I have a history of disordered eating . Not an eating disorder, but habits that were binge-y and definitely not “normal.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever publicly admitted this, but it was certainly a problem during a significant period of my life. I can’t say exactly what changed me, but there was quite a bit of soul searching and to a great extent a change of the quality of food that I consumed. I would say these two things combined made an impact in changing my habits.
When I began soul searching I found the concept of mindful eating and stumbled upon the book, Eat What You Love, Love What you Eat by Dr. Michelle May. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of her concepts to nourish your body (part 3 of the book) there was one exercise that I really made an impact on me. It was how to FEAST when you eat.
How to FEAST
There’s nothing quite like a good feast. However this mindful FEAST is an acronym used by Dr. May to aid in analyzing why you are eating. While I believe that binging and overeating does have ties to nutritional deficiencies there is also clearly a mental component. This exercise is used to dig deep down to determine what may be causing the desire to eat more than your body needs to be nourished. FEASTing is an excellent exercise to do before eating.
Before you begin eating, stop. Allow yourself to slow down and bring your attention to your body-your physical sensations and your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Become of aware of your breathe and ask yourself the questions:
- On a scale of 1-10 [1 being famished and 10 being stuffed] where is my hunger level?
- Do I have any physical sensations that may affect how much I will eat-discomfort or pain, am I annoyed or frustrated, tired, thirsty?
- What are the voices inside my head telling me?
- Do I have any feelings or emotions that may influence how much I will eat at this time?
There is no need to place judgement on these discoveries, but acknowledging them will be beneficial.
Explore your triggers to eat. There can be many things that are triggers, and they can vary at different times. A trigger can be learned behaviors such as sitting in front of the TV with a snack before bed. They can be physical triggers like making poor food choices because you are tired, or thinking you are hungry when thirst is really the issue. Triggers can be environmental like eating lunch at noon, just because it’s 12 o’clock without consideration of hunger level. And I believe the most common triggers are emotional triggers such as eating a bag of potato chips when you have the blues or grabbing a snack because you are bored. What is triggering the need to eat? This exercise may cause you to dig deep to determine what may be moving your desire to eat. If the answer is not apparent it may be helpful if you ask yourself, “what else?”
Whatever answers you find, practice acceptance. Let go of the ideals of right and wrong, good or bad, and should’ve or shouldn’t have. It is of no benefit to shame yourself or feel guilty because of the choices you have made. Consider your relationship with food as a parent-child relationship. As a parent, being gentle yet setting limits will help to build confidence. You can be the parent of yourself by allowing yourself to make mistakes, yet accepting yourself, your imperfections and everything that goes along with them.
This is when you come up with ways to deal with reasons that you are eating. These strategies are things that you could do not what you feel like you should do. Be careful of using your past as a guide, as it may lead you to to the same things you’ve always done. You will have to think outside of your box and get creative.
This is the part that is frightening, yet empowering because you are in charge. This means changing your usual habits and making different choices, which can be somewhat scary. However there is power in the idea of being in charge of your actions. You will come up with a plan that will put some of your findings into practice.
For myself, I realized that a lot of my eating in the evening came because I was procrastinating. I could procrastinate anything if I was eating. And the more I went back to eat the easier it was to procrastinate. Acknowledging this and making the connection that regardless of how long I procrastinated any particular task, the task really didn’t go away. I still had to do it, so I made this conscious decision. When I want to eat because of my desire to procrastinate I will give myself 10 minutes to do whatever I want-read, make a phone call, lay down and rest-then I will start doing the task is at hand.
As with any plan, you may need to make adjustments along the way. Remember baby steps are still progress and these small steps will lead to new ways of approaching eating.
Enjoy the FEAST. In the end it may be the best feast you’ve ever had.