• on April 29, 2015

Eating less vs eating more: why quantities matter

By Jan Holden

How difficult is it to simply eat what your body needs?

Why is the attraction to food so strong that I start to eat way before I am hungry? Why, when I have just finished a lovely meal, do I feel the need to round it off with some “crack” even though I am no longer remotely hungry? Why the sense of disappointment when I go to a restaurant or a friend’s for supper and the food is served and it only covers half the plate? Why do I need so MUCH?

The answer, for me, is linked to my previous dieting and the feeling of deprivation I get when I try to wrestle control of my appetite by making rules and restrictions around food. The more I try to rein myself in by setting myself perfectionist goals; “I will be entirely sugar free this week” or targets; “be good to be able to wear that dress for the wedding” or simply looking down at my soft belly and wishing it wasn’t there, the more I panic that I will return to the days of jumping on and off scales, body loathing and undereating/overeating that was my life. When I notice that I am consistently wanting MORE it’s time to take stock!

What I find is that it is my unwillingness to tolerate the sometimes hollow, sometimes empty, invariably dissatisfied feeling I get physically in my belly when I just eat what my body needs and no more. It is my unwillingness to assert control over my monkey mind that can justify overeating in all its forms regardless of the harm that this does to my physical and mental wellbeing: “finish it up, you know you want to, waste not, want not, it’s a treat, you deserve it, blah, blah, blah”. I could easily write a page without pausing for breath of all the justifications I rustle up instantly that push me further into the cupboard.

Many years ago, a friend gave me a book called Eating Less by Gillian Riley. The title put me off for a start before I’d even opened it. Eating LESS? I wanted to carry on eating but lose weight, surely? (I know that sound mad now but honestly, I was still looking for The Miracle that would allow me to do that!) I read it, understood some truths and identified with much of what she was saying, but I couldn’t accept her thoughts about food addiction. Me? An addict? Surely that is someone shooting up or dragging on a cigarette or downing a bottle of gin once the kids have gone to school? Not me. My friend reminded me of this book the other day and so I pulled it out and reread it.

Gillian published her book in 1998. She speaks with authority as well as compassion, but her message is clear and I couldn’t believe the difference in my opinion of her work now, knowing all that I know so many years later. She states:

“Food addiction is eating anything other that what your body needs to stay in good health”

So that’s pretty much all of us affected then, in this Pringle and Hobnob infested world, apart from a few blessed individuals!

Gillian also encourages taking the emphasis off losing weight as a motivation. I couldn’t agree more. This was the basis of Bodykindness all those years ago: it’s not about weight! Even when I was at my heaviest, what I really wanted was to feel some sort of degree of control over my chaotic and erratic eating behaviour and relief from some horrible menopausal symptoms. But the conditioning to make it all about how I look, my dress size and a number on the scales is strong after all those years of dieting.

So back to quantities.

1. When you are out shopping, you know that BOGOF will lead to binge. Buy what YOU need, not what the supermarket giants have a surfeit of.
2. Be aware of your addictive drivers. Chocolate bunny anyone? Yes please! When I am tired, hungry and feeling upset or even when I’m none of those things actually. (see above for justifications, they are my personal specialist subject).
3. Promise to feed yourself at least three times a day with something that warms, nourishes and has some sort of life force in it. If it’s in a packet, it’s not actually food. You may still choose to eat it, but know that your body will wonder why.
4. Quantities is trial and error. I still look at my porridge in the morning and think “that’s really not enough” all the while knowing it actually is perfectly adequate.
5. Be with your food when you are eating it. Am I the only person that likes to eat reading, listening, watching something? That is how uncomfortable feeding myself is. I want to distract myself.
6. Go slow. Taste it.
7. When it is all gone (or before if you are really finely tuned and can leave food on your plate), is for me, the most difficult part. The feeling part.

I have to be bold and courageous. I allow myself to feel the emptiness, sometimes hollowness and sometimes exquisite discomfort that comes from choosing to eat just enough. I say goodbye to the high woohoo or sedated sleepiness of eating addictively. I remind myself that it is ME who gets to choose what I eat, how much and how often. Nobody else. For me, actually taking personal responsibility for my choices was a massive step forward. I put it on the plate (or opened the wrapper!). Even if someone served me, I chose to eat it. So I can choose to change my behaviour around food if I want to. And truly, it does change. The craving, the longing, the cupboard cruising lessens as I sit. FEELING IT. I will probably feel some degree of discomfort for the rest of my life, such is my nature. But alongside that I get to swap the “red haze” of compulsiveness for calm, considered choice.

The MORE, MORE, MORE is driven by my brain, wanting the pleasure hit. We are wired for this, it’s not a sin! The MORE, MORE, MORE is driven by my old thought patterns that there is never enough, that I am insatiable, that food is love, that I’m not entitled to eat so I WILL!

So LESS, LESS, LESS is not about deprivation. It’s not about dieting. It’s about gaining self respect, self understanding and compassion for our bodies which, after all, are only doing their best with what we are providing. It is the way to a peaceful relationship with food that can never be perfect, thankfully, but just good enough.

I eat what I need.