What do food, weight, and shame have in common?  Well, more than enough to keep us talking for ninety minutes.  And then some.

In most circles, the mere mention of the word shame can stop a conversation dead in its tracks.  But when you’re hanging out with psychotherapists, it’s an entirely different story…

On the sunny Saturday of April 12th, I co-presented a workshop with Brook Damour—Food For Thought: An Exploration of Weight, Shame, and the Unconscious.   

As part of the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study’s annual conference, Forum 2014, our presentation was designed to expand the conversation about food, weight, and shame.

I imagine that at this point you are wondering:

“Whatever possessed her to spend a beautiful spring Saturday inside a conference center talking about shame when she could have been out in her garden or playing in the sunshine with her grandkids?”

Well, let me tell you.

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The Conception

Not a day goes by that I don’t witness the destructive effects of shame about weight and food.  Shaming messages are everywhere—in the media, in the medical literature, in social conversation—and they are hurting many.

But when I witness firsthand how this shame is affecting the patient sitting in front of me, it’s heartbreaking.  In those moments I want to do anything I can to ease this unnecessary burden.

It was from these painful experiences that this workshop was conceived.

The Launch

So why did I choose to launch my workshop to mental health clinicians?

The answer is quite simple:

I knew that their minds and hearts would be open.  And I knew that they would add much to the conversation.

But it was more than that. 

I imagined that as first-hand witnesses to the shame their clients feel about weight and food, that they, too, would be eager to ease the burden.  And they were.

After all, I was not the only one willing to sacrifice a sunny spring Saturday to be there. 

And more still.

Believing that excess weight is purely a psychological issue, many seek psychotherapy for weight loss.  That puts these clinicians on the front lines—without adequate information.

Just like medical providers, mental health clinicians are not educated about the powerful effects of food and excess weight on the body and brain.

I wanted to empower them with medical knowledge, broaden their understanding of the complexities of weight issues, and learn from their wealth of experience.

It was that simple.  And that complex.

 The Conversation

The group was engaged and passionate from the beginning, just as I knew they would be.

Layer by layer we dug deeper into the profound impact of these issues on so many of our clients.

We shattered the myths that are so prevalent: that there are simple solutions to weight issues and that obesity is the result of a moral failing.

We discussed the chronic nature of weight issues and that obesity is a medical condition.  We talked about the comprehensive approach used by obesity medicine specialists.

I taught them that low-carb eating decreases appetite and cravings and improves mood and energy and health.  And that high carb eating has the opposite effect.

This is vital knowledge for all clinicians who treat people with weight issues.

My co-presenter, Brook Damour, led the discussion on the psychological origins of food intake patterns.  She highlighted the impact of childhood relationships with caregivers and food on a person’s current relationship to food.  She talked about how clinicians can shift it towards a healthier one.

Then we integrated our knowledge into a discussion about shame.

We examined the self-perpetuating cycle of shame:  How societal shame about weight and food becomes internalized, leading to extremes in food intake, which then become a source of shame, leading to further extremes in food intake, and so on.

We talked about how unfair it is that refined foods are designed to hijack the brain into overeating, leaving a person with even more shame than when they started.

But mostly we talked about how we can acknowledge, explore, and ease this burden of shame.  After all, that was why we were all there. 

Before I knew it, our time was up.  It felt like the end, but it was not.

The conversation has just begun.  There is so much more to talk about…

The Future

My day at Forum 2014 filled me with hope.  It was good to connect with passionate, dedicated clinicians who are thirsty to know more.

We are on the same team, and our team is growing.

I am refining and expanding Food for Thought to bring the message to more mental health clinicians.   The length of the workshop will be extended to allow time for deeper exploration and further conversation.

I am also developing a similar workshop for medical professionals.

I will keep you posted on the dates and locations for both workshops as they are confirmed.

My hope is to continue to grow our team of medical and mental health professionals who are knowledgeable and sensitive about the issues that accompany excess weight.  The future health of our nation depends on it.

If you are interested in having me present my workshop to your group, please email me at sam.chris@im-wm.com or call me at 206 229-2764.

If you attended my recent workshop, I’d love it if you would leave a comment about your favorite takeaway from it.