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 :-)


  1. Louise,

    This is great advice!

    I feel this approach is the best when trying to lose some added weight.

    It makes so much sense!

    Why deprive what it is your craving? Right?

    It just has to be approached sensibly.

    I have noticed since I hit my 40's my body craves these food items.
    Cinnamon, advocados, almonds, yogurt, ginger, and spinach.
    These foods combined contain Vitamin B,and C., protien, calicum.
    Ginger aides in digestion and cinnamon helps lowers cholestrol.
    All of which my body needs at this time in my life as I go through peri-menopause/menopause.
    I knew some of the value of these nutrients within these food groups but not all of them when I began to CRAVE these foods!

    Yes we need to listen to our bodies and pay attention to what it is asking for.

    I am a firm believer in eating what you want and not to stress out about it.
    Stress will only create increased cortisol to be released from your adrenals and weight will remain on.

    Love every part of your body regardless of what of what you percieve to be negative. This too will compliment the weight loss plan.

    On that note, I am going to have a yummy piece of Godiva Almond Chocolate!


  2. Thank you for this. We are inundated at such a young age (my first diet was at age 11, if I recall correctly. Um, yanno, while I was still growing! gah!) with diet industry crap that we can actually lose the ability to know hunger, relying solely on outside cues to tell us when, how much and what to eat. It's terrifying that we are so quick to abdicate our power.

    The older I get, the more I realize the value of radical self-acceptance. I am fat. I can't tell you the number of times people have said, "Don't say that!" as if stating fact is somehow offensive. But that's how we view fat, isn't it? As something else entirely--ugly, shameful, stupid, etc. 'Cuz lawd knows no one goes insane if you say "I am skinny."

    Learning to eat according to our own hungers, accepting the skin we're in (side note--had you not lost any weight and/or gained it all back, you would still be the same fabulous, wonderful woman!), and learning to nurture ourselves regardless of external cues are keys to healthy aging and sanity, in my humble opinion.

    And lawd, what I wouldn't do to live in a world where women no longer judge ourselves based on butt size and where the moment some a-hole tries to make a buck off of us by cultivating insecurity, we promptly make him go bankrupt by refusing to play the game.

  3. That's interesting Maria because I have been eating a lot of those 6 foods lately too not even knowing. I think we do crave what we need. The older I get the more I crave really healthy foods. This is partly because of everything in the media about healthy eating I'm sure but I think it's also coming from within and just being able to read myself better. I have also noticed a connection between when I feel stiff in the morning and what I ate the day before. The morning after a party where I have had more sugar I usually feel 10 years older when I get out of bed because of the inflamation sugar causes.

  4. CF we ARE so inundated at such an early age about all the diet stuff no wonder we get divorced from being able to listen and trust ourselves and our bodies. And it's just getting worse and worse for girls growing up now with all the crap on TV. I say do your kids a favor and throw the thing out. I wish I had. The other even bigger influencer for girls are the older women around them and what they are saying about their bodies and eating. Kids are like sponges and it's so important to be careful about what we say.

  5. I have been "consciously" eating for a year. I am superfat and I am quite sure that a lot of the pounds I carry are due to yo-yo dieting. My digestive health has suffered from all of the doctor "approved" diets I was put on when I was very young and not very much overweight.

    Last year, I just got fed up with it all. I started paying attention to the conversations around me and I noticed how much time women waste talking about food and their weight. Think of all the amazing things women could be doing if they weren't worried about their dress size!

    I have lost nearly two clothing sizes, but losing weight was not the reason I started to intuitively eat. It was because I wanted to take back my life, my body and give myself the freedom to not worry about food and how much or how little I ate. I spend my time more wisely - doing things I love and I enjoy life so much more.

    What I find to be very interesting is the negative comments I get from other women when I try to explain what I am doing. They are horrified and try to put me back in that yo-yo dieting cage along with them. For some reason I'm made to feel like I've betrayed the sisterhood.

  6. Thank you Lifetraveler for your comment. So glad to hear that you have stopped the hysteria and are eating consciously instead. It's really how we were made to eat. If we were put on island when we were young, with no one around to tell us anything and interrupt what is natural, that's what we would probably all be doing. No rules and regulations, just listening to ourselves. Conscious eating is a scary concept for many women and I think that is why you might feel like you've been made to feel like you've betrayed the sisterhood.
    Really what conscious eating is is the truth.

  7. Great post Louise! I've always loved your honesty. Conscious eating is absolutely where it's at. Eating is part of a lifestyle, not a fad. For me, I notice I have to wait a bit after I eat, to allow my brain to catch up to my stomach signal, telling me I'm full. I don't feel full immediately after a meal, but if I wait 15 mins. I do.

    I love what Lifetraveler said about women's conversations. If we talk more about what we are enjoying in our lives and less about negative self image and weight, we will live what we speak! What you focus on becomes who/what you are.

    "Really what conscious eating is is the truth." Love it! xoxoxo

  8. I totally believe that what we give our attention to in life-what we think about and focus on- becomes our reality and who we are. Years ago a friend of mine taught me that when we divert our attention away from the negative she calls it "changing the channel". This visual concept has been so helpful for me I can't tell you. When we start obsessing about something or if we're having negative thoughts we can literally change the channel. It's not always easy, but it does always work.