Lately, I find myself saying to people, “Your weight isn’t about what you eat, it is about how much you eat.” It is easy to find people talking about not eating certain “bad” foods to help them lose weight but rarely do people talk about how much to eat.
What I find in my work with clients is that they have no idea when they are hungry or when they are full. If you’re an emotional eater, you may be eating too much and/or eating when you aren’t hungry. Eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full will teach you a lot about your body and your emotions.
The Hunger Scale
Imagine a scale from 1-10. If you are at a 1 on the scale, you are so hungry you feel you might be starving. If you are at a 10, you are so full you feel you can barely move. Rate your current hunger on this 1-10 scale. Where do you fall? What physical sensations are you aware of that tell you this?
The goal is to eat when you are at about a 2 or 3 on the scale and to stop at a 6 or 7. Certainly, you don’t want to be too hungry before you eat, or you are likely to eat too much and too fast, without even tasting it (see February’s newsletter).
As you eat, notice your body’s sensations. Perhaps the moment you start to feel a pang of fullness, stop eating. You are now at about a 7 on the scale and have eaten what your body needs.
After some practice, you will learn how much food your body needs and can respond to your body’s signals rather than emotional signals. It may take several days or weeks of paying attention to this to learn to listen to your body and to learn what is the right amount for you.
The Emotional Scale
You may be more familiar with eating in response to your emotions (or, rather to avoid emotions). A clue that you are doing this is that you want to eat when you aren’t hungry. (hint: if you eat enough protein at a meal, you should not feel hungry for 4-5 hours.) Perhaps you never let yourself experience hunger. Many people don’t, usually out of fear of being hungry.
Keep in mind that when you fear being hungry, you are really fearing something else… perhaps you fear not having enough. Listen to what you say to yourself around food and try to identify what you feel. For example: “What if I don’t eat enough and I get really hungry?” Emotionally, this could translate into, “I’m afraid I won’t have enough love/money/satisfaction in my life.”
You see, if you make it about food and your body, you think you can quickly fix that… just go on a diet and lose weight. If it is about fear of not having enough… this may not be such a quick fix. So, you focus on food. Then you get to focus on how fat you are, rather than on what is really going on.
This week, focus on food being about feeding your body, using the Hunger Scale. And listen to your thoughts. Try to translate your thoughts about food into emotions. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, try to guess at what feelings you might have based on the thoughts you’re having about food. Ask for help from someone who knows you. Tell them what you think regarding food and ask them if this sounds like something you think or feel about another area in your life.
Anne Cuthbert M.A. is a Licensed Professional Counselor working in Portland, OR. She works with men and women who feel out of control with food, helping them to end the diet cycle and learn to enjoy life again. Visit her website at http://www.foodisnottheenemy.com to download her free report “5 Steps Toward a Diet Free Life” and to sign up for her monthly newsletter.