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!
I’ve started working on non-diet approaches many years ago. The taste of freedom from diets was amazing to me. I remember listening to each sign of hunger to match it with a specific food (mostly chocolate). My refrigerator was empty, because I did not want to deprive myself from eating exaclty what I wanted at any given time. I would walk many blocks (or even take the subway) to get to the exact spot where I would get the desired food. That was just the beginning of something I knew was going to take many years of work. My weight became more stable, but I would still binge and overeat.
Several years later, feeling more mature and very fed up with emotional eating, I discovered NE. I was then able to start matching my eating freedom with certain responsibilities that come with it (pausing, stopping, and eventually choosing certain foods over others). I am still amazed at my normal eating self. I am amazed on how far away diets feel to me. And the spillover effect of my normality around food has been enormous, it has affected all areas of my life.
The person who introduced me to Normal Eating, a little over 2 years ago, was very uncomfortable with the idea of having no eating plan. She had been in OA for years and years. I had never been in OA or WW or any kind of structured plan, but I had been on and off pretty much every diet ever with every kind of food plan imaginable. I had never heard of intuitive eating or normal eating before she told me about NE.
I joined immediately and read the book. It made complete sense to me. Why had I spent so many years listening to these outside sources? I remember trying to tell my friend that she could trust herself, but she just didn’t buy it. We have since lost touch so I’m not sure what she is doing now, but I cannot imagine what I was thinking all those years I was obsessed with food and nutrition and calories and weight. It’s like I was in some cult and was completely brainwashed! Actually, that is exactly what it was like. Now I am free to think about other things and do other things and not have my life revolve around what I’m putting in my mouth. It’s really amazing but true that as soon as you stop obsessing about it, it ceases to matter; as soon as you stop tracking every last morsel to make sure it fits into a food plan, you are free from many of the obsessive thoughts that drive overeating in the first place. I was never uncomfortable with the idea of not having a food plan, thankfully, but if you are, just trust yourself! And ask yourself, has dieting worked? Has it made me free? Has it made me happy? If the answers are no, then maybe you should try the opposite!
Now I am so out of touch with the diet/weight-obsessed mentality that when I hear something weight/diet related on the TV or read something in a magazine, or hear someone make a weight or diet-related comment, I am shocked and taken aback. Then I remember, oh yeah, that’s the reality for most people. Thank god it isn’t my reality anymore!
Thank you, Sheryl. You’ve made this possible!
Good for you Ana and Octopus! It’s good to know others have been successful. I’m inspired. I have sort of tried NE before but I guess the desire to lose the excess weight was stronger than the desire to eat according to bodily cues. But I am giving it another try. I struggle with the concept a bit because I am very health conscious and am in tune with all the research regarding food and illness prevention, etc. When I read, for instance, a study stating that 2-3 servings a day of soy foods helps prevent bone loss, I find myself adding that to my list of dietary “must do.” I guess the key, as Sheryl said in the blog, is to trust myself to choose enough healthy foods to balance the occasional not-so-nutritious choices.
I stopped DIETS/DIETING a long time ago. I have been on a mission for years to get women to understand this and break FREE of the DIET mentality. Only then will they truly be free.
Hugs, Debra Mazda, ME.d, creator of SHAPELYGIRL FITNESS
I really would love to put an end to diets, food plans, structured eating, etc. BUT what about cravings that scream to be satisfied? My cravings don’t care about nutrition, body wisdom, self love or anything other than getting the desired substance into my mouth. In my case, it is sugar, usually with added fat, such as ice cream.
How does one eat normally with fierce cravings?
That is a good question! And that is the other piece of what Normal Eating addresses – how find other ways to meet the emotional needs that you’re meeting with food. This is the hard part and not something I can tell you how to do in a paragraph, but here’s a paragraph from the book, chapter on “Compulsive Eating”:
The key, as you might be able to tell from this, is respecting that the craving indicates that you need something. There’s more to it, of course, but that’s where it starts. Working through this is hard, but it can be done, as many here can attest. The Normal Eating stages guide you through the process.
What a gift today has been! While spending most of the day cleaning (not a favorite thing for me to do) I have been reflecting on discipline. Realizing that this is the most single component that is necessary in so many parts of my life. This is the one emotion that was not taught to me as a youngster and I realize that without it not only has my food/weight but also finances, time, emotions, etc have all been impacted by the lack of.
I am so focused now on retirement (hopefully 3-4 years away) and the lifestyle that I am yearning; financial freedom as well as diet/weight freedom! Today, I am committing to FREEDOM with learning discipline first – letting go of MANY compulsions!
Thanks for the readings to help me on my journey!
I would not say that “discipline” is an “emotion”. 🙂
Discipline is an important part of life, of course. But emotional eating is about something else entirely. It’s not an issue of discipline versus no discipline. This is very important to realize. You, personally, may not have an issue with emotional eating. Not everyone does. But if you do, focusing on greater discipline will not solve the problem.