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|In Consultation - Page 3|
Learning Attuned Eating
The next step is for clients to learn how to normalize their eating—a step that must take place for them to be able to end their emotional reliance on food. First, they must stop dieting, since the deprivation caused by eliminating or restricting foods only increases overeating. I'll ask my clients to consider the following question: if you were told that, starting tomorrow, you could no longer eat ice cream, what would you do today? Clients typically say that they'd eat a lot of ice cream today, whether they were hungry for it or not. I encourage them to get rid of the notions of "good" and "bad" foods—a daunting task in our culture!—and learn instead to become attuned eaters.
Attuned eating (also called intuitive, mindful, and normal eating) teaches clients to listen to their internal cues for hunger and satiation. By honoring their hunger, clients become able to "match" what food would feel just right in their bodies at a particular moment. They notice that they're just as off base if they eat a salad when they crave a cookie as they are when they eat a cookie when they're actually hungry for a salad. In this way, they realize that their bodies need a wide variety of foods. They discover that when they eat exactly what they're hungry for when they're hungry, they feel satisfied. This feeling of satisfaction ultimately allows them to stop when they're full.
In using this approach, I make sure that clients understand that this is a process that will take time. The goal isn't to control their eating by deciding that they can now eat only when physically hungry; I explain to them that if they could do that just by hearing these ideas, they wouldn't be compulsive eaters. Rather, their objective is to pay attention to the difference between physical (stomach) hunger and psychological (mouth) hunger.
As clients begin to collect stomach-hunger experiences—eating when hungry, eating exactly what they're hungry for, and stopping when full—they find that this way of eating is much more satisfying, both physically and psychologically, than eating what they "should" eat in response to external rules and then breaking out of all the restraints. They develop a consistent framework for eating what strengthens their internal selves and places them in a strong position to experience feelings that make them uncomfortable. In fact, it's only when clients find that most of their eating is now out of physiological hunger, that they no longer have "forbidden" foods to reprimand themselves about, and that much of their negative dialog about food has been replaced by compassion that they're in a strong position to end their reliance on food to manage emotions.