Host: Welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast where we talk to wellness professionals from so many walks of life from around the world and get their insight into living healthier. I’m your host, Wes Malik. Everyone has an innate desire to better themselves. And as we seek improvement in our lives we turn to sources of information, articles, blogs, posts, and people as well, and to people as well and asked them how we should live. Sometimes we get good advice, sometimes the advice we get has no scientific basis but we absorb whatever knowledge we can in our endeavor. On our podcast, we talk to professionals from many fields. I worked extensively with people like you and me who are pursuing the same goal. Today, we will speak to Dr. Dawn McLaughlin who is a transformational mindset coach. She is an author, speaker, public speaker, and holistic health expert and we will talk to her about living well. Dr. Dawn McLaughlin, welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast.
Dawn: It's my pleasure to be here today. Thank you for having me.
Host: Now, being an expert in the field, let's start with the first question and that is, mankind has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, millennia, and the relationship that we've had with food started with sustenance. And now it has taken a drastic change in the last century or probably several centuries and that's what you are an expert in, the relationship that humankind has with food now. How do you see man, woman, humankind's relationship with food now?
Dawn: Well, our relationship with food has become much more complicated particularly because we have available to us “forms of food”, and I use quotations around that, that's are not naturally created. So, we have a lot of highly processed foods, we have a lot of fast foods that are available to us so our food supply has changed. In fact, our whole environment has changed what our body needs to deal with. We have so many more toxins in the environment that we’re dealing with regularly. We have so much more stress in our lives than we had before. You know, people are under chronic stress or some degree of stress almost all the time, almost all their waking and even into their sleeping hours and so all of these things are affecting our relationship. with food and our overall health.
Host: So how does that affect the psychology and the mindset behind that?
Dawn: Well, we are wired. We've always been wired as humans to find pleasure in food. We are wired to digest food when we are in a relaxed state. So, our body wisdom actually tells us that food can help us relax and we've taken that to the extremes that we now have stress eating and emotional eating and eating to the extreme. And what that does that has the physical effect of forcing us to relax and part of the reason why we turn to food in this way is that we are feeling the stress. We’re in this place where we need something to help us move into that relaxation state where we can digest our food, where we can recover from what's going on, it helps our body recover and ingesting. Unfortunately, ingesting large quantities of food because of the way the digestive system works and with the way it's related to our sympathetic, parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest system. Ingesting large quantities of food can force us into a relaxation state and so that has become a go-to for many people to turn to food for that purpose and it becomes automatic. I’ve worked with clients where as soon as they start to feel any level of discomfort, they aren't even able to identify what the discomfort is, they just kind of have the sense that they're going into that place, they immediately turn to food so they don't have to experience that.
Host: Do they knowingly do that or it’s subconscious?
Dawn: It's a combination of both. It can become a compulsion, right? It can become an automatic behavior where they don't really have conscious control. They can look back at it and say, “You know what? I just ate this food and I wasn't really hungry” and when I work with them and it helps them slow down and really explore that they can become much more aware of when you're eating mindlessly versus when they're actually kind of participating in their eating experience.
Host: This happens when you or another professional give somebody help and creates mindfulness within them. Otherwise, they’ll just be automatically responding to whatever they're feeling, right?
Dawn: Yes, yes, and before what they’re responding to is not wanting to feel. And we, in our society today, live so much in our heads and not in our physical bodies that we’re not used to. We haven't really explored and been educated and taking the time to experience our full emotional range because we grow up in the society where we’re told, you know, from a very early age, “Don't cry”, “Don't feel that way”, “You shouldn't feel that way”. And so, we’re kind of, we get a little programming that our certain feelings are wrong and that we shouldn't feel them. And so when we do, you know, which is natural, we kind of get into this internal debate with ourselves, it’s all subconscious, but it’s just going on in our head. “I’m feeling this way but I’m not supposed to feel this way” and it creates this tension and stress and that is like, “Well, what do I do with it? How do I manage this?” Well, you know, some people turn to food, some people turn to other things.
Host: With our evolution and the amount of technology we have now, you'd think that everything we've accomplished as a society and as humankind would alleviate stress. We don't have to farm anymore, we don't have to grow our vegetables, we don't have to hunt bison anymore or we don't have to create our own clothes. You know, we've come way, way, way, way past that. We hardly have to do anything. You think the stress is gone. Just go to the store, pick up some food. You don't even have to worry about walking anywhere. We have a car, take the bus, take the subway, whatever. Everything is very, very easy, but again we’re still stressed out.
Dawn: Well, and the problem is that the expectations that are put on us and we put on in ourselves have escalated. So, as a parent, for example, I work with women a lot but as mothers, women are expected, you know, they raise their kids, they have their careers, they are settling their kids to all these different activities, kids are doing many more things now than they ever used to. I mean, they did when I was growing up and there's just so much more that's going on. As I say, we become human doings instead of human beings.
Host: You're right!
Dawn: Yeah and people are actually these days, they are uncomfortable with just being still, with relaxing. I talked to a lot of women who eat out of boredom. Boredom is a really interesting thing because if you think about it, boredom isn't really an emotion. It's a state of not doing anything. And the question is, what meaning do we give to that boredom? So, a lot of people feel if they’re quote “don't have anything to do” then they're not contributing or they're not advancing or they’re not performing and then they should be so they should. As I’ve said they should be all over themselves and they're kind of not relax, they can't just be.
Host: I think I get that because personally if I don't do anything I feel guilty. I even talked about it at night time, you know, with my family saying, “Oh, you know what, there was a period in the day when I just sat down and I didn’t do anything. I should've been working. I should've been calling somebody, I should have…” And then I feel guilty about it. I think that's what a lot of people experience.
Dawn: Yeah and the shift there is that giving yourself that time to relax is really being very productive because there's a lot of research that shows when we do have this downtime if we meditate if we just take five minutes to be still or whatever it is, we can reenergize ourselves, we increase our focus, we can actually be more productive by creating stillness in our lives.
Host: Done. I asked this question, I asked this question to everyone we speak to. And my question is because this is the Lifelong Wellness podcast in your experience, what does living well mean to you personally?
Dawn: Yeah, it’s a feeling. Honestly, it's a feeling of being able to wake up in the morning and most of the time being excited for the day. Being able to be present in your own life, because if you're constantly reliving the past or worried about the future you're not actually living in the present and that's really the key to lifelong wellness, it’s being able to be in the present and experience it and experience it in a way that makes you feel like you are alive.
Host: Your expertise lies in the area of food psychology and the mindset and you help people transform the relationship with food and body. I have a limited understanding of that. How do you do that?
Dawn: Well, on the body side of it, let’s just start there first.
Dawn: People nowadays, most people, you know, they follow certainly, let’s call them diets or plans or whatever you want to call them, but they follow systems, sets of rules that tell them how they should and shouldn't eat, when they should eat, how much they should eat, what they should eat, all of these things. All of those systems are in some sense they’re externally created as an external set of rules about what I mean by external is outside the body.
Dawn: So what people have come to do if they've learned to not trust their body, they believe that for them to be healthy that they need to follow these systems and they can't trust their body. Women especially are subject to this, but men none so because of the way society treats women, much more so that their body is significantly important for them to be successful, etc. There's more pressure on women in that way. I think they learned to not trust their body. So for example when their bodies tell them that they're hungry they don't believe it, or they're not supposed to eat now because the system says they shouldn't or they just ate an hour or an hour and 1/2 ago. And, you know, there's all these kinds of external rules out there that separate us from our body’s wisdom. So our body knows. Our body’s actually very ingeniously designed to tell us when is hungry, when it's full when it needs to sleep, you know when it needs to eliminate. We have all of these signals and we don't trust them anymore, we don't listen to them anymore. We follow other rules.
Host: And what is your device regarding that?
Dawn: So, yeah, what I do with clients is I help them reconnect with their bodies. I help them slow down and listen to their body. We do these things called body check inside. This is part of the practice of getting them to tune back into their body, to do a body check in on a regular interval, maybe we send it for a few times a day or a couple of hours, we set an alarm in their phone and it's really just to have been sit and check in with their body and ask some questions like, “What is my body feeling right now?”, “Am I comfortable?”, “What does it want? “Does it want to stretch?”, “Is it hungry?”, “Is it thirsty?”, “Are there any aches and pains?” And it sounds silly to a certain extent, but we don't do this. We don't pay attention to our bodies. We will sit at the desk and work for hours and hours and hours and never move and, you know, not until like we really have to go the bathroom do we get up and move. (laughing)
Host: That’s exactly what I was thinking. That’s exactly what I was thinking.
Dawn: Like when it becomes an emergency, there we go, but other than that we tune out.
Host: We tune out, yes.
Dawn: Yeah, it’s about tuning back in. If you look at what babies do, right? I don’t know if you have or whatever but babies they cry when they’re hungry. When you feed them, you can't overfeed them, they just stop.
Dawn: And then they'll, you know, the next time they get hungry they let you know. They move around, they let you know what they need, they let you know when they’re uncomfortable, right? They’re completely tuned in to their body and they have that intuition that says, this is how much food that I need and this is when I’m done. And we lose that over time, we get acculturated, societies start to tell us things as kids like, you know, if you say you’re hungry, well we’re having dinner in an hour can you wait that long? You know, we start to shift things and…
Host: I’ll tell you what, I stopped myself today. This exact thing happened to me today. I felt hungry at about 10 in the morning and I was hungry like I wanted lunch and I was thinking, “Oh man, I got to go to the fridge and I got to get something” and then I literally stopped myself saying, “Hey man, what are you doing? It's 10 o'clock you had breakfast at seven. What are you doing? Wait until lunch, wait until like one” and now I’m talking to you and realizing maybe I should’ve listened to my body because my body was saying, hey dude, I am hungry. I'm famished. Just between you and me. I still am (laughing) So, what would you say to me? I mean, go ahead, go nuts, go bananas at 10 o'clock? You know, or would you say…yeah?
Dawn: Yeah! Well, I would say ask your body what it needs. You know, what kind of food would it want? If it’s hungry, ask it what food would it want? Does it want a meal? Does it want some protein? You know, what I help people do is, you can rebuild this intuition where you can picture a food in your head and ask your body, is this what you want and you get this intuitive head yes or no. It’s kind of like you open the refrigerator and you look in the refrigerator and you see these foods, you’re physically seeing them, and you can get this head, yeah I like that, my body would like that and it wouldn’t like that. So yeah, if you are hungry at 10 AM, if your body was telling you it’s needing some nourishment, I would say you should have something, whether it's a meal, whether it’s a snack. There’s a variety of reasons why, you know, three hours later you’re hungry. It could be that what you ate at breakfast wasn't as sustaining as it could have been. It could be that your metabolism for whatever reason, is running particularly quickly today, so running a little bit more quickly. It could be that if you’d been under a lot of stress, your body doesn't extract as many nutrients from the food that you do eat and so therefore you need to actually physically eat more food to get the nutrients that your body needs. And so stress has a huge impact on appetite, digestion, and nutrient absorption and can affect your hunger. It could be that you didn't sleep very well the night before. When we are lacking sleep, our hormones, our hunger, and satiety hormones get thrown off a little bit. Our body wants more or needs more energy to get it going and so yes, it drives up our hunger. So there’s a variety of things that could have been going on there.
Dawn: Again, I educate my clients to notice, to notice, “Yeah, I got hungry after two hours” and just to start asking questions, “What did I eat for breakfast?”, “What were my last 12 hours like? ”, “Did I sleep very well?” “Have I been active?”, “What's been going on in my life?” and then ultimately to recognize your body is hungry so you should feed it. And if you don't want to feed it, if it's not convenient, if you know whatever, then you look at “Well, what can I do differently next time so that my meal last more than two hours or three hours?”
Host: Right. Now, are there any pros and cons to listening to your body? I mean, could it have a negative impact? Let’s say I’m hungry at 10 AM and I say, “Okay you know what, I’m going to listen to my body”. I’m hankering for something and I start eating. Will I get fat? Is there a downside to this?
Dawn: Research shows that the body when left to its own devices is 98% accurate at self-regulating itself to maintain weight.
Dawn: 98%, yeah.
Host: So, I should listen to my body. This is fantastic advice.
Dawn: Yeah, the problem is we interfere with it. We interfere with it in a variety of ways of not letting it do its job. So we do have the rules, we’re like, well I’m hungry at 10. Well, I can’t eat now it’s not lunchtime. Someone decided that meals have to eat at noontime at some point in our lives and so we stick to that, right? (laughing)
Dawn: I mean, honestly I find those thoughts popping into my head every once in a while, too, and I’m like, “That’s ridiculous! I can eat when I'm hungry. It doesn’t matter what time it is is”.
Dawn: And it really comes down to eating my filet is a big part of it because again it helps your digestion, it helps your nutrient absorption. Research shows people's hunger at a later point is related more to what they remember eating than what or…Let me say this differently. People's hunger at a later point is affected significantly by what they remember eating in addition to what they actually ate. So part of the challenge that I see with people is they will eat breakfast on the go, they eat breakfast while they're driving in their car, you know in the drive thru’s, we eat lunch while we're sitting at our desks at work, working on a spreadsheet or presentation or whatever it is that we have to do and so we are not paying any attention to the actual eating experience. And there's a part of our brain that wants to know that we had an eating experience.
Dawn: And if it doesn't register that, if it doesn't like create a memory of having a meal, there's a part of our brain that will say, “We haven't eaten in a long time. We’re hungry. We got to eat”.
Host: So if you don't eat properly and you're not focused, your mind could kind of trick you into eating again.
Host: Okay, so along with the pros, of course, that's one thing that we can fix. That’s a con that we can fix, though. Mindful eating.
Host: One of the things that you work with, and you’re a health coach and you have your clients are, you create a vibrant health lifestyle and give people confidence and you equip them with mindset tools. What are those tools?
Dawn: Mindset is, when people think of mindset, they think about people who know a little bit about mindset. They think about mindset as being, you know, the things that I believe, the thoughts that I think that kind of thing. I view mindset as a skill and it's something that you can practice. It’s the ability to actually manipulate your mind to rewire it to think differently. As humans our mind has a negative bias so it focuses on problems, it focuses on things that are going wrong. For survival reasons, right, we need to know those things, but in our society today we don't need to have that focus. In fact, part of our evolution I believe as human beings, as a human species is to divest ourselves from the negative bias of the mind and to create the ability to think differently. So all of our stress, I would say 95, 98% or more of our emotional stress is due to our mindset and it’s due to the way that we think about the world, what we believe about the world. And so I teach people techniques to become aware of where their thoughts are causing them to feel sadness, stress, anxiety, overwhelm those kinds of emotions and teach them how to shift them.
Host: Okay. So the mindset is the key to reducing stress and that's what you teach your clients or that's what you coach people on, reducing stress.
Host: And you focused on your own stress quite a bit and you've explained it, you know, why a lot of people are going through stress. It is there. In fact, stress, depression, joylessness, can really, really affect our lives and physically, mentally, and in our relationships, of course as well, right?
Dawn: And when I talk about stress, stress for me as an umbrella for all kinds of the negative, what people called negative emotions that we experience because it's a specific physiological reaction in the body. Technically, you can talk about the release of cortisol and insulin and it changes the blood flow and our blood vessels expand and contract in different places to shift the blood flow when we're under stress. There's less blood flow to our frontal cortex as much more focused on in the brain on or what we call the primitive brain so we are reactionary, we’re not able to think clearly when we are under stress, we’re not able to think as powerfully and creatively when we’re experiencing this negativity. And so there's a lot that goes on physiologically in the body and emotions that I'm putting under that umbrella of stress and yes, depression, anxiety all of that falls under there.
Host: I'm sure it's pretty impossible to live a completely stress-free life. I think that's an underachieving objective.
Dawn: I do, too. (laughing)
Host: But if we do feel a little stressful our job, our careers, money, finances, you know, relationships, girlfriend, boyfriend, you know, marital problems, children, whatever. What’s the first step in reducing stress?
Dawn: Yes, so first of all, there's a three-tiered approach to stress management that I take with my clients and this is described in my book as well. They're something you can do to build stress resilience to make the body better able to recover from stress and these are, think of these as your everyday practices whether you’re meditating, whether you're moving regularly, physically moving your body, the kinds of foods that you are eating as long as you’re eating foods that are nourishing to your body. This will help you build stress resilience. And then, once you're in a stressful situation, it’s an awareness, so it's slowing down enough to be aware of your emotional state. When you notice yourself moving into some form of anxiety or sadness or depression whenever it is, it’s asking yourself, it’s doing an exploration, doing some inquiry, and asking yourself, “What was I thinking that triggered that emotion?” because our thoughts are what trigger our feelings. So for example in relationships, you may come home and your spouse, your partner has there, I don’t know, not doing something that she would normally do or he would normally do. Whether it's cook dinner, clean up the house, pick up the kids, take the dog for a walk, you know, these things. And you come home and you're like, “Oh, now I have to do it” right? She should have done that.
Dawn: Right? So these are the kind of thoughts that might go through your head. Well, what you're doing is you’re creating thoughts in your head by saying something like “She should have” or “He should have”. Whenever we use the word “should”, that’s a good indicator you're basically trying to argue against reality.
Dawn: So you’re creating a distance in your brain that says the reality is that this didn't happen. I wanted it to have happened, but it didn't. So you’re creating this distance to your brain, this thought that it should’ve happened but it did and that's what triggered your stress. And so if you look at that and you can kind of say, “Well, it would've been nice if it happened but it didn't happen and you know what I can be okay with that for now”. Now I can understand that, for whatever reason, you know, in this particular day if you believe that life is working for you and that your life is guided by a higher power or God, the universe, whatever, that for some reason this is what was supposed to happen today because what happened is exactly what’s supposed to happen. And therefore by arguing against that, you’re creating that distance and that stress and it’s just kind of like saying, “Well, you know it didn’t happen and that’s okay” and let it go.
Host: So changing the thought.
Dawn: It’s changing the thought, yeah.
Host: That's the key to overcoming stress because you're expecting a certain outcome and the thought, the thought that you have would have presented a certain outcome, and the outcome, of course, is different. Now that's leading to stress. You mentioned a three-tier approach.
Dawn: Before you get to that let me add one more thing. Another way, another thought to put in there is “How might this be working in my favor?”
Dawn: What is there for me to learn from this? So maybe you need to learn that sometimes, you come to accept this, sometimes things don't happen the way you want them to, that is no big deal, l that you did make clear what you really wanted to happen. So there's a learning, there’s an opportunity there. So when we can shift from saying, “Oh, you know, I'm going to get all stressed out because this didn't happen. I wanted this to happen and you know how it all falls on me” right? We take the weight on our shoulders to “Oh! How is this working for me? What can I learn from it?” I'm curious, curiosity is a great thing, I'm curious what there is for me to learn here.
Host: It's a day-to-day thing. You experienced this multiple times throughout the day at work and home and it's a good idea to stop and think about your thoughts. That's fantastic. I learn something new today. (laughing) Every podcast I learned something new and I added to my wealth of knowledge and it makes me a better person. So thank you for that.
Dawn: You’re welcome.
Host: Getting back to the three-tiered step, did I miss anything there? Is that the first tier?
Dawn: Yes, so we talked about Resilience. This shift in your thoughts is what I call Reactivity, it’s how you react to the situation. And essentially what you're doing is you're taking back control and you’re giving yourself the ability to respond differently rather than reacting from stress, okay? So that's the second tier. The third tier I call Release and that’s just having a set of tools that yes when stress happens and maybe you don't take the time to think about it and to have that awareness, but just having some really simple release things that you know work for you to release your stress. So I teach my clients breathing techniques, deep breathing techniques. It’s a great, great way to release stress because breathing is actually tied into our sympathetic, parasympathetic nervous systems, our stress versus relaxed responses. Other people have different ways of release. Maybe there's a technique that I learned from, it’s a Qi Gong technique, it’s called “Qi in The Tree” and basically, it's just kind of moving your body like literally shaking it off, shaking your body to physically release the tension that is taking place. And that’s something you can do for 30 seconds, a minute, a couple of minutes and it feels great. So go to YouTube because this is where you can find it. (laughing) Go to YouTube and search for shaking the tree and you can find a couple of videos that show how to do that.
Host: So breathing, physical activity like shaking the tree, can reduce stress. I always thought that you know, if I'm stressed out, and this is completely personal to me, I’m really like, “Oh, I want to chill and relax and just watch some TV or a comedy or play video games” or something like that. I thought you know stress relief is just up here in the head?
Dawn: It does but it essentially starts from the head because it starts with the way you think.
Dawn: It starts with your thoughts which trigger the feelings, but the feelings have a chemical reaction in your body.
Host: Okay, so the next time I'm stressed I should do breathing exercises or do little breathing or shaking the tree. I’ll try it.
Dawn: Yes and for breathing, what I do is I teach my clients something I call the 5-5-7 Breath. You inhale to a count of 5, you hold to a count of 5 and you exhale to a count of 7. The keys are you want to really breathe deeply, you want your exhale to be longer than your inhale. The hold doesn't have to be that long, but a brief hold is great. And what's interesting is if you’re under a lot of stress, this is really hard to do.
Host: Okay and can I do this anywhere like I get stressed out at the studio a lot.
Dawn: Yeah. You know where I do is when I’m sitting at a red light. (laughing)
Host: Right. Traffic! (laughing) There you go. That’s when you need to breathe! (laughing)
Dawn: Yeah. (laughing) And I sit at a lot of red lights it seems. I don’t know. (laughing)
Host: So 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Is that the…?
Dawn: 7 out. That's the method that you use, very simple. Very simple technique.
Host: Very simple, yeah. You could probably sense some skepticism in my mind it's because I've never done it. I've never tried that to release stress.
Dawn: Well, yeah and you can actually put yourself in the stress response. When you're stressed, your breathing tends to be rapid and shallow. And when you relax, you can breathe deeply. So you can just play around with this at some point and just, you know, do some rapid, shallow breathing and noticed physiologically your body you start to feel stressed and anxious and then switch yourself out of it by doing the deep breathing.
Host: The discussion is revolving around you know what we experience in our lives. And of course, as natural progression takes place we have different challenges. You mentioned that you know, we are suffering from health and wellness information overload. I go even to say that we are suffering from many things including all general information overload. Information about politics, and the economy and about entertainment and about to the music industry in Hollywood and the Golden Globes and, you know, with the Kardashians did and I forgot to Instagram what I ate or I need to take the TikTok, Snapchat. I find social media quite stressful.
Host: And some people do, too. And I think it's part of that information overload, but then again I do read a lot about health and wellness and I subscribe to these Pinterest and I'm looking at healthy recipes and I’m looking at salads and I'm doing this and I've got MyFitnessPal app and I got the Nike app and I’m trying my best, that's the point. That's the point. The crux of my question is, I, like everyone else listening out there, I’m trying my best to live healthily.
Host: What do you see as some of the biggest misconceptions about health and wellness and information overload out there?
Dawn: Yes and everyone is trying their best to the point where they cause themselves a lot of stress and anxiety around health and wellness which contributes to the problem. (laughing)
Dawn: Yeah and it’s just, you know, what tends to happen with the information these days as people are posting all these claims and taking things out of context and, you know, depending on who you ask them when they this is a quote, “healthy or not healthy”. And people are paying a lot of attention to physical health, especially as it relates to weight and one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that weight and health are directly correlated.
Dawn: And that by gaining weight, you suddenly become unhealthy, and by losing weight, you suddenly become more healthy and it doesn't work that way. And we've known, which is kind of a good thing because there are no proven methods for sustained weight loss except for a very, a very small percentage of the population has been able to create some success around that, but like 97% of diets ultimately fail in the long run and that diets actually contribute to weight gain and eating disorders and more stress and anxiety and obsession around food and health. So the diets are part of the problem and, you know, we can be healthy in almost any way. I don't want to talk about the extremes of being either extremely underweight or extremely overweight but you can be healthy in any way, you can be unhealthy in any way.
Host: That's true.
Dawn: Just by looking at someone's weight you cannot tell what their blood sugar is like, what the triglycerides are like, what their cholesterol is like, what their mental health is like, what their stress level is like, the information and that stuff. The genetic predisposition for particular things and, you know, what they're actually ingesting in their body. If they're ingesting foods that are nourishing to their body or if they’re ingesting foods that are counter to that. These things you can even call faux foods, right?
Dawn: Is Twinkie really a food? I mean, come on! (laughing) And I don’t like to cause advice if this is good or bad but at the same time, there really are things out there that people call food but aren’t really food.
Host: The amount of food that we have in our society, at the grocery store, at the local Costco, Walmart wherever we go, the amount of food that has zero nutritional value is billions of dollars of industry. Soda pop, Doritos, you know, they’re just sensory materials to evoke our taste buds and create little explosions in our mind.
Dawn: Yeah and we can go into conspiracy theories, right? We know that there was a conspiracy if you well back, I think in the late 50s, from the sugar industry that they paid off scientists to say that fat is bad and not sugar, right? So then we have this whole plethora of low-fat foods and fat substitutes and all this other stuff that, you know, created some of these products we have on the shelves these days. And you know the diet industry itself, right, just floors me that an industry with a 95% failure rate is a $66 billion industry.
Host: It’s incredible.
Dawn: I mean it just blows my mind and I was there. I did all the diet I did, you know, I lost the weight, I gained it. I was on the diet carousel and actually, I ended up developing an eating disorder from chronic dieting over the years. And the key to my recovery was to give up dieting, but it just, it still boggles the mind that industry was such a poor success rate is… (laughing)
Host: …is still fairly.
Dawn: Yes. Get so much money. (laughing)
Host: They do. So if there is a problem with the diets and you mentioned on your website that you’ve been a yo-yo dieter, I like that, I like the terminology. I can relate to that. But then again diet is defined as what we eat but when we speak of diet we are thinking about, “Oh, I’m going on a diet” which is “Oh, I must do Keto. I must do Atkins, I must do low-calorie, I must do only this or only that or whatever. Buzz words, there are different buzz words for every cycle of information that we have. These days, Intermittent fasting and how Jennifer Aniston swears by it, etc., etc.
Dawn: Because she used to diet, right? (laughing)
Host: Okay, if we eliminate diets in that context then what do we do?
Dawn: Yes, so diets, the diet used to mean just what you eat in which case everybody has a diet, right, it’s their pattern of eating. But nowadays, diet means the intentional manipulation of our eating behavior and also our exercise behaviors to create body shape change. So with all my clients I’m like, “Throw out the diet” and we’re not going to focus on weight loss because there's no proven method of weight loss. What we’re going to do is focus on being healthy. And what does being healthy mean? It means having great energy, right? So eating foods that give you energy rather than take energy away.
Dawn: It's getting good sleep. It’s moving in a way that creates joy and not stress.
Dawn: Right? So a lot of people think they need to, I don’t know, get in 10,000 steps or jog or do a lot of cardio or do all these things that they absolutely hate. I happen to love, for example, strength training and interval training that kind of thing. Yes, I’m crazy that way, but other people don't like it, right? Other people like Zumba. I hate Zumba. (laughing) But it’s finding what brings you joy in moving your body. Our bodies are designed to move. And when we can take out the, I have to move because I need to quote “lose weight” or whatever and we can just move because we want to, because we enjoy it.
Host: So doing something you enjoy for physical activity rather than forcing yourself to do, you know, going to the gym or something. Although, going to the gym is not a bad thing.
Dawn: Yes, if you like it, you know? This is for the average person, right? This is for the average person. This is not for someone who, you know, wants to train to, I don’t know, do a marathon or for sport, you know, that's the difference but for the average person.
Host: For an average Joe like me if I like to go fishing then I should go and take a walk and go fishing. So I can play golf, play badminton like in my backyard or put up a net or, you know if I can get to a tennis court and something, that’s what you’re advising, something that you enjoy right? That’s the point. Okay.
Host: Now sleep, proper movement meaning movement that you enjoy, eating healthy? What does that mean to you?
Dawn: Yeah, it means listening to your body. It means, again, creating that correlation that that inner knowledge that certain foods make me feel good and certain foods don't make me feel good. So it's like we physically know that certain foods taste good in our mouth, in our tongue. There’s a certain taste and our body has a certain taste. Our body probably for most people doesn't want to live on beer and french fries. (laughing) It doesn’t make our body feel good, doesn’t give us sustained energy, right? So we know this. And when we eat certain foods, we get lethargic, we get sleepy. You know, this whole idea of the 2 o'clock, 3 PM sleepy’s is probably because of what we ate for lunch. (laughing)
Host: Oh, really? Okay.
Dawn: That we ate something that, either we ate too much and for our body to digest it needs to go into serious relaxation mode which makes us sleepy or we ate some things that don't actually give our body the energy that we want. And so it's, you know, when I'm working with clients we work on their hunger and their fullness in finding that sweet spot and it comes to practice. So you have to both experience what it's like to be hungry and what it's like to be overfull to be able to find the sweet spot.
Host: Right, a very important point that you touched on, weight being one of the biggest misconceptions out there.
Dawn: Yeah, that will strike some controversy. (laughing)
Host: Yeah. You know what? Honestly when I think about eating healthy and living well the first thing that comes to my mind is my weight. And yes I am overweight and my body mass index is high, is very high and it should be and I'm working on it, right? I went to several years ago, I went to a physical trainer and I trained with a physical trainer three times a week for approximately 7 to 8 months and during that period I did not lose a single pound or single kilogram of weight at all. And they would regularly, he would regularly take my measurements, my belly, my arms, my thighs, everything. He would measure everything. Inches of difference.
Dawn: Yeah, your body composition changes.
Host: Completely, there was a complete transformation. It was incredible like there's like 3 inches from here and an inch from here. My biceps grew. It was incredible. So but then again, even though I experience that I still, whenever I think about wellness, it goes directly to, “Oh, that’s how much I weigh!” I must be super unhealthy, man. So, it’s hard.
Dawn: I would say most professional male athletes, in particular, are obese. Technically, according to BMI.
Dawn: Right? Because of their body composition. They have significant muscle mass for their height.
Dawn: And the BMI, I don’t know If we’re allowed to say this. (laughing)
Host: Go ahead. Please go ahead.
Dawn: For me, the BMI measure stands for the Bullshit Measure, I forget. I have an initial somewhere. I have to look at my website, I made it up but the “B” stands for Bullshit. It's so arbitrary that the person who invented the BMI said that should never be used to gear health, to measure health. In the ’90s the BMI scale was actually shifted so that people went to bed one night, thinking they were quote “at a healthy weight”, which no one really knows what a healthy weight is, by the way. But according to BMI, they were healthy then they woke up overweight and vice versa. They went to bed overweight and then they woke up obese because the scales shifted. Why did the scale shift? Well partly because insurance companies wanted to be able to charge more money and partly because the cut-off used to be, I think for the healthy weight used to be 28 and they wanted to make it 25 because it's an easy number to remember.
Dawn: So it had nothing to do with any research showing any relationship between BMI and actual health.
Host: Incredible. So glad that you told me that.
Dawn: Yeah. Oh, I remember it’s Bulls**t Measure Institutionalize. That’s what the “I” was.
Host: Okay. (laughing) I know you want to talk about this because you feel strongly about this and I'll tell you what. When you talk about this, I will be the first person to be listening to you intently because I go through this a lot and that is emotional eating. What can you say to people out there who might be struggling with emotional eating?
Dawn: Yeah. Well, first of all, everyone eats emotionally to a certain degree. It's part of how we are wired. As I mentioned earlier, you know, it helps relieve stress to ingest foods. It forces our body to go into relaxation mode. But when I look at emotional eating, people come to me and tell me their emotional eating at night or they eat compulsively or whatever it is. And we can kind of go through a three-step process to really figure out what's going on. One is we asked an important question. Is it really emotional eating? Because of our hunger, our compulsion to eat can get out of whack if as I mentioned before, if we haven't been sleeping and if we have not been giving our body the nutrients it needs. And I see a lot of this from people who have been dieting for a long time and who have been depriving their bodies. Particularly people who have come off of, you know, there are still certain diet systems that deemphasize having healthy fat. And if they're kind of coming off the systems they can be nutritionally deprived and so their body is trying desperately to get the nutrients it needs.
Host: I see.
Dawn: And so it’s driving up hunger and it feels like compulsive eating. Also, if you're under a lot of stress again that affects your ability to digest food and extract nutrients. It can drive up your hunger. It can make you feel like you have to eat more food than you would normally think. So that’s going to be the first cut is to look at, is it really emotionally? Or is it one of these other things going on, sleep, digestion, deprivation, just nutrient deprivation? And then there is an emotional deprivation reaction that can cause compulsive eating as well. In this, you see this a lot of people been dieting off and on for several years where they been depriving themselves of pleasure foods.
Dawn: Right? And so yes, you don't want to eat doughnuts five times a day all day every day, but if that’s something you really enjoy and you’re being depriving yourself of that for years and when you would have, you beat yourself up, you feel guilty, you’re a bad person and you fall off the wagon and get back this whole emotional thing that goes on. That can lead to compulsive eating.
Host: So deprivation is not a good thing, especially if you like something.
Dawn: Yeah, it’s this kind of black, we get into this black and white mindset like I'm either go or I’m bad. I can't have the thing that I really love. And we almost put the food up on a pedestal.
Host: Right. We think too much about it.
Dawn: Yeah and so that can lead to this feeling of compulsion and emotional eating. There’s also for some people they have this inner rebel that comes out like, “You can’t tell me that I can’t have that food. Look, I’m going to do this.” (laughing) And so what we do, variously we help people relax around these particular foods. We try to shift their mindset so they're not experiencing that guilt or they’re not in that black and white situation. And I actually encourage my clients who have been compulsively eating certain foods to actually eat those foods mindfully and eat them in public where other people can see them because there's also a little bit of a shame factor like, “I can't let anyone else see me eating this because what are they going to think”. And then there is the third level is, yes it can really be emotional eating for a variety of reasons and this is something that it really helps to work with someone to work with a professional to figure out what's going on because it could be, you know, that they are on harboring feelings about whatever relationship they’re in, there could be past hurts or past traumas that haven't been resolved, they can be that they’re very miserable in their job and they’re feeling unfulfilled, you know? Typically when it's emotional eating of the third type that we’re talking about, they’re substituting food for some other thing that's going on with their life. So you have to look at the other areas of their life and see what's going on and sometimes, you know, that's a difficult thing for people to do, to dig into that. And that’s why it helps to have someone, you know, a professional who can guide them in that.
Host: Your book Food Fight!: Ending the Struggle Once and For All, is available online and you can get a free excerpt at dawnmaclaughlin.com. You can also be reached via e-mail at [email protected], correct?
Dawn: Yes and I love to hear from people. You know, a lot of people think, “Oh, I can’t email her she’s too busy”. I’m like, yeah, I’m busy but at the same time, I love to hear from people. I love to hear their thinking, what their reactions are, questions, you know, I love every conversation and learning people's stories. So, if something you've heard, spoke to you today, feel free to reach out.
Host: Dr. Dawn McLaughlin, would you lend us some parting advice, golden words to live by.
Dawn: Yes, focus on being a human being and not a human doing. And be present in your own life.
Host: I like that very much, that is fantastic. Dawn, thank you so much for taking out the time for such a pleasant conversation. A very insightful conversation about living healthy. Thank you so much.
Dawn: Love, it’s my pleasure. Thank you.