Episode 86 Summary

  • What is overeating? We need fuel to run our bodies, we need the energy that we get from food. Overeating however, is when you eat more than your body requires and more than your hunger dictates. It is possible to overeat any food, whether it is healthy or not.
  • Leptin resistance - leptin is a hormone made by our fat cells, and it is meant to tell our brain when we are full. For a lot of people who have been overweight for a significant time, they develop leptin resistance. This means that the brain stops listening to the leptin, making it hard for these people to realise when they are full.
  • Resolving leptin resistance - once you eat low carb real food for a while your insulin will come down, and once this happens your leptin resistance will resolve as well. Eating low carb real food is a great way to get your hunger back online.
  • The reasons that we eat - we eat because of physiological hunger, to numb difficult experiences (stress eating or emotional eating), and over desire of food (food our brain views as being extra yummy). 
  • Can I eat as much cheese as I want? This is a common question in relation to eating a low carb diet. Although cheese is a healthy food, if you are eating it for reasons other than physiological hunger, the answer is a resounding no. Physiological hunger is the primary reason why we should be eating food, regardless of how healthy it is.
  • How to determine if you are actually hungry - a good trick to determine whether you are actually physiologically hungry is to ask yourself, “If this was a chop or an egg, would I still want it”? This is because when you feel really full, it's very hard to eat another egg or another chop.
  • The stories our brain tells us to enable overeating - your brain can convince you that a food is really nice, or that you need or deserve to eat a particular food because you are tired, or you have worked hard, or because that food really is amazing. But our brains come up with stories and these stories are not necessarily true. You can decide if the story is true, and if it's not, you can change it.  
  • Can you self-regulate a particular food? You can help to avoid overeating by understanding whether you can regulate your eating of a particular food or not. If you know or find out that with certain foods you find it very hard to limit yourself to a particular or appropriate amount, it's helpful to avoid eating these foods.  

Show notes:


Can I eat as much cheese as I want?


Dr Mary Barson: Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr Mary Barson.


Dr Lucy Burns: And I'm Dr Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. Good morning, gorgeous listeners. I'm here this morning with our very favourite Dr Mary and we have a wonderful episode in store for you, which I think you'll find super helpful. Good morning, Dr Mary, how are you this morning?


Dr Mary Barson: I'm good, I'm good. I'm having an interesting time in my life at the moment, and I think some of the interesting things that are going on for me really lend themselves well to our discussion on today's topic of non-hungry eating and overeating healthy foods. So I am pregnant. I'm 36 weeks pregnant while we're recording this, which is exciting. Baby is coming via elective caesar in just three short weeks, and I've got gestational diabetes, which I have previously mentioned. And it's very interesting watching my blood sugar's and watching this whole journey unfold for me, because what I am learning among other things is something I already knew, but I am seeing it in like real physiological terms: how much our emotions affect our physiology. So I'm measuring my blood sugars very frequently. Also, I've been using a continuous glucose monitor at times as well. And I notice that when I get stressed and getting stressed, I am from time to time, my blood sugar's go up. And I can just see the rise right there on the continuous glucose monitor, right before my very eyes, with no other physiological changes. I'm not eating, I'm not doing anything else to make my blood sugar go up, other than my body's going into a fight or flight response, and the glycogen stores are being released and my blood sugar is going up. So it's really fascinating to watch. And it also brings to mind, I think another thing that we talk about a lot which, stress management is not about avoiding all stress in your life. It's about having strategies and learning ways to cope with the stress that you can't avoid. Because there are just some unavoidably stressful things as I wind up work, as I get ready for maternity leave, as I do all the things that I have to do. So our emotions are our physiology, our physiology are our emotions, the two things are totally intertwined, and this is what I have been reflecting and musing on recently.


Dr Lucy Burns: I think that, I mean we've talked a little bit about it in our previous episodes on meditation, I think where we did an episode on the difference between meditation and hypnosis. And as you all know, I love, love, love an analogy, dogs being my favourite muse. And I talk about that meditation is the practice if you like, of teaching your dog to walk. And as you teach your dog to walk, you're bringing it back all the time, because the dog wants to run off and sniff bushes and you know, wee on poles and bark at cats and whatnot. And a lot of people think that stress management is the absence of bushes, the absence of poles, the absence of anything that makes your mind wander and focus on distressing things. And that's actually magical thinking, because life is always going to have stressors. They are always there, they're unavoidable. And what you've mentioned is that learning how to manage those, learning to work with your physiology, work with your mind, is really one of the essential keys to being able to manage then your long-term health, weight loss and metabolic processes.


Dr Mary Barson: Absolutely, you're right. And one thing that I have learnt for which I'm very grateful and also proud of myself in recent years, and I've worked hard on gaining this skill, is to be able to manage my stress without reaching for food or alcohol. Never been a big drinker, but I certainly used to use food to manage my stress. But I think I did go through a transition phase when I went from, you know high carb eating sugar addiction, being in this vicious sugar addiction cycle, to low carb eating where I would still use low carb real food, like I'd use healthy food to comfort myself. And I think there was this time, a transition phase where I was still using food to soothe, it just wasn't ice cream. I say this a lot with our beautiful people, with our beautiful members, with our clients, with our patients, don't usually see overeating healthy food.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. And I guess the first thing would be to define what overeating is. And as you all know, we don't believe in calorie counting and calorie restriction. But there is still this idea that, you know if we boil it down, we need fuel to run our bodies. We need energy you know, and that's what calories are, they're a measure of energy. So at some point we need some energy to come in, then what our body does with that energy is at some level beyond our control. Like we can't decide how fast our heart will beat, we can't decide what our body temperature will be, there are many mechanisms beyond our control. But the idea of overeating is really this concept that you eat more than your body requires and more than your hunger dictates. Now for some people, lots of people actually who have had, maybe who have been overweight for a significant time, have a thing called leptin resistance. I think we've talked about it before. Leptin is, it's a sneaky little hormone, and it's made by our fat cells. And the idea is that it's meant to tell our brain that you know, “Look, we've got plenty of fuel”. So the fat cells make the leptin and then the leptin says to the brain, “Yep, look, this person has plenty of fuel, you know, nice and full, all good”. The problem is, like lots of things when our metabolic hormones go askew, we get a bit resistant to it and what that means is the brain stops listening. So the body makes more and more leptin to try and tell the brain, “Listen, listen to me, we've got plenty of fuel”. More and more fat cells making more and more leptin and the brain just can't hear it. And so it becomes quite tricky for many of us to really notice when we're full.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes. With metabolic disease, our hunger signals and “I'm feeling full” signals can go offline. You know, our bodies just can become totally deaf, dumb and blind to that, “Hey, we're hungry, it's fine, stop eating signals”. And one beautiful thing that happens when you eat low carb real food for a while is your insulin comes down, and when your insulin comes down, your leptin resistance resolves as well. So eating low carb real food's a great way to get your hunger back online and that can really help people. I think it also can take people a little while to learn to trust their hunger again, though.


Dr Lucy Burns: And I think for lots of us, we've never been hungry. Like you know, if we had, you know many of us have followed various diet plans along the way, which often have breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, morning tea, snack after dinner, so the three meals, three snacks a day. There's very little opportunity for your body to develop any physiological hunger if you're eating that frequently. So you know, it's like everything, it's a skill, recognising hunger. In some ways, almost being able to determine how hungry you are, and then to determine what you actually need. And this comes up a lot when people will say to us, “Oh, you know, I'm looking at the green list foods”. And you know, as you know, our green lists comprise of low carb real food. “So does that mean I can eat as much cheese as I like”? I mean, that's a super common question, “Can I eat as much cheese as I like”? It's like, “Hmm, let's just unpack that”.


Dr Mary Barson: Totally. I've even had it go the other way where people have said, “Well, isn't the whole point of a low carb diet, is that you can eat as much cheese as you want”? No, no. The point of a low carb real food diet is to nourish your body in a beautiful way to heal your body to gain great health. So can you eat as much cheese as you want, Lucy?


Dr Lucy Burns: The answer is an absolute resounding no, if you are eating cheese for reasons other than hunger, physiological hunger. So this is the tricky thing. We eat for I guess a few reasons. One: physiological hunger. We're hungry, we need fuel and nutrition. And you know if that was the only way our brain works, it would be so easy, but it's not that easy. The second reason we eat is to numb difficult experiences and we all know that as stress eating or emotional eating. And then the third reason is over desire of food. So food, our brain will look at food as being extra yummy. I mean, certainly processed food absolutely fits into that category. Our brain goes, “Oh my god, that looks amazing”, and suddenly you've eaten a whole cake. So physiological hunger, self-soothing, or over desire, they're kind of the three broad categories. There's probably some subgroups in there.


Dr Mary Barson: I love that.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah, yeah. So one of the things that I tend to do, and it's not like it's actually a big, you know complex thought process that goes round and round. But one of the things I like to do is ask myself, “Why am I eating this food”? And it's asked in a very nice way. It's not asked in a you know, I don't have to analyse it. I don't have to spend hours thinking about why am I eating? It's really just this idea of, okay, am I actually hungry, hungry, like physiological hungry? And you know that we will often use chop, or eggs as a barometer of physiological hunger. Because you feel really full, it's very hard to eat another egg or another chop.


Dr Mary Barson: So you ask yourself, “Am I chop hungry? If this was a chop, would I still want it”?


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah.


Dr Mary Barson: That's good.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely.


Dr Mary Barson: Yep.


Dr Lucy Burns: Then, if the answer is no, well that's pretty easy then. That's like, “Okay, I'm not physiologically hungry”. Alright, so then my brain goes, “Ah, okay, so I must be one of the other two”. And is it just that I really want this food because my brain is telling me how nice it is? Or is it that I'm sad and need comforting? Or tired and need comforting? Or angry and need soothing? Or in my case, one of my favourite emotions that will trigger me to wanting to eat is resentment. And I already know, and the story in my head, the words that come in my head are, “Poor me, I have to work so hard”. And as soon as I start saying that, “Poor me, I have to do this horrible job”. You know, “Poor me, I have to work so hard. Poor me, I have to go and do my tax. Poor me, I have to work late because you know, it's been so busy during the day”. If the story in my head is not poor me, but my brain is still saying yes that, you know you want to eat that jar of peanut butter, or that packet of macadamias. Sometimes it just is that my brain has decided that this is like the best thing in the world. It's like manna from heaven. It's some sort of amazing thing, and it invents a story. Because remember our brain, the way our brains work, is they get bits of information, often past and present, and it will construct a story around them. The story may not be true, because it will fill in the gaps and it can make it true. However, when you are able to step back from your thoughts and look at them with some curiosity, you can actually decide if that story is true and if it's not, you can change it. So the example being, you know I just, I love peanut butter, I just want to eat it by the spoonful. And you know, there's a jar of peanut butter there, and it's calling my name. And I just want to go and have it and it's after dinner and I deserve it and I should be having the peanut butter. You can actually decide in your head that actually peanut butter has no power over me. It's just mashed up nuts. It's mashed up nuts that mean nothing to me and you can make your story that if you want to. You can make your story whatever you want it to be because you're the boss of you.


Dr Mary Barson: Yes. And I love what you said about you look at your thoughts with curiosity. So you ask yourself, “Why am I eating this”? But it's not a hating, berating yourself, “Argh, why am I eating this”? It's just a, “Why, why am I eating this”? And tuning into your body. Am I hungry, am I not hungry? What is the reason? And if you're eating this food for some reason other than physiological hunger, then it probably falls into the category of unhelpful versus helpful. Even overeating real food, good food, can move you further away from your weight loss goals because it's added nutrition, it's added fuel. Your body will burn the fuel that you eat before it burns the fuel that you've stored. So if you're consistently overeating, even healthy foods, then you can be moving further away from your goals rather than closer to your goals. It is of course better than overeating hyperpalatable, processed foods, which will continue to damage your metabolism, but it's still not helpful. And it's still really common. You talked about anger and resentment and sadness. I reckon another reason why people overeat real food emotionally is also joy. You know, I want to enhance the moment, so celebrate the moment with more food. And also, for me, I have something I need to watch, is boredom. I'll use food as entertainment.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yes.


Dr Mary Barson: Yeah.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah, and it's interesting that entertainment concept. That came up recently in a coaching call, where society now uses food as entertainment a lot. I mean, cooking shows are more popular than ever, and to the point where the food is part of it all, but also the drama and the thing that comes around all of these reality TV shows. So I used to watch MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules all the time and you know, I'd often be going, “Oh, that looks amazing that”, oh and Adriano Zumbo or whatever his name is who used to make those really incredible looking, crazy desserts. And I realised that by continuing to sort of watch these sorts of shows I was not, it was further away from the person I wanted to be. So in my head, I wanted to be someone who is, who's healthy, who focuses on, you know nutritionally dense food, who doesn't obsess over macarons, because that was my old me, was obsessing over, “Oh, my god, macarons”. You know, it's like this scarcity mentality around, you know whatever is currently in fashion in food. You know, so it was sticky date pudding at one stage. Then it became, you know macarons and now it's God knows what else? And I just thought, you know what? Watching these shows is just not helpful to me. It's not helping me think about what I want to think about. It's making me think about the things I don't want to think about. So rather than sort of resisting, you know the thing I don't want to think about, like standing on a train track and hoping the train doesn't run you over, I just decided to start watching them.


Dr Mary Barson: Very sensible.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah, just get those triggers out of my life, it was easier, much easier.


Dr Mary Barson: It is. You know bringing it back to I think, what would be a beautiful way to conclude this episode about what is helpful and what is unhelpful, and that is the reframe. We don't like to think of food as good or bad, or to put emotion or blame onto food. I mean honestly, if you eat chocolates, all you're doing is taking a food substance, unwrapping it, putting in your mouth, chewing it and swallowing it. Like at no point are you murdering anybody, you're not committing some great crime. There should really be no guilt or blame because guilt and blame aren't helpful. But even though there's no guilt or blame, you can still divide your actions into helpful and unhelpful.


Dr Lucy Burns: I really like those words, because for me I also look at, can I regulate this food or not? So some food for me is really easy to regulate. You know, again steak, like I rarely overeat steak. Like, you eat it, it's pretty filling. I don't kind of go, “Oh my god, that was amazing, I wish I could have more”. And go back to the fridge 20 times to go and get another piece of steak out. I don't overeat vegetables usually, although I know you do have a little problem with cauliflower.


Dr Mary Barson: I have a cauliflower problem, a potential cauliflower problem, which I'll tell everyone about later.


Dr Lucy Burns: But I do know that I have trouble, and you've all heard me talk about this, I have trouble regulating nuts. I really do. They're really, I know they're on the list, and they're on the green list. But for me, you know the idea of eating five macadamias or 30 grams of macadamias or whatever would be a reasonable amount is very hard. So it's much easier for me to have none than some. And you know I've asked myself a number of times, why is this? You know, it's not processed food, it's not like jelly babies or lolly snakes for which I could wolf down a whole packet. But I think for some of, at some very basic level, the idea that this hand to mouth action, so when you pick up a nut and you pop it in, that hand to mouth action is a very primal action that we as humans do from when we're born. It's why children suck their thumb, it's very soothing. It's why people bite their nails when they're nervous. The hand to mouth action is just something that elicits I guess, a soothing response. So I think the nuts fall into that category for me. The same with low carb desserts. It's interesting, I can regulate. I make that chocolate egg mousse; I can regulate that. That's actually, what I will usually do is put it into muffin trays and freeze it because I quite like it frozen. But I don't go running back and having five of them in a night for some reason. And that's just an observation, I can't necessarily explain it. But I go, “Oh, okay, well that's alright then because I can regulate that, so it's easy”. You know, I want to make my life easy. I don't want to have to have discussions with myself over things all the time, so learning to know yourself. And this takes time, learning to know yourself and learning to know what is easy for you to regulate and then sticking with those, actually makes life easier, not harder.


Dr Mary Barson: It's helpful.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah.


Dr Mary Barson: And you do it, you do it with kindness and curiosity. You don't come from a place of self beration. I have a problem with cauliflower mash. It's delicious and if I make it, I have a lot of trouble regulating my intake of cauliflower mash. It just, I think it's the dopamine hit I get from that, the just, the creaminess, the saltiness, the butteriness. I can just keep eating it and eating it and eating it and I can indeed eat it till I make myself unwell. Whereas if I'd just got some steamed broccoli, I won't do that. So I've noticed that about myself and I will very rarely make cauliflower mash. Or if I do make the cauliflower mash, I like, very similar to what you do with the mousse, I'll like put it into little portions and freeze it so that I'll just like have one portion with my, you know stew or whatever. But yeah, cauliflower mash, I could very unhelpfully overeat that for sure.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. And again, it's not a you know, there's no judgement and berating. It's just noticing, noticing going, “Hmm, I have trouble regulating that. Okay, well, I just need to be mindful of that”. And you know, you're the boss of you, so you get to decide what you want to do. No one's telling you that you can't have cauliflower mash ever again. No one's telling me that I can't have macadamias. I just know that it is easier for me to not have them in the house and to really minimise my exposure to them.


Dr Mary Barson: That's right. You're making your life more helpful rather than unhelpful.


Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. So lovelies, I really, I think that's what we'd love to finish on, is that you are the boss of you. Nobody can tell you what to eat or not what to eat. But what you get to decide is what is going to help you achieve your goals and what is unhelpful? And doing the things that are the most helpful, and making those easy is going to, again, make your life easier. The things that are unhelpful, if you can make them harder, like not having macadamias in the house.


Dr Mary Barson: Not turning your cauliflower into mash, just leaving it as steamed cauliflower.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah, that's helpful. It's interesting, I'd love to know, do you have the same issue with cauliflower rice, as you do with cauliflower mash?


Dr Mary Barson: No.


Dr Lucy Burns: No.


Dr Mary Barson: It's just something about the consistency and saltiness and butteriness of cauliflower mash.


Dr Lucy Burns: And I wonder if there's, again you know some childhood link to perhaps mashed potato.


Dr Mary Barson: Oh, quite likely, yes.


Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah.


Dr Mary Barson: Yep.


Dr Lucy Burns: So again, it's this, I love just being able to observe our own thoughts, feelings and actions with curiosity rather than with judgement.


Dr Mary Barson: Lovely. Goodbye, everybody.


Dr Lucy Burns: Have a wonderful week, darlings and we'll see you all soon. Bye for now. So my lovely listeners, that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr Lucy Burns.


Dr Mary Barson: And I'm Dr Mary Barson. We're from Real Life Medicine. To contact us please visit https://www.rlmedicine.com


Dr Lucy Burns: And until next time, thanks for listening. The information shared on the real health and weight loss podcast, including show notes and links provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.