So after last week, hopefully, you have a better handle on why you turn to food when you’re not hungry. Be sure to check out Emotional Eating, Part 1. The next logical question is how do you stop turning to food to fill needs it can’t fill? The next time you find yourself reaching for the pantry when your body’s not hungry, try this instead:
Try putting it off for 15 minutes. Tell yourself that if you still want those cookies in 15 minutes, you’ll be back for them and they will still be there. (This is assuming they will be there – if you have scavengers, you might need to hide the cookies for a bit. You have my permission to do so. This is psychologically therapeutic, so you have an excuse).
In the meantime, try one these distractions:
Learn to crochet or knit or do something else creative with your hands. It’s not easy to eat while your hands are busy.
Sit down with a magazine and a cup of tea and give yourself 15-20 guilt-free minutes (more if you can!) to relax and do nothing productive.
Go through a drawer that’s been bugging you and throw out all the clutter.
If the weather is nice, go sit in the backyard for 15 minutes, just watching the trees blow in the breeze and birds. (Or, depending on where you live, watch the snow fall and drift through the window).
Pick up a journal and write about whatever’s going on inside. Call it a brain dump and don’t worry about making sense, being neat or well-written. The point is to get it out and onto paper.
Make your own list of things you might enjoy for 15 minutes, and write it down. This part is important: Post it somewhere where you can see it. Don’t expect your brain to push the list to the forefront when another part of the brain is screaming, “Ice cream! Now!” The ice cream always screams loudest.
So now we have two steps to practice:
1. Every time you eat, take a moment to rate your hunger.
2. If it’s above a 4, ask yourself why you’re eating and if you can wait 15 minutes. Look at your list and pick something else to do. Tell yourself you’ll be back in 15 minutes if you still want the food.
If in 15 minutes, you don’t really want to eat anymore, fabulous!
But if you still really want a treat in your mouth, go ahead and eat. BUT, you need to do it a special way. Take a portion of whatever you’re craving. Put it in a bowl or on a plate. Sit down. Don’t read, watch TV or talk on the phone while you’re eating. If you’re going to indulge, you might as well really enjoy it, right?
Take the first bite, but don’t chew yet. Move it around in your mouth. Notice the texture. Is it crunchy or soft? Crunchy in some places, soft in others? Roll it around on your tongue. Where on your tongue do you taste it the most pungently? Now start chewing, but chew really slowly. Notice the saliva increasing in your mouth. Chew it really, really well. Squeeze every ounce of pleasure out of whatever it is you’re eating. Finally, swallow. Feel the food move down your esophagus. Wait a moment to let it settle in your stomach.
Now, before you take another bite, ask yourself if this is really what you’re craving. If you’re eating potato chips, would you rather have something creamy and sweet? If you’re eating ice cream, maybe you’d rather have something with more texture, like a cookie? Ask your craving what it really wants.
So let’s say you really do want those potato chips. After all, they are the cheddar and sour cream kind, and the crunch is really satisfying. Have another bite. Do the same exercise, though – really, really enjoy it. Every bit.
No guilt, either! It might take some practice before you can really let yourself enjoy food, especially if you’ve battled it your whole life. Remember that you deserve to enjoy what you eat. It’s going to end up in your stomach whether you enjoy it or not, so you might as well get out of it everything you can.
If you really put your awareness on what you’re eating, my guess is that it will only take a few bites to satisfy your craving. In fact, you’ll probably get kind of tired of eating and want to go do something else before you eat the whole bag.
Tonight, I saw a bag of Lemon Heart Cookies from Trader Joe’s on the counter. I considered grabbing a few, but then realized I really didn’t want to take the time and sit down and enjoy them, and also, I would enjoy them more if I waited until I was hungrier. I kind of liked the idea of looking forward to eating them. I waited, and in the afternoon had two cookies with some tea during a break from housework and they were delicious. And, two was enough. The following day, I ate about ¾ of a deli sandwich. To my surprise, after eating that much, I realized I was satisfied. I could keep eating the last quarter because I don’t like to throw away food, but I realized I’d also be wasting it if I ate it and didn’t need it. So I threw the rest away.
This is called, in different contexts, mindful eating or intentional eating ( and sometimes, :::gasp!::: normal eating), and next week I’ll share the research that is suggesting more and more that this is really the only way to modify eating behavior for long term success.