The 10/3 Mind-Body seminar featured Lisa G. Thomas, R.D., Syracuse University’s nutritionist, as the keynote speaker. To schedule an appointment with her, see the bottom of this page.
Lisa is a Registered Dietitian with seven years of experience working in the field of eating disorder recovery and prevention. This experience occurred while working for Centre Syracuse-Partial Hospitalization for the treatment of Eating Disorders along with her work here at Syracuse University – Health Services as the clinical dietitian.
Lisa is currently an active member of the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) and has upcoming plans to place increased emphasis on her work in eating disorder prevention and helping to improve the body image of the SU community.
Lisa spoke about her work with eating disorder patients in context of the many misconceptions about nutrition that contribute to disordered eating patterns–such as regular dieting and/or overeating–that we have come to identify as normal. She used the metaphor of a table, with four legs and a top, and each of its components relating to one of five categories she says need attention for holistic mind/body health. She discussed the interrelationships of the five: sleep, nutrition, physical activity, social well-being, and stress levels, and told us that, if any one of these parts stops functioning, the table is no longer a table.
Lisa’s nuanced nutrition knowledge was put to the test with many audience questions, the answers to which raised even more questions as each participant was forced to examine his or her own lifestyle for ways to better support holistic mind/body health; to challenge deeply rooted misconceptions and cultural messages about food, our bodies, and eating; and to explore different states of mind that influence what and how we eat.
Small discussion groups included Balanced Eating, Mindful Eating, Body Image & Your Life, and Why We Eat. The Balanced Eating group defined their topic as “getting your food groups and servings in proper sizes.” They stressed the importance of moderation in balanced eating, and emphasized the desirability of restricting consumption of processed foods to help maintain a balanced diet.
The Mindful Eating group said that mindful eating means both what and how we eat. What we eat can be sustainable, local, healthy, etc.; how we eat refers to our eating habits. Mindful eating’s opposite, eating “unmindfully”, describes eating on autopilot, failing to appreciate our food. One group member said that she suffers from such anxiety about eating that she feels she has to eat “mindlessly” or she will lose her appetite, so she watches TV to distract herself from food while eating.
The group asked themselves whether mindful eating necessarily meant eating slowly, and also asked, “What’s a foodie?” They defined “foodie” as “people who care about food”, different from people who simply eat to eat. The group brainstormed practices or rituals for eating mindfully, including chanting “om” before eating, looking at the food and fully appreciating it–its colors, where it came from–before taking the first bite, and fasting, as Muslims do during Ramadan. A Muslim participant beautifully described how reverently the fruits of fast-breaking are tasted.
Body Image & Your Life brought together participants of diverse perspectives, several of whom had grown up in another country before coming to the United States for school. They asked each other, “how does body image affect your life?” One student from Ghana described being skinny throughout her life, and at home, people are concerned about her. In the US, everyone wants to know how she does it. She isn’t comfortable with the assumptions people make about her–that she’s starving herself.
Another student, from Vietnam, was not conscious of body image until she came to the US. In Vietnam, fat was a sign of wealth and solvency. College heightened her consciousness of body image. A girl from Central New York described growing up without any worries about body image, but shared that last year she tried to build a healthier lifestyle and ended up stressing herself out.
A male participant reflected that media drives body ideals. He says that dining halls mostly serve carbohydrates and sugars. He just tries to stay balanced, but he is conscious that, psychologically, he’s not that healthy.
A Puerto Rican woman says that body image has affected her her whole life. In her home country, curves were the perfect female body. In the US, she saw the skinny ideal, and personally moves back and forth between these two frames of thought. She says that these two ideals and her relationship to them affect her dreams of being a broadcast journalist. It’s difficult when her friends engage in conversation about body image because it affects her own neuroses.
Some girls exercise non-stop. One participant said that his roommate “is in ROTC, he’s jacked, and he’s an insomniac.” He eats junk food and protein powder. A perfect body is not an indicator of good health.
The group asked themselves: if body image was not an issue, what would your world look like? Participants said that they would be happier, but eat less healthily. Sometimes we need goals, so the concept of a healthy weight range can be helpful. Then they asked, “how did we get this way?” and answered, “we just want to fit in.”
The Why We Eat group enumerated four reasons they eat:
- Hunger has very little to do with eating, but a great deal to do with mental states (“I’m bored”, “I’m stressed”, etc.).
- Eating makes us feel better.
- For others, eating is just a routine, supported by the habits we have around it.
- Sometimes, we do eat to get nutrients, to be healthy.
For Syracuse University/ESF students, an appointment with Lisa is free and can be arranged by calling Health Services at 443-9005. For non-university students, Lisa has recently opened a private practice and can be contacted at 289-4786 or firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment.