Fat, often erroneously, is mistaken as the “enemy” and many try to avoid eating it at all costs.  We all need fat in our diets, however, it should comprise no more than 25-30% of our daily caloric intake.

Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorption of certain vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Fat helps food stay in the stomach longer, helping one to feel satiated and to prevent hunger soon after meals
Fat may help your body produce endorphins (natural substances in the brain that are responsible for feelings of pleasure)
Diets too low in fat may trigger cravings
Provides back up energy if one has to go 4-6 hours without food
Provides insulation under the skin from the cold and the heat
Protects organs and bones
Fat surrounds and insulates nerve fibers to help transmit nerve impulses (nerve impulses are necessary for thoughts, emotions, behaviors, movements, etc.)
Fat is used by the body to make other building blocks needed for hormones and immune functioning


Harder to feel satiated, which may lead to continued eating
Dry, scaly skin
Hair loss
Low body weight
Cold intolerance
Poor growth
Lower resistance to infection
Poor wound healing
Loss of menstruation

Carbohydrates have become almost as evil, in some people’s minds, as fat, making it “in vogue” to eliminate them from one’s diet.  This is unfortunate, as this  macronutrient should comprise approximately 45-65% of our daily caloric intake.  This percentage is necessary for the following reasons:

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel
Carbohydrates are easily used as energy by the body
Integral to the healthy functioning of the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, and the muscles
Important in intestinal health and waste elimination
Carbohydrates replace glycogen stores (necessary for muscle contraction) in the muscle and liver.  Without carbohydrates to replace glycogen, fatigue and less than optimal functioning occurs.

Metabolism, in its simplest sense, is the rate at which your body burns calories. In a broader sense it is complex network of hormones and enzymes responsible for converting food into fuel, while also determining how efficiently you burn that fuel. Many people think of metabolism as how easily they lose or gain weight.

Surprising to many is that the largest component of your metabolism, approximately 70%, is your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR determines how many calories are needed just to keep you alive and functioning. It is the energy used by your body to perform basic functions, such as breathing, brain health, keeping the heart beating and maintaining body temperature. For example, your brain requires approximately 109 calories per pound and weighs approximately three pounds. This means that 327 calories per day are required to maintain your brain. Other examples include your heart and kidneys, which require 200 calories per pound (approximate weight of an adult human heart is 5/8 of a pound; approximate weight of kidneys is ¼ of a pound). Your BMR decreases as you age and differs from person to person. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is often used interchangeably with basal metabolic rate (BMR), though they are slightly different.

What influences my BMR?
Age – metabolism decreases five percent per decade after age 40
Amount of lean muscle – Muscle burns more calories than fat. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest. (For every pound of muscle you burn approximately 6 calories versus a pound of fat, which burns approximately 2 calories).
Gender – Males generally have a 10 to 15% faster BMR than females, as the male body has a larger percentage of lean muscle tissue.
Heredity – metabolic rate can be inherited from previous generations
Thyroid disorder – hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) can slow down or speed up metabolism (these conditions occur in only 3 and .3 percent of the population)

How do I calculate my RMR?
To calculate your RMR, use the Mifflin-St Jeor equation (may be more reliable than the Harris-Benedict equation)

RMR = 9.99w + 6.25s – 4.92a + 166g-161
w = weight in kilograms; if you know your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms
s = height in centimeters (1 foot = 30.48 centimeters, 1 inch = 2.54 centimeters);
a = age in years
g = gender = 1 for males, 0 for females
For example, the equation for a 30 year old, 120 lb, 5’4 woman would be as follows:
9.99(54.54) + 6.25(162.5) – 4.92(30)+ 166(0)-161 = 1251.80

This means that this woman requires approximately 1251.8 calories to maintain her body’s vital functions and her weight at rest.

The Eating Disorder Connection: Bringing it all Together
Often people with eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa, restrict their caloric intake to below 1000 calories or even 500 calories per day. As illusrated in the example above, this is not even enough calories to maintain their basic body functions. Over time, if this calorie deficit continues, one’s body will begin shutting down.

Also, our bodies are very intelligent and if a continued calorie deficit is percieved, our metabolism will slow down to compensate for this deficit, meaning we are burning less calories than prior to the restriction. This starts a vicious cycle for someone with disordered eating behavior, as the result is that one usually has to restrict even more. There is hope though, after resuming a balanced diet sufficient to meet one’s caloric needs, one’s metabolism will also adjust once the threat of starvation is no longer present and your body begins to trust that it is getting the necessary nutrients.

Exposure to Unrealistic Figures is Driving Eating Disorders in Young People

Although it is often said that eating disorders typically begin during the teenage years and early adulthood, an increasing number of under 12s are now receiving treatment for disordered eating, with figures for admissions increasing more than 100% in less than a decade.  It seems that young girls’ exposure to unrealistic figures may at least partly explain the rise in anorexia and bulimia among tweens, with the ever popular Barbie doll providing a worrying role model.  Although, Barbie’s vital statistics are unnatural and unachievable, this is not appreciated by young girls who try to emulate her figure.

Equally, older girls are bombarded with images of ultra slim models in glossy fashion magazines, which are far from the average woman’s figure and a lot of the time they are significantly underweight.  When teens see these pictures they believe this is how they should look, but don’t necessarily take into account that the images in front of them have been photoshopped.   Television shows also promote unrealistic expectations for body image, with the vast majority of female characters at or below weight recommendations, which only a third of the population achieves naturally.  Finally, young women contemplating weight loss who access pro-anorexia websights, where eating disorders are promoted as a lifestyle choice, are exposed to material that can have a damaging impact on their eating behaviors.

While treatment is available for eating disorders, prevention is always preferable.  To protect young children and women from low self-esteem, which can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, it is essential to raise awareness of how distorted the female figures presented to us are.  Steps to Recovery highlights this in the following article and also considers the link between eating disorders and substance abuse: http://www.stepstorecovery.com/starving-yourself-to-achieve-the-impossible-figure-of-barbie/



An eating disorder might seem humorous. Have you ever joked that you could “eat everything on this table?” For some people, though, overeating is no laughing matter. Overeating and binge eating disorders are complex illnesses that can be life-threatening. As a Santa Barbara psychologist, I have seen how they can completely overwhelm patients’ lives and wreak havoc on their bodies.

Although both issues are generally labeled as eating disorders, there are some differences between insatiable hunger and binge eating disorder. With insatiable hunger, patients feel like they are always hungry, no matter how recently or how much food they have eaten. Although there may be some type of physical cause for this feeling, it can also stem from anxiety. It could be based on feelings of low self-esteem, or might represent insatiable needs which were not met by parents or significant others. Therapy for anxiety can often uncover these underlying causes and alleviate the feeling of continual hunger.

According to The Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders, a binge eating disorder usually involves periodic occasions where sufferers will go on an eating binge and consume a large quantity of food in a short period of time. They feel like they have no control over their actions. Sufferers continue taking in food until they are uncomfortably full, and do not take any voluntary steps to purge the food from their bodies. Binge eating may be used as a means of hiding from emotions, filling a void inside, or coping with stresses and problems. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), it can manifest with a sense of depression about the overall situation and loss of control. Depression counseling may be one step in understanding why these patients feel so sad that they look to unhealthy eating habits for comfort.

In either case, long-term afflictions with the disorder can lead to serious health issues. The patient will likely be overweight and may suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases associated with overeating. For these sufferers, it is not as simple as going on a diet or working with a nutritionist to learn about healthy eating habits. They may need to see a psychologist for depression in order to work through their feelings of despair and to understand the unhealthy role food is playing in their lives.

Understanding Insatiable Hunger and Binge Eating Disorder

It can be difficult to accept the fact that you no longer have a healthy relationship with food. You may try to forget any episodes of unhealthy eating, and may attempt to hide any evidence. You may push away others who try to show concern or offer help. The first step in overcoming any type of disorder is realizing that you are acting in a way that is not healthy for your mind or your body. Some questions which might help determine if you or someone you love are dealing with insatiable hunger or a binge eating disorder include:

  • Do you recognize when you are full and are you capable of stopping eating?
  • Do you feel like you are always hungry, even after a physician has ruled out any possible medical causes?
  • Do you often eat more in comparison to others at the same meal?
  • Do you try to hide your eating, or evidence of how much you have eaten?
  • What are your eating habits like now compared to what they were a year or two ago?
  • How much food do you eat in a typical day?
  • Have your sleep patterns been interrupted by your eating habits?
  • How quickly do you eat?
  • How do you feel emotionally about the way you eat?
  • Have your eating habits affected your relationships with others?
  • To what extent is your life controlled by your eating?
  • Do you have secret “stashes” of food in various locations?

Your answers to these questions don’t necessarily indicate that you have an eating disorder, but they provide helpful guidelines. If you think there is cause for concern, it is always best to check with a medical doctor and a Santa Barbara therapist to confirm your suspicions. 

Overcoming an Insatiable Hunger or Binge Eating Disorder

The first thing to understand if you think you are dealing with an eating disorder is that you are not alone. There are many people in situations similar to yours, many people who can help you, and many people that love you. When you come to me for help with managing anxiety and/or your eating disorder I spend time getting to know you so we can explore the emotional roots of your condition together.

In addition to psychotherapy, I may recommend a consultation with your medical doctor to discuss antidepressants or other medication to help you deal with the emotional turmoil you are experiencing. It may also be helpful to seek alternative therapies to relieve stress and tension. The Deep Tissue Massage Center specializes in Therapeutic Deep Tissue Massage which promotes full body stress relief, healthy function of muscle tissues, and speeds recovery. Points of Health Acupuncture helps you rejuvenate, relax, balance, and heal. Together we’ll help you regain control of your life.

If you feel you are being controlled by insatiable hunger or a binge eating disorder, contact my office immediately to set up a session, and let me help you find a path to a better life.

Dr. Adina McGarr-Knabke
The Santa Barbara Therapist


About MySantaBarbaraTherapy.com: If you feel you need therapy for depression to help you overcome an insatiable hunger or binge


It seems so simple and unthreatening, doesn’t it? A spoonful of sugar on your morning breakfast cereal, a candy bar for an afternoon pick-me-up, or a soda for a little extra energy…they all seem harmless enough. But, when looked at as part of a total diet that includes processed sugar, natural sugar, and hidden sugar in foods we eat, many people are surprised to learn that they have a sugar addiction. As a Santa Barbara therapist I work with many patients who are trying to free themselves from the control sugar has over their lives.

In a landmark report that focused attention on our national sweet tooth, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that the consumption of sugar calories hit a record high in 1999 – an astonishing 155 pounds per year! The food industry practice of using high-fructose corn syrup as a sweeter has resulted in sugar showing up in some of the most unlikely places such as hot dogs, pizza, boxed rice, soups, spaghetti sauce, lunch meat, flavored yogurts, ketchup, and mayonnaise. It can be difficult to control sugar intake, even for people who maintain a healthy diet. For people who have difficulty managing anxiety it can be downright impossible.

As a Santa Barbara psychologist, I often witness first-hand the connection between sugar addiction and mental health problems. The relationship between food and mental health becomes so intertwined that patients sometimes depend on food and sugar to help them get through the day. While a medical doctor can help manage the physical aspects of withdrawing from a sugar addiction, I provide counseling to help patients work through the mental and emotional reasons behind their sugar addiction.

Understanding Sugar Addiction

Research has shown that there is a fundamental connection between sugar and brain cells. While sugar does supply the fuel your brain needs to function, your brain can also come to see sugar as a reward.  Continued overuse of sugar results in the brain demanding more and more sugar. The feeling can be similar to the effects of drugs or alcohol, which provide an artificial “high.”

The “rush” we get from our mid-day sweet snack can be attributed to sugar. This turns into glucose in our bodies, and spikes our blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, blood sugar levels then drop quickly, which can leave you feeling lethargic and ultimately make you crave even more sugar. When combined with a stressful job situation, unhappy marriage, or traumatic life events, the sugar high can become an addictive way of making ourselves feel happy.

Some people don’t realize that highly refined, starchy, carbs,” can have the same effect. Things like pretzels, white bread, pasta, potatoes, and crackers raise and lower blood sugar levels quickly.


Signs of Sugar Addiction

It may be hard to realize that you have a sugar addiction. Think about your daily food habits and your relationship with food. Here are some questions that might help determine whether sugar is starting to exert an unhealthy influence in your life:

  • Does it feel like you are always “craving” something sweet?
  • Do you often think about eating sweets?
  • Do you lose control when eating sweet foods?
  • Is it difficult for you to say “no” to sweet foods?
  • When you try to cut back on sugar, do you feel intense cravings?
  • Do you experience mood swings that go up and down quickly after eating sugar?
  • Have you even eaten more than you planned, or more than you know is needed, because of a sweet taste?
  • Have you ever felt guilty or ashamed about the amount of sugar you have eaten?
  • Do you turn to sweet foods to help you deal with emotions such as depression, sadness, anger, or loneliness?
  • How often do you use sugar as a reward for yourself?
  • Do you associate sweet foods with any specific positive memories or emotions?

These questions don’t necessarily indicate that you have or don’t have a sugar addiction, but they can be helpful guidelines. If you think there is cause for concern it is always best to check with a medical doctor to rule out an  underlying medical condition and to consult a psychologist.

Overcoming a Sugar Addiction 

Dr. Adina McGarr-Knabke




Why is Sugar So Addictive?