Have you seen the Tiny Hamsters Eating Tiny Burritos video yet?? So adorable, so cheeky, so… weirdly mesmerizing! I think it’s because I used to make elaborate set ups like when I was kid – but for the imaginary fairies that I was absolutely positive weren’t imaginary:) And there’s already a part two: Tiny Hamsters Eating Tiny Pizzas. (Click through if vid isn’t showing up in your reader/email!)
“Who killed JFK? What color would a smurf turn if you choked it? Where in the nursery rhyme does it say humpty dumpty is an egg? Why do people point to their wrist when asking for the time, but people don’t point to their crotch when they ask where the bathroom is?” – With so many important questions that need answering sometimes it can be easy to overlook the more simple ones. So when I got a recent e-mail from a reader who asked me a question about Intuitive Eating, it took me a minute to realize what she was really asking me: How do you not eat when you’re not hungry?
For everyone who just yelled “Why would you eat if you’re not hungry?!”, class is dismissed and you can leave now. For the rest of us who can think of eleventy different reasons to eat besides physical hunger (including my cat, who I just learned is obese), we will continue.
Reader A (who said I can use her question “as long as I remain the anonymous, has all of her crap together, wealthy, gorgeous, perfect mom that I am” which cracked me up so hard) writes,
Where have you been ??? I just found your site and am loving it!!!! I am trying to read the archives and get caught up, so to speak. I really enjoy your writing style and humor, along with your true compassion! Plus, it is sooooo refreshing to read real information from a woman who is also a mom and not a 20 something (and all that silliness 🙂 I have now been battling the binge eating that has come about from starving myself and over exercising for three years since having my daughter. I am trying to set a better example for her. I do have a question about intuitive eating. How do you manage it when you have little ones and a husband? It seems like their eating schedules are always different than mine and I want to eat as a family, but there are many times my hunger doesn’t match with everyone’s appetite. Do you have this issue? Or any recommendations? Sorry this is so long, but I would appreciate any feedback or resources that you may suggest. Thank you for your time and keep up the interesting (and funny ) writing!!
Have a good day!
First, I would like to highlight something really important that A wrote: “I have now been battling the binge eating that has come about from starving myself and over exercising for three years.” I’ve talked before about “functional anorexia” – trying to live on that razor’s edge between starving to be skinny and starving and hospitalized – and how even though celebrities make it look easy, it’s actually setting you up for a lifetime of mental and physical problems and A’s letter demonstrates one of those perfectly. If you are constantly starving yourself, you screw up your hunger cues and hormones to the point where eventually, for almost all of us, you binge. People often thing of bingeing as bulimia and being totally different from anorexia but it’s been my experience that many people cycle back and forth between endless cycles of restriction and bingeing. It’s a miserable way to live.
But that’s not the question! A is doing a marvelous job of working on her past issues and as part of that, she’s trying Intuitive Eating which I think is awesome. IE helped pull me out of a similar cycle and while it’s not been all sunshine and rainbows (I gained 10ish pounds doing it), it’s definitely vastly improved my life. It’s the freedom to walk into a party with a buffet and not feel trapped between my desire to shovel in all the forbidden goodies and my panicky need to hide in another room for the whole party so I won’t shovel in all the forbidden goodies. It’s the freedom to go to a restaurant without checking the menu online first. It’s the freedom to skip over all the diet tips in magazines because the majority of them make no sense to me any more. Why should I drink 16 ounces of water before every meal to “trick my body” into feeling full when I already know, without tricks, what full feels like? Indeed, I no longer hide treats from myself (did that ever work anyhow?) and ended up giving away half a bag of Godiva chocolates because I just didn’t like them. I know.
The most essential part of IE is figuring out if you’re actually hungry or not. This question sounds silly to a lot of people – heck, we’re born knowing this – but to those of us who have screwed up our hunger cues through years (decades, for me) of dieting, restriction, rules, guilt and disordered eating it can be really, really difficult to answer. When I first started IE, I remember sobbing at my kitchen table because I couldn’t say for sure if I was hungry. I was sure that I was broken beyond repair and I’d have to go back to meal timing and calorie-counting. But it did eventually happen for me.
It took about two weeks of following Geneen Roth’s program to the letter to feel those hunger cues come back – two weeks of sitting down at the table every time I thought I was hungry, asking myself after each bite if I was full, putting the food away when I sated and then possibly pulling it out again ten minutes later because I’d gotten it wrong. I’ve talked a lot before about how to know what your body is telling you it needs (versus what it wants) when you’re hungry. But A’s letter brings up the flipside to that: How do you not eat when you’re not hungry?
1: Recognize re-learning how to be hungry is a process. During those intense two weeks, I didn’t worry about timing my meals to coincide with my family. Sometimes I ate with them. Sometimes I ate but it was something different than what they were eating. Sometimes I just sat with them while they ate. It wasn’t ideal but I knew it wasn’t going to be this way forever and I was determined to give myself this kindness of patiently re-teaching myself how to feel hungry.
2. Know what real, physical hunger feels like to YOU. One of the things Roth points out in her books is that cravings come on hard and strong while real hunger waxes and wanes. But it can feel different to everyone. For me, the only way I learned to recognize it was to let myself actually get hungry – no snacks or nibbles and definitely nothing that would suppress my hunger like caffeine, diet pills or the like. Not to the point of panic or starvation but hungry. Sometimes I describe it out loud, both for the benefit of myself and my kids. Also, distraction can be your best friend when trying to avoid a craving. (One type of distracting yourself that’s back in the news these days is EFT or the “tapping technique” – not sure if the science is there but it’s super interesting! Not to mention entertaining for onlookers – dinner and a show!)
3. Determine your priorities. Family dinners are very, very important to me. Not only does the research show that eating a daily meal together has numerous mental and physical benefits (girls who eat family dinners are less likely to get eating disorders, children who sit down for their evening meal are less likely to be obese or depressed) but my personal experience is that my kids needs that time with us. Not only do they need the time to talk and catch up but they also need to see my husband and I modeling good eating habits. So I knew that eventually I wanted to get back to a place where I was eating with them nightly. On the flip side, if you’re out with the girls and your priority is to spend time with them, then do that first. If you’re not hungry don’t feel like you need to eat just because everyone else is. You’re there for the company and that is fine!
4. Set incremental goals. At first it was just making sure that I was seated at the table with my family every night. Second was making sure that healthy food was available should I decide I was hungry. Third was spacing my meals so that my hunger would coincide with dinner time. That’s the cool thing about hunger: Once you learn what it feels like and that you can successful handle it, you realize that it doesn’t control you. So much disordered eating behaviors are driven by actual hunger, fear of getting hungry or shame from being hungry. Hunger is just a physical feeling – it’s not bad and it doesn’t own you. At first my hunger was all over the place and I was eating at the most random times but within a couple of weeks it settled out into a fairly regular pattern. Once that was established it was a matter of planning in advance so that I could have dinner ready around that time.
5. Be patient with yourself. If you’re anything like me when you make up your mind to change, you want to change overnight and do everything perfect on the first try. Not only does this never happen but it also sets you up for failure and frustration when you fall short. Praise yourself when you eat when you’re hungry or when you don’t eat because you’re hungry. And if you make a mistake? Learn from it and move on. Eating is not a moral choice. You weren’t “bad” or “good” – you are human and you need food. Even emotional eating isn’t bad! Sometimes food IS comforting.
6. It’s not all or nothing. A hallmark of disordered eating is black and white thinking. Sometimes you may be just a little hungry and only eat a bit. Other nights you’ll be ravenous and eat a lot. It’s all good. As long as you’re paying attention to what you’re eating and to your hunger cues, you don’t need to worry about eating.
7. Get okay with eating with other people. This was a hard step for me. After years of hiding my food and feeling ashamed of eating (I always felt guilty for “giving in” to my hunger), I didn’t like to eat in front of other people. Even if they were my own kids. But I quickly realized that they need to see me eat and to eat well if they’re going to have a good relationship with food. Plus, food is a social activity. Learning to eat with others is a life skill. Part of this is telling other people what you need. Sometimes this means learning to say “No thank you” to food pushers.
I hope that A – and you guys! – found some of these ideas helpful! I’m definitely not the expert on IE (nor am I a doctor, nutritionist or actress who plays one on TV) but I want to give you hope that no matter how many years of messed up eating you have, you can learn to trust your body to know how to feed itself.
Do you have a hard time not eating when you’re not hungry? Do you have any IE tips for Reader A?