Episode #2: Stress-eating and Weight Stigma with Dr. Janet Tomiyama

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:00

Hello, my name is Dr. Wendy Slusser. And here at Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA, we strive to be trailblazers in building a culture of health and well-being. Starting in our own backyard, Semel HCI transforms ideas into reality to create a campus-wide culture of health by promoting physical, emotional, and social well-being. Welcome to our center’s podcast, LiveWell. Join us as we interview leading experts and discover new perspectives on health and well-being. Each episode, we will bring to you scientists and world class operators who will share with you cutting-edge research, and practices, and never-before-broadcasted tips to live a more healthful life for yourself, community, and our planet. We live in a society that’s obsessed with weight loss and dieting. Weight stigma and fat-shaming pervade our everyday lives, turning eating into something that is no longer an enjoyable act, but one of scrutiny and stress. Driven by a love for food and a true foodie at heart, UCLA Associate Professor in Psychology Dr. Janet Tomiyama believes that there are ways to get healthy without ever mentioning weight. Janet runs the Dieting, Stress and Health or DiSH Lab at UCLA that focuses on two main drivers of why we eat, or don’t: stress and weight stigma. Fueled by dedication, drive, and a well-balanced lifestyle, Janet was awarded the prestigious Association for Psychological Science, the Janet Taylor Spence Award for transformative early career contributions in 2017. So why do we crave brownies instead of fruit when we’re stressed? Why are mashed potatoes and mac and cheese comfort foods instead of roasted veggies and refreshing salads? Today, Janet will answer these questions, as well as unpack stress and weight stigma. She will even share tips to creating long-lasting habits for a healthy lifestyle. Please, let’s welcome Janet Tomiyama.  You know, the thing about you, Janet, that I was struck by when I first met you, was how enthusiastic you are about your subject, to the point that you were junior, junior faculty  joining a, really, a startup initiative. Granted, it was a Chancellor’s Initiative, Semel, well then, Healthy Campus Initiative, now HCI or Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. But you were willing to take the time to come to our EatWell pod in spite of the fact that you were obviously, publish or perish.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  03:03

Right, finding my way toward tenure.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:05

Exactly. So, I’d love to know, you know what drove you to even, like how did you even find out about the EatWell pod? And like what drove you to come?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  03:17

Yeah, I was thinking about this on my way over here. How did I even learn about HCI? I can’t remember that, unfortunately. But I do know when I looked into it more, what I really loved was that the stakeholders at the table and the EatWell pod were people I was not used to seeing in terms of my academic work. So you know, people from Dining and I got to know Dolores really well, who’s a Registered Dietitian. And so it was a really new way I think about tackling sort of issues that are important in terms of health and eating that I hadn’t really seen before. So it was really exciting to me.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:56

You know, I remember you and then there was Eve who also was a dietician.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  03:59

Eve Lahijani.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:02

Yeah, and Dolores, who were always also emphasizing in the EatWell pod, which is really the focus area of making the healthy choice, the easy choice right on our campus for all the students, staff and faculty, not to emphasize weight, but to emphasize healthy eating.  Yes, my mantra.  Yes. Yeah, and so how did that mantra come about? In your life? Yeah, well, you know, my very earliest research was looking at dieting and by dieting, I mean cutting calories, so not eating healthy, but instead, you know, trying to eat less and whether or not that worked. And in study after study after study, I was seeing that dieting just doesn’t work in terms of long-term weight loss. And in my dissertation work, which I completed here at UCLA, actually my PhD, in 2009. I did a study looking at whether or not dieting was stressful, so I randomly assigned people to diet or not. And then I measured their stress hormones. And it turns out that dieting increases your levels of stress hormones. And one thing we know that stress hormones do is they increase your body’s deposition of energy as fat, especially in the belly region. And it also makes food tastes really delicious. And it makes you reach for food when you’re stressed, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about later. And so through that work, I was realizing, oh, my goodness, this thing that everybody does, and that physicians often recommend, which is cutting your calories, that could actually backfire and lead to maybe long-term weight gain, which was what we were seeing in the studies. To me, it became really clear that dieting not only isn’t the way out of this obesity so-called epidemic that we’re living in. It’s stressful and having potentially negative repercussions in terms of our metabolic health. And so I’ve been really sort of anti-dieting for a long time. And I think that was one of my reasons for wanting to join EatWell pod, which is to make sure that the messages we’re giving our students especially aren’t pro-dieting, and UCLA’s done a great job in this going back as far as I can remember, they participated in International No Dieting Day. So the message has been really positive. Another sort of stealth reason for joining the EatWell pod, which I don’t think I’ve actually ever told you, is stress eating, which is one of my research topics, is really midway between EatWell and MindWell. You know, so the MindWell pod is the stress component, EatWell pod is the eating component. So I was hoping to really draw connections between the pods. And hopefully that’s something that we can emphasize even more in the future. Yeah, I think that the mind-body connection is going to definitely be one of our big focuses as we move forward. Because I think that that connection in so many areas is going to make such a difference in terms of people’s well-being overall. Yeah, because well-being isn’t any one thing. It has to be all of it together.  That’s right. So I want to parse out what you’ve been talking just about diet and stress. And first of all, I want to, can you define what you mean by diet? Sure, yeah, this is difficult, because some people are doing low-carb, or keto diet is really popular right now. And so in my research, at least when I talk about dieting, I’m defining it as cutting your calories in order to lose weight. And that’s a really big difference from trying to eat healthier, you know, or trying to eat more fruits and veggies. It’s all about restricting and you know, not letting yourself have something which is calories. And so that I understand, you know, your interest is biological and behavioral, bio-behavioral, right? Yes. And social. Biopsychosocial model is what we use as a theoretical framework. And so by focusing on the motivation of how to eat healthier, and then also what you eat. Those are the different ways of your research has gone in different directions in that area. Yeah, I think it’s really interesting to do research on the borders of disciplines. And so, you know, nutritional scientists really look at the components of what’s inside food, and how does that affect our health. But as people like to say, food isn’t nutritious until it’s eaten. And so I’ve been really curious about, well, what makes people put the food in their mouth. And for that, we really have to turn to understanding psychology. And also, the reason why I think the social world is so important is that the people around us really strongly determine what it is we’re eating. You can just tell, you go to a restaurant with people you don’t know all that well and everyone’s like, what are you going to eat? What are you going to, are you getting an appetizer? Should we do dessert? And so you know, incorporating the world around us, I think is really the way to lead to deeper answers. And so just like I’ve been wanting to link up EatWell pod and MindWell pod, my research to I think imbues that sort of priority, which is let’s look at the psychology and the biology and the social world. And maybe that’s how we can get to some better answers. Yeah, so that adds what we just added a year ago, the EngageWell for social well-being. Yeah. Yeah, so important. As important as smoking in terms of its effects. Fifteen cigarettes a day. Poor social well-being is equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, I mean, that’s like-

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  09:41

That’s outrageous.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:42

Yeah. So before we get to the social well-being, which I think you were just alluding to in terms of who you eat with, and I know one of your graduate students that studied with you did a really interesting article that was published about that.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  09:57

Yes, Jenna.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:58

Yeah, in terms of eating and I’ll ask you that question, but stress. Can you define what you mean by stress? Especially I’m interested in what you said earlier about stress how stress makes food more delicious, all food?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  10:13

Yes.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:14

All food? Especially sweet and fatty food, that we know of.  Right, but any food?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  10:20

Any food, yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:21

Okay.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  10:22

So okay, so the definition of stress, this is a toughie because I don’t even think the field has really landed on one single definition. Some people define stress as any stressful event that might happen to you. So divorce or losing a job and things like that. But the psychological part that I think is interesting is some people define stress as whether or not you feel stressed. So they don’t even care what the event is that happened, they care about your sort of psychological response to it. So I like to talk about the example of a flat tire. So if somebody is working two jobs, and they’re, you know, really relying on their job for income, and they get a flat tire, it’s catastrophic, and could be very stressful to them. And contrast that with someone who’s wealthy who might have another car to take, you know, or has money to take a Lyft or an Uber, or the very highest echelon is a chauffeur, who will just chauffeur you to work. And so I think from that perspective, it makes a lot of sense to define stress as if you feel stressed, that’s stress. And so that’s really the psychological definition of stress that I’ve been using in my research. There’s also another way to define stress, which is how much cortisol do you have, cortisol being that stress hormone. But, you know, it’s interesting. If somebody feels stressed, it doesn’t necessarily perfectly match up with how much cortisol they secrete. If somebody feels stress, it doesn’t perfectly match up with how much epinephrine they’re creating, or how fast their heart starts beating. So you know, the biology and the psychology aren’t often in lockstep with one another, which I think is why it’s really important to look at both the lived-in experience as well as the the hormones and all that stuff.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:09

Well, especially with some of your research that’s shown the stigma around being obese and the stress that it brings. And then that sort of vicious cycle of how stress then relates to eating.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  12:24

Yeah, that’s perfectly summarized.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:27

Yeah. Wow. So explain to me though, where do you think it all began? I know, that’s the million dollar question, but.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  12:35

Where stigma began, or?

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:37

Yeah.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  12:38

So this could be a whole podcast in itself. I think the idea of weight stigma and this negative attitude and bias against heavier bodies that we have in society.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:48

And is it an American phenomenon?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  12:50

You know, there are studies that have looked at levels of anti-fat bias across the world. And it’s rising everywhere, even in cultures that have traditionally prized heavier bodies. So some Pacific Islands, you still see rising levels of anti-fat bias throughout the world. And people have linked it to sort of Western culture disseminating throughout the globe, and this sort of Western ideal of a thin body. And so what you were alluding to is that this experience of weight stigma in itself can be stressful. And as we know, we just talked about, stress causes weight gain, and stress causes you to eat more, so it’s experiencing weight stigma can then lead you to gain weight. So it’s this vicious cycle that you said, so more weight stigma, more weight gain, which puts you at ever more risk for increased weight stigma. So I think that is a really important segment of societal stigma that we’re starting to pay attention to, I think there’s more and more sort of societal attention to fat shaming, and body acceptance, but we still have a long way to go. And there are some numbers that show that weight stigma in many sectors of society is more widespread than things like racism and sexism, and even stigma against sexual minorities. And so I think it’s a problem that we really need to pay attention to. And one thing that weight stigma leads to I found in my research is eating. And so I think that it ties back in where you experience weight stigma, you experience stress, and then you engage in stress eating. And so it’s one way that fuels this vicious cycle.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:07

And so in this day and age where we have so many people in our country that are suffering from obesity, and stigma, who’s doing the stigmatization in a way? I mean, it feels stigmatized, like it feels like there’s like almost, at least adult-wise, the majority of people are either overweight or obese. So the minority are in the different weight category. So what’s happening? Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense.  Yes. And in fact, this is one reason why the National Science Foundation has funded my work because of these weird theoretical quirks of weight stigma. Normally, people in the minority are being stigmatized. And yet in the United States, the majority has a BMI that is either overweight or obese. And so what’s going on there? It’s a really interesting social psychological theory question. One explanation, I think, is that there are very high levels of internalization of anti-fat bias. And so people really believe and make part of their value system that fat is bad, and thin is good. And so this is also really, to me, an interesting aspect of weight stigma. So, if I go somewhere, someone is mean to me, because I am a woman, I reject that and I will, you know, sort of fight back against that. People who have heavier, larger bodies tend to actually internalize that stigma. And they might say, yeah, they’re right, I don’t have any willpower. Or, you know, yeah, I really do think my body looks gross. And I think going back to the social aspects of it, I think there is a lot of acceptance of negative comments about one’s body, like, you might eat a heavy, really indulgent dessert and say, oh my God, I feel so fat right now. You hear that every restaurant. Those kinds of comments are really seen as normal, and not something strange. Whereas if I were to say, oh my god, Asians, because I’m Asian, if I were to say, I hate Asians, they’re so gross, that would be really strange. So it’s like an interesting weirdness about weight stigma that makes it important to study. Another really unique aspect of weight stigma is that the people who are closest to you tend to be the most stigmatizing. And this is a total flip from other forms of stigma, like racial and gender stigma, so if someone threw racist slurs at me for being Asian, I could go to my mom or my dad and say, oh my gosh, can you believe someone said this? And they would support me. But you don’t see that in the case of weight. Often, the family members are the ones who are the most stigmatizing. And so they lose this social support. And they’re experiencing stigma from those closest to them. So it’s a really potent form of stigma. And so from what I’m understanding is that also people who might be stigmatized, also have this implicit bias against others with this similar condition. Yeah. And they feel it towards themselves and others. So it doesn’t matter what your body looks like.  You might also have that because you believe it about yourself as well.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  17:49

Exactly.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:50

So what is the solution to this? Like, how do we overcome it? I know. I think that there is one movement, which is this fat is beautiful movement. I’m all for it. I love all body positivity sort of messages. But I still think saying fat is beautiful, is putting beauty as the standard that we’re trying to reach. Whereas there’s another sort of growing movement, I think, which is looking at weight stigma as a social sort of justice movement, of a human rights movement where, what does it mean that we’re treating parts of our society as less than just because of the way they look? That’s not okay. And so I think looking at it from a human rights perspective, we’ll get us there in a way that doesn’t sort of pervert the issue and make it all about beauty. At the same time, it’s gonna be hard. I mean, if just think about how these two sentences feel in your gut. So if I were to say, oh my gosh, that Black guy is so lazy, that would be like, *gasp* right, we all feel this sickness in our gut. But you hear things like, oh my gosh, look at that fat guy, he’s so lazy all the time. And if that feels a little less icky to you, I think that really signifies how much more accepted weight stigma is in our society than these other forms of stigma. Well, I certainly see in my business in the health professional businesses, that there’s a lot of stigma and the work I do, I’ve seen children avoid going to the doctor because of their weight, and what they perceive as that they’re doing something wrong, and they don’t want to go to the doctor anymore. So I could certainly see that as a place also to work towards improving the biases of physicians themselves and other health professionals.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  19:50

Yeah, I have a study looking at implicit and explicit levels of bias. So implicit bias is bias that you’re not necessarily conscious of but it can still affect the way you interact with other people. And explicit bias is how much do you believe heavier people are bad, have less worth and things like that. So we went to a conference that was attended by people who are obesity-related clinicians and obesity-related researchers. And we measured their implicit and explicit bias. And we were thinking, okay, of all the people in our society, these are the people who we really don’t want to be biased for the exact reasons you mentioned. And yet, even in people specializing in obesity, we saw proof in anti-fat bias both at the implicit and explicit level. And so I think that is a definite sort of lever that we could use, is to engage with our patients in a way that doesn’t leave them stigmatized

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:54

Well, I think that some of the genesis of that is the fact that health has been related, or poor health has been related to weight, or overweight. And I know there’s a lot of studies right that are coming out that are shifting that view, especially in the aging population that other factors, like social well-being, engagement, and other things make more of a difference. But there is still an association with poor health. So I guess that’s the tricky part. It is really tricky, I agree. I think there’s a way to get patients to health that doesn’t mention weight a single time, because what we really want, I don’t think we necessarily care about how big somebody’s size, or their belly is. I think what we care about is, are they eating well? Are they moving around? To that I love to add are they stressed out? We should get them less stressed out. And are they sleeping well?  Do they have friends?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  21:57

And do they have friends? Yeah. And I think you can encourage a patient to live in a healthier way without a single time mentioning what their BMI is or what their weight is. Because I think as soon as you go and say the W word for weight, all the societal pressures and baggage and, you know, negative messages sort of tumble into the door of that, you know, that room. And so I think that one way to help is for clinicians to really talk about these behaviors that are changeable, and focus less on BMI. We know that BMI is not a great measure of health, you know, so professional athletes can still be categorized with a BMI.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:46

That’s right, I think body mass is heavier than fat.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  22:48

Yeah, exactly. And I could go on for a full hour about how just because weight is correlated with health, that doesn’t necessarily mean that weight is causing bad health. I mean, all of your listeners will know correlation is not causation.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  23:06

Right.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  23:07

And so something you mentioned, health care avoidance. So that could be what’s actually making it seem like weight is bad for you, because people who are heavier will avoid the doctor and get less preventive care and have poorer health outcomes. And somebody just looking at that is going to say, oh, it’s because they’re heavy. That’s why their health is bad. When really, it’s because they’re avoiding the doctor because of the size of their body. So there are lots of reasons to believe that BMI isn’t the full story, and that there’s lots of gains to be had by focusing on these behaviors.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  23:45

Yeah, well it sort of gets back to your definition of dieting and focusing on a diet, which was basically denying yourself something, versus positivity like focusing on something positive. I’ve, in my practice, I’ve done that. I emphasize, you know, this focus on behaviors, and the side effect will be that your weight will potentially become healthier.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  24:08

Yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:09

But yeah, so that’s, so that sort of gets to that research project. Jenna, your graduate student, who I found to be very interesting a research project around, I guess, socializing around the sinful food. Yeah, can you give a little bit of information about that study? I think is quite interesting. I have a question too about it.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  24:35

Okay, great.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:35

Like a follow up study.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  24:37

Perfect, yeah. So this is a study with my former grad student, Dr. Jenna Cummings, who is now at University of Michigan. And she was really interested in how eating and the social world intersect. We know that the people around you can affect your eating. So you know, whatever anyone else is eating around you, you’ll eat. If everyone on around us eating a lot, then you’ll eat a lot. If everyone around you is just eating like birds, then you’ll, you know, really restrict your eating.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:07

So you mirror.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  25:08

You mirror, yes. And so we know that. That’s interesting. But Jenna’s insight that I think is even more interesting is that maybe the way that you eat can actually change your social world. And let me illustrate that with an anecdote. So think back to the last time you are out with a friend, and maybe you are both even on diets and trying to watch your weight. And then the server comes by and says, can I interest you in some dessert? And you sort of look at each other and say, should we? No, we shouldn’t. Oh my gosh, let’s do it. And then you eat that huge brownie sundae, and you feel sort of like, you’ve done something a little bit risky, and thereby increased your social bonding. And so that was her hypothesis that maybe eating makes people bond. And maybe that’s why it’s so hard for people to eat healthier, because it’s such a great way to feel close to somebody.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:05

So when you take risks with a friend, you bond more?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  26:08

Yeah. So you know, you should go, I don’t know, skydiving, I guess? With someone you want to get closer to.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:16

Oh my gosh, no. My risky behaviors are so benign, we bond with it.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  26:24

Yeah, so she looked at this in a really clever study where she had groups or pairs come in, people who are already friends, and she randomly assigned them to either eat something really decadent and delicious, or something that was low calorie. And the clever part of her study is that the the milkshake that we gave the participants was the exact same milkshake, we just changed the way that we described it. So we’re like, okay, you guys are going to taste test a indulgent, delicious, decadent milkshake. And the other group, we said, here’s the low-calorie, sensible milkshake. And that way with the exact same milkshake, just the psychological experience of engaging in risky eating behavior, that’s the only thing that was different. And so the people who gave the quote unquote, indulgent milkshake reported higher levels of bonding than the people who eat the sensible shake. So that makes us think that indulging in these risky eating behaviors does serve a social bonding purpose. And it’s something we need to be aware of. I’ll mention in that study, this is especially true for people who are dieters, chronic dieters, and so for them, this behavior is really really risky, right, eating a brownie and violating their diet. And so, ironically, is for the people who are trying the hardest to restrict their eating that this bonding mechanism is the strongest. And so it’s a really powerful for us.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:58

And so, like, that was interesting. I read the study, but I didn’t realize the shakes were the same. That’s really cool. So that takes away, really, the reward of the fatty, salty, you know, foods that we think of as why people are so appealing.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  28:18

Yeah. Was that your follow-up question?

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  28:20

No, actually, I was wondering, you know, it’s becoming cool, and not necessarily risky, but it’s becoming cool to eat, like, as a vegan or as some other form of eating that is not necessarily unhealthy for you. Would you think that this could hold true for, I mean, would that be an interest, or has there been a study with people that find it cool, and necessarily, risky but trendy, or, you know, what would you think would happen?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  28:53

Yeah, the psychology of vegetarianism, the psychology of veganism, these are really understudied, uncharted areas, and some of my research is moving in this direction. I think it’s so interesting, I think it’s spot on. Something that you said is really true and important, which is that we are declaring something about ourselves by the way that we eat. So by saying I am a vegan, you know, that’s, that’s saying something about your values, that you may be care about the ethical treatment of animals. Maybe you care about the environmental consequences of eating meat. Maybe you’re doing it for health reasons, but that the way we eat is actually a social identity and one that many people wear proudly. And so I do think that there is some some social capital people gain by declaring themselves as vegan or vegetarian. At the same time, there’s research that shows tiny bit of research that shows that vegans and vegetarians can be stigmatized by the larger society that we know this, for example, from analysis of dating sites, people who say that they’re vegetarian are less likely to match with people.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  30:15

Oh!

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  30:16

Yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  30:18

All those self-selected crowds, too, on dating sites.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  30:22

Yeah. But you know, things like that, make it clear to me that it’s not a simple picture. I think so much of it is the culture that you live in. So speaking of a culture of health, you know, if you’re in Los Angeles, where practically everybody is vegetarian, or at least very veg-focused, and many are vegan. Then I think, if it’s trendy, then it’s trendy, if that makes any sense.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  30:49

Right.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  30:50

Yeah, if it is, if it is trendy within your own sort of microculture, then then you can gain some social benefits from engaging in this health behavior. That said, estimates put 95 to 97 percent of Americans as meat eaters, so you know, here from where we sit in Los Angeles on a college campus, it might seem like it’s a really common behavior, vegetarianism and veganism. You know, we have Veggie Grill in Ackerman. So it might seem very normative. But if you look at the entire nation, it’s a tiny, tiny percentage of people who are actually engaging in vegetarianism and veganism. And there’s research that shows that many vegetarians, more than half actually eat meat from time to time. And so you know, just because you call yourself something doesn’t mean it’s perfectly linking up to actually what you’re eating. And I think that’s really interesting, too, that there’s a difference between what you eat and the label you give yourself for what you say you will eat.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  31:53

It feels like we’re talking a lot about image, aren’t we, like the image of your self as a vegetarian, your image of yourself as your body.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  32:02

Heavy or thin.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:03

Yeah.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  32:04

And yeah, and that’s something I should note about my weight stigma research, which is that a lot of people who think that they’re heavy actually are not from objective body mass index standards. And we know this from surveys where we give people questions like, how, how would you describe your body from very thin to very heavy, and then we put them on the scale, we measure their height to get their objective BMI, and we see that it’s often not linking up. And so people can perceive themselves as heavy, even if they are in a thin range, or the normal weight range of body mass.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:41

And that’s very common, huh?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  32:43

Super common, and just show us how subjective and psychological these processes are.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:50

Right, well I’ll never forget, you know, with my daughter when she was in high school, and you always find something wrong with yourself. I don’t know why. But yeah, and I would tell her well, don’t worry, you know, I, every time I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw my big thighs. And then she looked at my pictures of when I was in high school and said, you didn’t big thighs. I said, I know! That’s my point, is that you always find something wrong. Like there’s always something that, just you can’t see anything else.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  33:21

Yeah, you can’t be objective about it.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:23

Yeah, you can’t. You know, getting back to this stress piece that you’ve talked in other interviews about the interrelationship with eating and its effects on stress, and the soothing effect.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  33:38

Yes.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:39

And I’d like to explore that more with you because I’d love to understand. In general, we know food is soothing. Now, what kind of food? Is that as important as what we associate that food to be? What would suit us?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  33:57

Yeah, so I got into this, because I started reading some non-human animal research on comfort eating. And in a series of really extraordinary studies, Mary Dallman at UCSF and her group showed that if you give rodents, rats in this case, access to comfort food, and so in their case, it was crystal mixed with sugar, I believe.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:24

I’m glad I’m not a rat.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  34:26

Some studies use Oreo cookies, so maybe.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:29

Well, no I wouldn’t like that. Those are not my soothing foods.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  34:33

Okay. Well, that’s how we’re defining comfort food and rodents. So in those studies, you stress those rodents out, you give them access to comfort foods, and what you see is over time, their actual physiological stress response is dampened. And this is true at the level of the brain, at the level of hormones, at the level of signaling between the brain and the body and so it’s remarkable it’s the comfort eating that they’re doing is actually working to comfort them. And it seems like perhaps some species of primates might also do comfort eating. And so my thought was, huh, this might be why humans do comfort eating, because it’s actually functioning and serving a purpose to help us down-regulate our stress.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:25

And that’s not so bad, is it?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  35:26

And that’s not so bad. Yeah, I agree. So, you know, currently, we tend to sort of shake our fingers that, that stress eating and say, you need to stop that. But my point is, hey, if it’s serving a function, then maybe we need to not, you know, try and obliterate this behavior, but understand it better. And then maybe sort of mind-hack it a little bit to get us to healthier eating. And we’re doing a little bit of research on that, if you want to hear about it.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:58

Sure, yeah.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  35:58

Okay, so well, first of all, I’m getting ahead of myself here. So the first question for me was, okay, so rodents to comfort eating, and it works for them. Is this the case in humans? We don’t know. And so I’ve done a little bit of work in human showing that people who do more comfort eating tend to report less stress when they experience stressful events. People who do more comfort eating are showing less of a stress response to laboratory stressors, so lower cortisol secretion than people who don’t do comfort eating. And so it really seems like even in humans, it might be that comfort eating is working to soothe us. And so, from that, you know, when I talk about research like that people are like, okay, but we still don’t want people to eat Snickers bars, every time they’re stressed, that’s gonna harm their metabolic health. And so what we’ve been doing in our lab in current work that’s not published yet, is trying to a) see if fruits and veggies can also work to comfort. So this goes back to your very, very earlier question about what is comfort food. So we’ve been assuming that comfort food has to be sugary or fatty, or else it won’t work. But that’s not been tested, even in rodents, you know, they’re getting Oreo cookies. And so, the first thing we’re doing is comparing traditional comfort foods like ice cream and cookies, versus fruits and veggies to see if fruits and veggies might also comfort us because wouldn’t that be great? But I’m a skeptical scientist. So I don’t know if a carrot stick will do the same thing as a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy, you know, to comfort us. And so we’re moving on now to do a study, trying to hack our minds a little bit to see if we can force fruits and veggies to be comforting to us. So in these studies, we’re basically doing classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning like with Pavlov’s dogs. So, in his study, he brought in a bunch of dogs, and he would squirt meat powder into their mouths. And of course, anytime dogs, tastes meat, they’re gonna salivate. And so what he decided to do was, every time he scored the meat powder, he would ring a bell at the same time, and he did this over and over and over again, meat powder, bell, meat powder, bell, meat powder, bell. And then soon what he discovered is that you take away the meat powder, and you just ring the bell and the dogs would salivate. So this cue, which is the bell ring has nothing at all to do with salivation, nothing at all to do with food, can still elicit this response. In humans where we’re over and over again, pairing stress reduction with some sort of fruit. So let’s pretend it’s a strawberry. So there’s a five minute progressive muscle relaxation activity that we have people engage in it, and it really brings about a full body relaxation. We know this from heart rate data that we’ve collected, and at the very end.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:14

And that is that exercise for?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  39:17

It’s basically tensing and relaxing different parts of your body progressively. There’s a clip of it on my website if anyone wants to engage in it.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:26

Which is a great name. What’s your website’s name?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  39:28

My website is the DiSH Lab, the Diet and Stress Health Lab, dishlab.org. Thanks for the plug.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:34

Yeah.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  39:35

So by pairing relaxation with strawberries over and over and over again, just like with Pavlov’s dogs, who started salivating just from hearing the bell, just eating a strawberry should bring about this relaxation response. And so we’re trying to force fruit or veggies, doesn’t matter, whatever, it can be whatever, to bring about relaxation so kind of making a specific fruit be your sort of calming pill, I suppose.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  40:04

So you’d have them do this relaxation exercise, and then you would have them eat the fruit. And then eventually you would start the relaxation exercise and have them eat the fruit.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  40:17

We’ve done a pilot study, and we’ve shown that after doing that seven times, so not even that many times after pairing relaxation and fruit seven times, you give them the fruit and then their negative emotions go down. And so it seems to really be working in terms of sort of the psychological stress responses.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  40:37

Well what’s interesting to me is that just like the milkshake study, it’s not actually the food, it’s the event around the food or your perception of what you might feel like with the food in a way. Because you had this perception that this milkshake was so naughty, that so many ice cream, I don’t know what you were telling them. I can imagine like, you know, chocolate syrup, and I know ice cream and you know, really thick. And you drink it with a straw and so that’s sort of a Pavlovian response as well, right?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  41:13

Yeah, it is a Pavlovian response and thinking back to, you know, growing up, and you had a bad day at school. And so your caregiver, you know, bakes a plate of cookies for you. So you’re, you know, that is what we’re trying to do here. It’s Pavlovian conditioning of a food with a soothing event. And so, you know, that’s what we’re really trying to capitalize on. What I was gonna say was a total tangent, which is, did you know that the thickness of a milkshake is not about how much ice cream you use, but the temperature of your ice cream? So yeah, you want to create, because we made a lot of milkshake recipes for this study.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:53

So what makes it thicker, colder?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  41:54

Colder. You want your ice cream to be really, really cold.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:57

That would make sense. Oh, that’s great. So you can have less ice cream and have a thick milkshake, potentially.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  42:03

Yes.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:04

That’s a good little trick. Well, you know, I think that what you’re driving at, which is really interesting to me is the way for instance, a lot of my patients used to go to fast food restaurants as a vacation from cooking, and therefore became a treat. And so that that then is a treat as you grow up. And you think of when you’re then later in life wanting to treat yourself.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  42:31

Yeah. And so I think what you’re saying is we’re using high fat, high sugar, high sodium, high carbohydrate foods as a reward, right? It’s something that makes us feel really good.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:47

And often, it’s because of the convenience of it.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  42:50

Oh, yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:51

There’s a time factor, and the price.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  42:54

And the price. But also, let’s not forget, these foods are engineered within an inch of their lives to really light up the reward areas of our brains. And so it’s not a coincidence that people tend to gravitate toward this. And it’s really tough. I mean, ideally, what you would want to do is replace food rewards with other kinds of rewards. And so maybe a social reward. Instead of going to McDonald’s to have your night off of cooking, maybe do like a cooking trade-off with another family. So you cook three nights this week, they cook four nights the other, that weekend. You know, a trade off, right? So then you don’t have to cook and then you’re getting this additional social reward. I think that would be, could be a really powerful way. Maybe I should test this.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  43:44

Yeah, that would be great. That’s a great one. Yeah, I mean, my my observation not in science, but just in practice is that if you’re used to eating those high fat, high sugar, high salt foods, it’s very hard to feel rewarded by other kinds of foods. Whereas if you eliminate those from your diet, you become much more, other things have much more flavor and you savor those foods, even the foods that you know, might have high sugar that are more, you know, the fruit with high sugar like a delicious strawberry would be more savory than if you were used to all these sort of more sugary, or, you know, sugar sweetened beverages even.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  44:32

Yeah, it is true. I mean, in our evolutionary past. we’re wired to love sugary things because they denote more calories and fatty things, same. So we are working a little bit against evolution and what will just naturally taste good to us. So how can we counteract that? Well, there is a really substantial body of research showing that the more you eat something, the more you like it. So I think one way to counteract that is, you know, because if you say don’t eat that, we’re triggering these stressful processes on this feeling of restraint or deprivation, I guess.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  45:12

That then creates the stress.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  45:14

That creates the stress and then further weight gain. And so if you can just get people to eat more strawberries over and over and over again, there is a, that’s one way to get them to, like get more. But I agree, it’s really tough. As a mother of a two-year old, I’m trying to delay as long as possible exposure to sugary foods. And people say, well, you know, a cupcake here o- there isn’t gonna affect his long term health. And I agree with that. But what I’m worried about is sort of setting his sweetness expectation thresholds so that the fewer sweets he’s exposed to, the more he’ll be satisfied with the strawberry, Even a banana currently seems to be like, really intense for him in terms of sweetness. He loves cucumber and watermelon. And so. So contrast that to a child who maybe has been eating these processed foods, their whole lives, of course, it’s gonna be so so, so difficult for that brain that has been trained to expect and be rewarded by these very engineered foods, it’s going to be really, really difficult.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  46:27

I mean, it also really speaks to, you know, purchasing foods that are fresh or frozen, that have maintained the flavors that they have when they’re grown.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  46:39

Yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  46:40

And that’s sort of the whole sort of whole thing about the whole food chain, right? If you can purchase fresh or frozen, that, you know, has been frozen very quickly after being picked and maintaining the flavors, I think that’s the biggest challenge.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  46:57

Oh, yeah, I mean, citrus now, you know, if you buy a bag of Cuties now, it tastes really good.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  47:02

That’s for sure.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  47:03

In January.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  47:04

In California.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  47:05

In California, but the watermelon that my son loves so much, I’m like, this is gross, like we should be eating this in the summertime. But I think we need to be really cognizant of the challenges that face us when we talk about. Well, we need the produce to be fresh.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  47:24

Or frozen.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  47:26

Yeah, and frozen, I guess, you know, there, there’s criticisms of this slow food, whole food movement, that it’s elitist and insensitive to those who are lower socioeconomic status and don’t have the money to necessarily, you know, buy produce. They don’t have the time to cook produce and so I think this is one of the challenges that is a really tricky one.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  47:51

That’s right. We’re confronted with it. But I think that one of the things that I have found that has been a misconception or a myth is that frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t as healthy as fresh.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  48:04

They’re flash-frozen.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  48:05

Yeah, they’re usually flash-frozen. So it’s actually not, you know, so I think that there’s ways that we could get around and they’re also cheaper, usually.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  48:14

Yeah, I was really remarking this past weekend, we were eating some frozen blueberries. I was like, these are so sweet. These are so yeah, delicious.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  48:22

Yeah. In fact, they’re often even healthy to have more vitamins. Yeah, because of the, you know, they have been exposed to the light or the heat and so forth, in the travel. Yeah. You know, we’ve been talking a lot about your’s and your team’s groundbreaking work in your DiSH lab. And your focus on eating really is the focus. And I wanted to know, like, how did you find yourself doing this type of research? Like, what attracted you to this field?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  48:54

Yeah, well, I was a foodie before that term even existed.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  49:00

You were too young.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  49:04

Don’t be fooled. Yeah. I am Japanese by heritage and Japanese culture really pays attention to and cares about and expends a lot of effort on food and its deliciousness. And so, you know, growing up eating was my favorite thing to do.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  49:31

What was your favorite food?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  49:34

My favorite food would probably be my grandmother’s miso eggplant dish that she made.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  49:42

You have to give me that recipe.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  49:43

Yeah, my mom has that recipe. Maybe we can put on the website?

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  49:47

Yes, definitely. And does that give you comfort?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  49:52

It does. Yeah, over a hot bowl of rice.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  49:54

And does it decrease your stress?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  49:55

Probably. So I initially got interested in eating research because I was interested in anorexia nervosa, which completely baffled me. So, you know, food was such an important component of my life. And I just couldn’t understand why people would not eat to the point where they were starving themselves and putting them at risk of death.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  50:20

10% of people die from it.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  50:23

Yeah, it’s a really high-mortality psychological disorder. And so I did a summer internship on an inpatient eating disorders unit. And I was fully preparing myself to go to graduate school and clinical psychology to understand anorexia, treat anorexia and really make a program of research, understanding anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. And so in fact, I was at my dream school, which was Yale to work with Kelly Brownell, who you may know, now at UNC, or Duke or someplace like that. But I was also accepted to UCLA’s program to work with Traci Mann who’s now at University of Minnesota, to look at eating. Not eating disorders, but just eating in general, dieting, and there was a real fork-in-the-road moment where I was thinking, Okay, the prevalence of anorexia nervosa in the population is very small, less than 1%. Whereas in terms of who, in terms of dieting, in terms of weight, these are issues that really affect most of Americans, most of the world. And so if I want my research to really make a difference, where should I be researching? And so that really was a conscious step away from the eating disorder and psychopathology kind of research into more generally, how do you eat? How do we eat? Why do we not eat, which is dieting? And trying to understand eating behavior in general.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  51:59

I mean, you’re so right. I mean, dieting has been pervasive. I don’t know, historically, when it started, but I mean, I remember in the 60s, when I was growing up, my mom was always on a diet. And my friend and I made a club called the Cool Club. And I was, of course, Vice President, she was president.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  52:16

You weren’t president?

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  52:19

And it was all around food, though. It’s like we only could eat iceberg lettuce and drink fresca. And those were the rules of the Cool Club. But, you know, when did dieting become such a craze, after World War Two, or?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  52:35

No, before. Well, okay, I guess I don’t know that. That would be a good question for a food historian. I have some old magazines that I have up in my office sort of ironically, that have covers like how to reduce for the holidays.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  52:52

They were just like leftover in your office?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  52:54

No, I scoured used book stores to find these, yeah, vintage stores.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  53:02

And when was that?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  53:04

Those are from, I think the 30s or 40s, so it’s a long time. Now we’re wading into sociology territory, maybe even anthropology territory. But traditionally, whatever the upper class is pursuing or interested in, that becomes the fad of the time. So back when food was scarce, and the upper echelon of society had a lot of food, then having a heavier body was more prized. Now that it’s sort of flipped, where the people at the top rungs of society’s ladder tend to have thinner bodies. Now that is what society is placing value and worth on.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  53:45

Yeah, that’s kind of been lasting longer than the, at least in the recent past.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  53:50

Yes. In our time of food abundance.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  53:52

Yes. Yeah. It’s kind of goes along hand in hand, it appears.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  53:56

Yeah, absolutely.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  53:57

You’ve talked a lot about stress-eating and eating. I mean, there are people that do lose weight too when they’re stressed. So it’s like, what’s the cut-off between the two?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  54:09

Yeah, those people are called men. No, so Okay, we don’t have great data on who eats more, after they’re stressed, who eats less after they’re stressed, and who doesn’t change their eating. We do know that stress eaters tend to be female more often than male. There’s a very old, not very well done study that showed that 40% of people increase their eating when they’re stressed, 40% decrease, and 10% stay the same. This is the figure that all the studies cite. I think it’s time for some updated data on that. So we’re about to launch a nationally representative sample of Americans asking these questions so we can get better numbers. I think the number of stress eaters is much higher than 40% just based on my clinical observations, with people I know, not necessarily data. Across the animal kingdom, organisms tend to eat more after they’re stressed. So I do think that it’s a base, human tendency is to eat more when they’re stressed because of that hormone cortisol.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  55:22

And so, it’s not the cueing is not necessarily a hunger cue, it’s more a cue of memory of comfort, that they’re, do you think, people are striving for?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  55:33

In humans, but that wouldn’t explain why rats would be. There has to be something physiological here. I do think that it makes evolutionary sense if there’s a time of strife, then you are going to need energy to deal with it. And so it makes sense that that would be the behavior that organisms engage in. But I think in humans, it’s so many things, it’s, you’ve had a lifetime of associating these foods with comfort, you have the cortisol making you eat more, you have environment that is only too happy to provide these sugary, high fat foods, so that they’re immediately accessible anytime you feel stressed. And so that, you know, only serves to reinforce that behavior even more. And so it’s sort of a perfect storm of so many different things.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  56:25

So what I’m hearing, which is really, I think, quite helpful for people, since there probably are a lot more people that are eating when they’re stressed, is that you could train yourself to eat healthful foods while you’re stressed, which is something that’s probably going to benefit you in terms of your well-being, and that you can work your way into feeling comforted.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  56:51

That’s the hope, you know, I, as a scientist, I want to see more data. So the initial data out of our lab is promising, but I’ve just written a grant application to test this more widely and more rigorously. And then I think after that would be the step where we make it go live to whoever wants to join and and try it out. And hopefully, this can be one way to help people manage.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  57:22

Yeah.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  57:22

One aspect of stress eating that we haven’t talked about is it relates back to internalized weight bias, which is people feel really guilty after they eat. So they might derive temporary feelings of comfort and then say, oh my gosh, what have I done? Why did I eat that whole carton of ice cream? And so we think that healthy stress eating of fruits and vegetables could be even better than eating a brownie because it cuts off that sort of guilty feeling as well.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  57:53

It’s more long lasting terms of its comfort.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  57:56

Yeah, and you feel virtuous.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  58:00

I guess we wouldn’t want to stop that feeling. I mean, from a practical and probably harmless way form to would be to think about it as an adult, you can think about back on what foods you grew up with that were comforting that are theoretically more helpful for you.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  58:23

Yeah. Or some people say engineer healthier versions of those foods.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  58:28

And that too, right. That’s right, you could do that too.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  58:31

Sweet potato mash instead of mashed potatoes. But, you know, I think you can only engineer it out so much.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  58:41

Right.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  58:41

After a while, I mean, I don’t even think sweet potatoes would do it for somebody who their comfort food with mashed potatoes. So I think, yes, maybe food technology can help us a little bit, but it won’t, I don’t think it’ll be the perfect solution.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  58:58

So we’ve talked a lot about eating. So what about drinking, and another restricting alcohol is that, like, for instance, having a beer when I’m stressed? Is that bad for me?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  59:07

So this is another Jenna Cummings line of research. So she came out of an undergraduate lab where they studied drinking. And in her graduate school interview, she said, you know, Janet, people don’t just eat when they’re stressed, they also drink. And so that sort of kicked off this whole line of research in eating, drinking. Are they similar? Are they different? How are they similar or different? The question we went into this research with was, are some people gluttons and some people are lushes. And there are two fundamentally different kinds of people. Or is it that people who drink or when people drink then they’re less likely to eat because they’re focused on drinking, or are they more likely to eat? And so what’s the connection between these two things? And so Jenna’s research is finding that least at low levels of eating and drinking, the two things seem to potentiate each other, or the two things seem to synergize where you eat, and that makes you drink more. So think about when you have a burger, it’s nice to have a beer with it. But when you get to high levels of drinking, high levels of eating, that’s when the two behaviors seem to have negative synergy or opposite synergy.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:00:27

They diverged.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:00:28

They diverged. So people who suffer from alcoholism actually tend to have lower body mass index than people who don’t, and people who are heavier tend to drink less than thinner people. So it’s really interesting, I think that it sort of flips midway through. And so I think drinking and eating, you know, in terms of the research, they’ve grown up in completely different silos. You know, alcohol, researchers never talked to eating researchers, nobody studies both eating and drinking. So here’s another one of these disciplinary boundaries that we’re trying to really break down.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:01:02

So because I know that some people will mention, like, they talk about drinking as the fast stress relief as you get home, like you have to drink. Like, that’s the classic like, you know, you get home, you have a drink. Exactly, exactly.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:01:20

Yeah, I think you know, and here, I’m an eating researcher, so I’m not as well-versed, and I’m trying to learn more about the alcohol literature. But I do think that people who drink to regulate their negative emotions tend to be at higher risk for addictive or reward-based drinking. And so I do think if you find yourself in a pattern of how you regulate your emotions is through drinking, then maybe explore other options, maybe talk to a friend who makes you laugh, or, you know, go to the gym, and kickbox out those negative feelings, that might be a safer way to go about it.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:02:05

Yeah, that sounds like it would be.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:02:07

There’s this very interesting area of research, looking at food addiction, and can food be an addictive substance? And some people say, no, food can’t be addictive. You know, people, people eat food every day and you know, they don’t face negative consequences. So how could that be? Whereas other researchers have said, actually, food can be addictive, especially certain kinds of foods. So these high-sugar, processed, high-fat, high-calorie foods, where you see things like withdrawl, where you feel badly when you don’t eat these foods. They also see another hallmark sign of dependence, which is tolerance, so you need more of the same food to get the same amount of satisfaction. And so using those kinds of parallels with the addiction literature, it seems like at least certain foods could be considered addictive or addictive-like. And so, you know, there’s good neuroscience research as well, that shows that similar areas of the brain are engaged.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:03:16

Part of the limbic system, the flight?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:03:19

Fight-flight, but the reward circuitry really lights up to similar extent with foods as with other substances of addiction, Bart Hoebel, who recently passed away, has this landmark series of studies showing that you can get rats more addicted to sugar than to cocaine, which was sort of the quintessential addictive substance.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:03:44

And nicotine is the worst right? People, the rats will prefer nicotine.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:03:50

Nicotine is highly addictive. So you know, I think if you start to think about food as an addictive substance, in terms of talking about a culture of health, then a lot of dominoes fall. So then what does that mean that we are marketing an addictive substance to children in commercials? You know, so there are really important policy sort of things that unfold when you start to look at food in terms of this addiction lens. I think it’s really interesting. And then, of course, there are people who are very, very addicted to food at clinical pathological levels. But there is a whole continuum of how sort of reward-based your eating is. And so my team has come up with a questionaire that you can find on dishlab.org. It’s just nine questions that can tell you sort of how far gone are you in this cycle toward addictive-like or reward-based eating?

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:04:54

If you find yourself far along, what should you do?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:04:57

I think, you know, it’s-

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:04:59

Talk to your doctor, talk to your psychologist, talk to yourself? I think the science is not well-developed in terms of treatment of food addiction at all. But I do think that it’s important information that you could have about yourself so that you can start evaluating, how do I feel every time I eat these sugary processed foods? Or am I using this really to heal some emotional wounds? Or is my day-to-day activity sort of hindered because of the way I’m eating? And you know that these are questions you could potentially ask yourself. Well, so to wrap up, what do you think is an important first step for us to create a culture of health that makes the healthy choice, the easy choice, in terms of relationship with food and eating?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:05:50

I think that denying yourself something automatically starts triggering the stress processes. And so I think, in terms of a cultural message, it should be always adding. So eating more fruits and veggies, moving around more, you know, that’s a much more positive cultural message, than get off the couch, get off your butt. And I really think it doesn’t immediately sound like it connects to eating. But reducing stress is important, because it’ll knock out these stress eating processes. And then also decrease your cortisol, which will help decrease your eating and fat deposition. And then sleep I think sleep is so important. So people who don’t sleep well also find it really difficult to eat well, a) because they’re tired, and their bodies are so creating hormones that are driving them toward higher calorie sugary fatty foods, and also because sleep deprivation really interferes with the parts of your brain that you need to make healthy choices.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:06:59

So you make bad choices, or not so great choices?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:07:02

Not so great choices. It also makes you tired, so it makes you exercise less. And so you know, I think sleep is this hidden thing that we need to get a handle on. That’s gonna benefit all the aspects that the pod, the pods are studying. So EatWell, MindWell, also EngageWell. I’m not fun to be around when I’m sleep deprived.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:07:23

That’s for sure, none of us are. You mentioned that one of the things that you learned over the years as you were becoming a tenured professor here at UCLA, was how to manage your time and write every day. Yes. And that was, through interview that you had, because you received one of these big awards from your organization, the psychology organization.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:07:51

Association for Psychological Science.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:07:53

Yeah. And so I want to know, what are your what were the tips that you picked up on that have really helped you? And in fact, I think everyone should have take-home advice from you. If you were able to sleep eight hours a day, and become tenured in record time, what are all the tips that created this setup, where you had a healthier lifestyle?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:08:17

Well, I can’t take too much of the credit. like I’m some sort of guru, everything I learned was from the National Center for Faculty, Diversity and Development. They run something that they call a faculty boot camp, I think it’s actually called the Faculty Success Program. And in it, over the course of a quarter, they teach you how to do all the work that is important, versus the work that is urgent. So that’s the number one lesson I learned from them, which is there are so many things that are sort of screaming in our faces that are urgent, that have a lot of accountability built into them. So for example, committee meeting that I might have. If I don’t show up, people are gonna notice, but the things that get you tenure are research and writing. And those are things that sort of sit quietly in the corner and never sort of bug you because it’s on you to do those things. And that’s what’s important in terms of driving your research forward and getting tenure. And so a lot of it was me, trying to differentiate what is urgent versus what is important and trying over and over again, to prioritize the important things over the urgent things. I have a daily writing session at my most freshest moments. So the first thing in the morning when I wake up is I write or do research for an hour.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:09:40

And you write your manuscripts?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:09:42

Write manuscripts, write grants, things like that. The second hour of my day is exercise. And that is a non-negotiable, has to happen. And then I get my toddler up and off to daycare and sort of have my day And so it’s amazing what 30 to 60 minutes of working on the important things, research and writing, every day how much that adds up to in terms of productivity. I think often we have this myth in our head that, oh, I need a uninterrupted block of eight hours to get this project done. And that eight hours never shows up. Or it only shows up over Thanksgiving when you want to be spending time with your family and friends. Or you’ve been running yourself ragged throughout the quarter. And so you get sick over breaks. This happens, I think, to a lot of people. And so that that uninterrupted block of time is suddenly gone. And so where are you now? So it’s really the combination of sleeping eight hours a night, which is another non-negotiable, the daily writing habit, and then the daily exercise, that I think those three elements and you’re pretty much unstoppable.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:11:00

You also mentioned you don’t work in the evenings or on the weekends.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:11:03

I don’t work in the evenings or the weekends. I’m so glad I got into that habit before I had a child because now it’d just be impossible.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:11:11

Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:11:13

Yeah. So I think you know, that sounds like a revolutionary, impossible thing. But you really, if you focus, and you are very diligent in your daily writing, and research, it is possible. And it feeds into all these other things. So I’m not staying up late doing work, which means my sleep is protected. I’m not distracted and working. So I can really nurture my relationships with my friends, and my husband, and my family, which is doubly important now that I have a child. And so you’d think that it would lead to less productivity, but it actually leads to more in this ironic, weird, cool way. And also, it means that when I’m working, I’m really working. And I’m into it. And I’m excited. And I’m super focused, because I know that I will get a break at the end of the day.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:12:07

It’s really about routines, isn’t it?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:12:09

Yeah and maintaining them.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:12:11

Yeah and protecting them and prioritizing. Oh, Janet, that’s incredible. We’ve gone through a lot of information. Summing it up, I mean, I’d love you to sort of summarize, we’ve gone through stress, stress eating, stigma, friendship, eating. How would you like to sum up what we’ve just?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:12:34

Yeah, I think the main theme that goes through my research, quite unintentionally, and this is just how the data shaking out is that this sort of punitive perspective is not productive.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:12:49

Punitive perspective on weight.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:12:51

Punitive perspective on weight, on size, in terms of stress eating, in terms of hanging out with your friends.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:13:01

So judging?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:13:02

Judging, yeah. Don’t do that.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:13:05

Don’t judge. And that’s pure empathy, isn’t it?

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:13:09

I guess I haven’t thought about it that way.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:13:11

Yeah, I’ve learned recently the difference between empathy and compassion. And empathy is acceptance of others. And compassion is the act of giving to others. Interesting. So once the act but so you can be empathetic and do nothing.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:13:29

Interesting. Yeah, I think so much, so many of the messages we receive from society is don’t do that. So don’t eat a lot. Don’t have a big body. You know, don’t celebrate with your friends with birthday cake. And I think that people who endorse those kinds of opinions are just not understanding fundamental human nature. You know, it’s such a joy and a pleasure to eat.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:13:56

And culture. It’s just the nature, right. It’s what our culture’s are built upon.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:14:02

Absolutely, conflicting messages of indulge this chocolate, but you better not eat chocolate.  Yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:14:11

Well, I think you’re coming, you’re touching on something that food, you know, we’ve just written a paper about food literacy. And the one thing if you look in the literature around food literacy that’s left out is enjoyment of food. There’s always nutrients, or it’s the environment or it’s the cultural aspect. You know, but there’s not as much around the whole part of what really is so fabulous about food, which is the enjoyable part. Yeah, that’s what you’re emphasizing.

Dr. Janet Tomiyama  1:14:45

I am emphasizing that. Yeah. It goes back to really the start of it all that I talked about, which is I love food, and I love eating. So these messages that try and take that away from people just don’t make sense to me.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  1:14:59

It doesn’t and actually from social media, the Instagram, what the number one thing that’s photographed right is food. I don’t think we have to speak any more than that. Yeah, thank you again, Janet. Really appreciate it, yeah.  Thank you for tuning into LiveWell. Today’s podcast was brought to you by UCLA Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Cente. For Janet’s family’s miso eggplant recipe, and more information about her DiSH lab and research, please visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. To stay up to date with our latest podcasts, make sure to follow our Twitter and Instagram @livewell_ucla. Thank you and have a great day.

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