I wrote before about how I have been able to identify mouth hunger, that feeling that I want food that isn’t prompted by real hunger but my boredom, sadness, habit etc etc etc But I don’t know what normal hunger feels like: it’s been so long since I have been in tune with my body that I just can’t identify the signals. I know what starving, I need to eat now, hunger feels like but not “if I don’t eat soon then it’s going to get to the point I feel starving and probably eat too much” hunger.
I’ve done exercises to try to identify this “normal” type of hunger but it’s been so long that I just can’t seem to find it ….yet. Over the past couple of weeks I have been eating a lot less (sometimes thinking I might not be eating enough) and I can easily get engrossed in something and not remember to eat at all until my stomach starts rumbling. Also I eat at times so am I actually eating when I am hungry and exactly what I want to eat? Well, probably not yet but it feels like I am working towards that and feel I will get there. My eating has been so disordered and so dictated by outside factors for so long that it’s not surprising I haven’t got there yet. Add to this the amount of fasting I have had to do before operations then it’s no wonder it’s taking me time to adjust.
I’m trying to get my head around the idea of not being on a diet. As I’ve said before I was always very good at dieting when I was actually on the dieting part: I stuck to the rules, lost weight, and felt good. Then the rules were gone (or at least relaxed) and suddenly I was back where I started from or worse. I suppose this just tells me that when I have rules to follow I find that quite an easy thing to do and I feel that it is what I am struggling with now: there are no rules, I can eat what I like and as a lifelong slimmer I find that hugely frightening.
So I’m trying to make sense of this: I want to eat “normally” but I don’t know that that feels or looks like. I think I have been saying to myself “oh, you’re hungry? Have chocolate, crisps, bread with lots of butter because you can” so that means I am still in my yo-yo dieting mode, eat it now because you will be going on a diet again soon, enjoy it while you can. I am going to take a breath and ask myself if that’s really what I want to eat, go back to thinking about what I am hungry for.
I am also aware of how much of my hunger is mouth hunger and most of that comes from boredom. I sat down last night and we started watching a new box set. It was really great but after two episodes I found myself thinking of food. I knew it wasn’t real hunger, it was more like I need a break so why don’t I eat something? What’s that about? I suppose eating is my go-to activity when I need something to do. But I caught myself, didn’t eat, had a bath and got ready for this morning so I decided my new mantra is going to be:
I can have it but do I really want it?
I’ll see if that helps.
So I know when I eat more than my body needs: I eat mainly when I am bored, especially in the evenings, I eat to reward myself (I deserve it), I eat more than I want to make sure I get my share (the product of growing up in a large family?), I eat when I am sad (sometimes but not always), I eat when I drink (probably to soak up the effects of the alcohol). What I want to do now is to take a moment and work out whether I am eating for these reasons, whether I have just decided I want….., or whether I am genuinely hungry.
I know after all these years that food is my go-to crutch when I need a bit of emotional support. I’ve said before that I have been very good at dieting but non-dieting is much harder. It’s not sitting on the floor eating a whole tub of ice cream or a family pack of biscuits, it’s just a bit more than I need a lot of the time.
So what’s the answer? I think the first step just has to be awareness, without criticism. I don’t need to give myself any more tellings off, I need to be kind to myself, to notice what I am doing without making it into a big deal. This has to be the first stage before I can stop myself, even temporarily, before I make the choice to eat more than my body needs. I need to address my emotional needs and especially my boredom. I know it’s not just about food.
One of the (many) problems I have found in trying to eat when I am hungry is to identify real hunger. After so many years of dieting and calorie counting I have found myself mentally working out what I have eaten that day to see whether I can have more food. My body, my physical hunger, doesn’t come into it. It is as far removed from responding to what my body really needs, what physical hunger really feels like as imaginable. It is all in my head rather than anything in my body.
Yesterday I had a “am I hungry?” moment. I had already done my calculations: how long since I last ate, am I “entitled” to food now? I waited, got on with things, waited and eventually my stomach started to rumble. Ah! This was real hunger, not my mental chatter, not my calculations, not boredom, not comfort, this was REAL hunger. So I suppose at the moment I have to wait for a clear signal, I have to ignore my mind, all my old habits, I have to wait. The stomach rumbling is great, something I can identify, but what about when I am getting hungry, when I know I might not to be able to eat later? That feels a bit like trying to identify when I am full when eating: it’s easy to stop when I feel stuffed but I can’t identify what it feels like when I am getting to that point so that if I carry on eating I will start to feel uncomfortable later. So it seems I can identify either end of the scale but I have to keep working on the bits in the middle, the bits that tell me when I am beginning to feel hungry or starting to feel full, when I can anticipate the end rather than wait until I get there. So perhaps I am on the right road? Long way to go….
It’s been a stressful couple of days: a big event at work and things going on with the family that have made me feel on edge and my usual coping strategy? Eating. Lying in bed in the early hours it made me realise that I have to work on this alongside real life, rather than waiting for a relaxing time and thinking I can work it all out then.
So what are my triggers? Stress, probably like most other people with any sort of issue with their weight. When I went through a messy divorce a few years ago I lost a stone in ten days as I couldn’t eat anything, I felt I just couldn’t swallow. I got by on cups of tea, I think I was in shock. When life reverted to being a bit more balanced the weight came back. I was never one for eating a whole packet of biscuits, it was more just eating more than my body needed all the time, having a piece of cake, a bar of chocolate, extra roast potatoes, nothing huge on its own but when it’s all added together?
I also use food as a reward: if I’ve been “good” then I can have all those little extras that I don’t physically need but it feels like I am taking care of myself emotionally. I really need to find better ways to do that. Little treats that don’t revolve around food. When my daughter was upset I suggested we arrange a nice meal! Why not a cuddle, a walk, or just spending time together. Why do I always make it about food? I know my mother did so perhaps it’s just learned behaviour I need to unlearn.
The last big trigger for me is boredom: I have nothing to do so why don’t I eat something to fill the time? When I write it down it seems ridiculous but I need to challenge myself on these thoughts and hopefully start changing them.
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.
It almost seems too much to write this down but things seem to be changing. I don’t mean I have reached the end, but I get the idea, a tiny idea, that things might be moving in the right direction. Ok, I still wake up every day thinking about my body, my weight, what I might eat etc but it feels like my perspective has changed, it feels almost like I am watching myself. I have made small changes: leaving a mouthful of food most times when I eat, being aware when I eat when I am bored (my usual reason) without being hard on myself, sort of accepting it as a step along the way.
Of course this all makes me feel nervous: is it real, will it last, can I be getting things right and at the moment I am trying to keep positive, keep working at it, keep making these baby steps. Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?