Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cupcakes for control—A healthy strategy for weight management

No need to wait until the holidays for a slice of pie.
What if you ate what you liked? No, not just ate what you liked but accepted it as ok, too? And what if you allowed yourself to eat enough of it? What if you ate as much as you needed to satisfy your hunger?

Imagine you actually notice your hunger. The signal becomes clear to you as your stomach begins to growl. Then you get annoyed, angry with yourself for feeling. You want to deny the hunger.  You start counting down until the right hour has arrived to eat, to justify the fuel your body begs for. You're angry that your body is fighting with you, telling you that you should eat, that you need to eat, while your thoughts fight back. I shouldn't need to eat—I ate yesterday! I ate too much earlier today! I didn't exercise! I don’t want to gain more weight. I don't deserve to eat.

Well I'll tell you what I argued back, in a session earlier this week: "Don’t expect that you can have it both ways; that you can easily stop eating when you've had enough, while not eating when you haven't had enough! Don't expect that you can deny yourself food and still feel well fueled over time. No, that's just not going to work for you." Ultimately, we need to respect our hunger and to get enough.

"But I should choose healthy foods, right?"

If you only eat what you think you should eat, omitting what you'd truly love to eat, you will keep yearning. You'll have the popcorn, then the fruit, then a yogurt and ultimately the cookies. And not just one cookie. And not just a comfortable amount of cookies. Because even though you're eating them, you're thinking and believing you're not supposed to be. So you shovel them down. You neither taste them nor enjoy them. You'd rather not even feel them. Then you set the unrealistic goal that tomorrow (and the day after, and the day after that) you will not eat sweets, or carbs, or white flour, or fill-in-the blank.

It looked beautiful—the low-fat chocolate soufflé that my husband decided to make, prompted by the professionally photographed image on the cover of my nutrition magazine on our kitchen table. But the taste? Yuck. So after one or two bites, I left it. It made me yearn for the rich, satisfying, molten chocolate desserts my friend Amy makes. What a disappointment. (Now that's not to say there aren't great, satisfying yet reduced calorie desserts, mind you. I've got some really good ones in a soon-to-be-released recovery cook book, in fact).

A patient of mine recently said, "No spray paint supermarket cupcakes for me—if I'm gonna have them, they're going to be good ones from a great bakery." Yes, even full fat desserts can be a let down at times. Last Thursday I was served some of those tasteless, mass-produced brownies at a function, and I couldn't get past a single bite. I came home, still hungry after the yummy vegetarian entrée I had there, and ate a small bowl of dark chocolate chips, peanuts, and raisins—my go-to when there's no fabulous baked items available. And that hit the spot. I sat at the table, and I enjoyed them.

I'm bragging a bit; I want you to know that it's ok to eat what you like, and to taste it, and truly enjoy it. And that you can leave what you don't like—as long as you're still meeting your needs. (And that doesn't mean leaving what's not 'safe'—that's a very different story. You know who you are.) When I hear patients describing how fabulous something tasted—how much they enjoyed a particular dish or meal—I know they've made progress. That is, if they allowed themselves more that just a bite in a pathological restrictive way that's far from healthy.

Waiting patiently for a satisfying dinner.
When I came home from that 'brownie-evening' out, I noticed that Mica, my dog, had not touched his food. And then I realized. I had placed dry chow in his bowl earlier that afternoon, but had not mixed in his usual and preferred wet food. He was hungry for sure—but you know, dry food alone just doesn't cut it. So he waited patiently for me to return and feed him what he really wanted. And you know what? He even left some food over when he had had enough!

Sometimes when we're hungry we eat for the pleasure, while sometimes it's just for the fuel. When my son was a nursing infant I experienced for the first time eating to live. I often ate simply for the fuel. I got hungry frequently as a new mom juggling my infant's needs and my own and I needed to eat whatever was convenient. I got hungry and I ate anything. Similarly, when I'm hiking or biking I eat to fuel. I'm just looking to get enough, and it's not for the pleasure of eating, but strictly for function. While most other times I eat, in part, for the experience.

Moving forward.

Visions of cupcake vans? Time to allow yourself to eat some!
Does this post resonate? Start noting when you get hungry, and how you respond. Do you honor your hunger and eat? Do you count up your calories to see if you're allowed to eat? Do you check the clock to see if it's acceptable? Put aside those rules and work on responding to your hunger before it gets extreme or you miss your 'window of opportunity'.

Make a list of what you like to eat. And make a list of what you allow yourself to eat. Then start moving things over from one list to the other.

But don't just eat it. Eat it mindfully. Eat it peacefully. Eat it with all your senses. See it. Feel it—the creaminess in your mouth, the granular sugar on the surface. Smell it and hear it. Yes, note the crunch of the chips, the chewy sound of the chocolate caramels. 

And of course taste it. Really taste it and enjoy it. Because honestly? It's going to be fine.


  1. As always, thank you so much for this post. I resonated with so much of it. When I was really struggling I swore that I loved lower calorie options and my food choices (and life) were dictated by rules, calories, should/shouldn't, appropriate times etc. Basically everything external. While I used to believe that I was selfish if I honored my hunger/needs and I couldn't fathom eating foods that I actually wanted just because I wanted/liked them, learning to allow myself to do this has been incredibly empowering. Instead of constantly being consumed by food thoughts and hidden resentment, now I have the energy to focus on more important things and it's been really fun rediscovering what I like. I know I say this often, but your posts show me how far I have come and for that I am truly grateful.


  2. I cannot agree more with this post.

    Even those of us who are relatively unencumbered by disordered eating patterns (I say "relatively" because virtually all women have a difficult relationship with food, at least some of the time) have to remember to eat the d**m cupcake from time to time.

    As a matter of fact, yesterday morning around 11 a.m. I realized that I was really hungry...and it wasn't even lunchtime (cue horror-movie music for better effect)!! I was dying for some protein, specifically cheese. First, I started with some self-bargaining: "Why not have a little bowl of unsweetened apple sauce? That will satisfy your hunger." But then I thought again and knew that after the apple sauce, I would STILL eat the cheese. So I ate the cheese and felt much better.

    It's a simple story, but I think it really reinforces your point.

  3. My favorite part of this post " Because honestly? It's going to be fine". I am working on believing in that. And when I do believe it I still have to convince my feelings to cooperate!
    Sometimes it seems really simple, eat when your hungry, no big deal. Other times the ed influences complicate everything and nothing seems simple. My goal right now is to keep things as simple as possible so that everything will be fine. Your blog is so helpful.

  4. What if I wanted a brownie or two for dinner, is that okay? Say I wasn't really hungry and that's what I wanted, is it okay? I figure that if I'm going to want the brownie anyway and I don't want anything else, I might as well just eat the brownie.

  5. Your posts are so inspiring! I enjoy reading every single one! I am now learning to listen to my body and for it what it wants instead of telling myself I shouldn't have something I will have what ever my body is craving and fully enjoy it although it can sometimes get difficult with Ed in my ear but I know with time recovery is possible.