Most frustrated dieters blame themselves, chalking up their lapses to a lack of willpower. But as the organizers of a nutritional workshop explain, the real answer is typically much more complex.
“There are environmental factors, societal factors, emotional factors, learned behaviours,” mental health therapist Elizabeth Deobald said. “You can check out … what (someone’s) routine is to begin with, what their habits are, how they drive to work … what they do at work, what their family schedule is like, how they grew up.”
Understanding the unique factors that influence dietary habits is the focus of Craving Change, a free workshop facilitated by Deobald and registered dietician Jennifer Braun. Both women work at the Prince Albert Co-operative Health Centre, and their combined areas of expertise offer fertile ground for exploring the psychological aspects of food.
Deobald said food cravings are typically sparked by what she referred to as “triggers.” The main approach of Craving Change is teaching a person to recognize those triggers and deal with them.
“We come and give tools for people,” Braun said. “So once they’ve kind of figured out their triggers or their issues … (we) give them some tools to help overcome some of those issues. As an example, if someone describes themselves as an emotional eater … (where food) gives you comfort, then maybe we talk about other ways that you could comfort yourself.”
In other cases, the problem lies more with external factors, such as the availability of food. Braun noted the degree to which portion sizes have increased over the past few decades, while Deobald used gas stations as an example of how ubiquitous junk food has become.
“Fifty years ago, you’d go fill up with gas and it was just gas,” she said. “Now you’ve got chips and pop and every kind of confectionary there, and fast food is huge business.”
There are environmental factors, societal factors, emotional factors, learned behaviours. - Elizabeth Deobald
The solution, according to Deobald and Braun, is to be more mindful about one’s eating habits and how they are often based on instinct. If a person driving home gets a craving while passing a fast food restaurant, they can remind themselves that there is more nutritious fare waiting at home.
“Sometimes it can be as simple as, it’s sort of engrained that you have to finish your plate of food,” Deobald said. “Once you realize that you can leave the last three bites of your meal, maybe over time -- it’s not a huge substantial amount of food -- but (you can learn) to stop eating when you’re full. Lots of people don’t actually recognize that.”
Craving Change typically consists of four weekly two-hour sessions. The first three focus on understanding a participant’s dietary habits. Following a break in which students return home and try out new habits, they return for the fourth session to report on their progress.
Deobald and Braun are two weeks into their current workshop. But there is no set schedule for Craving Change, which is based on current demand.
“This program’s actually awesome for people who are like yo-yo dieters or who tend to stick to a really strict diet, because it sort of gives them some more options,” Deobald said. “Those people will typically know how to eat and what to eat, and then this kind of helps shape … how you put it together.”
Anyone interested in signing up for a Craving Change workshop may contact Braun at 763-6464.