Wednesday, July 18, 2012
So now I'm not dieting anymore, but that doesn't really mean I'm off the hook. In fact, I probably pay way more attention to eating now than I ever did, but in an entirely different way – a way that sustains me instead of degrading me. Here's how that works...
I started off with a food journal. I know, lots of “diets” recommend a food journal, but what the diet really wants is evidence for the food police: every bite, every calorie, every fat gram, and so on. But now I've been set free. I'm no longer a “diet criminal” and I can eat anything and everything that I want. I don't have to keep track of all those numbers, calories in, calories out. What I do have to keep track of is feelings. And the only number that matters now is the Hunger Scale
Yes, I still write down every bite that I eat. However, this is just for reference. Not once has my nutritionist ever called me out about any item, or told me that I was doing something bad. That's not what this journal is about. It isn't about judging me, it's about discovering me.
So, I write down the time and I think about where I am on the Hunger Scale. Am I a lot hungry, or just a little? How do I feel, physically? Grumbly in the tummy? Light-headed? Am I desperate to eat or just ready? I pick a number on the Scale based on those feelings and write it down.
And then, I think about how I feel emotionally. Am I angry, sad, lonely, bored, happy? Do I feel good about eating now or would I rather wait a little while? Have I waited too long to eat? (Mind you, this is NOT “I should have eaten sooner” - don't judge it, stuff happens.)
Then, as I eat, I try to do it slowly and mindfully. There are all kinds of suggestions around this. Sit down at a table. Set the mood with pleasant music, lighting, pretty tableware, and so on. Put your fork down in between bites. Don't distract yourself with TV or work or the computer or reading. If someone is with you, have a pleasant conversation (avoid arguments or tense subjects at meals). All of these things are hit and miss, depending on where I am and what's available at mealtimes. But what I can control is what happens when I take a bite. The idea is to savor each bite. Look at it, smell it, taste it on all the parts of my tongue and think about it – what is the flavor, what do I like about it, do I enjoy it? Is it hot, spicy, creamy, crunchy, chewy? Sometimes, especially the first bite, I like to close my eyes and just focus on the taste.
That is, I TRY to eat mindfully. I don't always remember, but when I do, I have found that the meal is more satisfying. It doesn't always keep me from eating too much, but sometimes it does. I try to take little breaks, at least once during the meal, to re-evaluate where I am now on the Hunger Scale. As I get near completion, I try to stop and think about whether or not I could be done, right here and now. Sometimes it's yes, but just as often it's no. That's okay – it's not about how much I eat, just that I think about what I'm doing and make a decision.
Now that I've been at this for a while, there are some additional things I get to consider, like balancing what I want vs. what's available and trying to create meals that hit at least several of my needs for satiety (more about that later). Because I'm also diabetic, I also have to consider when I eat and sugar content. (However, that is about health and well-being, not about judgment or “sugar is BAD, m'kay?”) Just now I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to consider the composition of my meals – am I getting enough protein, grains, and freggies? (Again, it's not about NOT having the cheeseburger, it's about whether I'll feel better later having it with a side of fries or a fruit cup instead. Sometimes I choose the fries, sometimes I choose the fruit cup. And sometimes I choose the turkey sandwich instead of the burger, but that's based on what I WANT, not on what I OUGHT to want.)
And finally, at the end of the meal I go back to my food journal and I think about where I am on the Hunger Scale. Could I still eat a little more? Am I satisfied, just full enough? Am I uncomfortably full, and if so, is it a little or a lot? Or am I stuffed, like a binge? Again, how do I feel physically? Am I nauseous? Indigestion? Fine? Still empty? Did eating this meal make me feel better, happier, sadder? Do I feel okay about what I ate or am I upset at any part of it? If I'm beating myself up about something, it's important to write it down and think about it. Am I angry or disappointed that I ate the ice cream? Am I feeling “good” because I had extra veggies? (Note, that's STILL judgment – food is not “good” or “bad” and I am not “good” or “bad” because I choose to eat it!) And again,I pick a number on the Scale based on those feelings and write it down.
I have now filled an entire looseleaf notebook and two full spiral journals of food for the past year-ish. I will still be doing food journals for some time to come, too. It's still hard sometimes to evaluate what I'm feeling. Sometimes I don't feel anything about my meal, and I don't know how to talk about that. But the journal is still surprisingly helpful. And here I'm going to go again – it's helpful to have someone else to go through that journal with me (in my case, my nutritionist). At our last appointment, she was able to notice something about my notes that I had not seen. I was beginning to be more and more critical of myself as well as what and how much I ate. It was subtle, and I couldn't see it, but someone else could. We talked it out, and now I'm guiding myself back on track. (So, as always, get a support team!)
Does this sound like a lot of work? Well, maybe at first, but it becomes natural soon enough, and the benefit is too great to give up. This is, after all, a process. I didn't develop my ED in one day or one month. And, it's harder to UNDO than it was to begin. I know I'm in this for the long haul, and I know that it's tough work, but I also know that I am totally worth it.