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?
I’ve realised how much eating I do because I am bored. I don’t tend to think of eating when I feel sad, lonely or fed-up (no pun intended) but boredom will do it for me every time. I’ve started watching myself doing it, thinking it, and most importantly resisting it. The other evening, for example, I was watching some tv and was aware my mind had started wandering to what was in the kitchen, what I could eat. I stopped myself, asked myself was I actually hungry? The answer was no, but I did eat something. I thought it was a breakthrough for me just being aware and I didn’t beat myself up about it afterwards. The next day I went over the incident in my mind and decided I could do more to resist, I could take a moment, distract myself, but I understood it was part of the learning to eat like a normal person, someone who isn’t obsessed with food all the time, and it felt like an important step forward.
I’ve started to do something else rather than allowing myself to get bored: I write here, I’ve started reading novels again, and I’ve been going walking with my daughter after dinner. It’s lovely to spend time with her, I feel better for walking and it stops me thinking about food and having access to a kitchen full of it. It feels like a huge step in the right direction.
I’ve been reading (surprising I know) and thinking (even more amazing – not) and think I might be able to take the next step – I think I might be able to permanently stop dieting. And by dieting I mean anything that comes anywhere close to that: detoxing,eating plans, giving up food groups, doing anything other than being normal around food. Of course at this stage it all feels very frightening, giving up everything that has been the structure around which I have built my life, the thing I have thought in my adult life about more than anything. Can I actually do it, do I have enough faith in myself to keep going until I don’t have to think about food anymore apart from when I am really, stomach hungry? It makes me anxious just writing this but I can’t carry on like this anymore.
My first motivation to do this is the boredom I feel at having to keep thinking about all this stuff: it hasn’t taken over too much of my life, I have passed my issues around food down to at least two of my children. I don’t want to do this anymore.
My second motivation is my health: I have stomach problems and eating normally makes me function better. It also helps with my general energy levels: I can do more when I have the right fuel in my body. I am not thinking about my hunger, planning my next meal (which can be bigger because I have starved myself to deserve it). I have strength and energy.
So that all makes sense when I write it down but how do I do it? I worry that if I eat “normally” I shall wake up tomorrow the size of a house, I shall have to eat everything, I don’t feel calm and relaxed around food. I feel anxious and edgy just thinking about it but I know (or I think I know) that I have to go through this stage, I have to live with the novelty to come out the other side. It feels horrible, alien, scary (all the things that might make me feel that I need to eat when I am not hungry) but I have to stay with it, I have to persevere, I have to keep going because as awful as these feelings are they are better than wasting any more time. I need to have faith in myself.