Overeaters Anonymous on the healthy aging series by mark neese

Using Overeaters Anonymous to Break Up with Food | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E15

One of my favorite movies is “Signs,” by M. Night Shyamalan. Please don’t judge me :-)

One of my favorite scenes is when Graham, the former Episcopal priest, who had just lost his wife to an accident is having a conversation with his brother Merrell about the appearance of lights in the sky. Merrell is struggling to understand what is happening, how is this going to end? He wants to be comforted by his brother, the former man of faith. Here’s what Graham says to Merrell:

People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

You have to ask yourself, what kind of person are you?

This season I’ve been writing about the very serious struggle that many of you are having with food. For some, it’s a life-or-death struggle because you feel powerless over food and it’s creating a dark cloud over your future much like the lights, threatening Graham, and Merrell‘s future.

I want to share two roads, two ways to help you break up with food once and for all. Which road is for you? It depends. It depends on what type of person you are.

Are you the kind of person that feels a sense of powerlessness over food and you need a higher power to take away your shortcomings?

Or, are you kind of person that sees yourself as powerful and you have the ability to overcome your problems with food?

I know, I know, it’s not quite that simple. Most of us are not one or the other, but sometimes, it helps to see the issue as “one or the other.”

If you mostly see yourself in group one, then Overeaters Anonymous is most likely the road to take in overcoming your compulsive overeating. We will look at group 2 in Episode 16. Both Roads have very similar “hacks” or tools for breaking up with food, but at the heart, the issue is where does the power come for overcoming your problem with food?

First Overeaters Anonymous

How does Overeaters Anonymous work?
It’s a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. There are also 12 Traditions. Think of them as bylaws. They guide members on the day-to-day operations.

The 12 steps are strategies for helping you to think and act differently about food, yourself, others, and God.

Here are the first three steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over food, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him.

For many, these steps help them gain a sense of meaning and hope in life. They have unsuccessfully tried to manage their eating or drinking, and finally they are able to see something or someone out there that will remove all of their shortcomings. They get better.

In their literature, they write, “As a result of practicing the steps, the symptoms of compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors are removed on a daily basis. For most of us, abstinence means freedom from the bondage of compulsive overeating, achieved through the process of surrendering to something greater than ourselves; the more total our surrender, the more fully we realize our freedom from food obsession.”

The other steps involved admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being those shortcomings. They involve making amends to people who we have harmed and working on our relationship with God through prayer and meditation. The last two steps encourage us to help others who have an addiction to food, those who are compulsive overeaters. Overeaters Anonymous members see the problem as mental, physical, and spiritual. 

Those are the Steps, but then there is the Program.

As I’ll share in the next episode, this is where the approaches overlap or where the different roads converge at times. Every plan, every program is unique, despite having many similarities. 

Here is the general look at the AA Program. This is what they mean when they say in unison at the end of the meeting, “It works, if you work it!”

  1. Attend meetings regularly. Overeaters Anonymous is a fellowship. It is a fellowship of fellow strugglers and people who are recovering, growing, overcoming their shortcomings. They share what it was like before Overeaters Anonymous, what happened to bring about their change and commitment to change, and what life is like now. You go. You keep your mouth shut and your ears open. You listen to the success stories. You keep coming back. You take what you like and leave the rest.

  2. Get a sponsor. After attending several meetings and listening to the success stories, you approach the member who you think can help you through the steps. This is life or death, and your sponsor will be the life preserver that will help you stay afloat during the years and storms to come. What does a sponsor do? They listen without judgment. They use their experiences as a sponsor to guide you through the steps. They are there to help you follow your plan. You call them when you feel powerless or when you feel like you’re going to relapse. Overeaters Anonymous is a relapse prevention program that helps you break up and stay broke up with food. You will need a sponsor.

    3. Make a Plan of Eating. You make a list, with the help of a sponsor and possibly a nutritionist, of the foods and drinks that you are powerless over, your Trigger Foods. These foods, along with accompanying behaviors, are what’s keeping you in a dysfunctional relationship with food. “An individualized food plan is a tool designed to help you know what and when to eat. It is a flexible, usable worksheet that assists with maintaining absence from compulsive overeating and compulsive foods behaviors” (The Brown Book).
    You develop your food plan with the help of a sponsor. You make a commitment to follow the plan one day at a time. That’s your sobriety date. And with the help of your higher power, your sponsor, and the fellowship, you follow this plan one day at a time. You work the steps. And you work your Eating Plan, and you find sanity, freedom, and strength. 

Overeaters Anonymous will not be for everyone. Allen Zadoff, from the book “Hungry,” found freedom from food using Overeaters Anonymous.

My next episode is for the other kind of person. Moderation Management for Eating (MMFE) is what I call it. 

Do you see yourself as having the power to change within yourself? Then check out my next episode.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Image of Terri Schmidt, interviwed by Mark Neese for the Healthy Aging Series blog for True North Counseling in Louisville, Kentucky

Terri Schmidt: How Sober October and Jazzercise Saved My Life | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E14

I’m headed to Colorado again to spend some time with my two granddaughters, son, and daughter-in-law. And then a road trip. My plan A was to do a four-day, three-night backpacking trip into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, but my son’s lower back-issues forced us to change our trajectory. Plan B is a road trip through Utah to visit the five national parks. That’s my physical trajectory on this trip.

I’ve used that word as a therapist working with teenagers and their parents. Parents do this thing about predicting the trajectory of their teens, especially if they get into a little bit of trouble at school or with the law. They predict that their Teen will end up in prison, or homeless, or living in their basement at forty.

Teenagers grow up, eventually, and the parents’ prediction of where their sons or daughters might go almost never happens. That’s Parent Trajectory.

What’s Your Health Trajectory?

This season, I’m starting something new. Healthy Aging Interviews. I’ll be interviewing people in their mid to late 50s and up. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration. Maybe some edification. And maybe even some encouragement to break up with food.

This season, I interviewed Terri Schmidt. She’s 57 and attends Jazzercise with my wife. She and my wife are longtime Jazzercisers. She got our attention when my wife told me she had been reading my blog and Terri recommended that I read, “Nature Wants Us to be Fat,” by Dr. Richard J. Johnson.

Here are the questions that I used for my interview with Terri:

  1. How do you feel about getting older?
  2. What does Healthy Aging mean to you?
  3. When did you become health conscious?
  4. What was the factor that moved you to focus on your health?
  5. Who were some of the examples for Healthy Aging?
  6. Who are your biggest cheer leaders?
  7. What books have you read that influenced you to focus on healthy aging?
  8. What does your diet look like?
  9. What does your fitness regimen look like?
  10. What is it about Jazzercise that appeals to you?
  11. What makes it difficult to maintain a healthy aging lifestyle?
  12. What would you say to your younger self?
  13. What advice do you have for people that are contemplating changing their lifestyle?

I’m not going to give her word-for-word responses, rather I’m going to give you the highlights.

Terri looked at her life in September 2022 and didn’t like her health trajectory. Her diet contained way too much sugar and alcohol. She reported that she was experiencing brain fog and irritability, most likely due to her diet.

She had been active as a younger woman and has continued to move using Jazzercise these past years. Maybe Terri is an example of not being able to outrun a bad diet and chronic alcohol use. She had other issues that she worked through. Her first marriage created an environment that caused her to blame herself for everything. She looked at her life mentally and physically and didn’t like where it was going. She looked at some family members that struggled with their own wellness and saw herself in them.

That was the push she needed to break up with food and her old lifestyle. She looked around and saw people in her life that were failing to thrive and said to herself “That’s me if I don’t change my trajectory!” Some of these family members have difficulty walking, anxiety, and worry about what everyone else is thinking.

The pull was her mother-in-law, who maintained an active lifestyle, volunteering, living a balanced emotional life, happy and strong. “That’s me, if I change my trajectory.”

In October 2022, she listened to that still small voice within and stopped drinking alcohol and eating sugar. She began creating a new trajectory, taking care of herself. Terri lives her life now very intentionally. She’s not one of those goal-setters, although she does try to walk 10,000 steps a day. She wants to eat real food. Fruits and vegetables. She practices time-restricted eat (intermittent fasting). She stops eating at 6 pm and then eats a big breakfast with lots of protein, whole grains, and what I would consider a disgusting smoothie of kale, cinnamon, and protein, just kidding Terri. She’s not perfect. She does have some guilty pleasures periodically, like potato chips.

If you were to ask Terri, what she loves about her new lifestyle, she would answer, “I love feeling strong.” She gets stronger physically and mentally by Jazzercise three or four times a week. This group has become her support system. What was an intentional consequence of her new trajectory from abstaining from sugar and alcohol? Clarity! She started seeing she was enough. She started seeing the importance of self-care, the need to stay in her lane, and take care of herself. She started to see that this was her journey to walk, and she wanted to be happy.

And now, here is what she says: “I feel great, that’s what makes me happy.”

Again, Terri isn’t perfect. She has her snacks every now and then, but she has the clarity now to see where she is going and loves it.

Freedom from addiction is what she is loving.

It’s not easy or pleasant sometimes to see where we’re going, seeing our trajectory. For some it’s not a major overhaul in your diet or exercise. Maybe a series of tune-ups.

Add a little walking and group fitness.

Take away a little of the processed foods, sugar, and alcohol in your life.

What got Terri’s attention was the week before her sober October last year, she literally got sick from drinking alcohol.

I think it scared her. Maybe we all need a scare about where we are going.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Mark Neese of True North Counseling in Louisville, Kentucky

How a Stoplight Can Help You Break Up with Food | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E13

I remember my first week of basic training in the United States Air Force. There’s a lot to learn. Really, it’s indoctrination. Military bearing. You’re learning to stop being a civilian and act like an Airman, a Marine, a Soldier, or a Sailor. They teach you how to salute. They show you, then have you salute, then correct you.

I remember our Sergeant teaching us how to put our laundry mark on all our clothing. They were nice enough to make us rubberstamps with the first initial of our last name, and the last four of our Social Security Number. It  was like N1234.

The Sergeant gathered us around him and took an Airman’s trousers and said, “Put your stamp here,” pointing to the inside area of the zipper section. “Questions? Then go put your mark on your trousers.“ And you guessed it, someone had put his mark on the wrong spot. “Come here,” the TI said gesturing to the Airman to come close. “Give me your stamp.“ And then our Sergeant stamped the Airman’s forehead with his laundry mark. When that training session was over, and everyone had finished marking their uniforms, I noticed that two or three Airmen had two or three laundry marks on their foreheads.

I feel like one of these Airmen at times, and no, I wasn’t one of them. I need someone to teach me, show me, train me on how to do something successfully. That’s what I found in Allen Zadoff’s book, “Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin.”  I’ve shared Zadoff’s book in part three of strategies for breaking up with food. In the first part, I looked at compulsive overeating as a disease and changing the way you look at food and yourself. Zadoff offers a visual approach to categorizing food.

A Stoplight.

Red light foods:

These are foods that you cannot stop eating once you start. Make a list of those foods for you. Is it sugar? Ice cream or bread? Pastries? Candy? Chocolate? Popcorn with lots of butter? Potato chips? Alcohol? Actually, this is my list. And then he talks about Red Food Behaviors. This is good. “What are behaviors around the Red Light Foods” As a Behavior Analyst, I might ask where are you likely to eat these foods? Maybe it’s while you’re driving. Where do you buy these foods? When are you more likely to eat these foods  and less likely to eat these foods? What are you doing when you’re not eating these foods? Are you in a gym or walking in the park? Who are you with when you eat or drink your Red Light Foods? And, when you don’t eat or drink these foods, who are you with. This is just a start. You need to do a thorough assessment of Red Food Behaviors. We’ll come back to what you’re going to do with this list in a bit.

Yellow light foods:

These are foods that you have a problem with sometimes. Yeah, bread is one of those foods for me. I love biscuits. But I have some control over Yellow Foods. Your Yellow foods could include soft drinks, pasta, processed food, fried chicken, or any kind of fast food. Make a list of your yellow foods.

And lastly, Green Light Foods:

These are foods that you have no problem stopping when you start eating them. We’re talking about things like vegetables and fruits, grilled chicken, fish, and really what we’re talking about is mostly real food.

Next, Zadoff refers to Red Foods as Trigger Foods, because once started, they trigger a powerful response in our bodies. They activate your pleasure pathway which releases dopamine. And after many, many episodes of this dopamine release, we develop dopamine resistance, and need more and more to get the pleasure response and then you guessed it. You’ve developed an addictive response to Trigger Foods. Zadoff then directs us to abstain from Trigger Foods. I know there are a lot of other ways of working with Trigger Foods besides complete abstinence, but this is the approach he took and it worked for him.

He spends time throughout his book discussing the addiction and recovery process and compares food addiction, which he calls compulsive overeating with alcoholism. And although he rarely if ever mentions Overeaters Anonymous, there is no doubt he is heavily influenced by it. I am not a compulsive overeater. I would probably fit, at times, into the Problem Eater Category that I mentioned in Episode 12 of this blog. I struggle to manage my weight. I don’t abstain from anything and probably won’t. The key food management word for me is moderation. But I am at a healthy weight.  I do have Gout, which is caused from foods high in purines, so I limit those foods. Otherwise, I have no food restrictions. I mostly abstain from sugar, but I occasionally eat bread, which is almost like sugar. I have attempted to abstain from alcohol, mostly for health reasons and sleep hygiene, but have decided that moderation is a key there as well. There is no credible science that supports total abstinence from alcohol.

Zadoff suggests a support group. I would too if you’re a compulsive overeater. Overeaters Anonymous involves developing a food plan, having a sponsor, working on the 12 steps of OA. These involve the work on your emotional and spiritual issues in your life. In other words, an inside job.

I would recommend Overeaters Anonymous as one option.

So, you have Red Light Foods that are typically creating a weight management problem for you, and then there are Yellow and Green Light Foods which are typically good that you do have control over.  Zadoff recommends abstaining from Red Light Food, finding a support group, and building within that support group some accountability.

And that is Overeaters Anonymous. I want to share in the next part what you can expect if you decide to join Overeaters Anonymous. There are lots of other options for weight loss and breaking up with food.

Many of the obesity memoirs I have shared use a very simple approach; eat less and move more.

I  want to give you some options because breaking up is hard to do and you need as many options as you can find.

In Episode 15, I’ll share in more detail OA!

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Healthy Aging: Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 3 S9 E12

Are You Addicted to Food? | Healthy Aging Series: Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 3 | S9 E12

Are You Addicted to Food?

I was a precocious five-year-old. Very curious. Very talkative like my mother. And like most children my age, innocent. My parents said that I was the easiest of nine to raise. Maybe I misheard them, but that’s what I want to believe.

And so, I’m guessing that it would surprise you if I told you that my kindergarten teacher paddled me in class, in front of all my classmates. Her name was Mrs. Pott, Mrs. Dessa Pott.

It was circle time. Mrs. Pott gave us some instructions. “I’m going to show you a picture and then go around the circle and ask each of you a question about what you saw in the picture. Don’t repeat someone else’s answer.”

Of course, I was so bored and wanted out of the prison called Stringtown Elementary, so I tuned her out. I didn’t hear the instructions, blah, blah, blah.

She came to me, and she said, “Next, it’s the little freckle faced boy’s turn.”
And as sure as I am typing this, I repeated verbatim what little Pammy had just said.
“Oh,”  Mrs. Pott said glaring at me. “Little freckle faced boy, I want you to stand up and walk to my desk, go ahead now.“
I stood up, and the little freckles on my face were looking like little croutons in a bowl of tomato soup, and I did the dead man walking thing.

“Now, reach in and grab the paddle and bring it here.”

That walk was like the walk in the 1957 anti-war movie I saw this past year staring Kirk Douglas, “Paths of Glory.” Douglas was a French colonel who is unable to save three of his innocent soldiers from execution. It was gut wrenching as they marched these three soldiers to the firing squad through columns of their own troops. They were being made an example. Completely innocent. Probably heroes. I’m sure it felt incredulous that they were being executed because several other soldiers failed to charge when given the orders to attack.

That’s how I felt, reaching into that drawer, picking up the paddle, walking through the circle formation of my kindergarten classmates, and delivering it to Mrs. Despot, I mean Mrs. Dessa Pott. I’m sure I looked at her with incredulity.

She had me bend over, without a trial, without even a good explanation, and gave me two or three, or maybe five swats.


I’m sure somewhere in my young psyche, and what would become my shadow, I began developing a complex, about school and education, that would affect my self-confidence and my desire to learn for many years.

Thankfully, my fifth-grade teacher at Elberfeld Elementary would help me make a course correction and would reignite my curiosity and love for learning. “Little freckle face boy,“ she said, “you are very smart, and you could accomplish anything if you just tried.“ And then, that became part of my educational complex. It helped me think differently about education.

Complexes are a collection of experiences, ideas, beliefs, and values that you have that revolve around a theme, like money, work, family, friendships, education, your parents, just to name a few. Complexes can exert a strong, unconscious influence over you. In fact, you can be possessed by a complex and not even be aware of its influence and control over you.

Breaking Up with Food

We have been exploring ways to break up with food. Why? Because many of us have a dysfunctional relationship with food. All of us have a food complex. Think about the millions and millions and millions of millions experiences you’ve had with food. Maybe not that many, but a lot. I’m 67. Times 360 days. Times three meals a day. Equals 73,365 experiences. Every time you see a commercial with food. Every time you walk into a store or anywhere with food.
These experiences make up your food complex. All of our experiences, and conversations about food, anything your parents said, your teachers taught, your friends modeled, diet books explained, and everything you can imagine about food makes up your food complex, and it controls you every day.

That’s why it doesn’t matter what diet you try, and it doesn’t matter how much weight you lose, if you don’t work on your food complex, you’ll regain all of the weight loss, because breaking up with food is mostly an inside job.

“Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Fit.” Allan Zadoff

That’s one of the lessons that Alan Zadoff shares in his book, “Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Fit.”
Zadoff explains that 90% of our fight with breaking up with food is an inside job with only 10% involving what’s outside of us.

This is the fifth or sixth obesity memoir I’ve reflected on this season. He hits the nail on the head throughout his book on breaking up with food. There are so many good things to share that I’m going to make this into two separate episodes.

This episode, 11, will share about Zadoff’s discovery of his addiction to food, the disease of compulsive overeating

The next episode, 12, will share some very specific strategies that he used to overcome his addiction to what he calls trigger foods

My takeaways from “Hungry.”

The First Take-Away from “Hungry”

Zadoff gives us insight into compulsive overeating as a disease. I have listened to talk-show hosts who don’t have an overeating problem and don’t suffer from obesity, and who often suggest that people who suffer as compulsive overeaters and suffer from obesity simply need to learn how to push back their plates.

I don’t think these folk mean to be malicious or judgmental, they simply don’t understand the all-encompassing aspects of this problem. Zadoff would say, “Yes, they need to be able to push back their plates but,” he would add, “feeling satiated has little to do with a food addiction.”
The disease of compulsive overeating is an addiction that affects many people mentally and physically. Zadoff would also add spiritually to that list. Compulsive overeaters are not addicted to all food but to “trigger foods.”

These are the foods that control the addict in much the same way that alcohol or nicotine controls people with those addictions. Sure, there are people who can eat almost anything without being a compulsive overeater, but compulsive overeaters, enter a land where choice is extinct. Dopamine plays a role in this addiction. Emotions, including shame, guilt, happiness, and joy also play a role. Our appetites and cravings play a role. Our evolutionary biology, which causes us to seek out calorie dense foods and salty foods, plays a role.

The point I think Zadoff is making isn’t that if you’re a compulsive overeater, there is nothing you can do about it. You’re doomed! On the contrary, he is saying you can overcome your overeating. But you cannot overcome it with purely behavioral and environmental changes, or solely with self-binding strategies. You can read about these in later blogs.

Throughout much of Zadoff’s life, he focused on trying to change his outside while his problem was inside. It had always been in his head, an inside job. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say they don’t have a drinking problem, they had a thinking problem, stinking thinking.
Behavioral strategies are tools for change. Weight loss occurs by working on both the inside and the outside. Zadoff began putting 10% of his energy into eating and 90% into healing his life. Part of the inside job was learning to think differently about food.

“I knew that a hit of sugar on my tongue would make my frustrations disappear. It wasn’t a conscious thought; I knew it in my bones. Eating chocolate meant I wouldn’t have to think about the job I resented, the career dream I was ignoring, or the eating problem that was killing me. Enough chocolate, and I wouldn’t even remember that I was fat. I would be free.” He saw his food as medicine that would fix his problems.

How did Zadoff’s thinking change? He began seeing food as fuel. Eating to Live rather than living to eat.

Take-Away Two from “Hungry”

The next take away from Zadoff’s book has to do with thinking differently about your relationship with food. He enlightens us about three different types of eaters.

The first type of eater is a normal eater. They eat when they’re hungry and they stop when they’re full. Normal eaters can consume a little more over the holidays, but they lose weight they gain magically. Normal eaters are not obsessed with the next meal. Normal eaters are mostly OK with their bodies, mostly.

The second type of eater is what he calls problem eaters. Problem eaters think about calories, read food labels, and try to make healthy choices. Problem eaters exercise, and bargain with themselves about eating more later. Problem eaters constantly feel guilty about eating. Problem eaters describe themselves as someone who struggles with weight management. Honestly, most people have some level of a dysfunctional relationship with food. I wrote about this in an earlier blog entitled, “Why is it difficult to break up with food?”

The third type of eater is the compulsive overeater. These folks are obsessed with food and their body. They believe that thin equals well and plan their lives around their weight. They often eat to excess and then wonder why they did it. At times, they become obsessed over the perfect diet. They typically pass through the problem eating stage, and they have lost their ability to control their weight through diet and exercise.

Warning: If you are a problem eater, you are at risk of becoming a compulsive overeater.

Lesson from Zadoff: You must change the way you think about yourself and food.

Breaking up with food is an inside job.

It’s deeper than that. I’ll share in a couple blogs on ways to address and reconstruct a more positive eating complex through active imagination and the mindfulness practice of urge surfing.

In the next episode I share the strategies Zadoff gives us for breaking up with food.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

The Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese at True North Counseling

An Interlude: What a Fox and a Horse have to Say About Agism | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 11

Look in the mirror. What do you see?

You might see your mother or father. I do.

I try remembering when my father was my age. My father was 30 years older than me, so I was 37 when he was 67, the age that I am now. That was 1993. I had moved to Louisville the year before and had started seminary to work on a social work degree.

My father was still working, like me today.

His body was starting to fail him, almost all due to smoking. He would hit 70 a few years later and face several operations and procedures that included heart bypass, colon cancer surgery, and the replacement of his aortal-femoral artery.

These were difficult times for him. I can only imagine.

It was at this time that he was diagnosed with emphysema, which would lead to COPD, and eventually take his life at 82 years old. I’m certain he was demoralized when he received that diagnosis. That’s what aging can do.

You are not the person you were 20 or 30 years ago. You become so much more aware of your mortality. And you begin to lose your sense of value, your sense of worth.

It doesn’t help that we live in an economic system that values productivity, and success, and capital, of which we have a little when we age.

I want you to take a few minutes and read a fairytale about a horse and a fox. It’s short. It’ll take 1 to 2 minutes.

The Fox and the Horse

A peasant had a faithful horse which had grown old and could do no more work, so his master no longer wanted to give him anything to eat and said, “I can certainly make no more use of you, but still, I mean well by you, and if you prove yourself still strong enough to bring me a lion here, I will maintain you. But for now, get out of my stable.” And with that he chased him into the open field.

The horse was sad and went to the forest to seek a little protection there from the weather. There the fox met him and said, “Why do you hang your head so, and go about all alone?”

“Alas,” replied the horse, “greed and loyalty do not dwell together in one house. My master has forgotten what services I have performed for him for so many years, and because I can no longer plow well, he will give me no more food, and has driven me out.”

“Without giving you a chance?” asked the fox.

“The chance was a bad one. He said, if I were still strong enough to bring him a lion, he would keep me, but he well knows that I cannot do that.”

The fox said, “I will help you. Just lie down, stretch out as if you were dead, and do not stir.”

The horse did what the fox asked, and then the fox went to the lion, who had his den not far off, and said, “A dead horse is lying out there. Just come with me, and you can have a rich meal.”

The lion went with him, and when they were both standing by the horse the fox said, “After all, it is not very comfortable for you here — I tell you what — I will fasten it to you by the tail, and then you can drag it into your cave and eat it in peace.”

This advice pleased the lion. He positioned himself, and in order that the fox might tie the horse fast to him, he kept completely quiet. But the fox tied the lion’s legs together with the horse’s tail, and twisted and fastened everything so well and so strongly that no amount of strength could pull it loose. When he had finished his work, he tapped the horse on the shoulder and said, “Pull, white horse, pull!”

Then up sprang the horse at once and pulled the lion away with him. The lion began to roar so that all the birds in the forest flew up in terror, but the horse let him roar, and drew him and dragged him across the field to his master’s door. When the master saw the lion, he was of a better mind, and said to the horse, “You shall stay with me and fare well.” And he gave him plenty to eat until he died.

What are the lessons that we can learn about aging from this fairy tale?

1. We tend to see ourselves, the way our culture sees us. And then we reinforce that by becoming the very thing that our culture sees. The poor farmer didn’t see value in the aged horse. The horse was no longer strong, and he was no longer able to plow the fields, pull the wagon full of grain, or carry supplies from town. In the farmers mind, the horse was worthless, a drag on his economy. And so, the horse withdraws from the land of productivity and enters the forest in his despair.

The horse saw itself as worthless. We become the vision that the world projects onto us. That’s how agism works. It’s like parent projection in a way. Parents project out to their children the wants and dreams they have for them. A doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a mechanic, you get my point. Society projects onto us, those of us that are aging, a vision that we are tired, that we are a burden, and that we can barely expressive a cogent thought. That’s agism.
And then we believe that vision. We succumb to our own ageism, much like the aged horse.

2. The horse goes into the forest.
In the Jungian interpretation of fairytales, going into the forest often symbolized going into the unconscious. It’s in the forest that the horse hears a voice. It’s the still small voice of the fox that saves him. It offers the countercultural solution of agism: wisdom and cleverness. 

Foxes symbolize many things in fairytales. Foxes symbolize overcoming obstacles, solving problems, or outsmarting opponents. The fox is the still small voice that advocates for us. The fox was the voice that helped the horse find its value and it’s worth in the face of despair. 

The message from the still small voice is this: You are more than your body.

Think about that for a minute. We are more, much more than our body. We are powerful, much more powerful than the strongest foes, even the lions in our life.  I remember being a supervisor 35 years ago at UPS. I was responsible for loading aircraft in the middle of the night. This involved sometimes loading 75- or 85-pound boxes into the belly of a DC 10. I often supervised women who had a difficult time picking up boxes that weighed that much. I would train them and remind them that they have the great equalizer. We understood that men typically were stronger than them, but they could use their brain, which was that equalizer, and ask for help.

There is another fairytale about a fox in some geese. The fox came upon a flock of geese and announced that he was going to eat them one at a time. In that fairytale the fox is outsmarted by the geese because one of the geese was not disheartened, and came up with a plan to pray without ceasing, which put off being eaten even until now!
The message is, do not become disheartened, you have within yourself the strength needed to overcome the frailties of old age.

The truth is, you will begin to fade physically.  You will become frail. You will lose outer strength.

But what is also true is you have an inner strength, an inner wisdom, and an inner cleverness that makes you valuable and gives you worth in a society that struggles to know what to do with you.

When you look in the mirror, look past the thinning gray hair, and past the crow’s feet, and past the sunspots, and see the real you. See the person who is much more than a body and see the lion slayer or at least the lion tamer

Look into the mirror and see into those blue or brown or gray eyes, deep into the inner you and see the fox. Listen the clever, adaptable, and cunning you that lives deep within your unconscious, and listen to that inner voice. That’s what will allow you to fare well in a society that struggles to see your worth.

We have some choices in life. On the one hand, we are aging, getting older, and losing our strength.  On the other hand, we can choose not to see ourselves the way society sees us, but see ourselves as having an inner strength that is able to conquer even our greatest foes in times of trouble.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

The Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese at True North Counseling

Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 3 | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 10

What Was the one Moment That Changed Your Life?

I tell my sons and granddaughters that they are here today because the Navy Recruiter had gone to lunch.

Let me explain.

I graduated from high school in 1974. Geez, I’m getting old, yay.
I went to work with my father and Jackson Engineering after high school. He was the vice president and recruited me.

I loved working with Jerry Neese. I loved everything about my father, and in all my life, I never had a cross word with him. I never had a cross word with my mother, unless you count the time she smacked my face. It was the summer of 1968 and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated. My mother was heartbroken and glued to our only little black-and-white TV. I wasn’t very sympathetic and wanted to watch something else, probably Star Trek. Mom refused to change the channel and I told her I was glad he was shot! She stood up and smacked me. I sat down and watched the news about JFK. At least that’s what I hope I did.

Going to work with my father was a no-brainer. I had a new 1974 Chevy Nova, new business-casual clothes, but I wasn’t there but a few weeks and the urge or desire to do something else slowly grew within me. It wasn’t a decision to leave, rather it was a decision to explore. There was a push and pull. The push was the thought of never leaving Southern Indiana, and the pull was all the people, places, and things in this big, beautiful, exciting world we live in. It was an urge that nothing seemed to soothe except the thought of leaving.

So, I decided to join the Navy. My older brother had joined the Navy. My dad was a Marine and served on a ship at the end of World War II.  So, I took a lunch break and went down to the Civic Center overlooking the dingy Ohio River to visit the Navy recruiter. I can feel my heart rate increase thinking about that day in July, two weeks before my 18th birthday. The hall was lined with other recruiting offices. Besides the Navy recruiter there were office for the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Coast Guard. When I arrived at the Navy Recruiters office, there was one of those “be back at” clocks that showed 1 pm. I wandered around the hallway for a second or two and the Air Force recruiter saw me looking a little frustrated and invited me into his office. With Staff Sergeant Burke’s help I enlisted in the Air Force.

In that moment, my life was changed. It changed because I went for training in San Antonio Texas instead of Michigan. It changed because I went to my first assignment, which was Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, where I would meet my sons’ mother and my granddaughters’ grandmother.  My sons and by extension my granddaughters are here today because the Navy recruiter had gone to lunch.

I can come up with a half a dozen other moments that have changed my life. Some educational. Some made about employment. Some made on basis of relocating to a new state.

What about you? Think about those life-changing moments that you’ve had.

Gemma Dale and Her Moment of Change

This brings me to the fourth Obesity Memoir that I’ve read this season. “Memoirs of a Former Fatty: How one Girl Went from Fat to Fit,” by Gemma Dale

Gemma went from a size 22 to size 8, lost 80 pounds and ended her for your journey of weight loss with a half marathon.

Everything I’ve written about this season on how to break up with the food is in her book. There is a push and a pull in her life to break up with food. The push was the shame, the knee problems, poor health, gall stones, and the problem with walking stairs. The pull was as she said, “I lost weight and gained a new life.“ She writes that she doesn’t have a magazine, perfect body, but learning to love exercise, “There is power there is freedom, in your feet.” The pull was being strong.

“Somewhere along the way, in the middle of 2014, something shifted. I’d lost about four and a half stone by this point. And this is when it stopped being just about a number on the scales and started being about how strong I was; how strong I could possibly be. It was about being toned. And what my body might be capable of.”

Gemma writes that you must change the way you think about yourself and about food. If you want to change the way you act. That change, she writes, starts with simply thinking about making a change. “You’ve got to have a dream.”

Where have you read this?

“Fitness,” she writes, “is as much a mental process as a physical one.”

Gemma doesn’t word it exactly the way that I worded it, but changing your eating habits, and your health often mean breaking up with food. It means, “breaking old habits, and making newer, healthier ones.”

Everything changed about her life. Her friendships. Her family relationships. Where she hung out, and who she hung out with.

And she has some wonderful slogans in her book. I love slogans.

“If you want to do something badly enough, you will find a way, if not, you will find an excuse.”

And her racing slogan is “Better last than did not finish, which is better than did not start.”

How did she lose weight? This was a very common theme in the other obesity memoirs that I’ve read. She simply ate less and moved more. There is something very simple about the way these writers lost a large amount of weight. They simply ate less and began moving and exercising.

She talks about the diet industry or what some call, The Fitness-Industrial Complex, and it’s one purpose to sell a fantasy. A fallacy, she explains. She calls what they sell as garbage.

“There is no quick fix. No matter what the latest guru or carefully edited celebrity yells at you.“

And there’s more in her book. It’s an easy read. But what about that moment, that life-changing moment, that changed her forever. I’ll share a lengthy section of her book in her words.

“Most overweight people who go on to lose a lot of weight, have generally had a moment. A moment in which something happens, something shifts and changes, and they finally decide to do something about it.
I had a few moments along the way. Several false beginnings. But there was one moment that moved me from vague mutterings and half-hearted promises, all of which had historically led to not very much at all, to actual action with tangible results.

My moment was New Year’s Eve, 2011. I was at a black-tie dinner at my dad’s golf club. Already significantly overweight, with the Christmas quality street factored in, I was bigger than ever. My long, black evening dress was straining at the seams. A pair of spanks was doing its best to keep everything in place but failing to deliver. I felt, and probably looked, like an overstuffed sausage. My ankles were agony because of all the excess weight pushing down on them. There would be no dancing for me. Just an attempt to hide as much of my bulk as possible underneath the table and my giant wrap. During the evening, I went to the lady’s room. I sat in the cubicle and had myself a little cry. A pity party all by myself. And then that moment I decided. Something was going to change for definite this time. It would be no more false promises.”

She ends this section by writing, “The journey of weight loss is really a journey to a whole new life.”

I thought of my life as I read this obesity memoir.

I still need to grow. I have things that need to change. I’ll take some time this weekend in the Smoky Mountains doing a solo backpacking trip. No talking, just listening to that still small voice.

Open to change, wanting to change and expecting another moment of change in my life.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

To purchase Memoirs of a Former Fatty: How one Girl Went from Fat to Fit, by Gemma Dale, click here.

The Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese at True North Counseling

Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 2 | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 9

Breaking Up with Food by Using Self-Binding Strategies

“Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in an Age of Indulgence,” by Anna Lembke

My wife and I love to use bed and breakfasts when we travel. We stayed in one called Cactus Cove in Tucson on one of our recent trips. We had a desert view of the Catalina mountains and Saguaro Cacti and visited the Biosphere. Pretty cool. Tucson also has great restaurants.


Prior to the Pandemic, we stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast outside Berea, Kentucky that was an old farmhouse built with a wonderful view of an open meadow. On our way to Berea, I noticed the Boone Tavern. We wanted to wake up the next morning, explore, and then finish it with a pint of beer at the tavern. While visiting a pottery shop on the outskirts of Berea, I asked the owner if there were any cool pubs near Berea College. He looked at me and smiled and then said that the county, which included Berea, was a dry county. It didn’t ruin my trip, but needless-to-say I was a little disappointed. By the way, the bed and breakfast had complementary drinks that had been donated by past guests.

Blue Laws

In Louisville, you can’t buy alcohol at liquor stores until 1 pm on Sundays. Having said that, you can order a drink with your brunch on Sunday after 10 am. It seems silly. At the worst, it’s inconvenient, which is exactly what these laws are  meant to do.

These laws are social binders. They are barriers to buying alcohol.

Breaking up with Food Using Self-Binding Strategies

This season is about breaking up with food. This blog is about Self Binding as introduced in Anna Lembke’s book, “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in an Age of Indulgence.” She describes Self-Binding as “willfully and intentionally creating barriers between ourselves and our drug of choice in order to mitigate compulsive over consumption.”

Lembke goes on to describe three types of self-binding.

  1. Temporal Self-Binding or Time self-binding.
  2. Spatial Self-Binding.
  3. Categorical Self-Binding.
  4. I’ve added one or teased out the categorical type to include:
    Social Self-Binding.

I’m going to expand on these as they relate to breaking up with food.

Self-Binding Strategies

1. Temporal Self-Binding (TSB).

TSB means using time limits and finish lines. Time-Restricted Eating or what some referred to as Intermittent Fasting is the use of time limits. You pick an eating window. Let’s say eight hours. You can fast from 8 pm until noon the next day. You break your fast at noon. Of course, you can’t over consume during your eating window, but limiting your eating window is a way of intentionally putting up a barrier to overconsumption.

On most weeks, I use this strategy 2 to 3 times a week. By limiting my eating window, and engaging in exercise activity during the fast, I create a calorie deficit, which helps maintain a healthy weight. There isn’t really anything magical about fasting, except that it tends to decrease your caloric intake throughout the day. The Whole 30 Diet is another example of TSB. You limit your intake of foods like sugar, grains, dairy products, and alcohol for 30 days.

Many of you have been following this blog, and some of my blogs have shared my reflections from Obesity Memoirs. One of the constant variables in these memoirs is eat less/move more. Time-Restricted Eating is a Temporal Self-Binding procedure that helps you eat less.

You can use Temporal Self Binding to limit sweets to only weekends or special occasions. There are some that limit alcohol consumption to 25 or maybe 50 times a year. That would be 2 to 3 times a month. Temporal Self-Binding means structuring your day by putting up barriers that make access to food more difficult. During the pandemic, a therapist friend told me that she decided to only drink alcohol on the weekends. She noticed that she was drinking more because she was home all the time. Temporal Self-Binding is necessary because willpower is unreliable.

2. Spatial Self-Binding (SSB).

Here we are talking about rearranging your space by limiting where we go, limiting what we have in your cabinets, and creating an environment where food is not center stage. I use SSB by not bringing in foods, like sugars and sweets into my home. I try avoiding Panera in the mornings. It also means that I have a healthy snack food in the fridge or cabinet that limits my ability to overconsume. SSB means staying out of the process-food section of the grocery store, you know, the center section.

SSB involves looking at your home, your car, your neighborhood, the route you take to work, your office, where you shop for clothes, where you eat out, where you stop for coffee, and then come up with a plan for making it difficult to relapse back into over consuming and into a dysfunctional relationship with food.

Imagine breaking up with a partner you spent lots of time with hanging out at Sunergos Coffee. It was a tough break up. One of those “I love you, but we aren’t good for each other” break ups, like the kind of relationship you have with food. I think you’re going to want to do some Spatial Self-Binding by finding another coffee shop to avoid running into “you know who.”

Spatial Self-Binding means finding new places to hang out and avoiding the places where you overconsume.

3. Categorical Self-Binding (CSB).

CSB means finding things or categories of things to replace the food that you’ve broke up with. For me, I need to replace sugar, alcohol, and bread. Those are the demons that I want to excise out of my life. So, I need replacements. Some replacement categories include real foods that will help you feel more satiated and more activity that is incompatible with eating processed food.

I remember working with an adult with an intellectual disability who was constantly annoying his housemate. Nothing seemed to decrease that until I asked the staff at his residence “What is he doing when he’s not annoying his housemate?“ They came up with a list of about 20 activities. I said, “Keep him busy doing these things. Offer him a menu of activities.” The behavior stopped immediately. He was too busy, enjoying his life to annoy his housemates.
Ask yourself, what am I doing when I am not overconsuming processed foods like sugar, bread, pastries.

CSB means adding things and structuring things into your life that make it nearly impossible to engage in consuming highly processed food.

In my jeep, I have squeeze fruits that include vegetables and proteins. There is no junk food or fast food in my Jeep. Nuts and dried fruits, that’s it.
I like writing in the evenings. That’s what I’m doing right now instead of eating processed food. It’s silly, but I try to avoid food-shows in the evening.

When willpower is low during the evenings or over the weekends after a grueling week, CSB will make it more difficult to consume, or overconsume foods that I’m trying to avoid.

Lembke stops with three, but I’ve added:

4. Social Self-Binding (SoSB).

SoSB involves the people in your life that affect your breakup with food.
People can affect you in many ways. They can affect you by inspiring you to grow and inspiring you to overcome your addiction. People affect you by being the reason you need to start or stay with your recovery from drugs or food. The love that people show you can help create an inner self-love which fuels your recovery. The people in your life can also weigh you down, affect your moods in negative ways, and can cause you to have an “I don’t give a shit“ attitude about your life and about life in general. And they can also cause a relapse in your recovery. SoSB involves managing the relationships in your life and assessing the influence they have as you attempt to break up with food. Unlike Spatial Self-Binding, where are you simply avoid the places where you overconsume, you can’t always avoid the people in your life that are catalyst for overeating, overdrinking, or overconsuming.

Social Self-Binding is a tool. It’s not a hammer that we used to break things up but maybe a sieve that allows you to sort out your relationships into more purposeful or intentional encounters.

The barriers that you create with Social Self-Binding are there, but more permeable than the other Self-Binding procedures. You let people in, partly, but you know their influence, and you prepare for letting them in.

Before letting them in, you practice letting them in. You practice your encounter. You rehearse your connections with people. People are complicated. At times they help, and at times they disrupt your plans. Seek out the helpers.


These are the Self-Binding Principles for helping you break up and stay broken up with food. They are very behavioral and strategies that you typically set up before you encounter food.

Self-Binding is a tool, along with the other strategies, that I’ve presented in this blog.

I’ve read several Obesity Memoirs, and I’ll share some of the Self-Binding principles that they used on their journey to lose weight and break up with food.


Strategies for Breaking Up, Part 1 | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 8

Why Can’t I Stay Broke Up? Because You Got Issues!

I’ve been a therapist for almost 30 years. It’s hard to believe.

In those early years, I trained as a Child and Family Therapist. Lots of parent trainings. For many of the children, I became a surrogate father. I would take them on walks through the city parks and throw frisbees. We would often stop for lunch or snacks at McDonald’s. Some of these children are in their late 30s/early 40s now. 

I remember one of my young client’s name was Nick. Nick was nine years old, and I had been working with him for a couple of years. We would go to McDonald’s for lunch, and on one outing, he was eating his chicken-nugget happy meal when he noticed another little boy running through the McDonald’s. 

“Mr. Mark,“ he said, “That little boy needs a therapist.“

“Why do you say that, Nick?” I asked. 

“Because he’s got issues,” He responded.

Geez. I wondered where he had heard that, but also remembered that Nick had been in therapy himself for years even at nine years old. 

I have thought a lot about what little Nick said and I think he’s right about lots of kids and lots of adults. When it comes to food, we all have issues, and those issues affect our breakup with food and makes it difficult to stay broke up. 

We’ve been examining ways to break up with food and stay broke up. We’re going to look now at strategies for breaking up in 6 separate parts. In Part One, I’ll share some cognitive strategies, changing how you think about food and about yourself and dealing with your issues. 

In Part Two (Episode 9), I’ll share some behavioral strategies called Self-Binding, because after all, I am a behavior analyst. 

In Parts Three and Four (Episodes 10 and 11), I’m also going to share another obesity, memoir, entitled, “hunger: lessons learned on the journey from fat to send,” by Alan Zatkoff. Here’s what the dust jacket says: “instead of employing, the diet, du jour, and other weight loss foods, he began to focus less on what he ate, and more on the physical and emotional underpinnings of what he came to understand as a disease.”

In Parts Five and Six (Episodes 12 and 13), I’ll share about a Twelve-Step Program called, Overeaters Anonymous.

Let’s get started!

1. If you’re going to break up and stay broke up with food, you must change the way you think about food.

I want to introduce you or re-introduced you to book I wrote about back into 2019. The book is, “The Beck Diet,” by Judith Beck. It isn’t really a diet book. It’s a book on strategies for following a diet using Cognitive Behavioral Strategy. “Cognitive therapy,“ she writes, “helps you identify your sabotaging, thinking, and effectively respond to it, so you feel better, and can believe in helpful ways.“ 

I call these sabotaging thoughts my “Inner Demons.” Several years ago, I was talking to my good friend, Sam, about working out five days a week at Premier Fitness, which included using a personal trainer, kickboxing, powerlifting, and spin. “Looks like you’ve become addicted to working out,“ He commented.  I informed him that I already have plenty of demons that I wrestle with, and I don’t need to worry about whether I’m becoming addicted to exercise. 

Here are some of my demons! 

  1. I work out so I can eat whatever I want.
  2. That one cookie isn’t going to ruin my diet.
  3. I can have a breakfast sandwich from Panera just this morning.
  4. I shouldn’t deprive myself from everything, YOLO!
  5. “I’ll work it off tomorrow.”

These are my demons. Beck’s book is splendid and helps you change how you think about food.

2. If you’re going to break up with food and stay broke up, you’re going to need help.

I used a Personal Trainer throughout most of my 50s. There are other professionals, Certified Health Coaches, that have trained solely for the purpose of helping people lose weight. There are support groups and 12 step groups that focus on overeating. Weight Watchers or WW offers weekly or monthly meetings, both in person and via online. And there are many therapists that focus on the body-mind connection and offer support for exercising nutrition.

There are churches that offer classes and support groups for weight loss and nutrition. Beck recommends that you find a Diet Coach. According to Beck, here’s what they can do for you:

  • Keeps you motivated.
  • Builds your self-esteem.
  • Helps you solve eating problems.
  • Keeps you accountable.
  • Helps you take a more positive perspective.

Ask, what would my coach say?

The Overeaters Anonymous Program includes a sponsor, or diet coach. Beck suggests recruiting a diet coach from close friends or family members. Or maybe someone that has been successful losing weight or breaking up with food and staying broke up.

3. Focus on Incompatible Behaviors.

Incompatible behaviors are behaviors that make it difficult to engage in what we generally call target behaviors. Target behaviors in this sense would be overeating or eating food that is inconsistent with your diet plan. What are some of those incompatible behaviors?


It seems to me that if you’re exercising, you’re not eating. There are lots of things that you can do that are incompatible with eating. This means first looking at your eating patterns. Where do you eat, when do you eat, how much do you eat, and what do you eat, and then, develop a plan to change these variables.

In the Applied Behavior Analysis world, we call these contextual variables for eating your “trigger” foods as some define them.  If you know Behavior Analyst, they can do a mini Functional Behavioral Assessment that will help you uncover your contextual variables.

If not, just start writing down and looking at where, when, What, who and yes why you eat and then write a Behavior Plan.

If you find that you snack at night while watching TV, break up with food by doing something else at that time. Like learning to play the guitar or practicing Mario kart. Change it up in some way.

4. If you’re going to break up and stay broke up with food, you will need to develop a written plan and revise it often.

This isn’t a diet plan, but a lifetime. You’re going to look at all the aspects of your life and change them. If you’re going to change your relationship or break up with food, you need to change your whole life. Don’t think you can read a diet book, like a Mediterranean diet, and think that your relationship with food will change. Let me say something very important, a major takeaway from this blog: You are following a diet as we speak. I’m following the Mark Neese diet. You’re following the: fill in the blank diet. And you are deeply entrenched by it. It is a way of life for you. Your diet is a way of life!

Read that again, and if it is a way of life for you, then you will need a plan to change your life. The biopsychosocial model that we use as therapists looks at all aspects of your life. Relationships. Education. Health and physical aspect. Spiritual and mindfulness approach. Social aspects. Employment.  Hobbies. Recreation.

Compare this with it with the list of contextual variables that evoke or increase the risk of toxic eating. Develop a breakup plan. Example: my plan is 8 to 10 hours of exercise per week. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Decreased eating out. Increase time spent with time restricted eating. Increase fruits and vegetables. I use squeeze fruits and vegetables when I’m driving throughout the city. I have a life planned that guides me. I am revising it even now.

5. If you’re going to have a breakup with food, or with your old, toxic lifestyle, you need to practice this principle: Easy Does It.

Throughout my years of practicing as a Family Therapist, Personal Trainer, and throughout my personal life, I have used the principle of Easy Does It. Slow things down. Don’t push too hard be gentle.

Changing Your Life

Strategies for breaking up with food are basically strategies for changing your life, because your diet is really a reflection of your lifestyle.

I’ve suggested five strategies that will make breaking up more likely. I have a few more to share in part two of this blog. Stay tuned.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

What’s the Hardest Thing You’ve Done? | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 7

What’s the Hardest Thing You’ve Done?

Seven days. Six nights. 17000+/- ft. of elevation. 41 miles. 45 lbs. Minus 2 toenails. One of the hardest things I’ve done. The Grand Canyon.

I wanted to test myself. What a better place to do that than the Grand Canyon. It was 2009. I was 52 years old, and I’d been backpacking for four years and had gone down and come out of the Canyon four times. 

Nothing is easy about doing the canyon. If you think hiking down into the Grand Canyon is easy, you’d would be wrong. Think about walking down stairs for 8 to 10 miles. With 45 lbs. on your back.

You have to prepare by putting on a backpack and putting in the mileage with 30-40 lbs. in that pack.  

The Canyon is one of my favorite places on the earth. I love walking up to the edge of the South Rim at Grand Canyon Village, after being away for a year, and feeling overwhelmed by the view. You can see nearly 20 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim, almost forever. It’s most beautiful when it’s just snowed and it’s cloudy. Especially in January and February when the clouds are hanging around.

I planned a 7 day, 6 night solo backpacking trip. All by myself.

Day One: 5-mile hike down to Havasu Campground and the loss of 3000 feet. 

On one of my trips to the Canyon one of the regulars that I backpack with had invited a friend to “do the canyon.” This was the year my son was graduating from high school, and he was invited. They were 15 of us. A ritual was to weigh our packs at Babbage’s, the outfitting store. My pack weighed 42 pounds and my son’s was 30 pounds. We had both trained hard for this trip. 

The new invitee was 50+ years old and had just quit smoking the year before and was celebrating it with the backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon. Her pack weighed 45 pounds. I glanced at my son, and we both had that, “She’s not gonna make it,“ look.  And in fact, she arrived at Havasu Garden Campground without a pack. She said her legs had turned to rubber. She had dropped her pack halfway down. The next day she and her husband chose to hike out and hired a teenager to haul her pack back up to the South Rim. The Canyon is unforgiving.
I arrived at Havasu Garden CG on this trip in 3 hours, set up my camp, and slept well.

Day Two: Eleven miles on the Tonto West trail to Monument Creek CG.

This is a long 11-mile hike because you were hiking in an out of side canyons. Easily a six- or seven-hour hike. Total exposure to the sun. Day two ends at Monument Creek Campground, which is the payoff for the long hike. The bathroom is three wooden walls. No ceiling. One beautiful view.

Day Three: Nine miles. 4000 feet of elevation gain on the Hermit’s Rest Trail.

It was grueling. Remember my pack was 40+ pounds.

I had planned to hike back 11 miles to Havasu Garden Campground but changed my mind and decided to hike out the Hermit’s Rest Trail back to the South Rim. The problem was that I was going to have to walk 10 miles back to the trailhead and to my car. When I arrived at the rim, I was absolutely, exhausted. Remember I had hiked 25 miles in the past three days. I was lucky to meet a man who agreed to take me back to the trailhead but made me agree to listen to his story about going through a divorce, and how he was traveling from city to city in an RV looking for a new city to live in and call home. You can’t make something like this up. So, I listened.  I stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge, took a shower, and slept in a bed.

Day Four: I hiked down the Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch.

8 miles. 5200 feet of elevation loss. The good news: I was fresh and rested. The bad news: I was wearing new boots that rubbed the top of my toenails and remember it was 8 miles of descent, and it resulted in blisters under my toenails. That’s right blisters, not on my toes, but under my toenails
I set up my camp at Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the Canyon and went to bed.

Day Five and Six: My plan was to hike out to Ribbon Falls (13 miles round trip)

Instead, I popped the blisters under my toenails and laid around for two days.

The thing about the Canyon is, if you go down into the Canyon, you have to get yourself up out of the Canyon. There are mules. There are helicopters. But unless you’re almost dying, you have to get yourself out. So, I cut the toes out of my new boots and hiked 8 miles and 5200 feet up out of the Canyon.

Seven days. Six nights. 17000+/- ft. 41 miles. 45 lbs. Minus 2 toenails. One of the hardest things I’ve done.

“All Bets Are Off”

Betsy Hartley‘s book, “All Bets Are Off,” has a grueling story in it. Don’t let me confuse you here. She ran a 100-mile race in under 30 hours. I didn’t do that. 

I’ve done a couple marathons. And all the training to prepare for them, but not 100 miles. 

I was exhausted after reading about this race. Geez! It was one of the most grueling accounts of a race that I’ve ever read. But this is not the real story of her book. 

Her story is about losing 220 pounds. Not an easy feat. 

Her plan: Eat less, move more. 

She started this plan in July 2011. Five years later, 220 lbs. lighter. 

That was the most grueling thing she did. Imagine. Five years. 44 pounds per year. Then run 100 miles in 30 hours. 

Honestly, one of the most impressive things I’ve heard or seen was she broke up with food and stayed broke up. That’s what this season of Healthy Aging is about. How to break up with food… How to change your relationship with food. 

What was the turning point in her life? What were her agents of change? 

What Didn’t Help?

Hartley spent 40 years of her life living with obesity, and with the “well-meaning” comments from family and friends. People were concerned for her health and safety, but no matter how tactful, and no matter how loving the comments about her weight, none of them helped. It only made her feel more ashamed. 

Shame is not a good change agent! 

Here’s why: shame makes you want to eat more, because food has become your drug of choice to address your shame, your guilt, and your depression. We feel bad, we eat, we feel better. It’s a never-ending cycle of “food comforting negative feelings!!!!” 

Stop and read this again!

What Did Help?

If it wasn’t all the noise in her environment about her weight, then what changed her? It was that still small voice that came from within her consciousness, her shadow, her true self, and her authentic self, that evoked the change to lose weight and begin living.

The Push and the Pull

Betsy’s willingness to listen to the still small voice from within helped her decided that she had had enough. That was the push in her life and the pull was that she wanted a life without diabetes, a life of mobility, and a life of running. 

It takes a push and a pull to change. Change comes when you take some time and listen to the voice within. “The biggest mystery for me,” she writes, “in my whole crazy adventure is why I finally chose to listen to that little voice, which I smothered for so long. And I work every day on making that voice, stronger and louder.”  

The Still Small Voice

There are a lot of takeaways from her book, but the still small voice struck a chord with me. The voice was saying to her, “It’s time to love yourself. It’s time to lose some weight and begin caring for yourself. It’s time to become something else, a more authentic something else.”

What helped her stay broke up was not the love of running, but what running represented. Running represented her domination over her appetites and over her body. Running, summiting Mount Sherman in Colorado, doing the Grand Canyon, cycling across Indiana, or anything else you do is telling your body, “Eff you! You’re gonna do what I tell you to do!”

That’s what I was doing in 2009 on my Solo Backpacking Trip. 

It’s more than that. It’s the beauty and majesty of all you see and experience while dominating your body.

But that its core it’s about telling your body it’s going to do what you tell it to do and not the other way around.

It’s the process of total domination as Nandor from “What We Do in the Shadows,” says to the zoning commission on Staten Island. The total domination, not of you, but of your body! That’s what we admire about athletes. They have worked their bodies into almost complete domination.

We regular people, like Betsy Hartley, fall short of total domination, but attempting feats of strength is our way of joining the fray. This next weekend I’m headed to the Smoky Mountains to do Mount Sterling. It’s not for the faint hearted. Three days. Two nights. 18 miles. 7000+ minus feet of elevation, hopefully not losing my toenails. Not the Canyon but a challenge. The second day will be grueling. I do it in part because I can but also do it because I want to send a clear message to my body that it will do as it’s told. I struggle every day for total domination and to stay broke-up with food. Hartley is a wonderful example of the person who wrestled with obesity for 50+ years and continues to work toward total domination of her body.

Those are my takeaways from her book. Breaking up is all about listening to that still small voice and staying broke up is all about taking charge of your body and telling it what it’s going to do. It is a wonderful challenge and a wonderful strategy in life.

How about you? Are you a Betsy Hartley?

I have a hard time finding people to Backpack with me, especially as I get older. It’s rare for me to find people that are up to the challenge. But I keep pushing on, and I keep dominating my body, and I work very diligently at staying broke up with food. 

How about you?

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

To purchase or view “All Bets are Off,” By Betsy Hartley at Carmichael’s Book Store, click here

All Bets Are Off: My journey of losing 200 pounds, a showdown with diabetes, and falling in love with running (Paperback)

Why it’s so Difficult Breaking up with Food (Part Two) | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 6

Keep It Simple Stupid

“What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

How many diets are there? Lots! Wikipedia has a page entitled, List of Diets.

 There are belief-based diets. Buddhist diet. Jain diet. Islamic diet. Kosher diet. 70 Adventist diet.
There are low-calorie diet. Time Restricted Eating. Cookie Diet. Nutrisystem’s. Weight Watchers.

Very low-calorie diets. The Last Chance Diet, I love that. Tongue patch diet.

Low fat diet. McDougall Starch Diet.

Crash diets. Beverly Hills Diet. Cabbage Soup Diet. New Trophic diets. Subway Diet.

Detox diets. Juice Diet, Master Cleanse Diet.

Geez. I could go on and on.

Four or five years ago, I read 75 to 100 books on nutrition, but really they were all about diets. 

I haven’t even mentioned, Paleo, Carnivore, Whole Food Diet, Keto, or Dash Diets. After reading many, many books on most of the diets that are out there, what did I learn? 

Two things: They all work and none of them work

Most of them have some truth, some effectiveness. Most of them help you lose weight. But all of them fail to help you sustain your weight loss. In other words, they help you break up with food, but failed to help you maintain that break up.

Honestly, the Diet Industrial Complex has confused the hell out of me and I’m sure you too.

Take eggs. I am so confused about eggs. Should I eat them? Should I avoid them? Thing is, eggs have almost every macro and micronutrient you need. 

That leads to the question about foods high in saturated fats like red meat. Eat, or avoid, or as some would say, limit red meat.

And there is a question about grains. Can I eat any kind of whole grain? Should I avoid them?

How about simplicity? I was reading an email from AllTrails about Global Dog Day. Who knew? It was entitled, Trails and Tails Belong Together.

They gave what they called petiqutte.

Three simple guidelines. 

1. Respect leashing rules for everyone’s safety. 2. Leave no trace means scoop that poop. (This reminds me of my hikes in Broad Run Park where I walk past flowerbeds and it smells like a dog toilet.) 3. Don’t forget to bring water for your dog. I’ve seen people break this rule when they’ve been attempting to climb The Incline in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It’s a 1-mile trail that gains 2000 feet of elevation. I would shake my head wondering what people were thinking when they brought their dog and no water.

What’s a simple way of looking at nutrition? Michael Pollan gives three rules that I think help simplify the matter. His rules are: 

Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

This past week I read, “Nature Wants Us to be Fat,” by Richard Johnson, MD.

Honestly, it had some good stuff, but it was a convoluted mess. In the interest of simplicity, I’ll share two takeaways.
Both takeaways are important in understanding why it’s difficult to break up with food, and stay broke up.

Just a reminder, this is part two of “Why is Breaking up with Food so Hard to Do?”

Here is my first take away in Johnson’s book:

The reason why it is so difficult to break up and stay, broke up with food is because we are genetically engineered as a species, to easily and quickly put on weight. And we are genetically designed to keep that weight on.
Imagine if that weren’t true. Humans would be extinct.

We had to be able to put on adipose tissue, which is fat, easily and keep it on during those times of famine or lack of food.

The human species spent six months a year putting on weight by seeking out calorie dense, rich food, which included fat and sugar in the form of fruit. This genetic predisposition also included having an appetite for those calorie dense foods.

Our bodies have a regulatory system comprised mainly of hormones. That system worked very well with our early ancestors. Today it is a curse!

Almost no civilization today in the modern world has to deal with famines. But because food is abundant year-round, it’s as if the “weight gaining function” of our survival system is stuck in the on position.

The survival system is so strong that most of us could put on 10 pounds in two weeks. It is so strong that it will overwhelm your willpower, your reason, and your moral values. Richard Johnson is right, we have a difficult time breaking up with food, and staying broke up because every part of your genetic engineering and evolutionary make up is working against us. “It wants us fat,” as Johnson states in his book,  “and it wants us to stay fat.”
That’s my first take away from Johnson’s book which he takes three chapters to describe.

My second take away: Johnson tells us to stop eating sugar

I’ve written a lot about sugar and all its forms, to include added sugar, in several blogs 3-4 years ago. I could not agree more with Dr. Johnson. If there is a culprit in the awful history of obesity, it’s sugar. Johnson traces the increased manufacture and consumption of sugar and its associated increase in obesity.

If our history was from The Lord of the Rings, sugar would be Sauron. Sauron is the stuff of nightmares throughout that trilogy.
Sugar is our Darth Vader, except sugar will never come back to the side of the Force like Vader did.
Sugar is the Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” I cringed when I think of him.
Sugar is the Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Voldemort’s command of dark magic is so complete he can fly without a broom. A bad dude.


Back in my Air Force days the acronym KISS came up a lot. There are several versions of what this acronym expresses. Maybe it’s not PC to express it in the USAF way, but it communicates well.

Keep it Simple Stupid

And so, here is my KISS diet, which could be stated in more simple terms, “Eat Real Food.”

1. Quit eating sugar in all its forms, except for fruit
2. Eat fruits, and vegetables. This is where we get micro-nutrients or vitamins and fiber. How much should we eat? I don’t think anyone gets enough, so eat as much as you want. How simple is that?
3. Easy lean protein. What kind of protein? Lean protein (Pork, chicken, beef, or plant-based). Most people don’t get enough protein. You should be getting .36 g for every pound. I weigh 195 pounds. That means I should be getting at least 70 g of protein. Keep it simple. Eat lean protein.
4. Get plenty of omega-3 fats. In other words, stay away from vegetable oils.
5. Stay away from processed food. All of it!

No sugar. Fruits and vegetables. Lean proteins. Omega-3 fatty acids.

Keep it Simple Stupid.

That’s the KISS Diet. It’s free. It’s been around for centuries and millennia.  You can tweak your diet with time-restricted eating. You can abstain from alcohol. You can do all kinds of things that you want to do to make your diet work, but keep it simple stupid!

Honestly, Johnson has a plan in his book that is very similar to the plan that I’ve just mentioned. It just took 270 pages to explain it. And $26.95.

It looks a lot like the Mediterranean diet. Check it out.

There is so much background noise and confusion out there about nutrition, and I believe Johnson contributes a little bit to that background noise.

One of the reasons we have a difficult time breaking up with food is all the noise and over-complication that’s been created because of peoples need for notoriety.

Everyone wants attention so they come up with a new diet.
Everyone wants a click or “like” so they come up with a novel nutritional idea and post it.
Everyone wants to make a buck so they write a book.
Everyone wants to be in the spotlight so they create a fine point that frustrates everyone, like telling you to not skip breakfast!

If you want to break up with food, and stay broke up, my recommendation is KISS!

Keep it Simple Stupid!

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

To purchase or view “Nature Wants Us to be Fat” by Richard J Johnson, MD at Carmichael’s Book Store, click here.