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Food, Sex, Obesity and Weight Loss: What Are the Connections?

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We all know intuitively that there are powerful connections between eating and sex, and between sex and weight loss. All my clients, even those who initially deny it, will own up to this. To be successful with permanent weight loss, most of us need to examine and sort out the dynamics of these issues. When we do, we can be remarkably successful. When we don't and we simply try to diet the problem away, we fail. So, follow me in examining these connections and some of the ways that we can overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of our happiness and health and weight loss success.

Libido -- That's sex drive, right?

Actually, no. While most doctors today think that libido means sex drive (as in decreased or increased libido), libido actually describes eating drive as well, when you examine the ideas of Sigmund Freud, M.D., the father of psychoanalysis and the one who originated the term "libido." In Freud's view (1966), libido is the psychic energy that animates all life, dispensed by the most primitive part of our self, the "Id", a "cauldron full of seething excitations." (p. 537) Libido expresses itself as unrelenting desire and demand for pleasure. It is the part of us that says, "I want pleasure, and I want it now!"

Anyone who has experienced cravings knows what I'm talking about.

It's interesting to note that psychology textbooks use the example of a hungry person or nursing infant when explaining what the id and libido are. They describe the infant grasping, demanding, desiring and experiencing pleasure in the "sucking and swallowing" (Drapela, 1987, p. 16).

Do we ever get over this desire and pleasure in eating, chewing, tasting and swallowing? Heck, no. Anyone who no longer desires and enjoys eating fails to thrive and dies. Anyone who denies that they enjoy and desire eating is fooling him or herself, a classic example of denial. We like to eat. Many of us love to eat.

In Freud's world, we developed through stages where we experienced sensual pleasure via various erogenous zones, culminating in the sexual life most of us think of when we think of "libido." However, we don't stop having sensual pleasure in one erogenous zone when we move to another stage and erogenous zone. It still feels good to eat something great when we are a fully mature sexual being. Like chocolate. Or lasagna. I've heard lots of people describe some delectable treats as "better than sex."

Rather than deny themselves pleasure, clients trained in my method become experts at satisfying their need for pleasure. Trying to deny yourself pleasure and the satisfaction of your real needs is like trying to push water uphill with a broom. You will fail. Success comes with getting better at enjoying food and life, not learning how to suffer some diet or boot camp.

My clients learn about all the needs we have, in body, mind and spirit, and we get good at satisfying them. We get good at lighting up the reward or pleasure centers of our brain that need to be lit up to sustain our lives. Those pleasure centers will be lit up, one way or another, while we are still breathing. Of that, you have no choice. However you can choose what you use to light them up. If all you have is eating, you will be overly dependent on food, like an addict, and your chances of having healthy eating control and losing weight will be just about zero.

Now you may think that I'll be telling you that you need to have a better sex life. That may be, but that's not where I'm going. I'm not a Freudian.

Freud was stuck on sex. He thought that our physical body created the psychic energy, and the final goal of that energy was to create another body, via the sex act, and then die. He thought that was the real goal of life. He thought overeating or getting over-involved with work or creativity were substitutes for sex. His terms for this were "regression" and "sublimation," a result of sexual dysfunction. I don't agree. I think Freud was missing a few chapters in his book of life.

Others great minds like Maslow and Frankl proposed that we have needs beyond food, sex and the body. They said that we experience pleasure and truly express our life's energy by satisfying these higher needs, like having meaning and purpose in life, having relationships, experiencing love and "peak experiences," experiencing spirituality, even transcendence. Eating and sex are not the only ways we experience pleasure, not the only ways our life's energy expresses itself.

The point? Food, eating and sex are closely related ways we experience pleasure, ways we express the energy that must be expressed. However, to be free of dependency on either, we need to grow beyond them as the only means to experience pleasure and express our life's energy.

The Dartmouth medal-winning Gale Encyclopedia of Food and Culture explains:

Food and sex are inextricably linked. The lure of unrestrained enjoyment of food and sexuality for their own sakes has evoked a long history of cultural tension. Societies that fail to limit the expression of these biological drives are often considered doomed. The fall of Rome is typically depicted as a consequence of excess -- too much sex, food, and wine consumed at the orgies of the wealthy.

The obesity epidemic and our individual weight struggles may be the canaries in the coalmine when you consider those implications.

I think Gale's observations are absolutely correct. We are doomed as individuals and a culture if all we live for is the pleasure of the satisfaction of our lower needs. I think we need to live for the pleasure of the satisfaction of our higher needs.

We don't need to give up the pleasures in life to lose weight permanently. But we certainly need to change. My solution is to become more familiar with what your real needs are and get even better at experiencing the pleasure of food, sex and beyond.

Next time: How we use food and weight to deal with sex (or not).

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References:

[1] Freud, S. (1966), The complete introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. New York: Norton

[2] Drapela, V. (1987), A review of personality theories. Thomas

[3] Gale Encyclopedia of Food & Culture (2003), The Gale Group, Inc.