5 Signs You May Be Eating When You Don’t Need To
- You sneak food.
- You eat every time you come home regardless of your hunger level.
- You eat in bed.
- You always eat when you are sad or angry.
- You eat food just because it is there.
ENDING THE INTERNAL FOOD FIGHT
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDS
You’ve finished eating dinner. You’re satisfied and feel good. But coming from the other room is a voice. It whispers, “Eat me. You’re tired, and I will make you feel better. You gorged last night. . . and every night the week before—why not tonight?” So you get off the couch and sink, bite by blissful bite, to the bottom of a pint of your favorite ice cream.
Moments later, your feeling of bliss is gone. Guilt, remorse, shame and loss set in. You just ate an entire pint of ice cream when you weren’t even hungry. You feel that food is controlling you and that you just can’t win.
Well, you can win. Food needs to be balanced with your physical needs and sometimes your emotional needs. You can break the cycle of behavioral eating by giving yourself time and working in phases. This article outlines six phases to end the internal food fight and gain a neutral relationship with eating. Each step focuses on a small behavioral change designed toprevent the feeling of deprivation. The continuation and accumulation of the new habits can lead to big health and lifestyle changes for your future. Give yourself a week or two to move through each phase.
This article addresses night eating of previously restricted foods and builds off the ice cream example above, but these phases can be applied to many other eating habits. Other non-hunger reasons for eating include eating to comfort yourself, eating something after a meal because you grew up eating dessert, and eating socially because your friends are eating. Using the steps below as a guide can help you break these too. Before you begin, however, you have to first identify and accept your counterproductive habit. Only then can you begin the journey toward freedom from your internal struggle.
Phase 1 (Weeks 1 & 2): Once you’ve identified your behavior, embrace your habit or forbidden food. Give yourself permission to eat ice cream past your point of fullness. Allowing yourself the food or behavior removes the guilt and releases you from the internal struggle. Enjoy the food/habit, recognizing how your body feels as you are indulging. In our example here, remember how good that first bite of ice cream tastes (it’s often what your body remembers most, because as you continue to eat, your senses are dulled).
Phase 2 (Weeks 2 & 3): It’s time for another small change. Start by reducing your portion to three quarters of its original size. While you’re modifying your behavior in a healthy way, you’ll still be allowing yourself to enjoy the food. You aren’t depriving yourself, and you’re beginning to be mindful of your physical needs.
Phase 3 (Weeks 4 & 5): Decrease your portion to half the original size over the next two weeks. While slowly reducing the portion, you shouldn’t feel restricted or deprived. Savor your food; notice the color, the texture, the taste, and how it makes you feel during and after eating it.
Phase 4 (Weeks 5 & 6): You have experienced your food fully and have probably realized that a smaller portion satisfies you. Now change the food you are eating. Using our example, try a creamy sorbet. If nuts are your night food of choice, try switching to another salty finger food, like popcorn.
Think about why you are eating. Do you want to keep this habit? While you’re continuing to eat at night, you’re now doing so with a neutral food (one that was not formerly restricted), which is less numbing. Your relationship with food should feel more balanced.
Phase 5 (Weeks 6 & 7): Get ready to reintroduce your original food. Alternate eating the halved portion of regular ice cream with one of sorbet. When you crave the ice cream, eat it. And when you want the sorbet, dig right in. Try to alternate your snack every other night and eat your food at the kitchen table with no other stimuli (watching TV, talking on the phone). This creates an environment that allows you to be mindful
, and intuitive. Hopefully you feel freer and are better able to enjoy both foods.
Phase 6 (Weeks 7 & 8): Incorporate your night foods in moderation. Enjoy the food while paying close attention to your body’s needs. Remember that your night eating should be stimulus-free and at the kitchen table. Alternate your foods, follow your cravings and, most important, if you aren’t hungry, find something else to do.
Follow this proactive plan, and after 12 weeks of gradual changes, you will be eating less and feeling more empowered and less controlled by food. Don’t be tempted to race through phases. There’s no reward for finishing first, so remember to take your time. Doing so will help make your new habit a permanent one, and you’ll be more in tune with your body’s needs.
Moving forward, you can repeat the phases if you feel the need to further reduce your portions or if your old habit recurs. Finally, remember that you can always receive additional support from trusted friends, family, self-help books or a registered dietitian.
Phases 1 through 6, in Brief
Phase 1: Allow yourself your chosen food or behavior for the first one to two weeks.
Phase 2: Reduce your portion size to ¾ its original size.
Phase 3: Decrease your portion further to ½ its original size.
Phase 4: Choose a different food. Change the food you are eating.
Phase 5: Alternate eating the halved portion of original food with its healthier counterpart. Remember to eat in a stimulus-free environment at the kitchen table.
Phase 6: Incorporate all foods, in moderation. Choose ice cream one night, sorbet one night and perhaps nothing another night (if you are not hungry), maintaining your new healthy habit.
The above is not intended for those suffering from eating disorders.