For an emotional eater, giving up dieting can be terrifying. Suddenly there are no rules. You’re responsible for your own food choices, and you’re not sure you can be trusted. You may have struggled for years with lack of control around food. You may fear that Normal Eating can’t work for you, that you don’t have the ability to choose well. You may feel that the only possible way to control what you eat is through the external strictures of a diet.
The culture at large reinforces this fear. If you tell someone you’ve decided not to diet anymore, you’re likely to be told what a dangerous mistake you’re making, how natural appetites have no natural limits, and the only way to lose excess weight is through a diet. You’ve probably been told every day of your life that you’re not competent to choose your own food.
But it’s not true! Natural limits are part of our natural instincts. You just lose touch with your natural, internal controls when you become used to looking outside yourself for guidance. As you reconnect with yourself and learn to meet your needs in authentic ways, compulsion melts away and you are able to eat normally.
Normal Eating: Control From Within
Eating normally means eating as much as you want whenever you want, but it doesn’t mean eating without any limits or control. When you’re on a diet, control comes from external rules that are unrelated to hunger, satiation, or how different foods make your body feel. When you’re eating normally, controls come from within, from what your body is telling you it needs.
We are born knowing how to eat normally. An infant knows when she’s hungry, and knows when she’s had enough. If you try to put food into the mouth of an infant who is no longer hungry, she purses her lips and moves her head from side to side to avoid the spoon.
This body wisdom about what and how much you need to eat is still inside you – you just need to reconnect with it. You don’t need a diet to tell you what to eat. Animals in the wild manage to get exactly the nutrition they need. Have you ever seen a fat deer in the woods? We are born with this same body wisdom.
People with a history of compulsive eating are often so disconnected from their natural internal controls that they don’t even know when they’re hungry. A primary goal of Normal Eating is to put you back in touch with your own inner wisdom, and show you that you can trust it. (The other main goal of Normal Eating is to redirect the emotional needs behind cravings – check out the archives for more on that.)
Learning to Trust Yourself
Learning to trust yourself is key in Normal Eating, and I’m not just talking about eating choices. We are integrated beings. Either we trust ourselves, or we don’t. If you distrust yourself in one area, you will tend to distrust yourself in all areas – food, relationships, money, or whatever.
Happily, the spillover effect goes both ways. As you develop self-trust around food, you will trust yourself more in other areas. With self-trust comes self-respect, since you can’t trust yourself if you don’t respect yourself. And self-respect is the foundation of self-love. Just as you can’t love a partner you don’t respect, you can’t love yourself without respecting yourself. When you love yourself, you’ll take care of yourself. And when your needs are met, you won’t need to self-soothe with food. It all starts with trusting yourself!
Some newcomers to Normal Eating have likened the decision to stop dieting to jumping off a cliff with no parachute. But as they work through the Normal Eating stages they discover, to their surprise, that they can fly.
Please post your thoughts and experiences. I’d love to hear from you!