Donald R. Henderson, MD, MPH

The Eating Season starts at Halloween and ends after Super Bowl. The Eating Season features excess calories and pressure to embrace unhealthy food rituals. The Eating Season is full of unavoidable stress. I needed help!

I am writing this to document my personal experience with food. Like you, I am the kind of person who is concerned with the shape and size of my waistline. This is a story about the battle of the bulge. Overweight and obesity are directly related to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and a shortened life expectancy. Yes, life expectancy and life quality are directly related to your waistline.

In this series of six episodes, I will talk openly about my wellness journey. As humans, we all have to make food choices. At some point we have to be honest: when it comes to our diet, most of us can do a better job taking care of ourselves.

I admit to food addiction. My relationship with food is what some might define as typical. In my younger days, I didn’t think about dieting, moderating my consumption of fatty foods, or limiting the amount I ate close to bedtime. I didn’t know much about counting calories or staying away from carbohydrates. I had a worry-free attitude and zero restrictions.

Sometime into early adulthood, I became aware of diet trends. Information on poor eating habits and dietary links to early heart disease became unavoidable. I can’t say with all honesty that these facts changed my relationship with food. I was informed yet unmotivated to change my eating habits. Like nicotine and alcohol, food is everywhere. The smell of baked bread, the taste of sweets, the comfort of eating cheap fast food contributed to the formation of my food rituals and subsequent food addiction.

My job requires a lot of movement and focused interactions. Most weekdays, there’s not enough time to fit in a balanced breakfast, let alone a lunch break. Whenever possible, I tend to grab small high calorie snacks, then come home to a sizable late dinner. My job is extremely stressful.

As a physician, helping others is a primary activity. Like you, I am a caregiver. We all are caregivers. We have different jobs, yet the common aspect of our work is unavoidable stress. Unavoidable stress is a primary contributor to disease and addiction. Our search of relief and comfort from unavoidable stress is a major reason why we overeat.

We all wish for a long life full of happiness and joy. In fact, research has noted Blue Zones on earth where people live happier, longer lives without disease. Imagine productive and active 100-year-old people with clear minds. The common features of Blue Zones are calorie control, strong positive relationships with family and friends, faith, and physical activity. Blue Zones are mostly free of unavoidable stress.

In future episodes, I will share details of my wellness journey. Yes, I promise to tell the truth and the whole truth as I know it. For now, let it be known that I realized how my food addiction had impacted my life.

I realized that treating my food addiction is a key to a longer, happy life. Our bodies are like cars. No matter the year, model or cost, features like smell, performance, and need for repair change over time.

On average, a diet consisting of processed foods adds 500 calories a day. Processed foods have been linked to activating the hunger stimulating hormones “ghrelin”. A diet consisting of processed foods could potentially be one of the main reasons for overweight and obesity. I had to determine which of my favorite foods and snacks are categorized as processed food. To my dismay, I realized most of them were.

The culprits: processed foods, hidden calories, unavoidable stress, unhealthy habits, food addiction.

Changing eating habits or starting a diet seems like a simple task. Switching from red meats and refried beans to lean meats and leafy greens is actually more of a lifestyle change. Lifestyle change demand new eating rituals. How could I alternate my daily routine? I can’t magically fit more hours in the day to accommodate full, well balanced meals. To look for food, I could not cut corners around my work.

Truth is, since I’ve developed new dietary rituals and habits, at the end of the day it’s better to live
longer and have more time with the people I love. Follow my wellness journey in Episode 2 and learn from my experiences.

Dr. Henderson is Medical Director of Encore Wellness & Weight Loss. His clinical practice specialty is Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine