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Food is an addiction

an interview with the psychologist Magdalena Angelova

Mrs. Angelova, we all know that the extra kilos can cause us problems. We know what is healthy and what is harmful, but why do we still fail to follow the rules?
MA: Of course, there is culture in diets, as well as an attitude towards the body. But it should be an inner mindset, a necessity; it should be implicit and passed on within the family as knowledge and attitude. It is an external mechanism - we choose what substances to put in our mouths.
However, sometimes we permanently put on weight, without changing our diet. It seems that we do not eat more, but still gain weight. Or we bury our nose in the fridge in the evenings. We feel the need to eat more and more, even if we no longer feel hunger. The same mechanism is involved in all of this.

What is it?
MA: For me, the psychological is of primary importance and it is what defines the way the body feels. To a great extent, it also defines our approach to food. In many cases we take up more tasks or we take over somebody else's responsibilities. At a certain point, this becomes an everyday mechanism at the expense of our Self. We do not spare time for ourselves, we start burdening ourselves and this can psychologically trigger weight gain. Because of mental overload, conflict, anxiety or self-repression we develop some somatic, i.e. physiological syndrome.
For example, once we are in a committed relationship, we say we cannot see our old friends anymore, because we are in another system. In this way, we set the internal command that the Self is not as important anymore, since society can judge us.
At the workplace, we are worried that someone is our team is not pulling their weight and in order not to fail the system we take over their fair share of the work, or start controlling. The body reacts, and the symptoms are its way of communication with us. The Self starts rebelling. Yet, we are stubborn and lightly wave away those concerns: it does not matter, I will go on, what is important is not to have problems in the family or at the workplace.

How can we get out of this vicious circle?
MA: The idea is not to go to extremes when serving a model, which at some point proves to be harmful to us- we develop a body symptom, for example weight gain. We can reject food or start stuffing ourselves and eventually gain weight. These are two extremes concealing the same problem - one has violated their self-continuum, psychologically, something is not working right. The body develops a symptom, through which it wants to tell us that we have some kind of a psychological "bug" The symptom wants to communicate with us; it comes as a friend trying to shock us.

Sometimes culinary is hedonism, and attitude towards food is also escapism from everyday life. Could this be a problem?
MA: If something is associated with pleasure, and not conflict, pain or anxiety, it is better that one cater for this need. If one is into the art of culinary, the psychology of nutrition, if one likes to create, to trigger intense sensations through cooking or the feel of the different products, then this makes them feel fulfilled and they feel pleasure, therefore, it is not a symptom. It is a problem when they do something only because they have to- something is driving them to do it, but it does not make them feel good. It makes a world of difference whether a person feels pleasure or guilt when eating.

And this is a matter mostly of intuitive knowledge...
MA: Yes, I would not like to help somebody rid themselves of something if they say: I feel like a creator, it makes me feel fulfilled, it brings me joy, it makes me inquisitive, I feel pleasure, I smell it with my senses and it completes me. After that, it is so pleasant for me to savour the taste one precious mouthful after another - I like the sounds the others make while enjoying their meal, I like to pour a glass of wine and sip through it, then I go to bed and I am proud of what I have created. On the next day, I wake up with the happiness of knowing that when I am done with my daily tasks, I will go to the bio-stand in the supermarket and buy new products.
And the other side of coin: you think to yourself: I cook and everything seems to be tasty to me, but then I eat 3 steaks, 5 slices of bread, waffles, I go to bed in the evening, but I cannot fall asleep, I feel guilty about having stuffed myself, guilty that I will gain more weight... The indication that something is wrong is, when one starts talking about unpleasant feelings, about pain, guilt or rejection.
It's a problem when one does something only because they have to- something makes them do it, but it does not feel right.
The second story can hardly make you feel good – at an energy level you feel that this person is overeating, but not with desire, not with that creative, feel-good element. Everything screams of pain, suffering, and a lost connection with the Self. There are some inner conflicts and they lead to addiction- whether it be to food, alcohol or drugs...

Is there any stereotype, that chubby people are good-hearted and kind? Are there such norms in psychology?
MA: There is a similar idea, but in ayurveda. It deals exclusively with nutrition and there is a type "kapha"- chubbier people who love food. They are described as slower, calmer, not so hot-tempered. Their physiological structure corresponds to the psychological one and makes them more phlegmatic and melancholic.
The others – vata, are more vital, aerial, but they cannot stay on the same place, while "pitta" are fiery, those who rage. There is such a typology, but psychologically, the question lies entirely with the personal interpretation of weight. The anorexics see themselves as fat, while in your eyes they are extremely thin. The question is also on the perspective others give us.

As if this is a complex more frequent in women, one which lowering their self-esteem. Is that so?
MA: When it comes to weight gain, it does not matter whether you are a man or a woman. If one reaches the point where they start to retain and put on weight, then they are in some way psychologically dissatisfied. Whether it is because of relations, some needs, or suppressing some desire, they defensively compensate it with food. The mind is deceived that if it eats, it will satisfy those needs and it will feel more complete. But this is an illusion and we fall into a trap- those needs will stir again, because on the other day we will face the same reality, we have to stuff ourselves again and thus an addiction develops.

Is the problem not, to a great extent, rooted in the fact that society has imposed on us the stereotypes of the Barbie dolls and the muscular bodies?
MA: In my opinion, this is only an excuse, and there is a difference between an excuse and a reason. Yes, society can impose a social norm, such as that the ones who are as thin as the catwalk models are prettier and more desired. And if the mind is vulnerable, it there is some inner criticism, it is far more convenient to use this as an excuse and say: here it is, I have to conform to the cliché in order to be liked. This means that this woman criticizes herself for being unworthy and unattractive - she is destructive towards herself. The real reason is another.
When a person twists their body and looks deformed, this means that they are also psychologically deformed. They have lost the healthy relationship with themselves; they maybe suppress some unspoken desires or suppress their individuality, because they are afraid that others would not understand. Maybe this person does not have control over their own desires, because they give up on them and in this way try to create external control by overeating. All this is once again a defensive mechanism and an illusion.
No motivation can come from the outside, unless one already has it inside.
If we realize what the real psychological reason is and we let go, the symptom will also disappear. When we look back and see what is that we are hiding, what we are running from, what we refuse to admit, what we suppress, we will have awareness about this escapism and the symptom will have no reason to stay in our lives, there will be no need of this addiction, there will be no reason for us to stuff ourselves.

Why is it so hard to follow diets?
MA: Hard?! No motivation can come from the outside, unless one already has it inside. You need a motivation to set a goal to accomplish something, to believe and feel deep within yourself that this is what you want - to accomplish this goal. Diets mean limitation- something, which we have to sacrifice, one pleasure less in life.
Every creature, every Self stands against decreasing pleasure. This starts even in our infancy. Although, if we did not create needs or prohibited some pleasures, we would not develop, we would not evolve, we would not accomplish anything. Overindulgent individuals have no motivation to search for new solutions for, or be active, they have nothing to overcome. It is good to have restrictions, difficulties, because it makes us develop, upgrade, to get to the next level.

More and more people are talking about child obesity. What is the approach there? A weight complex is always more serious...
MA: Yes, children are much more open and state things clearly - the way they are. They can be very rude, because aggression is a part of life and our sexual drive. The responsibility for a child's nutrition lies with the family. Parents should not allow children to eat everything they find appealing. And children, like all of us, are attracted to things that are not exactly ours, but we have such needs.
Last night at home we sat at the table and a loaf of bread was set in front of us. My mother said that after 9 o'clock in the evening, it was not good for the child to eat pastry or sweets, because it would feel heavy in the stomach. That was fine with me but once there was bread on the table and we were eating it at 9.30, how could we explain to a 2-year-old child not follow our example?
We make a mistake and this child stars thinking- what is happening, are these people in their right minds, why do they have this right, and I do not, when I came from them after all? The child will live with the feeling that it is forbidden for him or her only, therefore it must be doing something wrong. How can one explain this? We should not eat bread either, if we want the child to understand and thinks: apparently it really is not good and so I will not do it either.

What can give us the perseverance needed to do it? Emotional stability?
MA: Yes, of course. But in most cases we are under mental pressure while also tired, we do not have the energy to explain, to create family rituals. We do not have the energy to impose this family equality- we let the others be, let them stay at the computer, not bothering the others. We see that the child is overeating, but we do not have the energy to argue. At a certain point a chaotic model is formed, where everyone decides for themselves "what, how, to what extent". But the direction we have to take is exactly the opposite.

Donika Borimechkova:
The 15-kilo battle to get back in shape with a mild diet

I had never had problems with kilograms, because I am an active dancer and even if I did not eat healthily, physical activity always helped me stay within the range of normality. The problem started after my second pregnancy - I have two children with a relatively small difference in age. The diet, which I had to keep during my pregnancy and breastfeeding, was high in carbohydrates and it had a devastating effect on my curves.
I went to Doctor Nikolova to seek advice - I did not know what to do. I had never been on a diet and I had no idea what it is to eat right. I was 75 kilos when I first went there but after 6 months following that regime I managed to lose the desired 15. It did not take a lot of effort.
Doctor Nikolova recommended eating 5 times a day. I was supposed to keep track of what I was eating - weight, quantity, combination. For example, for one meal, I was allowed to have 200 grams of my favourite yogurt in addition to a fruit or a vegetable. It is good to avoid fruit rich in carbohydrates like bananas. It is better for the dinner to be lighter and not later than 20h. Snacks consist of fruit or vegetables, for example
an apple, a carrot, a handful of radishes. I was still breastfeeding but there was no problem whatsoever.
I retained my new weight for a year and the time came when I had to go back
to work. I am a kindergarten teacher and I could not manage to adjust my work shifts to my eating habits at home and I exploded again. Doctor Nikolova has put me on a diet once again but this time it is a lot more bearable and less restrictive. It consists mainly of protein food. A lot of yogurt is allowed, and that suited me perfectly as this is one of my favourite foods. Two detoxifying days are done every week, during which 1.5 kilos of fruit and vegetables are taken in 5 equal intakes. It sounds stressful but it actually is not a small amount at all.
You can eat anything, but carbohydrates and fruit can be eaten only in the morning. At the beginning you wonder what is there left to eat for the afternoon... But you get used to that as well, as long as you have the will power and determination. I am doing pretty well again; I am 5 kilos lighter in less than 3 weeks.
I have cheated, I have not been strict about my diet, but whenever I cheated it was followed by a fruit and vegetable day. The regimen is easy to follow, as long as it is suited to your needs and your way of life and responsibilities.
What motivated me was that until then I had never been that heavy- the horror of not being able to get into my clothes was unbearable. It felt as if that was not my body, you do not feel adequate. I could not dance- it was like making a chain smoker dance for two hours straight- it feels heavy and you are out of breath. On top of that I am the mother of two boys; I did not want them to be made fun of on my account - look how fat your mother is.
I am a child psychologist and I am coming across eating disorders in children more and more often. There are many overweight children aged 5 or 6 who already have weight issues. This comes from the eating habits in the family. For many parents it is easier for their children to sit in front of the TV or computer. Everyone realises that good eating and physical activity are important for their child, but sometimes it is difficult after an 8-12-hour working day to pay the necessary attention. This is however compensated by the kindergarten and the strict daily routine which they have there - eating 4 out of a total of 5 meals a day. There is only one left for the parent, which with a little bit more effort can be something other than a pizza or French fries every day. If you take away the fizzy drinks and replace them with freshly squeezed juices or water you will have the perfect balance. Every child will find a way to be active; they just should not be restricted.