From hunger to wholeness: ‘road map’ to avoid overeating

By Marika Sboros

Hunger is one driver of overweight, obesity and associated health problems.  Another is the “weight” that many people with obesity carry.

That weight is as much emotional as physical, say the authors of a new book. From Hunger To Wholeness is a “road map” to guide readers back to a healthy weight.

The co-authors are UK-based psychoanalytic psychotherapists, Caroline Taylor-Thomas and Pam Kleinot. I came across it as both are former journalist colleagues of mine back home in South Africa.

The book’s subtitle gives their aim: Strategies To Free Yourself From Overeating. To deliver, they mix extensive investigative reporting skills and clinical experience of patients with eating disorders and other forms of substance abuse.

Taylor-Thomas is a senior psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in London. She also lectures and supervises therapists in Dublin, Ireland.

Kleinot is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and group analyst who has worked at the Women’s Therapy Centre, HM Prison Holloway. (Holloway closed doors in 2016 after housing some of the UK’s most notorious female inmates for 150 years.)

Kleinot is now a filmmaker, currently making a documentary on the UK’s NHS (National Health Service).

A ‘really tricky bit’

Together, the two marry “psychoanalytic and other understandings of how to stop destructive eating patterns”. They also address emotional and psychological factors that drive hunger and overeating.

That’s no mean feat, given the complexities of the human mind and myriad reasons why people to overuse and abuse food. However, just as alcoholics and drug addicts can stop abusing their drugs of choice, the authors say anyone can stop abusing food.

They say that the really tricky bit is “to stay stopped”.  That requires motivation – and the realisation that the pain of abusing food outweighs the pleasure that food brings.

Thus, the authors take readers on a mind journey. It moves from self-harm, self-loathing and neglect to treating themselves with love, care and respect.

Taylor-Thomas and Kleinot say that with their road map, progress can be swift. In a few days, minds can begin to clear. In three weeks, overeaters can be on their way to freedom from dependency.

No ‘grazing’

And in three months, they may have sufficient distance from dependency to make rational rather than reactive, compulsive decisions about food.

The authors briefly review psychoanalytic theories underlying hunger and overeating. They say that comfort eating is not new. “Freud considered it to be the result of trauma or a significant event in the oral stage of childhood development.”

They look at the social dimensions that contribute to overeating. And they give advice on what and what not to eat.

The authors recommend three well-planned “reasonably sized” meals with all three macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbs). They say that this removes “conflict” that flows from always thinking about what and when to eat.

They steer clear of any controversy from endorsing a particular “diet”, whether plant- or animal-based. I think that’s a missed opportunity. The authors do advise against “grazing” – conventional dietary advice to eat lots of small meals throughout the day.

Traffic ‘lights’ for binge foods

They say that it’s helpful to think about “trigger” foods that set off eating binges. And they suggest a “traffic light system” to help readers navigate binge minefields.

They tread a predictable path here and “red light” the usual suspects. No-go foods, therefore, include sugars, chocolates, cakes, ice cream, and foods containing white flour and refined starches.

Meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and fats get the “green light”. Presumably, meat includes chicken, but fruit is a surprising inclusion as so much of it is high in fructose (fruit sugar).

The emphasis overall is on “clean”, healthy, nutrient-dense foods and on the lower end of a high-carb spectrum. That makes much of this book not new.

Its main strength is the short and sweet roadmap to begin to get the mind right. That’s a plus for time-poor readers. The book also has a resource list at the end of organisations and programmes offering help with food addictions. That’s helpful for those wanting to go further on this journey.

But most important is the reminder that mind and body are inextricably linked when it involves hunger.