Moderation and Thermogenesis

Emotional eating and emotional food restriction is common. Food, weight and body obsessions cause people to eat too much or two little in response to their emotions. Some people feel an emotion that is uncomfortable and literally try to stuff their their feelings through bingeing, while others are so full of feelings that there is no room for food, so they restrict in an attempt to “numb out” or quell their feelings. For sure, there are much better ways to soothe ourselves through emotions than starving or stuffing. Using recovery skills to cope with feelings is far more effective than eating or not eating in response to them.

These behaviors have led to complex rules around what foods are okay to eat and what foods are not okay to eat. The reality is, all foods are fine in moderation. That’s right –all of them, every single last one. Your body breaks food down into basic components for fuel. It doesn’t know the difference between a cookie and a granola bar, ice cream or yogurt. To your body, a grain is a grain, a fat is a fat, a protein is a protein and it knows how to break down and use all of them.  If you ate something that suddenly makes you feel anxious, break the food down into it’s components. Take pizza, for example. It is equivalent to bread, tomato slices and 2% milk. For most people, those items do not make them nervous at all. The fact that it is served in a triangle shape and heated creates some panic in some people. But when you break it down, you find that the grains and proteins really are not intimidating at all. So, rest assured, the cookie you just ate will not pop out of your thigh, or make your legs suddenly grow wider. What it will do is taste good and as part of a meal plan that is filled with variety, it will provide you with some fantastic energy to accomplish all of the things you need to accomplish in a day.

Understanding thermogenesis is not only helpful but important. You can best understand diet induced thermogenesis by looking at heating and cooling systems of homes. If you shut off the heating or cooling system in your house (basically provide it with no fuel) your home will undoubtedly become too hot or too cold. Similarly, if you don’t give your body enough fuel, it will ‘shut off’ or stop nonessential functions  to conserve energy. If you give your body too much food, it will speed up or increase your metabolism by producing heat that you’ll experience as sweating to “spill’ the excess energy it doesn’t need. Summarily, your metabolism increases when you take in more calories and decreases when you take in fewer calories. When an eating disorder or disordered eating is active, people work hard to take in pretty much the exact same amount of food each day. The problem with this is that your body really balances out over the course of a week or so-not every single day. If you eat a little more than you wanted to one day, thermogenesis will kick in and burn it off keeping your weight stable. Your body is always trying to work towards homeostasis. During these times,  if you are mindful, you will also notice that when you have a little more than you typically do, you  naturally want a little less the next time you eat. The body is miraculous and wise, if we just get our heads out of the way. Similarly, if you eat too little one day, your metabolism will slow down to conserve energy and keep your weight stable. Pretty cool, right?

“So, why are there people who are too fat or too thin?” Good question. The reality is, you can override thermogenesis if you consistently eat too much or too little for a prolonged period of time. There are also other metabolic and medical conditions that can affect weight and metabolism. Take for example thyroid conditions. Certainly if you are eating in moderation and your weight is not stable, seeking a medical work up is wise to ensure that your thyroid and other organs are healthy and well.

Use this knowledge frequently! It works beautifully to quell anxiety and allow you to enjoy food again!