People who have a dieting* past will develop an unusual and unnatural attraction to food. You might say they are “artificially attracted to food”. After dieting, people end up with a strong preference for all the “forbidden” foods and have an abnormal drive to eat more than their body actually needs. They will also be easily triggered to eat, even when they are not hungry. This leaves them having to constantly make an effort to resist eating, eat the “right” foods and to eat less than they really desire. In other words, they are at the mercy of their willpower just to keep them from “overeating.” All this effort, simply because they were lulled into the false sense of security of dieting.
This article is about why being careful with food makes people feel so darn bad. Using willpower with eating and having cravings for food is mentally highly uncomfortable i.e. stressful. And it is this mental discomfort that blocks the ability to be successful with Intuitive Eating (normal eating.) If this sounds familiar, please have a read and share.
*”dieting” e.g. “being careful with food”; the use of any amount of willpower to keep from “overeating”.
Intuitive Eating is all about feeling sensations in the body, being able to identify them and the body being able to respond (eventually automatically) to them. This describes the skill called “interoception”. Intuitive Eating is how normal eaters eat. Normal eaters don’t have to think about eating, let alone make any effort to eat normally.
To teach Intuitive Eating to someone who is “artificially attracted” to food, we are looking to identify sensations such as physical hunger, physical taste (as oppose to psychological taste), “sensory specific satiety” (SSS), pleasure, the achievement of satisfaction, fullness and the body’s (and mind’s) energy levels, to name but a few.
But why is it so difficult for your dieting clients to sense, hear, feel these kinds of feelings, so they can get on with the task of doing this Intuitive Eating thing i.e. eating normally?
Well, there are many sources of “background noise” (mental and physical discomfort) keeping their mind and body from having the level of interoception required to become an autonomous Intuitive Eater. They need to be an “interoceptive genius” to be able to feel very acutely and train their body to respond in a certain way. This all requires them to have pretty much no background noise inhibiting their access to the bodily sensations which guide, and ultimately control, their eating for them.
Let’s have a brief look at the sources of this discomfort that will thwart your clients efforts to feel with such clarity and therefore eat normally.
We know that mental discomfort (stress) leads to various mind and bodily sensations and eventually physical sensations (symptoms). An example would be a person’s experience of anxiety (possibly about their eating) leading to tension in the digestive tract and IBS symptoms occurring.
Here are the various sources of mental and physical noise your clients are experiencing when using conscious control of the eating rather than the Intuition (interoception):
- When using the brain to think about what, when and how much they “should” eat, they are trying to use this brilliant organ for something that it is not designed for. The brain cannot cope with making eating decisions in this conscious and stifled way. It is only designed to eat what the body is making the person feel will taste the best. Using the brain in this unnatural way causes mental discomfort which will block their ability to feel.
- When a person is in a state of deprivation (restricting eating in some way), not only will this drive them to “overeat” but it is also a highly uncomfortable mental state to be in. More brain discomfort which will block interoception.
- When a person holds an amount of deprivation from the past inside their brain, this is highly uncomfortable. The more they have restricted and opted for the healthy option the more uncomfortable they will feel. I call this the Deprivation Debt which must be “paid off” to get rid of this discomfort and permanent drive to “overeat”. The Deprivation Debt offers more mental discomfort accumulating to artificially drive the eating and cause their mind to be full of noise (and often your body to be full of pain), which will block interoception further. All this discomfort is truly exhausting.
- And there is more. When a person is stuck with an appetite seemingly coming out of nowhere (before they knew it was coming from all this darn discomfort in the body and mind) they get extremely upset. Anxiety about cravings leading to overeating; shame about their eating, are a few of the most uncomfortable emotions a person can experience. More mental discomfort accumulating in their body to prevent them feeling their Intuitive Eating sensations, let alone being able to respond automatically to them. Depression inevitably sets in because of this hopelessness of situation they find themselves in which they are helpless to escape from. Even more mental discomfort to thwart their efforts to clear the noise and feel.
- When a person has been stuck with all this discomfort for so long with seemingly no way out (especially when the “solution” you are being offered is actually the cause i.e. dieting) the ability to withstand emotional discomfort is reduced. This is called “emotional resilience”. The person’s emotional reactions to everyday tasks and stresses become exaggerated adding to the background noise.
With all this in the client’s body and mind, you are then asking them to change their eating (and exercise) when they are not in a position to be able to anything about their eating because all their energy is taken up with just trying to eat normally and not overeat.
It’s no wonder this type of client feels so confused about they feel, they feel so terrible most of the time and their relationship with food just baffles them. And no wonder they need to eat for comfort. Food is a very effective stress coping method and overeating is probably saving their life.
This is why, at Try Freedom we can help you with this type of client. We focus on eliminating all the background noise before we focus on developing the skills to feel such subtle and unfamiliar sensations such as physical hunger, sensory specific satiety, achievement of satisfaction, pleasure, physical taste (as oppose to psychological taste), fullness, our body’s (and mind’s) energy levels.
If any of the above rings any bells with clients you know, please pass on our details for a free, without-obligation consultation.