Healthy Living: Eating away at food’s emotional baggage

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When Sharon Newson was a child, her family weren’t the type to talk openly about their feelings and concerns.

Instead, she says, her parents would give her food whenever she appeared unhappy - which, although comforting, laid the groundwork for more than two decades of overeating.

Sharon Newson

Sharon Newson

Two years ago Sharon reached her heaviest weight, 23.5 stones, and felt at her lowest ebb. But after a friend persuaded her to attend an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, the 44-year-old turned her life around, shedding more than 10 stones.

Now she wants to share her experiences, and advice on how to break free from the grip of compulsive eating, by setting up her own support group in Sheffield and Rotherham, which she intends to launch at a special conference in September.

“I’m very excited, I think this is a real niche market,” said Sharon, who lives in Parkgate, Rotherham.

“There are so many diet clubs out there, but they don’t work. They put you on a diet for a period of time, people come off them and end up putting more weight on than when they started.

“I approach it holistically - spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically, a whole lifestyle change. It’s about finding somewhere you can eat healthily, but controlling your emotions.

“The emotional side is as much a vital part as physical exercise and a healthy diet.”

Sharon said she envisages small groups meeting in local community centres, tackling a specific issue around eating each week.

“We’d talk about food and healthy nutrition, and obviously the group would support each other,” she added.

Sharon suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes weight gain, high blood pressure and fertility problems.

But it was excessive facial and body hair that caused her most distress when it first afflicted her at 13. Bullied at school, Sharon found comfort in food.

As her weight increased and her self-esteem dwindled, Sharon avoided social situations and struggled to hold down a job.

But in October 2011, she walked into her first Overeaters Anonymous session.

“I was terrified, crying, shaking, but felt instantly at home, “ said Sharon. “The people in the room knew exactly how I felt.”

A month later, she was contacted by researchers for a Sky One programme called Which Doctor. The show involved Sharon being treated by doctor brothers Xand and Chris van Tulleken.

She also hit the gym with personal trainer and Steelers player Andy Jaszczyk, achieving a number of physical feats including hikes and bike rides.

Sharon previously owned a bookshop called Refreshing, in Clifton, Rotherham, and has just left a part-time job in administration.

She recalled: “I can remember as a five-year-old being dragged to a dietician. My mum saw that when she gave me food, it made me feel better.

“As a family we didn’t talk about our emotions. My parents gave me food to make me happy. You quickly learn that if you’re struggling and not allowed to talk about what you’re feeling, then it’s an easy way to make yourself feel better.

“But it only works in the short term, you’re not dealing with your emotions.”

Sharon remarked that society views food as a source of ‘instant gratification’.

“When people are constantly busy, you might not have anybody to talk through your problems with, so the easiest thing to do is go out and buy food.

“Food is around 24/7, that’s what concerns me. Adverts for cheap food are plastered everywhere, which just adds to the problem.

“It was Overeaters Anonymous that made the difference for me, that’s a good backbone of what the groups would be based on.”

Sharon said she wants to keep any charge for her own groups as low as possible.

“It would just be to cover the cost of hiring the room, or more on a donation basis. But if your life is so desperate that you want to change, you will have some money to put into a support group.”

The conference, organised by Sharon, is set to take place at the Wilson Carlile Centre on Cavendish Street, Sheffield, featuring talks and presentations.

Email for details.

Eating disorder can affect anyone

Compulsive overeating - also known as binge eating or food addiction - is a disorder where a person feels compelled to overeat on a regular basis.

People who binge eat consume very large quantities of food over a short period of time, and they often eat even when they are not hungry. Binges are often planned, and can involve the person buying ‘special’ foods to overeat.

Episodes of overeating can sometimes take place in private, with the sufferer feeling they have no control over their behaviour - they will often have feelings of guilt or disgust afterwards.

Underlying reasons for compulsive overeating can include low self-esteem and lack of confidence, depression and anxiety.

Anyone can develop the disorder, which affects women and men equally.

Overeating is often associated with obesity, which can lead to serious heart disease.

Treatments can include psychological therapy, controlled weight loss plans, support groups and antidepressants.

Weekly workout:

Today’s exercise: calf raise, weighted calf raise and calf drop

“This exercise works the calf muscles and strengthens the ankles, including the Achilles tendon.

Picture one -

Stand with knees slightly bent, and rise up onto the ball of the foot . Hold for a few seconds at the top and lower the heel to the floor. Repeat.

Picture two - Perform the exercise as above, but with a weighted barbell on the shoulders.

Pictures three and four - Standing on a step or other box, stand with balls of foot on the box, heels overhanging the edge of the step. Perform the calf raise, but continuing dropping the heel of the foot beyond the bottom of the step box. Hold at each point of extremity (upper and lower phases of the exercise) before repeating .

Perform the exercises 15 to 20 times over two to three sets and repeat two to three times per day.

Tip of the week:

Q: My wife and I go walking in the Peak District once a week. How can we improve ankle strength for tackling steep hills?

A: Our bodies are equipped to cope with the different textures and terrains of nature which includes the ability to hike up very steep climbs. We do, however, get out of practice from spending most of our time in man-made environments. The body will quickly re-adapt just by spending more time outdoors.

A physically capable body must achieve a stable balance around each active joint for top performance. So building strength and proprioception - or special awareness - in the muscles around the joint will help improve performance and help prevent injury.

Suitable exercises can include one leg mini squats, plyometric workouts - which use jumping movements to strengthen muscles - and balancing and catching balls.

Even standing on one leg for a minute at a time can build up muscular power.