Want to Break Up with Food? Learn to Hike!! | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E21

I was sitting in Terminal C at the Denver Airport gate 47 recently. I had a five-hour layover. Time to write and observe people. I’ve been noticing something concerning at airports with the past few years. I’ve noticed more and more people needing wheelchair assistance to get to their gates and to board. I researched it and here’s what I found.

First, let me say that many disabled travelers report nightmares when traveling via the airlines. The Department of Transportation cited a 108% increase in complaints from flyers with disabilities in a three-year period from 2019 to 2022. Complaints range from lost or damaged wheelchairs to embarrassment from poor transfers and even physical injury. Traveling with a disability that requires a wheelchair can be a horrific experience. Thankfully, the Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. I encourage you to read it and know your rights. It gives flyers with disabilities recourse if their rights are violated. 

Second, I want to ask, “Why has there been an increase in wheelchair use?” Airlines do not keep statistics on wheelchair use, so here are my thoughts. People with physical disabilities and frail older adults are flying more to stay connected with people and places. Boomers are aging. Families are relocating away from their hometowns. Flying helps them stay connected.  But, I also think there has been an increase in people with mobility issues that have resulted from being overweight or obese. Many of those seeking wheelchair assistance can walk short distances, but due to the loss of stability and mobility, they lack the muscle and aerobic endurance to walk through large airports. I don’t want to overgeneralize, and my heart breaks for people with severe mobility issues, but with my Personal Training background, and a specialization in senior fitness, I think it’s fair to make a few assumptions. The real question is, can mobility issues be prevented and improved upon in cases with adults suffering from obesity and physical disabilities?  The answer is yes! Older adults can enlist the help of a professional to regain their mobility. 

I recently read two articles in the New York Times that agree with this conclusion. The first article, “Just Two Minutes of Walking After a Meal is Surprisingly Good for You,” by Rachel Fairbank, looked at walking as a means of managing your blood glucose levels. “In a meta-analysis, recently published in the journal of sports medicine,“ she writes, “researchers looked at the results of seven studies that compare the effects of sitting versus standing or walking on measures of heart health, including insulin and blood sugar levels. They found that light walking after a meal, in increments of as little as 2 to 5 minutes, had a significant impact on moderating blood sugar levels.”
Managing blood glucose is extremely important as a means of reducing the risk of developing type two diabetes. Weight management is extremely important as we age. If we do nothing, it is possible to put on 2 to 3 pounds a year, amounting to 20 or 30 pounds over the period of a decade. We wake up and we’ve gained 30 pounds! It happens. If a 2-to-5-minute walk helps, think about how much more benefit at 20-to-30-minute walk after dinner. 

When the weather permits, my wife and I do three laps in our neighborhood after dinner. That’s about 30 minutes and adds up to 1 mile or 1700 to 1800 steps. Without changing your diet, walking 10,000 steps burns 300 to 800 cal. That adds up to a pound a week. Just walking enhances your mobility.

The second article was about the benefits of hiking. In her article, “Hiking Has all the Benefits of Walking and More. Here’s How to Get Started,“ Danielle Friedman, writes “Hiking offers all the cardiovascular benefits of walking, but the uneven terrain does more to strengthen the legs and core muscles, which in turn, boosts balance and stability. It also burns more calories than walking.”

Because of my Personal Trainer background, I have encouraged aging adults to incorporate instability into their workouts. If you want to be more stable and less prone to falls, you need to activate muscles that do not get activated on even surfaces. I rarely train with trekking poles. I use them as handrails when I’m doing elevation in places like the Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, or hiking in Colorado. Otherwise, I leave them home and allow the terrain to challenge my legs, knees, and ankles. Friedman offered some very good advice for getting started. I’ve got about 30 years of experience hiking, 20+ years of backpacking, and here’s my advice for getting more stable.

These are suggestions and not necessarily in order of importance. Just my random thoughts.

1. Find a park that has trails and maps of those trails. Louisville has lots and lots of parks with trails and maps as well. I hike in the Jefferson Memorial Forest and in the Parklands. Maps are available online or at the visitor center at the Jefferson Memorial Forest. Trail maps for Parklands are typically at the kiosks at the entrances of the park. There is the Bernheim Forest, KY and Hoosier National Forest in Indiana. There’s the Daniel Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge in the eastern part of the state of Kentucky. I just Googled places to hike in Kentucky and many, many hits. There is no excuse not to hike in Kentucky.

2. Start easy and progress to harder trails. That means, starting with short trails and trails with less elevation. Trails are usually, but not always posted as easy, moderate, or difficult. I would suggest flat or no elevation trails that are 2 miles or less for your first hike. Move at a 30 minute per mile pace. You should finish in one hour.

3. Buy some gear. You’ll need a day pack and some water bottles. Shoes and socks. I always wear smart wool or acrylic socks, and I buy most of my shoes from Quest for the Outdoors. Don’t buy the most expensive shoes but don’t buy the cheapest shoes.

Take with you in your daypack: 

  • Ziploc baggies in case it rains
  • Take an umbrella in case it rains
  • You’ll need insect repellents, mostly for chiggers that you’ll need to put on your ankles
  • You need a map.
  • You’ll need clothing that is determined by the time of year. I buy most of all my clothing at Walmart, Target, and, at Meijer’s. It’s cheaper and good quality wicking material.
  • I use a smart watch to track my hikes. I use a Fitbit because its app works better for me.
  • I take a headlamp, especially if I’m going to be hiking in the evenings.
  • Take some snacks, which typically consist of energy bars.

4. There are lots of hiking groups for hiking and a variety of experience within those groups, so you won’t feel uncomfortable or intimidated. I did a Google search of “hiking groups near me” and found nine groups with links to each group.

5. Get out and enjoy the trails. Hike for your mental and physical health. Some of my most relaxing and creative times have been on the trails. Learn to love the hills. If you hike in Kentucky or Southern Indiana, you will encounter hills. They are your friends. Hills are the HITT experience in the woods.

I am a very even-tempered person, but I find myself getting upset when the weather interferes with my hiking. 

My wife is the same way with Jazzercise. Develop a love for hiking and it will keep you fit, stable, and out of the wheelchair.

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

The Four-Letter Word That Will Help You Stay Broke Up with Food | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E18

Alcoholics Anonymous Step Two: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.“

I sat in the non-smokers section of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and listened to men and women tell their stories. Despite the loud ventilation system, I heard pain, joy, and most important hope. As they spoke about hitting bottom, what their lives were like before, and how they escaped addiction, and now what their lives are like, you hear the word, miracle or miraculous throughout. Many people’s lives have changed through AA. Not all, but many.


That’s alcohol and that’s addiction. Most agree. But what about food? And can you be addicted to food? I believe the answer is yes. I’ll be sharing from the book, “Dopamine Nation: Finding balance in an Age of Indulgence,” by Anna Lemke, MD, and her thoughts about breaking up with food. Her book has changed what I think about addiction.

Old Beliefs about Addiction:

You can only become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Addiction is the process of increasing your tolerance of a substance, needing more and more of the substance to get the same effect. You drink or use more to overcome that tolerance.

New Beliefs about Addiction:

Anytime you activate the pleasure pathway, you activate a dopamine response. The regular use of pleasurable substances or engaging in a pleasurable activity, stimulates a dopamine response. Regular releases of dopamine can increase the risk of developing your increased tolerance to dopamine. In other words, because of your increased tolerance to dopamine, you need more and more dopamine to get the same pleasurable response. We become dependent on this activity or substance to sustain your increasing tolerance to dopamine.

You become addicted to dopamine and the activity or substance that activates the release of dopamine.

The food-pleasure pathway. You eat food, sugar, fat, salt and feel good. Do you love that feeling?

My grandmother Louise would make me a birthday cake each year, and I would always request a banana cake with peanut butter icing, and MF, it was good. My wife made one for my 67th birthday. MF it was good! All the memories, all the sugar, all the love I felt in one piece of cake. It was a dopamine high. I ate a piece and froze the rest. It’s in my freezer, and I’m tempted to take out a piece and eat it right now. But I realize the danger of activating my pleasure pathway. I didn’t have any added sugar yesterday. Hopefully, not today. It’s dangerous! Sugar is addictive, don’t doubt it for a second.

Food addiction is no different from any other form of addiction. If you are going to overcome food addiction, you will need to come to believe that there is a power that can restore you to sanity. It’s the power that you have within you. It is greater than you and it is you. It is the magic that you have within.

The Magic Within

It’s the combination of all the positive voices within you. It’s your fifth-grade teacher who told you that you can accomplish anything if you just try and study. It’s the high school English teacher who told you that you were smarter than what you think. It’s the father or mother or grandparent who held your hand and hugged you and told you that you were special, in a good way.

Your power is all those voices within you.

Your power is the dreams that were planted in your soul by many, many, many people who love you and have sewn within you the seeds of growth and possibility. There’s hope within you because there is power within you. As you set out to change your life, know that there is a power greater than yourself. It can be God. It can be the inner power that comes from those “voices” that hoped for your best.

My hope comes from my mother who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be.

My hope comes from all the successes that I’ve had these 60+ years.

My hope comes from seeing others change, and grow, and overcome addiction, and become better.

As you set out to change your life, know that there is a power greater than yourself.

People change because they have hope.

They believe in the power of change. You can and will change if you believe in the power that is greater than yourself, if you believe in that power within you.

If you believe you can change, you can overcome your addiction to food. Hope is not enough, but hope is the miracle part. You will need many tools for change, but hope is the one indispensable tool.

I have given you several tools that you will need to begin that changed, but we will also need hope.

You may not believe in magic, but if you believe in yourself, you will see magic. You will see the power change you from within.

You will finally break up and stay broke up with food!

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

Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese of True North Counseling

Want to Break Up with Food? Climb Every Mountain! | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E17

This blog is a second reflection on “It was Me all Along: A Memoir,” by Andie Mitchell.

Colorado has 58 Fourteener’s. For those of you not from Colorado, a Fourteener is a mountain with the elevation of over 14,000 feet. I’ve done 11.Grays Peak. Pikes Peak. Quandary peak. Mount Sherman. Mount Ross. Mount Cameron. Mount Lincoln. Mount Bierstadt. Mount Democrat. Torreys Peak. Mount Massive.

I’ve done Democrat twice and Sherman twice. Each has its own memory. So, I guess that makes 13.

I left a $400 camera on the top of Mount Sherman, the first time. I did Bierstadt on my 60th birthday. Mount Massive was on my 55th birthday.

Mount Quandary was the one I almost quit. The last half mile of every Fourteener sucks. As I approached the summit, I could see people congregating on the top. I was spent and oxygen deprived. I thought about turning around. No one would know but me. Even the people I passed on my descent would think I submitted. What’s a quarter mile. I sat down on the small boulder and pondered my decision. I’m not sure what got me off my ass to summit Quandary. Maybe it was inner shame. Maybe it was inner pride. Did I play a mind game on myself, asking myself why waste all the effort that it took to get here? Regardless of that moment, it was mind over body. Sometimes the spirit is willing, and the flesh is weak. Sometimes the spirit is more than willing, it’s strong. That day, it overcame the weakness of my flesh.

Maintaining your breakup with food is no different. In the midst of our Mount Quandary moments, we want to go back to our old relationship habits and seek the comfort that we got from food.

Earlier in the season, episode two, I shared a little about childhood obesity, the new scourge of our country. Andie Mitchell’s book, “It was Me all Along: A Memoir” was the source that I used to share the trauma and shame that many children experience  growing up with obesity in America.

What helped her climb her Mount Quandry? What helped her break up with food and maintain that breakup for nearly a decade?

I’m going to share Andie’s breakup with food and want to do that through the lens of the Transtheoretical Model of Change.

In a nutshell, the Transtheoretical Model has five stages. 

“The transtheoretical method (TTM) of behavior change is a theoretical model that is based on an integrative theory that is used to assess a person’s readiness to change and adopt new and healthier behavior patterns. Sometimes known as the “stages of change”, it addresses the stages of precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination. Used for many types of personal change, this approach is arguably the most dominant model of behavior change in use. Each of these steps is important to the change process”(alleydog.com).

The precontemplation stage really is the stage where you’re not even thinking about your problem. The contemplation stage is “Yeah, it’s a problem, and I think about it a lot.”

These are the thinking stages. In the first two stages, there is little action. No breakup. Maybe you’re thinking “Yeppers, there needs to be break up. I need to break up with food.”

That’s the pre-contemplation and contemplation stage. 

Maybe like Andie Mitchell, the contemplation stage started in your life with an annual physical in the eighth grade

Andie Mitchell writes that she began to think differently about her weight when her doctor said, “Andie, my girl, you’ve got to lose weight, or at this rate, you’ll weigh 300 pounds by the time you’re 25.” 

She was overwhelmed by that thought. Information. People. Experiences. That’s what moves us through the stages; from thinking stages to doing stages.

The Preparation Stage could easily be called the Learning Stage. She learned the healthy eating and exercise guidelines. Do you know them? 

  1. Eight, 8-ounce glasses of water, 
  2. Lots of fruits and vegetables, 
  3. Limited processed food, 
  4. No sugar, 
  5. 30+ minutes of moving a day. 

She later learned about calories. “I learned that most things in life, like cereal and orange juice shouldn’t be limitless.“ Andy moved through the Planning Stage, which is the bridge to the doing stages. 

Maybe this is the breakup stage. I’ll repeat: Information. People. Experiences. These are the things that moved Andie through the stages. I believe the two most important skills for breaking up with food are listening and reading. I do not think you can grow, or change, or overcome addiction to something like food, if you do not listen and read. Maybe reading is not exactly what I mean, but you have to be a learner. 

Andie moves into the doing stage and then back into the planning stage, and then back to the doing stage again; learning and trying out new skills, learning from her mistakes. She got closer and closer to the summit. She could see the crowd congregating at the top. She wanted to quit, but all that she had done, all that she had seen and heard, made her stronger inside. She had broken up with food and stayed broke up.  

She joined Weight Watchers.

“This time around,” she writes,  “I took instantly to the Weight Watchers plan. After the first meeting, my motivation and commitment had been restored. Meticulous by nature, I loved the structure, the planning, the goals. It felt comfortable. Counting points taught me the fundamentals of nutrition and portion size, essentials I’d never known that I should inspect ingredient lists for calories, fat, proteins, and fiber, that quantity matters, and quality, too. I liked being given a framework, a quota of points for the day based upon my weight and height in goals, it was up to me to spend them however I wanted. Because though whole foods are wonderful, and lovable and all manner of virtuous, sometimes I wanted to use my points on a brownie, rather than anything more nutritiously sound.”

She had learned a lot about food, about her environment and the people in her environment. She learned how to distract yourself from food and people. She learned and utilized some self-binding concepts. I’ve written about self-binding or setting up barriers between you and what you are addicted to. As a reminder, the Self-Binding methods are spatial self-binding, temporal self-binding,  categorical self-binding, and social self-binding. Andie would call Kate or Sabrina to talk about anything as a distraction. She spent time outside in nature. She spent time away in Italy, learning and growing.

And yes, she relapsed, but learned from her mistakes, forgave herself, loved herself, and started running.

Running isn’t the secret “pill“ to stay broke up, but it worked for her. It could’ve been walking, hiking, or cycling, or Jazzercise. She filled up her life with exercise, journaling, professional development, and with living. And she stayed broke up with food. Now she writes a blog. She helps others. That’s what helps her stay broke up.

She saw the summit and got off the boulder and finished.

These obesity memoirs have been absolutely inspiring for me. These are people who have set out on a journey to grow and  become the best people they can be, and the healthiest people they can be.

Andie Mitchell broke up with food and stayed broke up. She climbed the mountain.

Postscript: I wrote this blog two days ago. The next day I left my room at the Eagle Fire Lodge, in Woodland Park Colorado, and drove over to Mount Sherman and summited it. It was grueling, 37 degrees, 2027 feet elevation for 2 1/2 miles. And ends at 14,043 feet. There were 50 mile an hour winds at the summit.  Quitting did not cross my mind. It was a little scary. The wind and the narrow trail leading up to the summit, and then the thought of slipping on the scree going down. I did a little self-talk and joined the congregating crowd at the top.

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

Image of stairs at Red River Gorge

Moderation Management for Eating | Healthy Aging Series: S9 E16

It’s the Halloween season as I write this episode, which means Scary Movie Sunday at our house. The movie “The Nun” caught our eyes so we watched it. Yeah, I know, it’s not High Art, not like the Exorcist.

There is a scene near the end, that somewhat illustrates what kind of person you are when it comes to picking the program that helps you break up with food. The priest and the nun are rushing off to battle Valak, the evil nun. The secular helper, Frenchie, who is feeling a little powerless asked, “Don’t you think we should pray?” And the priest answers, “There’s a time to pray, and a time to act. Now is the time to act!”
Frenchie reluctantly joins them, and they defeat the evil presence.

I don’t think everything can be separated into either pray or act, but there are people, and you know who you are, who have a more “God helps those who help themselves,” attitude about personal change.

There are people who see themselves as having the power within themselves to change. They don’t need a higher power. They see their problem with eating as a problem with eating. Not a disease.

And some of those people see moderation, not absence as an option. If you’re that kind of person, there is a program out there that can help you break up with food the way you want to break up. Maybe you want a total break up with food, never another gram of sugar, never another slice of bread, never another bottle of Pepsi, or Coke, for the rest of your life, or maybe you can partake in these things within reason, once or twice a week, or special occasions, or in small doses.

Then you’re the kind of person that will be interested in Moderation Management for Eating (MMFE).

How does MMFE work?

The starting point.

Although you feel powerless over food, the truth is that you have enough power to start. That will grow into power to sustain your control over food. “As you take each step forward, your belief and confidence in your ability to succeed will grow.“ (Writers of Responsible Drinking.) “Some of us will never obtain a “take it or leave it“ attitude toward our drinking or eating, but we will obtain the power to make the decision to “take or leave the next drink, or next bite of food.” (From the book Moderate Drinkers).

Power begets power. What we practice grows stronger, as Mindfulness Gurus proclaim.

MMFE starts with faith in yourself.  MMFE focuses on all the things you’ve accomplished and change in your life. To see yourself as powerless is to ignore everything that you have battled and overcome. You have solved your problems. You have found your job. You have finished your education. Growth and change are slow, but as you equip yourself with the right tools, you will change and overcome your problem with food.

Next, 30 days and nights of displaying your superpower abstaining from Trigger Foods.

MMFE members make a list of foods that trigger problem eating. The list most likely includes sugar, processed food, and whatever causes you to lose control. The 30-day period is a time to display your superpowers. You show food who’s boss. You make the decision and stick with it.
You tell yourself that it’s only for 30 days. You’ll be able to eat that food again. Maybe you want to eat them again. But it’s your choice. Moderation or abstinence.

You sprinkle 30-day sessions throughout the year. January. The 30 days leading up to your birthday. Mine is in July so that works well. Some of you might want to do it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve done that.

And then, make a support system. Currently, there is a website called Abstar for drinkers who want to moderate their drinking.

You can set days during the month to eat Trigger Foods, and then set goals for the amount of Trigger Foods. You eat on each of your goal days. You record each week the days you succeed. No one is checking to see if you are recording drinks or donuts. You are moderating a substance that has a grip on you. Food? Alcohol? If you’re struggling with obesity. It’s just as serious as problem drinking. 

Or you can make or create a community of MMFE’s. You can find people on social media platforms that would be willing to do web-based support, like zoom meetings.

So far here’s what we’ve covered.
1. MMFE starts with power from within.
2. There’s a 30-day power session
3. Find or make a community for encouragement and emotional support.

Finally, put in place a Skills Plan that will help you succeed in breaking up with food.

“Responsible Drinking: Motivation Management Approach for Problem Drinkers,” written by Rotgers, Kern, and Hoeltzer.

There are books out there that will walk you through all the details about moderation management. Of course, these books have to do with managing or moderating your drinking, but simply replace the drinking with food.

I encourage you to read this book. It’s a gold mine of skills for controlling your eating. Just remember to replace drink with eat.

Chapter 6: General, Drinking, Eating, Control skills.

I’m going to list them and do the “find and replace” function for you.

1. Understand what is “enough.”
For me, sugar and no-bake cookies are my problem food. I have learned that one bite can often satiate me with my sugar fix. I buy a cookie. I take a bite. I put it back in the bakery bag and smash it up. Enough.

2. Think ahead. Put sugar into your schedule, when you will plan on eating it in the week to come.

3. Measure and count. I’m not a big fan of counting calories, but it works for many people. Just remember the Obesity Memoirs that I wrote about. Most of writers used the  “move more/eat less” approach. It helps to count calories.

4. Self-talk. Have a script. Have slogans. Love yourself.

5. Focus on fun. Stay active doing the things you enjoy. Learn to enjoy moderating your food. Make it a game.

6. Think about tomorrow. Someone one said that nothing tastes as good as healthy (she said skinny) feels. Think about how you would feel when you stick with your plan.

Chapter 7: Pinpointing your drinking or eating triggers

This chapter looks at the antecedent strategies for overcoming Trigger foods. The people, places, times, activities, work-related and money-related circumstances, as well as feelings, and major life events that trigger eating Trigger Foods.

And finally, Chapter 8. How to manage your triggers for overcoming problem foods.

I offer an example of urge surfing in a later episode. It helps you know how to manage anxiety, which is often the trigger for consuming Trigger Foods.

I’m Just scratching the surface of MMFE.

If you want to learn more about MMFE you’ll need to Google moderate drinking on Amazon, and it will provide several books on this topic.

MMFE is an approach that has many similarities with Overeaters Anonymous but there are two differences that set them apart: powerlessness and abstinence only.

What kind of person are you?

Do you see miracles or coincidences? Are you a prayer or a doer? I know I’m oversimplifying this, but I think you get what I’m saying. Overeaters Anonymous and MMFE are two choices with lots of overlapping principles. Both can help you break up with food.

Regardless of whether you find the power within, or you find the power outside yourself, you have the power to break up and stay broke up with food for the rest of your life.

It’s time to choose.

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

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

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.