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Topic 4 - Emotional Eating

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Old 06-23-2007, 02:42 PM   #31
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Default ecological fallacies

Another social scientist (sociology) chiming in - the concept of an "ecological fallacy" might be useful here.

Here's a short definition: "False conclusions made by assuming relationships found through research with groups can be attributed to individuals."

And a longer one: "The ecological fallacy is the logical fallacy of interpreting general data too particularly or minutely. An example would be projecting to the level of individuals the generalizations that apply to a population. This fallacy, and the opposite fallacy of generalizing from the particular, have been responsible for some misguided health policies. For example, many epidemiological studies have demonstrated an increased risk of heart disease associated with high-fat diets, cigarette smoking, and lack of exercise; but not everyone who exhibits these behaviors necessarily dies of a heart attack—and it is a mistake to blame such people if they experience a heart attack because many other factors could precipitate such an event."

Most of us can easily observe a correlation between eating habits and exercise for ourselves - if I eat more and don't exercise, I gain weight. So it's easy for me to assume that people who weigh less than me must be eating much less or exercising a lot more, and that people who weigh more than me must be eating much more and exercising less. This would be overgeneralizing from my own experience.

Based on what everyone has said (I skimmed through the beginning of the book, but didn't read this chapter carefully) the research that Kolata is summarizing seems to say that on average, people who are overweight are not eating much more or don't have different eating behaviors than those who are not overweight. But there's a lot of individual variation contained within those overarching patterns - to assume that it applies to all individuals would another kind of overgeneralization. The anecdotes that this thread has generated - thin people who eat a lot and don't gain weight, thin people who carefully monitor their weight and exercise, overweight people who eat alot, and overweight people who eat moderately, etc. etc., - are all examples of that individual variation, which could easily be contained within the overarching pattern.

Just as statistical patterns don't apply to all individuals, anecdotes don't trump statistical patterns. But it also sounds as though Kolata isn't defining what terms like "overweight" very carefully, and as though she herself may be committing an ecological fallacy, by assuming that the statistical patterns can be interpreted as true for individuals.

I didn't read very far into the book because I wasn't very impressed by her approach or tone. I've enjoyed her articles in the New York Times, but the book seemed much less thoughtful and nuanced than I would have expected from a science journalist of her stature.
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Old 06-23-2007, 06:59 PM   #32
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Sarah -- Yay! More social scientists! Thanks for that thoughtful and clear post -- I really appreciated it!! I'm a geek for cognitive biases and fallacies and your explanation is right on target for this discussion. It's all too easy to fall prey to them. I know I do it, even though I *should* know better.

I think you're right about Kolata -- whether she really believes these patterns apply to all people, her book certainly READS that way. I think her job as a journalist has her trying to tell a story (and sell books) and that she's framing the evidence to tell the best story. Real life is more complex than that though...
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Old 06-24-2007, 06:17 AM   #33
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I had to send my book back to the library. I kept it till the last minute and they were closed. Maybe I can check it back out next week.

I have known a gal who wrote a romance based in a nursing home. I believe it was a health care aid and the son of a resident ... by the time editors and publishers and so on were done with it ... it was an expose on the terrrible conditions in long term care facilities.
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Old 06-24-2007, 05:59 PM   #34
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Hi Everyone,

I don't think that Kolata was saying overweight people don't eat more than do normal weight people. I believe her premise on this issue is that overweight people don't feel satiated as do normal weight people and therefore, eat more. Also overweight people are genetically disposed to eat and weigh more.

Did I mis-read?

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Old 06-24-2007, 07:14 PM   #35
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Lynn, that's how I read it too. She's saying that emotions trigger eating in both normal and overweight people but she's not saying that the amount eaten in response the the emotional trigger is the same. Just that eating in response to emotions is not exclusive to overweight people.

You're right, the issue of appetite is dealt with separately. So on to Weight and Genetics (that's up next)!
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Old 06-26-2007, 11:01 PM   #36
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I think, just from my own experience and watching dh the difference between emotional eating for some people and for others is the in between stuff.

If dh overeats for any reason, without even thinking about it the next day he eats less. It is NOT a conscious thing for him, he just isnt hungry

If dh is in a car all day long and therefor unusually sedentary his appetite virtually vanishes. I have to BEG him to stop for food.

So even if our emotional response to food is the same (yes I have known THIN people who have also eaten a whole pie in a weak moment), our everyday response to overeating may be VASTLY different. And havent we time and time again said, it isnt the ONE binge that made us fat?

So if my thin friend Alison eats a pie she may be far more likely to consume a few hundred calories less for the next few days some what automatically. Whereas even if I forgive myself for the pie and dont enter somekind of self abusive cycle, my blood sugar is all out of whack and it takes extreme consious control to ignore the hunger pangs and eat high protein to slowly get off the rollercoaster.

So maybe our initial response to emotion is identical, but maybe our BIOLOGY makes the next 5 days different. So? What if she is right and it is biology?

Unless we use conscious control.

To say that we shouldnt TRY to solve our emotional eating is ludicrous. Yes, thin people can overeat, but it isnt damaging to them. It IS damaging to us. Its like alcohol. I am not an alcoholic. I can have an occasional drink with no ill effects. I can even occasionally get rip roaring drunk. I dont typically concern myself with trying to avoid it. But to an alcoholic it is damaging. Do we say that it is useless for them to try to avoid a drink?
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Old 06-26-2007, 11:44 PM   #37
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But to an alcoholic it is damaging. Do we say that it is useless for them to try to avoid a drink?
I agree with your general ideas there ennay.

But, the differenence (and it is MAJOR) is that we HAVE to eat everyday. We have to face our demons up close and personal everyday. It would then, therefore, be like an alcoholic who is forced to drink everyday but limit it to only a shot or a can of beer and no more.
Life isn't fair. And no one said it would be.
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Old 06-27-2007, 12:22 AM   #38
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Do we have to get to the bottom of our emotional issues (nobody disputes that there is a huge emotional component at work here, right?) before we can successfully lose and keep off weight?
Do we have to solve our problems or just understand them or properly prioritize them or move on or .... ?
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Old 06-27-2007, 12:53 AM   #39
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I agree with your general ideas there ennay.

But, the differenence (and it is MAJOR) is that we HAVE to eat everyday. We have to face our demons up close and personal everyday. It would then, therefore, be like an alcoholic who is forced to drink everyday but limit it to only a shot or a can of beer and no more.
Life isn't fair. And no one said it would be.

Alcoholics HAVE to drink every day, too. The difference is in what they chose to drink. We also HAVE to eat every day. But we can chose foods that trigger us, or we can chose foods that our bodies can control. Our trigger foods are our alcohol. It's a choice we and alcoholics have to make every day.
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Old 06-27-2007, 01:00 AM   #40
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A personal note again ... it's way easier for me to lose weight than it is to quit smoking.
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Old 06-27-2007, 08:24 AM   #41
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Originally Posted by shrinkingchica View Post
I agree with your general ideas there ennay.

But, the differenence (and it is MAJOR) is that we HAVE to eat everyday. We have to face our demons up close and personal everyday. It would then, therefore, be like an alcoholic who is forced to drink everyday but limit it to only a shot or a can of beer and no more.
Life isn't fair. And no one said it would be.
that is what I am saying...

the "naturally thin" are like non-alcoholics - controlling emotional eating isnt important because it doesnt hurt them

the naturally heavy have to try to resolve some of that emotional eating because it is damaging to us.

the author seems to be saying that since we alll eat emotionally and some are thin and some are fat, that emotional eating doesnt have to be addressed

for me, personally, eating isn't always a thing like addiction, eating FOOD isnt the problem. All food isnt like alcohol. Most food would be like asking an alcoholic to drink water or milk. I've never triggered a binge by eating a salad. But eating emotionally can be, that is when things spiral OOC.
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Old 06-27-2007, 01:15 PM   #42
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Alcoholics HAVE to drink every day, too. The difference is in what they chose to drink. We also HAVE to eat every day. But we can chose foods that trigger us, or we can chose foods that our bodies can control. Our trigger foods are our alcohol. It's a choice we and alcoholics have to make every day.
The DIFFERENCE is that food is food and that is the trigger. For alcoholics, all drinks aren't triggers, only alcohol is. For people who have food addiction issues a banana is the same as a candy bar in that it is both food and both can be "used" for emotional reasons.

I do not believe the same can be said for water versus vodka.

You can't "use" water just like you can't "use" air. But ALL foods are suseptible to being "used."

And that is my point.
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Old 06-27-2007, 01:40 PM   #43
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The DIFFERENCE is that food is food and that is the trigger. For alcoholics, all drinks aren't triggers, only alcohol is. For people who have food addiction issues a banana is the same as a candy bar in that it is both food and both can be "used" for emotional reasons.

I do not believe the same can be said for water versus vodka.

You can't "use" water just like you can't "use" air. But ALL foods are suseptible to being "used."

And that is my point.
It's different for different people, I guess. Bananas are not triggers for me. Nor is broccoli. Nor is brown rice. Nor is boneless/skinless chicken breast. As long as I stick to foods I know aren't triggers for me, I'm okay. But I always know that those "other foods" are there, so every day it's a conscious decision not to eat them. I'm 100 days abstinent today, and I'm abstinent because every single day I chose to avoid my trigger foods. I stick to foods that I cannot "use". As an alcoholic sticks to drinks that they can't use. Different strokes, I guess.
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Old 06-27-2007, 02:37 PM   #44
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Something that is confusing here with comparing obesity to addictions is that for some obese people, food actually is an addiction (compulsive overeating), whereas for others it is not. Kind of like how someone can be skinny and not eat much food, but they are not the same as someone who has anorexia. You don't have to be a compulsive overeater to get fat, nor do you have to be anorexic to be skinny. If you do have an eating disorder, then it is much tougher to lose or gain weight.

So I don't know if it is fair to compare alcoholism to obesity. Maybe it is more fair to compare it to compulsive overeating disorder.
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Old 06-27-2007, 07:24 PM   #45
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So I don't know if it is fair to compare alcoholism to obesity. Maybe it is more fair to compare it to compulsive overeating disorder.
Not all obese people are addicted to food or are compulsive overeaters. But, you are more likely to find an obese person that is addicted to food than a thin person (unless they are in recovery).

I think that addiction to food is just as possible as addiction to alcohol. Check out the section Overeaters Anonymous in Chicks in Control. It works on the same premise.

I am not saying that all people who are overweight are addicted to food, but some might have a "food problem" just as most college students who go out partying once a week and drink to get drunk might not be alcoholics per se but might have a "drink problem."
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