Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Do I often think about food and eating ?
- Do I feel guilty when I eat certain foods?
- Do I have trouble passing up food even if I’m not hungry?
- Do I eat when I’m bored, stressed, lonely, or angry?
- Do I frequently feel really full after I eat?
- Do I eat differently in private than I do in public?
- Do I fluctuate between dieting and eating too much?
If you answered yes to these questions, you’ve probably already discovered that your attempts at dieting or the commitments you’ve made to “eat rights and exercise” often lose steam.
You are not alone.
Why do I have a hard time sticking to a diet?
Diets don’t work long term for most of us because they focus on what to eat. Eating is more complex than that! For many of us, it’s not just about what you’re eating, but why you’re eating in the first place.
Why Do I Eat?
To help you develop a better understanding of why you eat, let’s take a look at four different eating patterns: Overeating, Restrictive Eating, Eat-Repent-Repeat, and Instinctive Eating.
In “Overeating” people eat because it’s mealtime or because something looks good – whether they’re hungry or not. They may also eat to distract themselves or cope with stress and emotions. They may reward, comfort, or entertain themselves with food. They sometimes describe their eating as out of control.
In “Restrictive Eating,” a person controls their eating with rules. They decide when, what and how much to eat based on the latest diet they are following. Their goal is to stay in control of their eating. Since diet rules are always changing, they sometimes feel confused about what they should eat. They think of food as either “good” or “bad” – and they think of themselves as good or bad, depending on what they ate.
Many people vacillate back and forth between Overeating and Restrictive Eating. When they eat what they want, they feel guilty. When they eat what they “should,” they feel deprived. As a result they may develop a love-hate relationship with food. Their self-esteem tends to go up and down depending on whether they are off or on their diet. This is the eat-repent-repeat cycle.
Now think about someone who doesn’t struggle with eating. If you’re having trouble thinking of someone like that, think of a baby or a young child. I call this “Instinctive Eating.”
They just seem to know when, what, and how much food they need. When their body needs fuel, they get hungry, triggering their desire to eat. They usually stop eating when their hunger is satisfied, even if there’s food left on their plate. Most of them enjoy food and seem to be able to eat whatever they want. However, they may turn down even delicious food if they aren’t hungry. They’re in charge of their choices and they do whatever feels right for them at the time.
Maybe you believe that a person who eats instinctively has been blessed with willpower and a great metabolism. The truth is we were all born with the ability to eat instinctively!
It’s just that many of us “unlearned” our natural ability to know how much to eat. The good news is that if you’re ready to break old, ineffective patterns, you can relearn those skills through a process called mindful eating. I did—and I want to show you how you can too.
By learning to be in charge of your eating you’ll learn how to:
- Manage your eating without yo-yo dieting
- Eat the foods you love without guilt
- Eat the same when you’re alone as you do in public
- Cope with “head hunger”
- Find freedom and joy in eating
Food for Thought
The simplest definition of mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of what you’re doing is the first step to changing your behaviors, so thought and reflection are an important part of this process.
Take a few moments to consider your answers to the following questions. It may be helpful to write out your thoughts so you can reflect on them later.
- Would you describe your “eating style” as mostly Overeating, Restrictive Eating, Eat-Repent-Repeat, Instinctive Eating, or a combination of these?
- If you are having difficulty figuring out what your eating pattern is, take our Eating Cycle Assessment.
- Describe one of your recent eating episodes that demonstrates your primary eating pattern.
Recipe for Success
- Take our Eating Cycle Assessment to figure out what your primary eating pattern is.
- Read or reread the first Chapter of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. If you don’t have your own copy yet, you can download Chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat here (free!)
Ready for your next helping?
- When you’re ready to move on, the next Taste of Am I Hungry? is Trust Your Body Wisdom. In this lesson, you’ll learn simple ways to understand what your body is telling you.
- You can come back to In Charge, Not In Control anytime; simply bookmark this page to review it.
If this first taste made you hungry for more, visit our Am I Hungry? Programs page!