Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re satiated. It sounds so simple. So why can’t I do it?!? Then again Lindsay Lohan can’t stay away from the booze even with that attractive SCRAM bracelet accessorizing every designer outfit so I suppose I’m not the only one that has difficulty with following basic instructions.
This past week has found me tantruming like a 3-year-old (terrible twos? Hardly. Three is much much worse. Trust me.) every time I have to eat. When I first started trying to follow Geneen Roth’s food guidelines in earnest, I thought the “eat without distractions” rule would be my Bunker Hill. That guideline is cake compared to eating when I’m hungry. It turns out that Ms. Roth was right – when you eat with nothing but your own thoughts for company you learn a lot. Like, for instance, that I eat for every reason under the sun except hunger.
What does “hungry” feel like, anyhow? I honestly think I don’t even know anymore. I’ve spent so many years ignoring it, disguising it, punishing it, focusing on it and otherwise being compulsive about it that my hunger is about as recognizable as Pamela Anderson pre-plastic surgery. After 13 days of literal navel gazing, I am getting better at recognizing the physical cues of growling stomach, saliva, light-headedness and grouchiness. But I don’t trust them yet. Pavlov’s dogs might as well live in my intestines, my body is so trained around food.
It’s the mental cues to eat that are really tripping me up though. I didn’t think that I was an emotional eater – being angry or depressed generally makes me not want to eat – but eating certainly makes me emotional. For me eating is not about sustenance. Food makes me righteous. (Spinach!) Or evil. (Mayo!) Disciplined. (Hot sauce!) Or weak. (Cheese!) Educated. (Whole grains!) Or stupid. (Whole grains!) Or schizophrenic. (Whole grains!) That’s a lot of pressure to put on a sandwich, and it’s not even a pannini. So you will understand that with all that background noise going on, it might be difficult to hear the “I’m full” message.
(Side note: When I was about 12, I came across a diet book for teenagers that was written in ’70’s. In it, the author advises teens to do as she does and listen for “a little bell” that will ring when you’ve had enough to eat. I’ve been waiting my whole life for that stupid bell to ring. It never has.)
What I have discovered is that I eat when I’m anxious. And when I’m tired. And especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed and avoidant. Hunger? Who needs hunger when I have a baby that cried – nay, screamed – the entire 1.5 hour car trip home and a bag of fruit snacks? I suppose I should be grateful as she kept me from falling asleep at the wheel. Of course it’s her fault I was driving on 5 hours of sleep in the first place. I digress.
Fear. This is what it really boils down to for me: I’m afraid to feel hungry. I’m afraid that if I don’t eat, I’ll starve. I’m afraid that if I do eat, I’ll eat everything in sight and never stop. And I’m afraid to trust Geneen Roth. She tells me that my body will let me know when and what and how to eat. This would be the same body that I have treated as an enemy, a thing to be conquered, mastered, and controlled my entire life. We’re not exactly on great terms, my body and I. And now I’m supposed to trust it? What if my body decides it wants to be 500 pounds? She says I need to be okay with the possibility of gaining weight. I’m not.
This ambivalence has led me to not fully commit to the program. Yes I’m doing my best to follow the guidelines (although some days are better than others with that – especially the sitting down to eat part) but I’m not committed to trusting myself. Which is why I’m still weighing myself every day. Lots of you (lots and lots and lots of you) told me when I first started this Experiment that I need to ditch the scale. I haven’t. Yet. I still have so much of myself tied up in that number. I hate to admit this but that number has the ability to absolutely wreck my day or make me feel awesome.
My only solace in this is that I’m not alone. Gym Buddy Jeni recently sent me this insightful e-mail:
“I also don’t know what true hunger or satiety feels like. As a “dieter”, we are trained to never let yourself get hungry because that’s when you’ll binge, right? And usually that is true, but it’s been so long since I’ve allowed myself to be hungry. I think I’ve grown fearful of hunger. Like if I’m hungry that means I don’t have enough and I don’t want to be without food or something. When I was a kid we didn’t have much money and we CERTAINLY didn’t have money for non essential food items. So we would pig out on gross things like a block of cheese (like the BIG block of cheese), or syrup, or peanut butter from the jar, or chocolate sauce. Being hungry was the worst feeling as a kid and so now I think I have this subconcious fear that hunger=not having enough in your life, not just in my fridge. Does that make sense? I get very uncomfortable when I am hungry…and nervous. Like I have to eat right this SECOND! And, really, will I die if I don’t eat my protein bar NOW…no. So I am struggling with that. And also with satiety like you said. Huh? You mean I can eat until I’m satisified and not until I’m stuffed!? But I secretly like the stuffed feeling. It means I’ve had all I can have AND its like a secret punishment too. For food weirdos like me, the after-binge feelings (guilt, shame, disgust) are actually things I crave sometimes because I WANT to feel that way about myself still. Is that just too effed up or what!? It’s like I still sometimes feel like I am not “worthy” so even though I don’t “binge” like I used to we all have those moments where you eat too much of whatever your eating and that feeling of fullness is so gross and yet so sought after. It’s making me really reflect on what my body NEEDS! What does it need? I’m trying to filter what my BODY needs versus what my BRAIN needs when I am eating.”
I should add: I think all of this is progress. It has to get worse before it can get better, right?
Anyone else afraid of their hunger? Do I really have to sledgehammer my scale for this Experiment to work? Really?? Do you weigh yourself every day too or have you managed to make the leap to no numbers (as explained by the delightful Mizfit)? If you do weigh yourself, are you able to think of the numbers as just “information” rather than a judgment? Would you eat deviled ham with peanut butter??