Empathy is the opposite emotion to shame. I didn’t know that until fairly recently. It makes perfect sense because when you ‘have trouble with food’ you are on a one-way mission to be ashamed of yourself, your body, and your eating. You have a list as long as your arm about why you should feel ashamed, stemming from the belief you have no willpower, you’re inherently lazy and so don’t deserve to care for yourself, let alone accept care from others.
But we (science) know now know being able to control eating isn’t caused by any actions – or inactions – of the person or by something in their character or psyche and they somehow made this happen to them. Because people believe that they are to blame they also believe they deserve all the misery that being stuck with overeating brings.
Overeating is caused by one thing and one thing only. This one thing came about because of the way you learned how to control your eating as a young person – or even child. You learnt that restraining eating was necessary to prevent weight gain. You were given many strict rules about eating which, if ignored, would have the direst of consequences – you would gain weight! Two completely incorrect indoctrinations – that eating has to be consciously restrained and living in a larger body was the worst thing imaginable and it will ruin your life.
No pressure then. As a child you were taught these two untruths and you haven’t questioned them until you discovered Intuitive Eating. Being brainwashed – even unintentionally – to believe something that is not only not true but is the opposite of true is criminal. When you are told to ‘restrain your eating or else’ you will naturally become more attracted to food. And it is traumatic – especially as a child – trying to deal with this with the thing that caused it (restraint).
Why Consciously Controlling Your Eating Causes Overeating
If children are nurtured to let their body continue to tell them when, what and how much they want to eat, like they have done since birth, they don’t develop an unusual attraction to food. These kids grow into adults who have a normal attraction to food. This means they simply CANNOT overeat because the drive behind their eating is their physical body and it will not tolerate them eating unless they are physically hungry. It will not tolerate them eating hardly any foods that aren’t the ones containing the nutrients it needs. And it will not tolerate them eating more than their body needs either. There is nothing like the threat of physical pain to convinced you that you really do prefer eating this way and always listen to your body.
So, the person you thought had all the willpower, has none. Well not where eating is concerned anyway, because they are using their body’s own wisdom to drive their eating which makes it impossible to overeat. They don’t use any willpower for eating so they are free to apply all their willpower to anything else in their life they wish.
However, when the ‘overeater’ who doesn’t have this inbuilt physical control of eating because they weren’t taught how to use this as a growing child, they are forced to direct all their willpower to their eating. It takes an unfathomable amount of willpower to control eating because it isn’t meant to be controlled that way, the body is meant to be doing it for you. If you could bottle all the willpower you exert – and it is an exertion and exhausting – you could do all the things that require willpower in your life and in the lives of all the people you know standing on your head. You really are superhuman when it comes to having willpower and motivation just to be living with an artificial attraction to food, which you played no part in acquiring or maintaining. Just to be ticking along in life you’d be a miracle worker. But you are doing much more than that are you raising kids, looking after others and maintaining friendships and not burdening them with the stress of how hard living without automatic control of eating is.
It really is time to put right the wrongs of the past indoctrinations about food. It really is time to take care of yourself now you understand there is nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of.
Unfortunately undoing the past also takes effort to learn how to think in a completely opposite way from that you were taught as a child. You were taught to find out about how healthy or otherwise foods are and try and stick to the healthy. You were taught that you should always try and eat a ‘normal amount’. You were taught that exercise needed to be done to burn the eating mistakes you make. In order to heal the damage this thinking has done in obliterating your body’s ability to do all the controlling for you, you have to turn a complete 180 degrees, because the exact opposite is true.
You have to learn what you should have been taught as a child. You have to learn that all foods are equal and way to choose food is by which you think you’re going to like the taste of most. You have to learn that that the amount you should eat is the amount of this amazing tasting food that will make you feel a physical sense of genuine satisfaction – to the point at which you’d gladly stop eating. You have to learn that physical activity, like eating, should only be done for pleasure and if this movement makes you hungrier then you must eat more (or different foods) in order to achieve the same feeling of physical satisfaction.
Yes, it’s scary to switch to this seemingly opposite way of thinking because at the moment your physical body hasn’t yet started to exert its control. But it will. You will start to feel a physical hunger when you look out for it and don’t try and bury it under the rules of restraint. You will start to feel a physical taste of food when you are feeling for it and being honest about what tastes really hit the spot for you. All this ‘feeling’ eating will bring to you the very vibrant physical sense of satisfaction that you can achieve each and every time you eat. And it’s this that will nurture your body to control your eating for you. This is how you should have been taught as a kid but unfortunately, it’s down to luck rather than judgement why some kids were and others weren’t.
Once you start to feel the amazing sense of satisfaction your body can achieve from eating you will get a glimmer of where other people get their main form of self-care from. Their life is infinitely enriched by the act of eating itself. And it is repeated many times a day. And you, above everyone, deserves this the most.
There is one last change in thinking which is conspicuous by its absence so far and that is body weigh. The way you were taught to monitor your weight and connect you eating to your weight is what keeps you from letting your body feel the pleasure you need to feel to let the body take over control. You have never felt the strength the body has that prevents overeating that others rely on. Your brain-power – and you have an abundance of it – must be redirected into letting go of control and moving your full attention to learning the new skills of being able to experience satisfaction. Moving to physical control will eventually give you the physical appearance you crave but the physical appearance can’t be changed by the body before eating is taking out of the conscious mind and into the pleasure sensing body.
Intuitive Eating In a Nutshell
Here are some tips to focus your mind on achieving physical satisfaction from all your eating instead of focussing on your physical body appearance while you are in the transition process.
- Focus on whether you are physically hungry or if you are wanting to eat to change how you feel emotionally.
- Focus on whether you are physically hungry enough to eat to make the food taste the most amazing it can.
- Focus on whether you are too physically hungry so that it makes you eat too fast to be able to best taste the food.
- Focus on whether you choose the exact food that could will taste the absolute best at this time.
- Focus on whether you chose the food you ate based on some other evaluation, like how ‘healthy’, ‘fattening’, ‘filling’, or some other spurious measure that means your brain knows you are trying to short-change it in terms of pleasure and in so-doing won’t bring physical control of eating to you.
- Focus on whether you can feel the physical taste of the food diminishing in taste intensity as you eat.
- Focus on whether you can feel that you have achieved physical satisfaction because you can feel the taste intensity you are experiencing now is lower than it would be if you stopped eating now and decided to start eating again later when the ability to fully taste food returned with your optimal physical hunger. You might also decide to eat something completely different later on also, wow!
- Focus on whether the amount you ate didn’t truly satisfy your hunger and your hunger returned again inconveniently soon e.g after only ½ hour or so. If this happens, experiment with eating slightly more to feel a complete and utter sense of satisfaction before stopping eating.
- Focus on whether the amount you ate are made you feel physically uncomfortable in any way? Can you honestly say you felt physically better after eating than you did before? Did the eating leave you will any physical discomfort in the minutes and hours after eating? And if so, experiment with eating slightly less next time to feel physically better from the end of the eating to the next scrumptious eating opportunity. This way as soon as your hunger returns you get to eat again!
How to Not Focus on Weight
If you feel you can’t possibly focus on enjoyment when you are in a body you dislike so much, remember this is the way to the physical appearance you desire but weight can never be the focus of eating if you are going to develop the new way of thinking required to put the body in control.
How to Not to Focus on Choosing Food for Anything but Taste
If you feel you can’t possibly focus on enjoyment of food when you have been told so many times that you must be careful with food, remember only genuine satisfaction can bring you the physical appearance you desire. If you evaluate food in any other way but for optimal taste pleasure you are becoming further and further away from a physical control of your body and the physical body you want.
Wakening up your physical body is what will lead you to controlling eating like others do and this means paying attention only to physical enjoyment on the inside and not on your physical body from the outside.
Remember, the next time you feel ashamed of your eating, or your body, remember you have a million times more willpower than the people you think have tonnes of it. You are now putting all your energy into working on triggering your own body’s physical control of eating by repetitively experiencing as full eating satisfaction as you can muster, day in day out.
Alison Hall is an Intuitive Eating counsellor and owner and founder of Try Freedom
There are now over 150 studies on Intuitive Eating showing benefit.
There is also a plethora of evidence of the wider topics of Interoceptive Awareness, Food Restriction/Dieting/Binge Eating/Inefficacy Harm from Weight Loss / Reactance Theory. Click below to see the science: