Tag Archives: trust yourself

This is Why You Feel Like You Can’t Trust Your Body to Tell You When, What, and How Much To Eat

How much of this burger should you eat? Depending on who you listen to, it might be none, half or all of it. The best person to listen to for these kind of answers is yourself.

Have you ever thought to think about what prompts you to start or stop eating?

Is it thoughts about it being lunch “time”? Or maybe that it’s been 3 hours since you last ate? Do you stop eating because you are satisfied or is it because you think you shouldn’t eat any more?

When was the last time you ate a meal and stopped eating when your body told you to?

It’s very common for those who eat emotionally to feel challenged by knowing how much or when to eat. In fact, most of our society is a bit screwed up by this (so please know that this isn’t something unique to you – it’s not your fault)!  Let’s examine some of the social cues and eating rules that we’ve come to use day in, day out that override and confuse the physical cues that we already have in our body.

First, know that no matter what your current relationship or feelings around food, you were born with a body and mind that worked together that helped you determine when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.

If you’ve ever spent time around babies or small children and watched them eat, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t care what time of day or night it is, and they don’t measure out controlled portions of food. They don’t concern themselves with whether they’re eating too many carbs or fat. They eat when they feel hunger and they stop when they’ve had enough. They don’t overeat and they don’t worry about overeating. They respond to physical cues and sensations that are in their bodies that tell them it’s time to start or stop eating. They also have the amazing ability to communicate this need to the adults that care for them so that they can get what their little bodies need.

You have this ability inside of you still. I promise you do.

And the reason you may feel like you don’t is because of the way we handle mealtimes in our culture.

What went wrong isn’t that you “can’t control yourself around food”, it’s that you live in a society that dictates that you have to eat 3 square meals a day at 8am, 12pm and 5pm (or close to it). You have been trained to eat at roughly those times of day whether you are hungry or not because group meal times are a convenient and somewhat necessary practice of a productive society. Because of these regulated meal times we lose the ability to feel WHEN it is time to eat in our bodies. If you went to daycare or kindergarten, your first induction to group meal times likely happened there and it was probably a bit of an adjustment period (“snack time” in these little ones classrooms give young ones time to get used to more rigorously scheduled eating times than they probably had at home).

What went wrong is that we live in a society that has convinced us all that food is “dangerous”. It’s either dangerous because of how it’s produced (GMO, pesticides, factory-farming, antibiotic resistance, overly processed etc), dangerous because of it’s nutritional content (it’s too high in fat, too high in carbs, not enough protein, too high in calories etc) or it’s dangerous because it tastes good and we won’t be able to stop eating it.  All of this “danger” means we can’t be trusted to make good choices about food on our own.  So with the “help” of our government (remember the food pyramid recommendations? Lobbyists have helped to shape those recommendations more than science), well meaning doctors and dietitians, and profit hungry companies who saw an opportunity to get rich, we have come to rely on food labels, food scales, measuring cups, calories, point systems and more to tell our bodies how much to eat. We learned that we can’t trust our bodies to tell us HOW MUCH to eat and over time we had to ignore those hunger and fullness signals in place of portioned out and rigidly controlled food until we no longer knew what those sensations feel like.

What went wrong is that we live in a culture that encourages confusion, nutritional science studies can’t agree on what is actually healthy. Complicating things even more is if you look into who paid for many food studies, you’ll find some interesting conflicts of interest, such as in this summer’s coconut oil is bad study. Every food or macronutrient at one time gets hailed as miracle cure or made out to be a villain. Remember how huge kale was for awhile?? Then people heard about oxalates and kidney stones and the excitement went away. We listen to all the conflicting advice, we jump on bandwagons for awhile, find out the science was “wrong” get stuck and confused and don’t know where to turn until the next food panacea shows up. And the cycle continues.

I talk to a lot of women who say they don’t know what to eat anymore. They don’t know who to listen to for real and accurate information. They are making themselves sick over worrying about what to eat. This is no way to live.

We can’t change the way our culture handles food quickly. It’s something that is going to be running in the background silently (or not so silently) for a very long time, until more of us than not decide to do things differently.

If you want to reclaim your own natural hunger and fullness cues and you want to feel more sure of your decisions around food, then I recommend you start tuning out what everyone else says you should do (this includes me!) and start listening to yourself!

Here are a few ways you can begin to reawaken and connect with those cues you already have in your body:

  • When it’s an option, eat meal times without distractions. Don’t watch TV, read or look at your phone while eating. Try to take in your food not just with your mouth but with all your senses. Doing this helps our brain interpret signals from the stomach and recognize when it’s had enough. You’ll also eat slower and will get more enjoyment out of your food.
  • Play around with the times of day and how much you eat. Explore having smaller or larger meals and then not eating again until you notice pangs of hunger in your body. Note where you feel it and what it feels like. Note how much food you have to consume to make the hunger quiet down again. How much do you have to eat to feel satisfied? And where does fullness and too full come into the picture? What feels best? Play this game often until you are an expert in your own hunger and fullness signals.
  • Do the same thing with what types of food you eat. Notice how different textures taste and feel. Of the foods you like, what is it that you like about them? And what is it that you don’t like about foods you don’t like? Is it texture? Flavor? Bitterness? Or how it feels once it reaches your belly? Notice if some foods make you feel more energetic than others. Perhaps some make you feel comfort and others anxiety. Explore it all and be relaxed about it. Be Curious and take notes!
  • Walk away from calorie counter and diet apps. Scary at first, I know. But practice not using them. They’re not helping you tune into your body.
  • Do all of this without judgement about yourself. You’re not bad if you ate “too much”. You’re not good if you experience hunger frequently. You’re just a human who is trying to make their way in this world and food is not about morality. View these experiences as an internship where you are learning about your particular body’s needs for the first time.
  • Don’t worry about whether a food is “healthy” or “unhealthy”. All foods can be part of a nutritious diet (and healthy people eat all sorts of things). Use your best instincts (you smarter than you know) and aim for eating a wide variety of foods and include foods that you love. Tell other people to mind their own business if they put their own food beliefs on you.

You’re the best guide you’ll ever have. Listen and trust yourself and your judgement. It’s in the listening to everyone and everything else that got us into this confusion with food. You’ll find freedom in the expertise of being you.

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Going Off The Rails and Trusting Myself Enough To Get Back on Track

Over the last two and half years I have done a crapload of learning – both for my own eating issues and in developing the skills I needed to work with my clients. Everything I’ve been taught to use with clients, I’ve put into practice first with myself – kept what worked and tossed what didn’t. Somewhere during that process, I’ve settled into something of a belief system when it comes to how to lose weight without dieting, how to manage emotional eating and how to eat normally (after years of chronic dieting). This “belief system” is really just a series of tools that I teach clients to use. I know they work when they’re applied to daily life consistently.

Tools and Trust
These tools have been working for me. I’ve lost 40 lbs this way and maintained that loss now for over a year. I’ve had clients ask: Does it get easier? Does it feel like less of a struggle at some point? And while the answer to those questions is yes, I certainly feel more at ease with food and my body, I’ve definitely clung to these tools tightly, there’s a part of me that worries I’ve held onto them possibly too tightly. There’s a fear that if I do let go of some of these tools (hunger cues, mindful eating, enjoying the food I eat bite for bite etc) for even a few days, I will gain a massive amount of weight again. Because I’ve done that (If you’re new here: I gained 60lbs of a 90lb loss back a few years ago). Because even if I have tools that keep me pointed in the right direction, there’s a part of myself that I don’t trust. 60 lbs felt like a huge betrayal.

So I’ve held the tools tight, relying on them most days in every food choice I make.

This isn’t a bad thing – having to practice something over and over again to make better decisions about food is way better than ending back in a shame eating spiral that never ends. But sometimes I wonder, what would happen if I stopped being so conscious and particular with these tools. Are they ingrained enough in me that they are now my “normal”? Can I trust what I’ve learned and taught or deep down is there an crazy eater just waiting to come back out?

Interestingly enough, despite relying on these tools so much, I’ve actually thought less about my own weight during this time than I have my entire life . . .which may seem surprising since I’m literally writing about weight, diet and eating issues on a weekly basis. I exercise, I eat well 90% of the time and put a lot of energy into acknowledging my feelings, journaling and working on getting what I need emotionally. I weigh more than I’d like to still but there’s no pain and shame around that anymore. I take good care of myself and I know I can look and feel good in the body I have right now.

In addition to wondering if I could stop holding on to these tools so tightly, my stablized weight and the length of time I’ve been using these eating tools, sort of made me feel like I deserved a “break” from them. If my weight had been stable for so long, what would be the harm in going off the rails more? I’ve never been so strict as to not allow myself what I want (we’re big into wine and chocolate in my house), but I definitely keep the reins from being too slack for more than a day or two. (As a side note: “going off the rails” is probably my favorite metaphor. The image of a speeding train on it’s predetermined and carefully maintained/charted course and then it leaving the rails uncontrollably and suddenly is a powerful image that describes how crazy eating can feel).

6 Weeks of Wild Eating
In late August, John and I went on vacation in Cape Cod. Vacation always brings a challenge when it comes to balancing healthy eating with indulgent eating and this year was no different. One of our house guests brought handmade donuts one morning. I said yes to the donut (I never eat donuts). We went out for fried clams and ice cream in the same night. I enjoyed both. After coming home from vacation, I gave it a half-assed attempt to get back on track, getting back to my regular workouts and focusing on getting my vegetables in but the “going off the rails” mentality food wise was still hanging around. All of September was filled with more chocolate, ice cream, bread, cheese, chips and wine than I had probably eaten in two years.

Earlier this month, I decided to finally get on the scale. Enough was enough. I don’t weigh myself everyday but I weigh myself regularly enough so that I can keep an eye on sneaky weight gain.  I also stopped keeping my food diary consistently. I don’t worry about calories anymore but I do write down what I eat everyday – it helps me remain conscious about my choices. I know myself and when I avoid the scale & my food diary, it means I’m trying to sabotage myself and ignore what I’m putting in my mouth. I kind of had been doing that since late August. I was still relying on checking in with my hunger and using that to decide when to stop eating but I wasn’t making the best choices I could most days. I know I was eating more than I usually do and I was often choosing a lot of foods that don’t make me feel my best.

The Scale
When I finally got on the scale, I sincerely expected to see at least a 6-8 lb gain – I had been eating wildly for at least 6 weeks. It was time to stop closing my eyes. It was time to get that train back on the rail! When the 0.0 on the digital scale finally registered my weight, it was just 1.4 lbs more than I had been when we left for vacation. I hadn’t even gained a pound and a half. Heck, my weight goes up and down a few pounds daily – if I weighed myself again in a couple days, would it even register as a gain?

I was dumbfounded. While I had been exercising, I wasn’t working out enough to work off all the extra stuff I had been eating and drinking. Historically – eating the very shit I had been eating equaled a huge influx on the scale.

I was hugely relieved. Even though I know I had gone off the rails for weeks, eating more and not well, I actually had been checking in on my hunger. There were no binges. No eating in secret. I tasted every bite of ice cream, chips, chocolate or other nutrient light foods and enjoyed the crap out of them. And I hadn’t indulged in negative thoughts about my body when they popped up. But I didn’t trust that these things were true because there was a part of me that was feeling like sabotaging my current ease with food.

I had let go of holding my “tools” so tightly and thought it was going to lead me down a familiar ugly path, but instead, it has proven to me that I actually have made some incredible healthy progress. It may sound fucked up to call 6 weeks of iffy eating as progress but it is, as I am trusting my body. I can trust what I’ve been taught and what I teach others. What I’ve been practicing for 2 and half years is having a deep effect on me. That not worrying so much about my weight means I can worry less about my weight. Eating “more” now doesn’t look like what it used to (clearing entire boxes of cheez-its or eating 4 slices of pizza for dinner). That is why I didn’t gain a huge amount of weight.

I guess the point of this long post is that we really need to be willing to trust ourselves completely and if you practice anything long enough, you’re going to get really good at it, even when you aren’t really trying all that hard. Knowing that I can let go of the reins a little more and not have disaster strike feels really empowering. It feels more like healing than I thought was even possible. I know that a truly healthy relationship with food means having a healthy relationship with yourself first – and that’s not possible if you don’t trust yourself.

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