Kandace Power Graves talks to psychologist Nancy Brehm about her holistic approach to weight loss using French philosophies, Eastern techniques, and her psychology expertise to help patients keep the weight off at her new Body as Garden (1405 Broadway and 200 Broadway, Uptown Square, 862-7441), a practice she started in Boston two years ago.
Q: Do you have a set weight loss program at Body as Garden or do you assess an approach for each individual?
A: The first thing I do is make sure the person has had a good physical (examination). There are a lot of things, like thyroid problems, that can cause a person to gain weight. I try to work with a holistic doctor, an M.D., who is knowledgeable about weight loss. What I hope to convey to people is that their body is a garden, and when it is in balance, it blooms.
Q: Where does the French influence come in?
A: Only 7 percent of the French are overweight, compared to about 30 to 60 percent for us. One of the secrets of the French is they really savor their meals. They really form a relationship with the food, and what I try to teach people to do is mindful eating.
Q: What do you mean?
A: In Boston I work with a lot of people in their 20s. They would come home from work and turn on the TV and just eat, or snack. The French don't really snack. They have three good meals, so they aren't really hungry in between. I also like to have them keep an awareness journal, that also includes dreams, to help them find any unconscious feelings they have about food.
Q: You have operated a Body as Garden clinic in Boston for two years but just opened the one in New Orleans recently. What kind of success has your first clinic enjoyed?
A: All of the people I worked with lost weight. Lots of times, (their weight problems) had to do with early childhood trauma or traumas related to external life situations. For instance, putting on weight after the loss of a loved one.
Q: What is the No. 1 weight problem?
A: I would say it would be sugar. The latest research shows that the American diet has too many carbohydrates in it, and it causes the insulin to rise, and it can throw the whole system out of balance.
Q: I understand that also can cause diabetes. How do you address the sugar problem?
A: I do quite a bit of education about what the glycemic index is of all the different foods. For instance, the French have a diet that was developed by Michel Montignac where you eat yourself slim [also the title of a book about the diet]. The glycemic index of starches ... is very high and they have a lot of sugar in them. We as Americans don't really realize how much sugar we're taking in. I educate people about that and let them choose whatever diet their doctors choose for their body type. A lot of it is education, just teaching them what to eat.
Q: What makes your weight loss program different from others?
A: It's a more psychological-oriented program. I also do personal coaching to help people to set goals that are realistic and to help them understand what their unconscious issues are. One of the things I found, particularly with young women in their 20s, is they set their goals too high and fail and get discouraged and give up. What we do is start slowly. With exercise we set a goal each week, like going to the gym once. It works so much better to build slowly.
Q: How important is exercise to your program?
A: It's very, very important; exercise raises your metabolism. Some of my (patients) work with a trainer, some just go to the gym, some just jog in the park. The ones who lose the most weight are the ones who do the most exercise, particularly if you do it first thing in the morning because it gets your metabolism going faster and you burn up more of the fat.
Q: Let's talk about the psychological part of your program.
A: I take a complete history of the family, starting with the grandparents on both sides and the parents and the siblings. We made a geneogram together, sort of a picture of their lives, and look at external events ... that may have caused issues around food.
Q: What kind of issues?
A: It can be anything. Like somebody might need to carry food with them all the time, and you find it could be that when they were little they had to wait to eat until their father got home and that was 7 or 8 o'clock, and they were always starved. It's fascinating how these issues get associated with certain habits.
Q: What are the Eastern techniques you talk about?
A: Mindfulness of eating. (Eastern cultures) really believe in the energy between the food and you and the body. When you are mindful of eating, when you really pay attention to the food that you eat, that you chew, that you swallow, it creates an energetic flow. When you focus on what you're eating, you eat less, you eat joyfully, and your body responds to it.
Q: Do you incorporate relaxation techniques?
A: I teach self-hypnosis, a light trance, so they can relax their bodies ... and then they visualize how they would like their bodies to look. There are certain points the Chinese use in accupressure that are helpful in stimulating certain meridiens and unblocking energy. The Chinese believe that when the body is out of balance, it is because there are certain blocks in the meridiens. Eastern medicine is based on the meridiens and pressure.
Q: Explain your nutrition focus.
A: Foods create moods, and that's what we also look at. If you eat a lot of sugar, you can be depressed not only because if you're trying to lose weight it's not helpful. Each body is like a different kind of flower. People need to understand their body. One person can do well on one diet, and one person can do well on another. I let a physician work that out with them. I work on the psychological aspects of motivation and how food affects your body psychologically.
Q: As a norm, how long does it take for people to start seeing results?
A: It depends on whether (the problem) is simply motivational -- getting them to go to the gym or getting them to do mindful eating -- or whether there is trauma involved. If it's a simple motivaltional problem, they should see results is three weeks or so. If trauma is involved, it usually takes longer.