In the past couple months I’ve had a lot of changes going on in my relationship with food. I’ve been making a lot of progress with eating intuitively. I’ve been hesitant to blog about this, but I wanted to at least document these changes for my own processing. And I kiiiinda want to share it, because I feel like it might help somebody, but I feel REALLY nervous about it, too.
One of the things I have been asking myself lately is “why am I hesitant to share publicly about food relationship developments?” A few answers come to mind:
- I want to focus on healthy behaviors, not weight. Due to MANY years of conditioning, talking about food and nutrition still feels dangerously close to talking about body weight, for me. (Phew! Just acknowledging that helps a little bit.) I am afraid of people reading into the fact that I am talking about food and automatically think that I am promoting dieting or intentional weight loss.
- As I am learning is common with kids who have their food micromanaged, I still have some internalized shame and guilt about food. It makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. It makes me feel like I am inviting commentary on my body weight or my food choices.
- I think women in general are culturally programmed to hide the fact that they actually enjoy eating, so they feel shame and guilt when talking about food.
So, just to put all my cards on the table: In my food posts, I’m talking about my own personal relationship to food. I am not suggesting other people do what I do. I am not promoting dieting or intentional weight loss, regardless of what happens to my own body weight as a result of changes in my relationship with food. Even if my body weight changes as a result of changes in my relationship with food, I have no reason to believe that the new body weight will be permanent (as evidence shows that lasting weight loss is very uncommon). I do enjoy eating. I think the cultural expectation that all women eat like birds is fucked up (nothing against people who are naturally small and naturally have bird-like appetites. You people carry on and keep doing you).
Okay then! Let’s begin.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that before the new year, I experimented with a goal of finishing my food before 8pm some nights. While I was nervous about this habit, it went better than I had imagined. I’m not sure if it was a direct result of this habit, or a complete coincidence, but around that time, I suddenly became aware of what “no longer hungry; satisfied, but not stuffed” feels like.
Wait, what? How did I not know this?
I knew what hunger felt like, and what “full” or “stuffed” felt like, but for years I wasn’t able to recognize the more nuanced sensation of “not yet stuffed, but satisfied enough to stop eating.”
I’m guessing that I haven’t recognized this particular sensation since before I was 7 or 8 years old. Around that time, my parents started forcing me to diet. Soon after (as I’m learning is common behavior among kids who have food restricted), I started sneaking food, hiding food, eating food in secret. I was no longer eating until I felt satisfied; I was either “still hungry,” or “stuffed, because I ate even when I wasn’t hungry because MUST HIDE FOOD FROM PARENTS!” Food was filled with shame and guilt for me. I felt very ashamed of hiding food, yet unable to stop.
So….it’s probably been at least 25 years since I both a) recognized the sensation of “satisfied, yet not stuffed,” and b) felt willing to stop eating at that point because I knew it would make me feel better…..instead of feeling some uncomfortable emotion about stopping eating (such as rebellion, fear that I wouldn’t get anymore, unable to stop, etc).
So, here I am, 25+ years later, thinking:
“Wow. This is an interesting sensation. Now I can tell when I am ready to stop, and many times it is before I hit the “too full” point.. Look at how I am actually wanting to stop at that point, because after that point the food doesn’t taste as good, and I want to feel better. Look at how much less I am eating than I used to. Look at how much better I am sleeping at night. This is pretty fascinating. “
I decided to check this book out of the library. Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch is a book I first read about 10 years ago….but clearly was not ready to implement. This time through, I breezed through it and learned that in addition to not recognizing my fullness before I felt stuffed, I also eat more than I realize…..because I feel stressed about money and hate wasting food. Even though I consciously believe that eating more food than I am hungry for IS a waste of food, subconsciously I would often finish food I didn’t like rather than just get rid of it.
So I catch myself thinking:
“Look at my kid’s food that he left on his plate, that I would have eaten….but I can feel that I am not hungry, so I’m not eating it. Look at all these food scraps I am throwing in the trash instead of eating. Look at all the leftovers that are going bad because I overestimated how much to cook. Look at the food I am throwing away because I bought too much and we couldn’t finish it in time and it didn’t occur to me to freeze it until it is too late.” (It didn’t help that my husband was injured that week and wasn’t eating much either, and then we all got sick. I felt bad about all the food waste in our household. But I was able to recognize those feelings, and trash the food anyway, rather than eating the extra.)
One thing that amazes me is my lack of resistance to all this. I’m not doing it because I’ve been told I “should” do it; I’m doing it because it suddenly makes sense for me to do.
Somehow in the last month I learned about a book called “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.” I can’t remember who recommended it to me or where I read about it, but apparently I requested it through my library system, because one day it showed up. I read it, and it is a FASCINATING book.
In this book, the author talks about all kinds of studies done in “food labs,” where they study how different factors influence what people eat, how much they eat, how much they enjoy their food, how much they think they are eating, what flavors they taste in the food, and more. These studies are used by restaurants to get desired effects (people to like their food more, to buy more food, to linger longer or to finish more quickly, etc). They are also used by nursing homes and in the military to get people to eat more food when needed. And almost nobody realizes that they are affected by these factors….even people trained in recognizing them are. Even when they provided test subjects with specific training, their eating behaviors were still were influenced by external factors.
Now, this book has a not-so-subtle hints of a “diet tips” book….and I’m sure that was at least partially an editorial decision to drive sales. While they give a lot of tips for eating less without realizing you are, they also give tips for home cooks on how to get their families to enjoy their food more. And the information can also be used for people who want to eat more or just be more aware of their own appetites.
If you can get past the “diety” assumptions (that all readers must want to lose weight), it’s a pretty fascinating book, and a fast and easy read. I highly recommend it.
So, some of the tips were all things that would have gotten me feeling really resistant before – such as the information that certain size dishes and containers caused people to eat more (without realizing it). There was one study they did on how much soda or juice people served themselves and whether the shape of the glass made a difference. Turns out it did. They even asked bartenders (people who were paid to pour a certain amount into certain drinks) to pour into different shaped glasses….and they over poured in certain glass shapes, too.
I have been hearing tips like this since I was a kid. Both of my parents dieted, and I was enrolled in my first diet program by my parents at the age of 8. But I noticed that for the first time…..maybe ever?…..I wasn’t feeling like telling the author to shut the fuck up. I just had a sense of….curiosity. Next time I dished some food into a bowl in my kitchen, I measured it first so I could get a sense of “What does 1 cup look like in this bowl? What about 2 cups, what does that look like in this bowl?” Pure curiosity, no guilt or shame or obligation. I wasn’t telling myself “you can only have x amount of this kind of food, and y amount of this other kind of food, and z amount of a third kind of food.” I was just seeing “what do different dry volumes look like in relation to this bowl?”
I did the same with my cups. I took a pyrex liquid measuring cup, and poured into my mug to see “when I pour 8 ounces, what does that look like? When I pour 12 ounces, what does that look like?” Again, no internal voices pressuring me with statements like “you should only have x many ounces of certain beverages.” Just curiosity – what does it look like?
Sometime during the month, I had the realization that I am hopefully doing something big here. I realized that the issues that plagued me also plagued both of my parents. My mother and father both grew up with food being restricted. My mother tells me that she used to ove to eat until she felt very uncomfortable. My father has told me stories about how, after his parents went to bed, he and his brothers would sneak downstairs at night and make sandwiches. I snuck food at night as a child too. Putting this in context of what my family did makes me realize that I am not broken….I just learned what I was taught and what I saw around me. All of these things taught me to override my own sense of “satisfied; not stuffed” until I forgot what that felt like.
I’m hoping that I might be breaking my family cycle of unhealthy relationships with food, eating, and body weight. By letting go of trying to control my weight, and by focusing on healthy behaviors without trying to control the scale, and by developing patience and curiosity in the process, and by deciding to eat what I want instead of restricting my food intake, and most importantly by listening to myself without judgment….things are changing. They are already better for me.