, free food or the “I paid for this and I’m going to eat it” syndrome. Or sometimes it’s just as simple as seeing what others are eating and being in the company of friends who are overweight.
With an abundant food environment like we have here in the USA and many other parts of the world, such environmental triggers are just too tempting.
And on top of that, we have emotional triggers…boredom, stress, or feeling overwhelmed. Or even triggers at the opposite end of the spectrum: loneliness, sadness, and anger.
And let’s not forget physical triggers like thirst, fatigue or even pain.
So, with this full range of environmental, emotional, and physical triggers, no wonder we’re beset with an epidemic that’s “eating away” our health and well-being.
And with many of these triggers, we’re more likely to seek out comfort foods – convenient foods that are high in sugar or other properties that tend to soothe us or have biochemical effects on our system that make us feel, at least temporarily better.
To get a more in-depth look at how we might better teach our patients to work with their appetite, check out our mind/body programs.
We’ll learn successful ways to teach patients to go inside and pay attention to what their body needs as opposed to reacting to environmental and emotional triggers.