I don’t think I am alone when I would say one of the reasons I am overweight is because I love food. And I suppose that’s true: I love cooking, providing good meals for my family and friends, I enjoy rich, creamy sauces, butter, cream, all the indulgent foods. So why is it that when I am eating these foods that I am thinking about what I can have next? Whilst finishing everything on my plate, I am thinking about having more or whether or not I am “allowed” to have a dessert. I am not focusing on the food I am currently eating but rather thinking about what is to come so it’s no wonder that I am eating more than I need, I’m not aware of any signals I have had enough.
I’ve started trying to be aware of what I am eating: the smell of the food, the tastes and textures, the way it feels in my stomach and this has helped me to identify the food I want before I eat. I know that protein keeps me fuller for longer but sometimes I just want toast because I want the stodginess of the bread and the full-up feeling it gives me. Breakfast isn’t a problem for me: I make myself a reasonable sized portion, eat it and don’t think about having anything else but dinner is another story. I have the call of something sweet most nights even though sweet food isn’t something I normally yearn for. I think this is more about rewarding myself, eating for reasons other than hunger, and something I am working on changing.
So I make soup: I roast a butternut squash with peppers and onions. I have a soup maker so I put all the vegetables in with stock, creamed coconut, chilli and twenty minutes later I have soup. It smells wonderful. I pour myself a bowl and sit down.
The soup is a wonderful orange colour: I take time to look at it, admire the colour in the black bowl. I slowly take a small spoonful, I put my spoon down and feel the sensation of the soup in my mouth. It is hot, spicy and delicious. I take a moment to enjoy it and then swallow it. I take a few breaths and then have another spoonful. I keep going until there is a small amount left in the bottom of the bowl. I leave it there (I don’t have to finish everything, I am in control) and take the bowl to the kitchen, to wash it up.
This is me trying to eat mindfully, taking time, being aware. It feels strange, it feels a bit robotic, but it is getting easier.
Food is not calling to me all the time: I had eggs for breakfast this morning and I am not hungry now, some four hours later. I know protein does that for me but sometimes I just want toast or fruit. I eat what I feel like by taking time to work out what that is before I start. Is it working?
Yesterday was a busy day, one of those days that feels like 3 or 4 days rolled into one. Food was relegated to a supporting role: I didn’t have time to think about it and also, interestingly, I didn’t eat very much. When I was rushing around time with a friend I found time to sit down for a coffee and a piece of cake. I ordered cake as there was nothing else to eat and I realised I was very hungry (it was nearly 3 by this time). I cut up the cake and savoured every little square but I didn’t beat myself up for eating it. I needed fuel and it was the nicest fuel I could find. It was what I wanted and I enjoyed it.
Much later when I was having dinner: well, it was more I was finishing everything on my plate when the idea of mindful eating popped into my brain. I had eaten slowly, I had put my knife & fork down between mouthfuls, but I hadn’t thought about checking whether I had eaten enough, how the food tasted, all the things I have been practising for weeks. I was just eating: thinking about something else. I ate an apple after dinner as well not really feeling hungry, but feeling like I wanted something sweet to finish off the meal. I think my mind was very aware I hadn’t eaten much that day and I think my old reward yourself voice was shouting loudly. I enjoyed my evening on my own, relaxing, that felt more important than food but yesterday just reminded me I’m not ready to move on yet.
It’s very tiring starting off with this mindful eating. It feels like I am back on the diet treadmill: I wake up in the mornings thinking about what I can eat that day, the feelings of what is good and bad etc. It feels like my mind is crowded with thoughts of food and yet that is exactly what I want to get away from, the constant analysis of everything I eat, how my clothes fit, whether I am moving in the right direction. I know it’s just a stage but it seems to be lasting a long time!
More positively I do feel that things are getting better: yesterday was a busy day and at lunchtime my daughter wanted something to eat. I checked with myself that I wasn’t hungry but knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist a few chips off her plate so I had that instead of a meal. I really enjoyed it but I didn’t eat beyond my enjoyment. Last night we shared a few chocolates as we spent a lovely evening being silly, laughing at a ridiculous joke. I didn’t want the nagging voice in my head but I felt a bit more normal being able to eat a few sweets without finishing the whole bag. Patience, dear, patience.
So on with the mindful eating, taking it slowly and being aware of food: what I want to eat, how it tastes, how it feels as I eat it. It’s starting to feel a bit easier but I hesitate when writing that because I feel that I have tried to sort this out so many times before that I can’t imagine (sometimes) that I am actually doing it. I keep doubting myself, even though I feel determined to succeed (it must be those boring negative voices again).
I’ve realised my three main triggers for eating when I am not actually hungry are being bored, wanting to make sure I get my share of food and rewarding myself for being “good”. This last one is probably the most difficult: I can mentally calculate what I have eaten that day and if I think it is a smaller amount than I am entitled to then I think I can reward myself. I am getting better at challenging myself, being aware, saying to myself this is just brain/mouth hunger but I know it’s going to take weeks or months for this to become a habit. Life is getting busier so the boredom thing is lessening. As for getting my share I am observing myself when sharing a meal, mainly with my husband, making sure enough is left in the dishes in case I want more but knowing that I don’t have to eat it. It’s moving dishes to one side so that I have the option, so I don’t feel I have to race through my meal, watching how much he is taking. I can see those are all old patterns and they don’t do anything to help me. I am thinking of cooking in two separate dishes so that I can relax whilst eating and resist any of his attempts at “sharing” by being really clear that this food belongs to me, and also knowing I don’t have to eat it all. Steps forward, tiny steps forward, but it feels better.
So it feels like I am moving in the right direction, doing the things I need to do, but I still need support, I need to write all this down as it helps sort out my brain. I wrote about knowing what to do and eating mindfully. These are the things I need to do, I need to carry on doing, to get to where I want to go, to be the person around food that I want to be.
SO, I am doing the right things: I am putting down my knife and fork between mouthfuls, I am thinking (well talking to myself very loudly when I am doing it) about how the food feels. Do I like the taste, do I like the texture, how does it feel as I swallow it. Everything about this feels very alien: I am used to eating my food really quickly, not really tasting it, worrying that there won’t be any more for me if I don’t hurry up, thinking about anything apart from the actual food. Often I have just wanted to have a “full” feeling as that seems to stop me feeling edgy, anxious. Is that above shovelling down food to squash my feelings? I’m not sure.
I am aware of mouth hunger – typing this my mouth is watering, not from hunger but from the idea of food. I can name it, know it’s there, but not have to eat. All these things feel like I am doing to right thing and I know I can carry this on. The strangeness I feel going through these stages is not as difficult as living with the chaos of the way I have been eating. It is getting better and I am going to get better.
So I feel like I’ve gone back to the beginning (again): all these weeks of writing and I am starting again. I know what I am going to do so I am going to document my steps and see how I get on.
The first thing I must do is eat mindfully. You keep hearing that word, don’t you? But basically I need to eat what I like but be aware of what I am eating. I am not going to go back to the old diet/binge cycle because there is no dieting in the future, I just need to learn to relax around food, not restrict what I eat but be aware of what I want to eat, how much of it I want, really taste the food and if I want more, have more.
A big part of eating mindfully to me is eating slowly. I think I have always eaten my meals at 100 miles an hour, usually finishing before most people are half way through. Why? Well one reason I can think of is that I came from a big family and food always seemed to be the way I felt loved so having seconds meant I was loved more! I think it’s quite common the food = love thing: I’m sure I’ve done it with my own children. I haven’t got time to spend with you but have this cake/bar of chocolate/home-cooked meal instead. Food has been so tied up with my emotions for so long that it’s hard to separate them.
The sad thing is that eating quickly meant I didn’t really taste the food and, of course, when I was finished with this super-quick eating I had more time to shout at myself for being so weak in the first place. But no more. I’ve never been a huge chocolate eater but I did want to eat it when I first felt determined enough to give up dieting. For the first few weeks it was a huge draw: I knew it was in the cupboard and I had to eat it, I had some every day. Then I realised that one of the reasons I was eating it was because my husband does have a sweet tooth and even though I bought bars I liked it didn’t stop him eating them so I felt like I had to eat them first. So then I decided to move my stash to another cupboard so I know they are there, I know they are mine, so I don’t have to eat them all and eat them quickly. Result? I haven’t had any for the best part of a week, in fact I can’t remember when I last did eat some, but when I did I really enjoyed it, it felt good. Sounds almost normal, doesn’t it?