Freedom with Food

for healing difficulties with food…for transforming body concerns


Preparing for slips

When starting out on any long journey, it’s important to be ready for times when things don’t go according to plan. And the journey of making changes to eating patterns is no exception. There’s no doubt that if you are learning to reduce the bingeing in your life there will be times when you have a full-on binge; or if you are wanting to stop grazing, there will be days when you graze as much as you ever did. For many people the habitual response is something like: ‘I’ve blown it. I’m a failure. I’ll never be able to...’ whether this response is experienced in thoughts or expressed in giving up. Because of how our neural pathways are built, the pull to respond like this is stronger if you grew up around someone who 'modelled' this kind of response by using it themselves in what they did or said; and it gets stronger each time it is used.

Luckily, we also have a different kind of experience to draw on. When a baby is learning to walk, its first attempts always involve falling over. Instead of giving up at this point, it tries again, through trial and error gradually learning how to balance. A graph showing the baby’s progress wouldn’t look like a straight line to achievement but a zigzag one-- the same as a graph showing successful changes to eating patterns. Everyone who learned how to walk, learned not through avoiding setbacks but through treating them as learning experiences. And strengthening these neural pathways in your mind are likely to be key to achieving what you want now.

Take time to consider the following questions:

From what you know of yourself, in what way might things not go well with changes to your eating habits? How are you likely to respond internally, in what you think or feel? And externally, in what you do? In what ways is this response useful to you? In what ways is it not useful?

If you decide that this habitual reaction is not useful, how did you come to learn it? The answer might be: from watching others; or perhaps there was a way in which this reaction served you in the past; or perhaps there were important times in your life when there was no other option than to react like this.

What would be a helpful response these days? Is this a response you are already able to make in other areas of your life, for example, if things don’t go well at work? (If so, you can imagine yourself applying this reponse to food and see how that goes for you. If not, you can try imagining responding in a positive way to making a mistake in another area of your life first, and see how that goes for you.)

Take action
Write down a plan for how you will respond when things don’t go well with food, and be ready to use it. Your plan may include:

any emergency action
what you plan to say to yourself, and how you will respond to any habitual thought reactions that don’t serve you
what you plan to do, and how you will turn away from any habitual behaviour reactions that don’t serve you
anything else you need to remind yourself of at this time
the support you ask for from others

Eating regularly

For almost everyone, the first step towards changing an overeating pattern is to eat regularly. This means eating no less than 3 times in a day-- even if you have had a full-on binge that day-- and no more than 6. If you’re trying to change a pattern of overeating, it would be natural to look for strategies for avoiding food rather than focus on scheduling eating into your day. But in fact most people who feel out of control of their eating find that long periods without food just perpetuates unhelpful eating patterns-- even if there was once a time when fasting or dieting seemed to be working for them. Some people are just designed to function better with gap of no more than a few hours, whether it’s because of their blood glucose patterns, or how their hunger/satiety system operates, or for another reason (you may be interested in researching what Ayurveda, the ancient approach to health created in India, has to say about this). But even those who can function well physically with 5 hour gaps may have a psychological fear of not getting enough food, or of not getting the kind of food they want. If this fear gets activated by a long gap between eating times, or by not knowing when the next meal will be, overeating follows.

If your unwanted eating patterns involve grazing (eating small amounts repetitively), you may think that the longer the gaps between food, the better. But experience shows achieving long gaps is short-lived and in the long run makes matters worse. By contrast, a structure which still allows eating between 3 and 6 times per day may make a surprising difference to your quality of life. And you’ll probably find that in the long run it’s more sustainable.

So even if your long-term goal is to eat only when you’re hungry, the journey towards that destination will probably involve structuring in regular eating times. This means sticking to the planned times regardless of your hunger levels, and varying the amount instead.

• Think about what your eating patterns have been over the last 2- 3 days. What time did you get up, and what was your first time of eating after that? When was the next one? If you can’t remember, keep a record for a few days to find out.
• What determined when you ate? Was it decided for you (such as the time of your workplace lunch break), or initiated by an external cue (such as seeing food), or by an internal one (such as an emotion, or feeling hungry), or did it seem to just happen?
• Notice what your reaction is to the idea of a plan which involves eating 3 - 6 times per day for a while. If you notice an unwillingness, what is this based on? If you have some concerns about what will happen, consider whether there be some benefit in experimenting to find out. (For example, many people fear that eating regularly will mean eating more, but find that it soon means a reduction in their overall food intake.)
• What challenges might you encounter as you experiment? How could you deal with them in a way that will allow you to continue with the experiment?

Take action
Try out the following regular eating structure first, and then amend it to suit you:
• As soon as you get up, drink a glass of water with some lemon juice (many people find room temperature or even cup-of-tea temperature water suits them best).
• Between half an hour and an hour later, have something to eat. Allow the amount to be determined by your hunger level. If you’re not at all hungry, have something small (for example, 6 almonds). Set a timer to eat again between 3 and 4 1/2 hours later.
• When the timer sounds, have something to eat. Allow the amount to be determined by your hunger level. If you’re not at all hungry, again have something small to eat.
• Continue this process through the day and notice what happens. If you have a time of unplanned eating, reset the timer for 3 - 4 1/2 hours later.

After a few days, take stock. Are times of unwanted eating now fewer, less intense, on different food, easier to stop? Are you thinking or feeling differently about food? What else have you learned about yourself?