Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison

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Talking About Food Addiction by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Talking About Food Addiction by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson


Image: Curvaceous by Rowena J Ronson

NS: Karen Carpenter was a beautiful young woman with a sublime singing voice – and she was a great drummer. You don’t get many combinations better than that. She should surely have had a happy and fulfilling life; but at the age of 32, she was dead from anorexia. Why would someone who appeared to have it all bring about, in effect, their own death? And why does our relationship with food seem to play such a large role in some mental and emotional dramas?

RJR: Your words bring up a lot of questions for me, including what does it mean to be happy? There is also a ‘should’ in what you are saying. Should Karen Carpenter have been happy and fulfilled, following her purpose in life. If only the human brain were that simple. If we were all content, would none of us have an eating disorder? What do you think?

NS: I was probably saying something naive to suggest that musical brilliance would equate to a happy life. How much great music has been created by troubled souls? And it may well be that contentment eludes almost all of us. But how does discontent become linked to food? Is this all about our image of ourselves? Or is there also something else going on?

RJR: It seems musical brilliance can often lead to the exact opposite of a happy life. Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake, Ian Curtis and Jimi Hendrix are examples of those troubled souls you mention. As for food, we derive such comfort from eating, don’t we? An unhealthy relationship with food is encouraged from when we are very young. Our parents control us by depriving us of or treating us with food. Young babies can take some control back by not eating and seeing the impact it has on the emotions of the caregivers. I think food issues such as anorexia go way deeper than image…

NS: Yes, food can be very comforting and very satisfying – and instantly. In this respect, it may be much more potent than the other things we seek to give us comfort and satisfaction. But if it fails to give sufficient comfort, do we then feel we have to have more of it? Is this one of the roads to obesity? Food also does seem to be tied up with reward and punishment – and that presumably can include punishing ourselves, either through giving ourselves too much or too little food. If food were not so readily available as it is in the so-called developed world, would it be the potential problem that it is? Have we lost sight of what food is actually for?

RJR: From working with a great many binge eaters, I hear that mostly the overeating leads to discomfort. On a basic level, though, we all overeat. We all put way too much focus on food. We need far less than we feel we do – and this obviously does not just relate to food. And our minds become very used to excess. What feels like a normal portion one day, can subtly be expanded to a whole new ‘normal’, and it goes on. I agree that reward and punishment play their part in our food story. Small children often feel they can take control of their parents by using food as leverage. And this of course stems from society where food is given as treats. From the patients that I have seen with anorexia, I don’t think that they believe that they are punishing themselves by not eating. And I am not sure it is about availability of food either. It goes a lot deeper than that.

NS: If food were not so readily available – and over-available – would food-related problems still exist? I’m sure you’re right that we all eat too much, putting our bodies under excessive strain through having to process it all. But if anorexia has very little to do with food, as seems likely, then what do you think is going on?

RJR: You ask good questions. I guess there are not many overeaters in Tanzania! But over here in the West, we are conditioned to base everything around eating. In terms of anorexia, each person tells their own story. What do you think might be a reason to start that level of control over oneself?

NS: It does seem to be about control in some way. But is it control taken to the point of self-harm? Discipline taken to a point where it is almost punishment? You have said that it is not about punishment and imply that it is more about self-control. We usually use the term self-control as a virtue. Does the anorexic see their behaviour as virtuous or good? Could it even be more than control? A sort of triumph of the mind over the body?

RJR: Good questions, and I am sure it is different for different people. The control and lack of control all seem part of it. Seeing it as a triumph would be a delusion anyway. All of this lies in the unconscious mind, so we can only guess what is going on for each individual, and they will not really know either….

NS: In that case, is it as far as we can go to say that somehow the outer reflects or exhibits the inner. That the physical appearance is indicative of the inner turmoil – just like a frown or a grimace but more extreme, and more “controlled”? Is it a form of wordless language – saying something like: “Look, this is what is going on inside me”?

RJR: And that is a great question with which to open up this discussion to our audience. I invite our readers to contribute.


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The Cancer Test by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

The Cancer Test by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Tinkering by Rowena J Ronson

Photograph, Tinkering by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: There is a new test that is about to become available which can detect if you are going to ‘get’ cancer within the next thirteen years. So my question to Double Take readers, and to you Nigel my fellow dialoguer is, would you take the test?

NS: Why would anyone NOT take the test? I just took a test for bowel cancer – and have been told I’m OK. I recently had a check-up for skin cancer (because I’d had a skin cancer a couple of years ago) and have been told I’m OK. I think many medical tests give false positives and false negatives, but somehow they’re still kind of reassuring when they tell you that you are all right. There are, of course, other more complex answers to your question. But what would you do?

RJR: It was a question posed on LBC yesterday but unfortunately I did not get a chance to listen to the call-in, or contribute for that matter. I suspect that awareness and funding play a part. But you are right, I am looking for a dialogue that covers the wider and yet more personal aspects of the discussion. With new knowledge that only 1% of our susceptibility to disease is genetic according to modern epigenetic science, awareness that there is a probability that we might create malignant cancers in the future, could be a good thing for many. I guess it will depend if we are realists or relativists, and whether we feel by living our life differently we can create change. It could be possible that knowing would create a defeatist attitude, depression, and an inability to enjoy life in the now for fear of the future. Or it might be that we will be empowered to do everything we can to take care of our health in the hope that by doing so, we will change our susceptibility and not allow disease in the future to flourish.

NS: Isn’t it the case (statistically) that in the next 13 years we all (or at least the older ones among us) have a very good chance of “getting” cancer. Do we actually need a test to tell us this? I suppose if the test is foolproof, then it would be irresistible to know the result. But, as you seem to begin to suggest, whether we have cancer or not depends to a great extent on how we choose to live: what we eat, what we drink, what stresses we put ourselves under, what environment we live in etc. If a test could tell us that we are definitely going to have cancer, maybe that would make us look at all these things more closely. I wonder if we might benefit from regularly having an official letter through the front door confirming that we are definitely going to die. That might also make us change.

RJR: I couldn’t agree more. I realised, again from listening to LBC over the last few days, that most people do not take care of their health or take responsibility for it. Those that called in and took part in the discussions mostly said they knew their lifestyle was making them ill but had no time to do anything to change it. And those that called to say they were reading What Doctors Don’t Tell You, and taking magnesium to prevent strokes, or meditating and eating healthily, were told that they were in the minority and most people will not go to such great measures. I was quite stunned actually. Because I am so aware of what is healthy, and surround myself by those who also know and actively take care of themselves, I did not realise how the majority consider a healthy lifestyle totally unachievable.

NS: It takes a bit of effort to know what is a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and, I think, even more effort to put that knowledge into practice. I think I know quite a lot about ‘natural health’ but I can’t pretend that I live the healthiest of lives. Like a lot of people, I try to do it – but in many ways fall short. The same goes for exercise – I have always done quite a bit, but I know that I could do a lot more. And then there is mental/spiritual health… and the same shortcomings. We can blame the human world we live in (which conspires to push us into the unhealthiest of diets and lifestyles) but in the end it has to be down to us. Perhaps we need a shock (like the prediction of a future cancer) to make us change?

RJR: I guess the same issues arise in our own awareness and simultaneous denial of global warming. We know we are damaging our environment to irrevocable destruction, but we continue to partake in the same ‘unhealthy’ behaviours…..

NS: Exactly. Will we always behave like this? Or is there something that could make us change? Perhaps that last question is a wrong one. The ‘something’ that could make us change is already here – the reality of our own deterioration and the deterioration of the environment. Do we refuse to look at the situation completely because we are concerned only with ourselves and with the short term? Or are we too lazy to behave differently?

RJR: I wonder if it is the survival part of our brains that keeps us selfish and short-sighted. A paradox perhaps, as it this very aspect of us – our will to survive – that will lead to our destruction. I wish too that it were as simple as the fact that we are all too lazy. We have so much working against us – so many mixed messages. Doctors, for example, do not consider there to be a link between nutrition and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Are you surprised?

NS: I know that up until relatively recently many doctors still did not recognise the link between what we eat and illness, but surely that has changed now, hasn’t it? I agree about the mixed messages – even on what is good for us to eat. One health guru tells us one thing, and one another. I think it’s still the case that many conventional medics don’t acknowledge the link between stress and cancer – with most resources put into drug research, into “cures for cancer” – when it seems likely that many cancers could be prevented by a stress-free, well-nourished lifestyle. We are conditioned to think there is going to be a fix for everything, rather than think about taking care of ourselves.

RJR: I agree completely and welcome Double Takers to join the discussion.

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Climate of Insanity by Nigel Summerley (photograph by Rowena J Ronson)

Breaking Bad by Rowena J RonsonCLIMATE OF INSANITY?

by Nigel Summerley

We are all more or less agreed that the planet is warming up and that this is most likely the result of our relentless burning of fossil fuels. Right? Well, not all of us.

Some politicians – the very people we look to do something because they have the power to do something – think this is dangerous bunkum and will do anything to assist the cause of climate change denial.

Wyoming’s State Legislature has just rejected new national science standards for schools, because they include teaching about the human contribution to climate change.

Wyoming seems to be resistant to central regulation but also to anything that might jeopardise the coal, oil and gas businesses.

State Representative Matt Teeters, one of those opposed to the new standards, has been quoted as saying that they “handle global warming as settled science. There’s all kind of social implications involved in that that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming.” And he thinks they might help to “wreck Wyoming’s economy”, which is very much tied up with fossil fuels.

So Wyoming prefers to try to ensure its kids remain ignorant about the global warming issue – when they are the ones it’s going to affect, not the politicians with their short-term concerns and vested interests. It’s almost unbelievable.