If Signe Darpinian were to eat only fast food for a year, she might develop cardiovascular or skin problems. "But I wouldn't have a weight problem," she insists, because unlike many fast-food fans, she knows exactly when to stop. "We worry too much about what we eat when resolving body issues long-term is all about how and why we eat," says the licensed marriage and family therapist whose My Weigh (240 Third St., Suite 2, Oakland) intuitive-eating center opened in Oakland this spring.
Recognizing and honoring the body's empty-and-full cues should be automatic. Sadly, it too often isn't.
"Intuitive eating is the way babies eat," Darpinian says. "When they're full, they stop. My newborn is equipped with a self-regulating system. You can't overfeed her. We're born this way, but somehow in this culture we've all been pulled out of our bodies in general — so disconnected that lots of people go around thinking: I need somebody telling me what and when to eat."
Diets — whether they're low-fat, low-carb, or low-calorie — are based entirely on the what and the when. "They don't work because they don't address those emotional drivers that pull you toward food in the first place," Darpinian says. "We need to learn to regulate emotions in ways other than with food."
In a typical scenario, someone who ate a hamburger at 4 p.m. arrives home from work at 6 p.m. "And where's the first place they go? The fridge," Darpinian says. "A couple hours after a good hearty hamburger, this isn't about being hungry. It's about making that transition from a busy day to the stillness of the evening," which spurs a mental rather than physical need: loneliness, say, or boredom. "Maybe you eat to quell the boredom, but the minute you stop eating, that boredom's going to pop right up again" — like the "mole" in a fairground "whack-a-mole" game, she explains — "because feeding an emotional hunger with physical food will never satisfy it. Instead, sit down and watch a movie. Call a friend. Or just celebrate the discomfort of being bored. You've got to hang out with the emotional driver to see what it wants and how it works."
When to eat? When hunger strikes. When to stop? When you're satisfied. "But 'satisfied' is kind of tricky," Darpinian admits. "It's a subtle cue, whereas 'stuffed' is a loud cue." Eating only half a sandwich and leaving the other half while trying to discern whether you've had enough "requires a lot of self-exploration and a lot of commitment. That's why it's all the more important to eat, whenever possible, in a calm environment."
At My Weigh, whose animal prints and rococo overstuffed chairs evoke what she calls a "rock-'n'-roll therapy" ambience, Darpinian offers private sessions and workshops. Her "Fall Into Your Natural Shape" workshop on Saturday and Sunday, November 21 and 22, offers tools for making wise how and why choices during the holidays.
"The standard care for obesity is still a diet," she marvels. "Yet the more we diet, the fatter we get. Diets are about deprivation, so they're like holding your breath — and what happens when you hold your breath too long? When diets fail, people often turn to more compensatory behaviors such as anorexia or bulimia. So really, diets are a gateway drug." 10 a.m.-4 p.m., $300. MyWeighFamilyTherapy.com