Behaviorist explains how food affects our daily lives

Health Matters
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - We use all five senses to enjoy food. We see a fried peach pie. We hear bacon frying in a skillet. We smell morning coffee brewing. We use our fingers to enjoy a funnel cake. We love the taste of sweet and salty. You get the idea.

I sat down with Bill Nelson at Huntsville Hospital’s Center for Medical Weight Loss. He’s a behaviorist. I wanted to get a flavor of why we do what we do when it comes to food! Bill looks at people’s eating habits. While we all eat to live, some people live to eat. “Food takes on a lot more meaning for some people than others,” Bill said.  It’s more than just a meal. “People who are overweight tend to have a relationship with food,” he added.

We love to eat. “It’s like a friendship,” Bill said. And it lasts a lifetime. “This friend provides emotional comfort. This friend provides stress relief. This friend provides reward,” he added. But sometimes, the healthiest thing to do is to end the friendship. That may mean eating less and making healthier choices.

We also use food to relive happier times in our lives. “It elicits certain memories, certain feelings,” Bill said. “It reminds you of certain relationships that you've had with different people in your life.” It can take us back to our favorite food from grandmother’s Sunday table. But don’t overdo it by eating that extra slice of apple pie. “If you want to remember Grandmother, let's break out the picture book,” Bill said. That will save some calories.

Obesity is a major problem in Alabama. We rank second in the nation right now. “Our neighbors in Mississippi are ranked number one,” Bill added. One problem is we use food as part of friendship. “You’re familiar with the pot luck dinners at the churches and every gathering that we have has this big spread of food,” said Nelson. Look for other ways to connect rather than overeating.

We've become families on the go. It's time to get back to the table. “We need to go back to sitting down and being mindful of what we eat,” Nelson said. “Is it okay to enjoy food? Of course it is. It's a great thing to enjoy food. Take the time, slow down and enjoy the food and connect with people. It's okay to do that.”