Understanding Food Addiction And Obesity

Presenter: Katherine Lodge
Guest: Kellee Waters
Guest Bio: She is a food addiction and obesity specialist. She is a registered psychologist, clinical hypnotherapist, pre-diabetes educator, type II diabetes professional, and is also a qualified trainer and speaker.


Health Professional Radio – Food Addiction And Obesity

Katherine Lodge: Thank you for tuning in to Health Professional Radio today. Today, our guest is Kellee Waters. She is a food addiction and obesity specialist. She is a registered psychologist, clinical hypnotherapist, pre-diabetes educator, type II diabetes professional, and is also a qualified trainer and speaker. Welcome to our show.

Kellee Waters: Thank you.

Katherine: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?  You are a food and addiction obesity specialist.  Can you tell us a bit about that?

Kellee: What I really help people to understand is all about what’s going on in their brain and their brain chemistry and how that interacts with food.  Because that’s not really well understood in our society, and we sort of say to people, ‘Well, just control your food intake.  Reduce your food intake and use some self-discipline’.  Of course, that doesn’t work.  Being a food addict myself, I understand that I was always looking for those missing pieces of the puzzle because we’re always told that it’s all about willpower and self-control.  It goes far beyond that.

Katherine: You mentioned that you too have struggled with food and controlling your weight, and you’ve managed to overcome that.  I know it’s an ongoing thing, but now you’re helping other people as well and families as well.

Kellee: That’s right.  That’s a really important thing because what we do find is that weight or addiction is generational, and so we need to look at the whole family.  We need to not just work on the child, but work on the parents, the siblings, and the grandparents, if they’re involved as well.

Katherine: The child obesity statistics in Australia are staggering, and they’re only going to get worse, the predictions are.  You are a clinical psychologist for the Koala Clinic.  Can you tell us a bit about that?

Kellee: Koala is a clinic based at the Mater, and it’s a tertiary obesity clinic for children.  So, they need to be morbidly obese and also have obesity-related illnesses.  There’s an endocrinologist or paediatric endocrinologist that I work with there and some dieticians and nutritionists.  What we do is we try and help the family who are struggling from both the nutritional psychology and the medical side of things.

What we try and do is to get them to understand what’s going on at all of those levels and to make changes.  Majority of the time it’s for people who are lower socio-economical, who can’t afford services normally.

Katherine: I’m glad you mentioned the family aspects of that because, very often, obese children come from obese parents as well.  It’s easy for people to judge on the outside looking in, saying ‘oh, these parents’ … ‘obesity is a form of child abuse’ et cetera, et cetera.  But I think parents are doing the best that they can with what information they know.  That might not be the best, and therefore they need to consult places such as the Koala Clinic for education and support.

Kellee: That’s right.  What we do find is, again, for the parents, they’ve got their own issues that they need to overcome for them to make themselves healthy and their children.  Sometimes, that’s the hardest barrier to get through, because parents sometimes just say ‘just look after my child.  Just deal with them and don’t even worry about me’.  Sometimes they’re the ones that need the most help, and they fear having therapy.  They fear being looked at and judged.

Also, a lot of them do have food addiction that I see because they’re already morbidly obese.  We need to help them to understand that this isn’t something we’re going to be judging or criticising.  We need to educate them and help them to not fear the process.

Katherine: This process, how long does it typically go for?  Is it over a year?  Can you tell us a bit about the program?

Kellee: For many, they’re in the program for years, because they’ll come into the program, they’ll have some progress, and then they’ll go away.  Then, of course, they fall back into old habits and then they come back into the program.  So there are some clients that I have seen for two years on and off, others for three.  This is just the pattern that we see.  But again, what we’re finding is that the parents don’t want to make the big changes.  They’re not consistent.  And of course, the children can’t make the changes.

Katherine: There is a lot of temptation out there.  While they’re in the program, they’ve got so many plans and support.  But it is very tempting, and they can’t watch their children all the time.  They don’t know what they’re eating when they’re not at home, and on the weekends with their friends.  So, there is a lot of temptation, and people talk about willpower and strength.  Could you talk a little bit about addiction itself, to food?

Kellee: Food addiction is just like any other addiction.  It starts in the brain.  So it’s a chemical response to a substance.  When food’s all around us and it’s legal, we don’t think that there’s a problem with it.  But it gives us the high, just like cocaine or heroin, and it can be just as addictive.  So just like any other substance, what happens is when we ingest it, we get the high, and then we go through withdrawal and we want another hit.

But then we build up a tolerance, and we want more and more and more to get the same high.  Then what we find is that it’s not just maybe once a week we’re having it; it starts to become once a day.  For food addicts, it’s a consistent flow throughout the day, that they’re having these highly addictive foods.

Katherine: When you say ‘highly addictive foods’, are they normally, for example, chocolate cake or sugary things?

Kellee: That’s right.  It’s a combination of foods that make them addicted.  We’re looking at foods that contain a combination of refined carbohydrates, so; white flours, sugar, artificial sweeteners, saturated fats, and salts.  Basically, most of the processed food that’s out there, and even some of our healthy foods.  A lot of my clients think they’re doing really well, and they’ll go and have some [indecipherable 07:27].  But then they suddenly can’t stop eating them.

It’s the combination of what’s in the [indecipherable 07:35] that is causing them to binge.  It’s causing an excitation in the brain.  So it’s about understanding what excites you and to put them on your addictive list and to say they’re a ‘sometimes food’.  Because if you’re constantly having them in your diet, you’re constantly binging and feeling like you’re a failure or you do lack self-control or discipline.  But if you don’t have them in your diet, then of course you don’t have that addiction or excitation.

Katherine: Can you answer a question that I’ve been thinking about in terms of food addiction and obesity?  If, say, you are prone to binging on sweets, why do people just not buy them?  If they’re not in the house, then they’re hard to eat.  Is it difficult for them just to not buy them?  Do you know what I’m trying to say?

Kellee: What happens is, just like any drug, you go through withdrawal, and then it is your brain that takes over.  When we have full control of ourselves, it’s actually our thinking brain that says ‘no, don’t do that.  That’s unhealthy’.  But when you’re in withdrawal, and when your addiction takes over, you’re actually in your limbic system or unconscious brain, and it’s driving you.  You can hear yourself.  You can hear your thinking brain going, ‘don’t do that.  You shouldn’t be doing that’.

Your emotional brain or limbic system is driving you, and it’s like you’re a puppet on a string.  So you’ll have it, and then you’ll go, ‘oh!’  Your emotional brain, your limbic system will quieten down, and that then allows your thinking brain to come into play again and be fully alert and awake.  That’s when guilt and shame and all of those other things come into play.

Katherine: Sure.  And for individuals, you actually have a three-hour, intensive workshop.  It says that the workshop is suitable for people who do have issues with emotional and binge-eating, late-night eating, food addiction, yo-yo dieting.  Can you tell us a bit about your intensive workshop?

Kellee: This is really an introduction for people, to help them to start to understand the process, that is not related to just counselling or dieting or withdrawing from foods.  It’s to help them to really understand the mechanisms behind what’s going on inside of them; their brain chemistry, their body, the foods, and how they interact with their brain chemistry.  We teach them how to have some yummy, healthy binge foods.

For instance, we take chips and we teach them how to make a replacement.  They’re still getting the yum in their tongue, the excitation in their brain, without a massive high and binging on it.

Katherine: I see.  That’s pretty interesting to know that you can still indulge, but there are replacement foods.

Kellee: Oh, definitely!  We need the yum.  We don’t need to go into withdrawal, because as soon as we go into withdrawal we’ll have a binge cycle.  So it’s about finding healthy replacement foods.  That’s what I teach people.  That’s the main focus of this.

Katherine: Okay.  For people who are wanting to know more about this program, they can go to your website.  It’s www.thefatkey.com.  Another site is fitmindsandbodies.com.au.  Thanks very much for your time today, Kellee.

Kellee: Thank you very much.

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