June 01, 2010

Feeding Ourselves

In my research on aging gracefully I have, not surprisingly, come across some statistics about the growing connection between eating disorders and women’s desire for cosmetic surgery. I imagine, for some women, there must also be a connection between yo-yo dieting and the fear of growing older as well.

When I was nineteen I had been struggling with emotional eating for several years. I was obsessed with food, had a poor body image, and wasn't able to listen to my body for it's hunger/full signals. As you probably know, using food to self-medicate is not unlike an addiction to alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, etc. I was eating not just when I was hungry but also frequently when I was bored, tired, mad, sad, frustrated, anxious, lonely, or feeling fat.Thankfully though, when I was a sophomore at Boston University, I enrolled in a workshop in Cambridge, MA called Feeding Ourselves that transformed the way I think about food and the way I continue to nourish myself to this day.

Feeding Ourselves was created by psychologist Dr. Emily Fox Kale’s in 1975 and is luckily still going strong today for anyone over the age of 18. If you don’t live near Boston, they also have a CD of the program that you can purchase on their site that is very helpful. Plus they do weekend workshops now which allows the program to be more accessible to people who come from a distance.

Feeding Ourselves taught me, among other things, to eat consciously. It taught me to eat what I am craving and not eat what I think I should eat. It taught me be very aware of my hunger/full signals. It also gave me some very useful tools for coping. Our hunger/full signals are not unlike the other signals our body gives us when we are thirsty, have to pee, are overheated, or tired etc. Over time the skills I learned in Feeding Ourselves became second nature to me and I was able to shed twenty-five pounds, which I’ve kept off effortlessly for 30 years.

So I say next time you’re hungry don’t reach for the salad if it’s not what you are craving. Reach for a piece of cake if it’s what you really want. The goal is to satisfy your hunger with what will really satisfy you, not with what your head is telling you to eat. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Believe me, it is so liberating.

Here’s a little experiment some of you might like to try:

For one week, every time you are truly hungry eat just what you are craving and stop eating when you are full. The next time you are hungry again do the same thing. I graze all day long like this- eating lots of little meals and snacks- allowing, and trusting, my body to nourish itself. I know this sounds scary just trusting yourself to eat whatever you want but you’ll lose weight if you eat small amounts of what you love when you are truly hungry, and stop eating when you are full. You have to get quiet to be able to listen to yourself like this. Conscious eating is not something that is easily done when you’re at a party!  I think conscious eating is partly about being your own best friend.

Also, keeping a journal is a very helpful thing to do when trying to change any personal behavior that we are “fed up” with.

Self-reflection is a very useful tool :-)