I was quite shocked to read a recent study which found that only 1 in 10 American citizens think that psychological well-being is a factor in weight loss, with the majority selecting diet and exercise as the largest barriers.I want to stress something that is incredibly underrated in our society’s’ current understanding of weight loss, eating disorders and obesity. It is incredibly difficult to lose weight and, more importantly, keep the weight off without changing your emotional connection to food.
Food psychology is an incredibly important field without which we would not be able to solve the current obesity crisis. I’m not just saying this because it’s keeping me in a job but because it genuinely is one of the biggest barriers to weight loss. It’s often the case that people tend to put weight back on after dieting, especially during more emotionally disruptive times.
When I tell people I’m studying the psychology behind overconsumption, people often express confusion as to why it’s so hard for overweight people to ‘stop being lazy and just eat less’. I think this notion that obesity a something to do with being idle or lacking self-care is pretty widespread. But it’s a very simplistic and ignorant view of a very complex and painful problem. Obesity, like other addictive behaviours, is a mental health disorder. So in theory, yes people should just decrease their caloric intake and they will lose weight. In practice, it’s really damn hard to change your entire relationship with food without any professional help. People rely on food as an emotional vice, making it as psychologically difficult to give up as any psychological dependency, be it cigarettes, alcohol, sex, gambling.
The new documentary on the BBC – ‘Your brain on food’ gives a really good overview of food psychology 101. It focuses on Stephen Nolan, the radio host, who lost 7 stone after following a diet that consisted of only eating energy bars and then piled all the weight back on again within a year. This is a prime example of how simply ‘eating less’ is often not enough to produce permanent weight loss. Stephen found that even when he did have the willpower to lose weight and be ‘strong’, his efforts were eventually trampled and his weight sky-rocket. From my own experiences of yo-yo-dieting, I know that weight loss only succeeds in the short-term. When you do lose weight, your temporary improvements in self-control create the illusion that you’ve conquered your chocolate-shaped demons. In reality, without changing our attitudes or emotional relationship with food, the demons remain very much alive. I think this is a common misconception that is potentially quite dangerous for our understanding of obesity. Changing your diet alone does not fix your food-related issues. It’s kind of like putting a bandage on wound that won’t stop bleeding. Yes the blood flow may be contained for a while but this won’t prevent the bleeding altogether. That’s largely why unsustainable diets will inevitably fail and leave you fatter than before you started dieting – because you haven’t targeted the route of the problem.
Eating healthy is no doubt a huge part of combating obesity, but it’s our emotions and attitudes that need to change in order to make long-lasting, permanent improvements. So next time you hear somebody say that obese people are simply lazy or weak, remember that weight loss it’s not simply a matter of food, but a matter of the mind. And changing a emotions, attitudes and neural pathways that have been cemented over a lifetime of experience, might be one of the hardest challenges a person can face.
Sorry for the rant…please accept this recipe by way of an apology. The pulled chicken and BBQ sauce is utterly delicious. There are a lot of ingredients so it’s quite a long one but it makes for a BBQ sauce that is rich, thick and has bags of flavour.
Pulled Smoky Apricot BBQ-Chicken burgers:
Burger buns (easier to buy these but here’s the recipe if you feel like going for it):
1 packet dried yeast
120ml warm water (not too hot or you’ll kill the yeast!)
1 tablespoon honey
120ml milk (can use almond milk for vegan)
2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
large pinch salt
2 eggs (or flax egg for vegan)
360g white flour
- Add the water to the yeast and stir until dissolved. Leave for 10mins for the yeast to activate. It should start to look bubbly after 10 mins, if not your yeast may not be active.
- Mix in the milk, honey, oil, salt, 1 egg. Add the flour last.
- Knead for 15 mins. this is quite challenging as the dough will be very sticky but perverse!. If you have one, it’s much easier to knead bread in an electric mixer. Continue until the dough is firmer and springs back when you touch it.
- Cover and leave to prove in a warm space for 1-2 hours. The dough should double in size.
- Shape the dough into 8 even sized balls.
- Gently whisk the egg with a fork and brush the top of each roll with the egg wash.
- Bake in the oven on 180 for 30-40 mins.
1 bunch coriander
1 fresh chilli
1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt
- Using a fork, roughly mash up 3 avocados with lime juice, coriander, 1 chopped chilli and 1 tablespoon of Greek yoghurt. Season well.
1/2 red cabbage
2 large carrots
1 bunch spring onions
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt
1. Chop the red cabbage and carrots into thin strips (can be easier to grate the carrots). Add finely sliced radishes and spring onions.
2. Whisk olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and white wine vinegar with Greek yoghurt. Season well.
3. Mix in the dressing just before serving so it doesn’t go soggy.
Smokey Apricot-BBQ Chicken
6 chicken thighs
1 large white onion (finely diced)
5 garlic cloves (mashed)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
10 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon chipotle dried chillis (can use normal chilli flakes but then add extra paprika to increase smokiness)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 limes (juice and zest)
2 tins canned-apricots
4 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce
200ml apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon coconut oil
- Caramelise onions and garlic in pan for 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add all the spices, fennel seeds and cumin seeds and blitz in the blender
- Add to the onions/garlic to make a paste
- Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and keep on a low heat for 2 hours. Season well and taste periodically. Add extra honey if not sweet enough.
- When the sauce has thickened, strain it through a sieve
- Coat the chicken thighs in the the sauce in a baking tray and cook the chicken on 180 for 40mins.
- Once cooked and tender, shred the chicken with two forks. Mix in remaining bbq sauce to the chicken before serving.
To Serve, layer the guac, coleslaw and chicken on a bun (I also added leftover BBQ sauce and it was delicious)