One of the things that we work with in intuitive eating / mindful eating approaches are knowing when we are hungry, and moving through any barriers to meeting this basic need.
If you have been going from diet, to diet with periods of “being good”, aka restricting and then feeling out of control and bingeing, I am guessing that your eating feels chaotic a lot of the time, but interspersed with times of also feeling in control.
Or maybe it just feel mostly chaotic, all of the time? And just thinking about restricting / dieting sends you straight to the pantry searching for something to eat…
If this is where you are currently finding yourself, please know that you are not alone. This is more common than you might think, but because this situation often is filled with so much shame we don’t tend to talk about it much with others. I certainly never did when I was in the midst of my own struggles.
I used to think in the midst of my own struggles that this was something that only I experienced. Now that I sit on the other side of the table, helping people find their way to a peaceful relationship with food, eating and their bodies I know that this struggle is really common.
Anyhow, so let’s talk about how you CAN reconnect to your own hunger cues and honour them. Because here’s the thing, life gets so much easier when we live in a body and with a brain that is consistently and adequately nourished!
Sometimes when starting out in this journey of reclaiming body trust and trust in ourselves, it feels scary and overwhelming. You might say “I can’t possibly trust my body to tell me what too eat and how much! If I do that, I will never stop eating!!”.
I know that it might feel like that. And one of the main reasons that you can’t stop is because you are restricting (physically, mentally, emotionally or a combination).
Maybe at this point what you are noticing when tuning into your physical hunger signals it that you can only feel them when you are at an extreme, like “hangry”, shaky, pain in stomach, low energy.
Or perhaps you’re not noticing much at all?
That is fine. This is a practice. It means that we must keep asking the question “How hungry am I”? And to keep listening for the answer.
First there might be nothing. And then there might be a whisper, long before you get to the roar (that might be the one that you are familiar with).
Paying attention to hunger and eating in this attuned way, does of course not mean that we ONLY eat when we are hungry. Sometimes that’s not possible and if our hunger cues are a bit all over the place that can leave us stuck in this chaotic place.
The first step is to put some structured eating in place. (Not the same as rigid eating!)
Structured eating is more like a scaffolding whilst you build you attuned eating muscles and your body trust.
Structured eating looks like:
Eating 3 meals a day + 1-2 snacks
Eating every 3-5h and gaps no longer than 6h
Eating a combination of fats / protein / carbohydrates with all of your main meals
Structured eating may need some forward planning too, making sure that you have food at home to cook and prepare meals and snacks. This may include making a menu plan of lunches and dinners (this helps take pressure of decision making when already hungry), having suitable snacks in your handbag / office / car / pantry.
After awhile of structured eating your subtle hunger cues might get a little louder and you are free to experiment with what it feels to meet that need in the moment, and less structure may be needed. However if having certain times and reminder helps you eat enough and regularly, there is nothing wrong with using this for as long or as much as is needed.
Was this helpful? Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
Have you ever heard the term “Last Supper Mentality”? I bet that even if you haven’t heard the term before, you have probably engaged in it, at least if you have ever prepared for any kind of diet.
“Last Supper Eating” is the eating that happens *before* intentional attempts of restriction. It can also be seasonal like Easter, when the chocolate bunnies are out in full force and you are gearing up for another diet to start a “get beach ready” diet as soon as Easter is done, which might mean that you end up eating more chocolate than what you had planned or what even feels good, just because in the back of your mind you know that chocolate will be off the menu for the coming weeks. So that means best to get in some extra now!
Like one of my recent Reclaiming Body Trust participants said “you do more damage in that anticipatory eating leading up to the next diet than when you are not restricting”. Revelatory!
Last Supper eating is part of the same Diet-Restrict-Binge cycle where backlash binges usually happens as soon as we finish the diet or when we can no longer keep up the restrictions. The same mechanisms are at play here – restriction. But in this case it is the anticipation of restriction that is driving it.
So how do you move away from “Last Supper Mentality” and this kind of binge eating?
My invitation to you is to explore this: What if restriction is not the answer?
What happens when you sit with this question? What comes up for you? What are you feeling in your body?
Restricting food, food rules, diet plans and any other variation of these often feel like safety. And it is really hard to let go of something that feels, on some level, that it would threaten our survival.
And… at the same time, at some point, we may arrive at a place where the cost of continuing dieting over and over, is simply too high and that it is time to do something different.
But if not Dieting then what?
For me I did arrive at a point where I could not put myself through that restrictive misery One.More.Time. As I stood on the scales for the umpteenth time and expected it to tell me that I deserved to be happy I had a lightbulb moment!
Why did I give so much power to this inanimate object? I didn’t have to wait to be happy until I weighted x kg /lb. It was something that I could give to myself now. Perhaps there where other ways to find happiness that had nothing to do with the scales?
Ever since that day I have been on a quest to find happiness that is not tied to what my body looks like.
Diet Culture keeps telling us that if our bodies just look a certain way, life will be good. And that’s not to say that living in a smaller body might not make life easier due to the privileges that can bring.
However, things that losing weight does guarantee us is this: health, friendships, intimate relationships, happiness, joy, contentment, creativity, freedom.
I get that the idea of giving up dieting can feel scary, especially if your eating feels chaotic right now.
Here’s a suggestion to start with: Take a sheet of paper, fold it down the middle and then write down all the benefits of being on a diet on one side and on the other side write down all of the costs of dieting.
Which list is longer? Are there any benefits that would be still beneficial even if weight loss was not the outcome main outcome? If so, are there ways to reach these that does not hyper focus on altering your body size / weight?
I hope this was helpful to explore letting go of those things that no longer serves you.
Disordered eating, dieting, restriction, and emotional eating is rooted in wisdom and the coping skills that came from it were helpful at one time, but they may no longer serve you now.
Separating the idea that your body must look a certain way to be worthy of care, food, love, belonging might feel new AND radical. That is because it is.
Living in a culture that places certain bodies in a hierarchy over others makes it radical to take up space and letting yourself live fully and unapologetically as you.
It doesn’t mean that a) You are not worthy to do so. You are worthy simply because you exists. And b) this is something that is only possible for others. It is possible for you too.