When I first decided that restricting what I was eating, binges and weighing myself 4-times-a-day were making me crazy, I decided that I had to get back to the basics.
And there is one question that is the most basic of all:
Are you hungry?
It sounds so simple and obvious. I mean, everyone knows when they’re hungry or not, right?
Well, except me. I found that I didn’t really know the answer to that question. I mean, I knew if I was ravenous or if I was completely stuffed. But during those in-between, non-crisis moments, what did hunger feel like? I had never really paid attention.
So, inspired by the greatness of Geneen Roth, I started keeping a journal, writing down what I ate and whether I was hungry or not. I was nervous about the journaling because it felt like a diet, but I promised myself I wouldn’t judge or restrict myself; I was just collecting impartial data.
I found, very quickly, that I was rarely eating when I was hungry. I mean, I had a LOT of other good reasons:
- Because all my friends were having lunch and I wanted to socialize with them
- Because I had been sitting in a library for five hours, and moving my legs and going to dinner felt nice
- Because if I didn’t eat now I might not be able to eat later because the dining hall would be closed
- Because I was talking to someone who made me feel uncomfortable or small (or was at a party where I didn’t want to be) and it was easier to eat a large handful of roasted nuts than to talk the whole time
- Because the garlic mashed potatoes with parsley looked so good and they would never be as good as in that moment.
This was shocking to me. I had never realized how often I ate when I wasn’t hungry. So I kept tracking, writing it all down. And gradually, just from the noticing, I started to eat from hunger.
And things became radically different, in my eating and in my life.
I realized that I often ate when I wasn’t hungry because there was some other truth I didn’t want to face – that I needed a break from work or that I needed to go home from a party or just that I needed to lie on my bed and cry and feel terrible. So I started eating less often and doing more of whatever else I needed.
Plus, my binges lessened radically in frequency and intensity. Now, as I started to binge, I could promise myself that I could eat whatever it was later, when I was hungry. And if “whatever I wanted” meant donut holes and barbeque kettle chips for dinner, so be it. Donut holes and barbeque kettle chips are still food, and if I wanted them when I was hungry, I ate eat them and they filled me up, and that was much better than a binge – when I ate when I wasn’t hungry at all without any regard to my body.
This was only the beginning of my journey towards healing my relationship with food and with myself, but that simple first step was essential: eat when you’re hungry.
So, as my first entry on this blog, that’s my loving challenge to you.
Your self-exploration challenge:
1. Start right now.
Ask yourself how hungry you are right now. Just note it gently.
(I started with just “very hungry,” “a little hungry,” or “not hungry” in my food journal. But sometimes a 1-10 scale is also very useful - 1 being ravenous, 10 being totally stuffed, and 5 being exactly in between).
2. The next time you eat, take a quick moment to evaluate how hungry you are.
3. Keep track of your hunger for at least a week by writing it down.
Keep track in a journal of how hungry you were each time you eat. Even if you can’t write it down in the moment (maybe you’re in public), make sure that you write it all down at the end of the day.
4. Don’t worry about it if you eat when you’re not hungry.
This is the most important step. The point of keeping track of your hunger is not to be mean to yourself or to beat yourself up. The point is to bring a bit of awareness to your life. Maybe you will find that for an entire week, you basically never eat when you are hungry (this is what I found). As you keep bringing kindness to yourself and being willing to be aware, you will change without pushing.
Let me know how it goes. I’m sending all of my love and support over the web.