I believe that the basis of compulsive eating is emotional and that people really need to learn to listen to their hungers. It’s important for them to eat when they’re hungry, to stop when they’ve had enough, and to deal with the emotional conflicts they express by eating.
Although most of us are afraid that if we don’t have a step-by-step program to tell us what, when, and how much to eat, we will never make any changes, I believe that the most important element in change is self-trust. The willingness to listen to the voice that wants to care for us, not destroy us.
If you have been following programs that tell you what and how much to eat, it may be overwhelming to be told that if you listen to your body, it will guide you in making healthy choices.
The Eating Guidelines are just that — guidelines, not rules with which to punish yourself; they are suggestions that I found useful as I made a commitment to be conscious when I ate. After years of stolen eating, I needed a place to begin. The guidelines helped me actually enjoy food instead of making a mad dash for the refrigerator and eating all I could before I — or anyone — noticed what I was doing.
The following guidelines were developed by Geneen Roth, author of “Take Back Your Life.” She advocates approaching overeating the same way you should approach any behavior that you engage but aren’t entirely sure why you do it. “I just noticed I kept on eating long after I was full… I wonder why I did that?” This approach focuses on mindfulness, that is, being fully aware of what you’re thinking and feeling while eating and focusing on that eating — and only eating — while at a meal.
1. Eat when you are hungry. Don’t eat solely because it’s a certain time of day, or because you need something to do or distract you while doing something else (such as watching TV).
2. Eat only while sitting down in a calm environment. Do not eat in the car, and try to avoid eating in harried or overwhelming situations.
3. Concentrate on eating, so eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations, and music.
4. Eat only what you and your body want. Sometimes you feel obligated to eat something (or more of something) long after your interest in that something has passed. Feel free to say “No” and to repeat that mantra as often as needed to ensure your message is clear and direct.
5. Eat until you are satisfied. Once satisfied, stop eating no matter what. You’re not a child any longer and you don’t need to “clean your plate.” Feel free to leave food on the plate if you are satisfied.
6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others, e.g., no “secret” eating. If you don’t want to get “caught” eating something you feel guilty about eating, then perhaps you shouldn’t be eating it in the first place.
7. Eat with enjoyment, pleasure, and gusto. Eating is not only a requirement of our body’s daily nutritional requirements, but it’s also one of life’s few pleasures that virtually anyone, anywhere can engage in and enjoy. It’s a reminder of life itself and our aliveness.