Monday, March 23, 2009

Intuitive Eating Chapter 10

Oh boy, my favorite chapter...Coping With Your Emotions Without Using Food. This the the hardest part of intuitive eating for me, but reading Rethinking Thin helped me understand something that made me feel a little better. People who are over weight don't use food to cope with their emotions any more than thin people do. Science has proven this. It was good to learn that this was true. People everywhere use food to cope with life, but even so, even if you're fat or thin, using food as a coping strategy will sabotage your ability to eat intuitively, so it's something that needs to be addressed.

Something that I think most diets don't keep in mind is the fact the food has a huge emotional component to it and this is not something that can be escaped. Eating can be, and usually is an emotionally laden experience. We use food for all sorts of reasons and food has many functions in our society that have almost nothing to do with hunger or nutrition. We use food to celebrate happy occasions, to show love to family and friends, as tradition, to socialize, to reward ourselves or others, as a hobby (cooking, baking), as entertainment....and the list could go on. Like I said, diets don't take this into account and this is part of the reason why diets fail and are not usually adopted as a way of life.

Here's a list (from the chapter) of emotional reasons we eat:

Sensory Gratification
Boredom and Procrastination
Bribery and Reward
Soothing yourself
Frustration, Anger, Rage
As a way of connecting to others
Loosening the reins on a controlled life

I've eaten for every reason on this list. Some of them good, some not so good and some more than others. I can especially relate to eating out of boredom or stress, and having a need to connect to others. I know I eat the most when I feel like I have no freedom to do what is stimulating or fullfilling to me. When I feel this way I really crave those cookies! What are some emotional reasons you eat?

I'm facing the fact that eating for emotional reasons may never really completely end in my life, but I can learn (and have learned) to do it less often. As a result I'm also forced to deal with my stress, boredom, and other emotions in a better way (one good side effect of eating intuitively).

Even though I still eat for emotional reason, I do it much less than I used to and when I do I am very aware of what I'm doing. (I wasn't in the past) When I realize that I'm eating and not hungry, I recognize that I'm doing it and ask myself why. Then I try to think of other ways to deal. Sometimes I can't always find a healthier way to deal so I choose to keep eating, but just recognizing that I'm eating to cope results in much less over eating in the moment and in the future. Hopefully, with more practice, this will get easier for me.

How do you guys feel about Chapter 10?


  1. I am really excited to discuss this. I'm dreadfully behind in my reading, but I'm excited to hear everyone's input on this. I am a stress/nervous eater, and these past few months have been a doozy with my little Jenny being so ill & my friend's husband dying. I just eat myself into a coma. Then, the other day, I was told that some of my family thinks I'm "letting myself go & just getting bigger & bigger but learning to love herself anyway, because of those books that she's reading." Yeah. I've cried myself to sleep the past 2 nights. How's that for a basket case for ya? Where's the chapter on not caring what people think? I need a refresher course...

  2. I totally think that our bodies are not the reason we over eat its in our mind and habits. Do you know how hard it is for me to throw food away? When my kids are done eating I have the hardest time throwing it away because of the guilt of wasting food I have grown up with. I'm doing much much better and now instead of throwing it away I put it in the fridge for when they come to the kitchen and say "I'm hungry and I pull it out and say great you didn't finish you lunch" Sometimes they actually eat it. After a day of sitting in the fridge I'm not tempted one bit of eating it so I can throw it out then.
    I also am a social eater. If my husband wants a snack at night. I'm still working on this. Any suggestions that would be helpful.
    I'm reading an interesting book called "In Defense of Food" It has some really interesting thoughts about how food has really become very commercialized and so much we buy is not really food it's imitation. Interesting thoughts. It makes me think very differently about what I eat and I find I'm wanting to get to the basic foods of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

  3. It sure is a sad world we live in where a person who isn't dieting or giving into the body nonsense that's everwhere, is labeled as "letting them self go." That kind of attitude just gets me mad!!!
    Emily, intuitive eating is not about letting yourself go. Sure you might not drop weight as fast as you would on a diet, but you will find all kinds of benefits in your life which will, I am certain, lead to weight loss and life long maintainance. But, ultimately it's up to you, and only you. You either commit or you don't. No pressure. If this is not for you, don't beat yourself up. Just go on a diet.

    As far as eating for stress reasons... We all have to do better at learning to cope with life without using food. It's incredible tough, especially when we've used food to medicate for so, so long. It's hard to learn to do something else for yourself. If you do decide to diet, then this will still be an issue for you. It's a good idea to tackle and figure this out, intuitive eating or no intuitive eating.

  4. Overlyactive:
    I'm sorry, I don't know who you are, but I'm happy to respond to your questions.

    As far as not wasting food, I think you've already come up with a solution. Put that food in the fridge for later! Good job on that. Lots of other group members have had this problem and they will appreciate this suggestion I'm sure. Another thing that helps me...I remind myself that it's wasted either way, in the garbage or hanging over my waistband. It's all waste.

    As far as being a social eater...My best suggestion would be to just listen to your body. When your husband goes to have that snack ask yourself if you're hungry? If not remind yourself that you can have whatever your husband's having at any time that you feel hungry and wait until you are. If you choose to eat anyway, eat slowly and savor, checking in with yourself to see if the fifth bite is as good as the first. Eat mindfully. Stop when you've had enough, reminding yourself that you can have more when ever you want to. And most important, if you over eat, don't beat yourself up, just do better next time.

  5. There is no way I will ever diet again! I am 100000% committed to this. Finally, after a few days of feeling sorry for myself I realized that I truly don't care what anyone else thinks because I know that this is the right thing (for me) to do. I know it's going to be a long road as far as the anxious eating goes, but at least I'm aware of it, right!?

  6. Emily:
    You're amazing! Thanks for the talk this morning. I'm proud of you and I think you're beautiful...inside and out!

  7. The actual physiological response to stress is to not eat. Those of us that eat in response to stress do so because of learned habits. I went home to where I grew up and I was so stressed I could hardly believe it. But this time -- I always gave myself permission to eat whatever -- if I enjoyed it. I can't say I did this perfectly, but what did happen was that I didn't eat as much as I normally do. I agree with Jill about those evening snacks with the hubby. My hubby also has an evening snack, but it really isn't what I want, so when he is eating his snack, if I am hungry then I will have what I really, really want. The other thought I have is about not caring what other people think. I have two thoughts. First I have always dieted for someone else... health, dr, husband, clothes..... whatever the reason. This is the first time I have done it for myself and I am being much more successful. People that don't struggle with eating issues don't care what people think in response to food. They don't even pay attention. I suspect that most of us worry if we don't eat something that someone has specifically prepared for us -- even if we are not hungry. An intuitive eater will say no thanks and never look back. We need to get to the point where our bodies instead of our minds are leading the decision making process.

  8. Like Emily I emotionally eat big time and I feel like I can look at pictures and chart the times in my life when I was depressed or struggling emotionally because I always gain weight. (It was interesting to read mamabear's post and realize that eating in response to stress is learned and not physiological). Emily I think that you are dealing with BIG and immense emotions - the unknown cause of a child's sickness and watching a friend deal with her husband's death - that stuff is deep and intense and one thing that I really like about Intuitive Eating is the principle of gentleness (not just gentle nutrition, but also being gentle with ourselves as we learn to eat intuitively). I use to look back on my pictures and think I was so gross and feel embarrassed that my emotions were so obviously affecting my body. Sometimes I still do, but more often I look at those pictures and think "I was going through some really tough things" and am able to be a little more gentle with myself. I guess I'm saying, like Jill said, intuitive eating takes awhile and I think the learning curve that comes with it as I learn to not numb myself with food has been worth it (even if other people could look at me and say "she must be having a hard time . . . she's getting fat again).

    I like what Jill said in her post about finding ways to better cope with emotional eating. Just the other night I told John "I know I am feeling overwhelmed and a lot of stress and pressure because I just want to eat. I'm not even hungry." Being able to say that gave me the distance to realize I didn't really want any food, I just needed to acknowledge those feelings. Since the things causing all the stress and pressure haven't gone away, I am trying to be more mindful when I eat. We ate with some friends and I told myself "pay attention to what tastes good and what you are enjoying" because I knew if I didn't I would overeat. I find that I have to be more vigilant when I'm feeling a lot of difficult emotions because otherwise I default to overeating.

    I also like a book called "Overcoming Overeating" - this one is mostly about facing your feelings and not eating through emotions.

    More thoughts later . . .

  9. O.k. so the picture you posted looks like me after fast Sunday. what can i get in my mouth and how fast. I'm a 'I eat it because it's there' type of eater. If I'm sad, eating is the last thing I want to do. If it's there- go for it. I have been going to the gym for a month now. Every night for an hour to an hour and a half. I am however, afraid to step on the scale. I have not cut anything out of my diet, I eat what I feel like only moderatley. I guess I'm hoping for a drastic change in my numbers. But know that I'm not trying to exercise to be bone skinny- only to get in shape and tone up. Darn those desserts though. I think we'd be better off if the cupboards were bare. NO food- no eating. Yes I know that's not the right thinking. But I'm a see it, eat it eater.

  10. It's so interesting for me to read about eating yourself into numbness. I can honestly say that I haven't had that experience. But I have definitely used food to cope with my emotions-only in a very different way. I don't know why I'm even sharing it because it's probably so different from what anybody else does.

    But for me, since I was a little girl, food was a way that I could get attention. My dad was very distant; we were basically like strangers.

    But if I didn't eat, and he was home, he would spend an hour telling me about all the problems I was going to have if I didn't eat and about all the anorexic people he counsels (he's a psychologist, which is the funniest part of all because he should have known what he was doing).

    So then I didn't eat on purpose just so he would pay attention to me.

    This all carried over into my marriage too. For example, my family growing up was a bit dysfunctional, and our extended family was completely dysfunctional. I never did anything with any of my extended family. When I married into Jon's enormous family, I didn't know how to handle all the family parties and people. It completely blew me away.

    So to get back at him for taking me to these family functions, I wouldn't eat at them. Pretty sick, I know.

    But my point is that it took me until after Seth was born, but I finally learned how to tell him in words what I was thinking. I remember the first time I put it into actual sentences, instead of fuming and refusing to eat.

    Since that first time, it has gotten a little easier each time to extract my feelings from food and talk about them.

  11. First a response to mamabear:
    Thanks for you continued comments. I'm glad you're doing this for you this time and that you're sticking with it. I think you'll be so glad you did.
    Yes, I agree that eating in response to stress in a learned thing. When I have suffered with severe anxiety and depression in the past, I can hardly make myself eat. Food has no appeal or taste to me when I'm like this. I usually end up losing weight during time like these. I can tell that I'm getting better when my appetite comes back. So when stress is bad enough, my desire to eat shuts down.
    I do over eat though in response to mild to medium everyday stress...stress like bordom and not having enough to do, to too much to do and not enough time. I need to learn to cope with that kind of daily stress better. I'll take any suggestions that people find to do when they have little kids around.

    I also liked what you said about people with healthy food relationships not caring about what others think of them and their eating. They just don't think about it. I'm going to remember that.

    Thanks again!

  12. Julie:
    I'm going to suggest 'Overcoming Overeating' as recommended reading for those of us struggling with this type of problem. It's a good book. I also like how it talks about being gentle with ourselves. When we use food to cope, it may not be the healthiest thing, but at least we are coping in some way. Recognizing that we do this and when we do this is the first step in overcoming this kind of behavior.
    When I realize I'm eating a lot when I'm not hungry, I really ask myself what is wrong and try to figure out what I'm feeling and if there is anything I can do about it instead of eating. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. I'm happy to say it works more often than not.
    Slow progress for me in this department because this is a learned behavior that's deep in there. I realize it's going to take some time to unlearn and change. Slow progress!!!

    Thanks for your comments Julie! You're the bomb!

  13. Becky:

    Good for you and the gym. I would really suggest not stepping on the scales. This could really set you up for what you don't want. Instead focus on how this excercise is making you feel and how your clothes are fitting. In no time I think you will notice a difference in both of these areas. Remember, it's not about the numbers but about how you feel! Keep up the good work and enjoy those desserts. They aren't going away so make peace with them and savor them.

  14. Byanna:

    I very much appreciate your comments. You're right about most people on the blog having trouble with over eating rather than under eating, but it's good to understand both sides of the coin. Undereating is very often used as a control tool and as a way to cope. Remember, in the past you were just doing your best to cope with stressful and difficult situations when that's all you knew how to do. Now that you know differently, you'll choose differently.

    I love that you're learning to express you feelings verbally. For someone who isn't used to doing this is can be hard to do. Go ahead, get those feelings out there girl! You can say what ever you need to. It's healthy for you and everyone else around you. You've come such a long way and you should be proud of that.

    Thanks for what you say on this blog Bryanna. You're an inspiration to me. And who knows, maybe someone is reading that relates more to your side of the coin. You never know!

  15. I have often thought that those that restrict food for emotional reasons are not much different that those of us that overeat because of emotional reasons. Both sides of that coin do not know how to deal with "life". We use food as a coping mechanism because we can control food where we can't control so much of our life. The learning curve is to learn how to cope with ......... whatever in ways that are non destructive to our bodies. I appreciate this blog so much because when I get discouraged about this journey, I can see that I'm not alone. Thanks to all of you for sharing.

  16. Hey everyone! I'm way behind and just catching up. I thought about not posting this because I don't think anyone will read it almost a month late, but I just can't keep my mouth shut on this one. I feel like I could be the poster child for emotional eating. That said, I've been thinking ALOT about the comment made about Emily. First of all Emily, I think you are fantastic, friendly, giving, talented, beautiful, and just darn fun to be around. What has really got my fired up is the concept that we "let ourselves go" if we put on a few pounds. As if who we are as a person is based entirely on what we weigh. It just goes to show you how much importance our society places on weight. If we put on a few pounds we "let ourselves go." If we lose a few we are taking such "good care of ourselves." It's sad that sense of self is so wrapped up in pounds. Why don't we ever say, "Hey, look at so and so, they've had an incredibly tough time lately and they've managed to stay kind, giving, and sensitive. She's really taking care of herself." Instead you succeed or fail depending on how many pounds you gain or lose. Can you tell I'm bugged!? I guess this just gives me more motivation then ever to put the food battle behind me once and for all. AND to look and myself and others through a completely different perspective. Even if you don't read this, it was good for me to vent it. Happy Intuitive Eating!

  17. Holy Cow Amy, I hear ya! And I agree with everything you said. How much better would our society be if we focused as much or more on the inside of people instead of their outside apperence. One day I hope we live in that kind of place!