Eating what your body tells you to eat, when it tells you to eat it, is obviously a more pleasant and effective way to maintain a normal weight than dieting, but how do you do that if you’re a compulsive or emotional eater? What you need is a road map of how to get from here to there, and that’s what the Normal Eating® recovery program provides. Normal Eating’s four-stage approach breaks down the recovery process into achievable subgoals, and each stage includes uniquely effective exercises to help you get there. The program is described in detail in the book Normal Eating for Normal Weight.
The most important element of the Normal Eating recovery program is “the pause” – the practice of pausing for at least 15 minutes before acting on the urge to eat when not hungry. Pausing before you act on the urge to eat when not hungry is crucial for two reasons:
- Pausing is a key subgoal towards the ultimate goal of stopping – choosing not to eat when hyou’re not hungry. If you can’t pause, you can’t stop. But pausing is easier than stopping – it’s do-able, even if you’re just starting on the path to recovery. It’s an achievable step towards the goal.
- Pausing disrupts the addictive pay-off of compulsive or emotional eating by forcing you to sit with uncomfortable feelings, rather than immediately stuffing them down with food. This is the main reason that people find it so difficult to pause, but the more you practice doing it, the easier it gets. The purpose of emotional eating is to evade awareness of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and pausing causes these thoughts and feelings to push closer to the surface. If you pause for long enough, and if you use the time for quiet introspection, you are likely to gain key insights – actionable insights – into what’s behind your emotional eating. The pause – the time between impulse and action, before you distance yourself from your feelings with food, is when you have the greatest opportunity for actionable insight into what’s triggering your urge to eat.
Often people think they know why they want to eat, but unless they are pausing, they probably don’t have the level of understanding that leads to change. The real reason usually lies below the superficial reason. For example, it’s not simply that your husband made you angry, it’s the reasons and implications behind this – perhaps a core unhappiness with your marriage that you don’t want to face or deal with, or a triggering of fears and feelings rooted in your past that you don’t want to think about.
You need to get to the real cause of the urge to eat so you can deal with it directly, which is the main task in Stage 3 of Normal Eating. When you deal with the underlying problem directly, not only does your urge to eat disappear, your life gets better!
Eating when you’re hungry, stopping when full, and choosing foods according to body wisdom is where you get at the end of this process. Don’t expect to be able to do this immediately. If you could do this by simply making a decision, you wouldn’t need a recovery program! Pausing is the first step towards the ultimate goal of stopping.
Even if you are in Stage 1, you should work at pausing before acting on non-hunger eating urges. Ideally it’s best to spend this time in quiet introspection – either sitting with your eyes closed or journaling. But even if you spend the 15 minute pause watching TV or playing solitaire on your computer, it’s crucial that you pause – insert a delay between impulse and action.
Something to Try…
For the next 24 hours, starting right this minute, make a commitment to pause for at least 15 minutes before acting on the urge to eat when not hungry. Hopefully you will continue to practice pausing in the days that follow, but make the commitment for just 24 hours, and really do it! At the end of the day, write about how it felt to pause.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.
This article was first published in the March 2006 newsletter.