The MyBodyMySelf Post-it Notes are a behavioral tool I created to teach you how to eat intuitively. People ate intuitively forever before our crazy diet culture. But in the last 50 years we have been given so much changing information on what to eat and how to eat, that we have become out of touch with our body signals. Today, Intuitive Eating is taught to people to help re-train to eat.
To re-learn (we all ate this way when we were kids) to listen to your body cues, I have boiled down the essence of Intuitive Eating into 8 questions that you can ask yourself each time you eat. These questions help you re-wire your brain to eat what you want, when you want, by listening to your body signals, not by focusing on someone else's idea of what you should eat. By using the Post-its Notes you are re-training your brain by thinking while doing.
The Post-its Notes are designed to use one note for each meal or snack for about 30-60 days (This is how long it can take for a new habit to start running on auto-pilot. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habits, 2012). This is a relatively small investment of re-wiring time, given how long it took you to cultivate your current eating habits! The point to this training is have these new steps on auto-pilot and, thus, become your new eating habits.
In the discussion below, I walk you through each question you will be asking yourself - highlighted in blue - so you understand why you are doing what you are doing.
Hungry? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
The main goal of Intuitive Eating is to become aware of your body’s cues. Your goal is to eat when you are hungry.
Physical hunger is your cue that your body has used up energy from the last time you ate and has moved on to getting energy from sugar in your blood. Your body stores any carbohydrates you eat as sugar (glycogen). If your body doesn't have enough sugar in your blood to supply the energy it needs, instead, it begins to burn fat when you are hungry.
Many women who have spent years on diets cannot feel their hunger signals accurately; these signals have been ignored when restricting food. By focusing on them, you can become familiar with the nuances of your hunger cues again.
To get in touch with your hunger, you'll want to rank the hunger you are feeling on a scale from 1-10. Your task is to notice your physical hunger and assign it a number. Your aim is to eat at hunger levels 4-7. You will become better at reading your body’s signals the more you do this, and these numbers will take on personal meaning to you. Women I have worked with took on average a week to get a hunger signal reading. One woman took three weeks. (It may depend on how long and to what extent these signals have been ignored.) Sometimes you are not getting a stomach growl, but a headache, irritability or fatigue sign from hunger. When I was looking to figure out my cues, I liked to play my own hunger games to assess whether what I was experiencing was hunger. It is important when playing your hunger games to make sure you eat regularly (every 4-5 or so hours) so you aren't bumping up against distress while looking for that hunger sign.
IMPORTANT TIP: You don't want to get to hunger level 9-10. This place is called primal hunger, where your body thinks it may be experiencing a famine. Your metabolism can slow down. Being this hungry actually sabotages your eating intentions. When you get this hungry, you won’t be able to tell what you want to eat because everything looks so good. It is also difficult to sense fullness and satiation once you get to that level of distress. You need to be able to sense satiation to stop eating. Many women with eating disorders live in a state of primal hunger.
Knowing you are hungry, the next question to ask is “What do I want to eat?” Your task is to envision what food looks good to you. Picture what would satiate you, which is keeping you satisfied. If it is a meal and you are hungry, proteins will keep you satisfied for longer, and they may sound better to you. Salmon and rice with broccoli sounds good when you are hungry for meal, but might not sound good if you are not hungry. Cookies almost always sound good to eat, but if you think about it, won't satisfy you if you are hungry for a meal.
- Free choice goal #1: There are no forbidden foods. It is very important that you know you are free to eat anything.
You must feel free to eat anything you want to avoid feeling deprivation. Women who have dieted for years have spent years believing they cannot eat certain foods. Often these foods are especially appealing like bread or dessert. Feelings of deprivation are behind all diet failure and all binging behavior. If you have lived in 'food prison' due to years of restricting food, it may be difficult to know when you are feeling deprived. You may have simply become used to a constant feeling of deprivation. Because these feelings often happen under the surface, you’ll need to ask yourself directly, "Will I feel deprived by forgoing bread, watching everyone else in the family enjoy it." If the answer is yes, you it would serve you well to have some bread and avoid deprivation.
- Free choice goal #2: Set aside the belief that there are good and bad foods
Judging a food as 'bad' can cause a woman who is restricting to feel guilty when she eats that food. We do not want to feel guilt around our eating behavior. It can set off panic which initiates that ugly twist in behavior -- the emotional tsunami -- that floods logical decision making. Feeling guilty is the first step toward throwing your eating intentions out the window or launching straight into a binge. We are trying to balance your emotional side -- what you desire to eat -- with your logical side -- the way you WANT to eat.
Without judging food as good or bad, you may wonder how to figure out what to eat! That may have been how you decided to eat for years, by avoiding bad food that had too many calories, carbs or too much sugar. With intuitive eating, we figure out how to eat by noticing how your body and mind react when eating certain foods:
- Garlic may give you bad breath
- Eating salmon and rice for dinner may make you feel nicely satiated
- Eating french fries might give you indigestion
- Eating 3 cookies a day might make it harder to fit into your pants
- Eating salad with chicken and dressing on the side’ every day may make you feel deprived
Doing this analysis gives you all the education you need on food and you to make logical food choices going forward. You know you feel better when you eat certain foods, and you will want to gravitate toward those to feel well.
EAT TREATS: Yup! You heard me right. Make sure you have pleasurable food in your day. It is great to consult with your emotional side to see what food you really desire. I recommend making sure you actually eat the foods you love. Knowing your favorites and making sure you have them in moderation is the best way to fend off deprivation -- the kryptonite of any mindful eating intentions.
FEAR OF FOOD: You might be afraid to be free with food because you are afraid you will gain weight. Many dieters believe if they are able to eat what they want, they will eat cookies for all meals and snacks forever. But, you won’t actually want cookies all day if they are not forbidden. There is no need to eat mass quantities when you can always have them later. If you still think you would eat mass quantities of cookies all day, actually visualize how you would feel after three meals of cookies all day. You would probably feel sick to your stomach.
You will crave food that will nourish your body, if you are listening.
When you KNOW you are free to have anything you want to eat, your framework changes. What you WANT to eat changes.
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR EATING: All choices in life have consequences, including food choices. The work of changing your eating habits requires taking responsibility for balancing your choices. When you go to see a dietitian or nutritionist, they take responsibility for your food choices and will give you a balance of foods that makes sense to their way of thinking (such as low calorie, low carb, no gluten). These well-intentioned helpers assume a logical thinking and logical food choice on your part in their advice to you. But, they often don't take your emotions involved in food restricting and your emotional eating into account to the extent it is happening in your life. I believe this is a large part of the reason that they have the same 5% success rate for losing weight and keeping it off as the whole diet industry.
Dietitians and nutritionists also may have their own obsessive beliefs around food:
. . . large numbers of people who make it their professional business to counsel Americans about weight and health remain either actively eating disordered, or prone to the same patterns of thinking that fuel such behaviors. In short, much of the advice Americans get about weight can be compared to getting advice about drinking from people who are alcoholics and don't know it. (Paul Campos, The Diet Myth, 2005, pg xxii).
It is your job to think critically about any advice you are given to you to make sure it makes sense to YOU.
Mindful as you eat?
Eating mindfully is staying present in the moment you eat. We need to hold onto awareness while we are actually eating. The opposite of mindful eating is mindless eating or 'zoning out.' Zoning out is the hallmark of emotional eating. If you don’t know whether or not you eat emotionally, zoning out is your first clue –- are you in some kind of daze and not really registering that you’ve eaten and not really tasting your food? Most women who diet have moments where they are hazy about what they’ve eaten -- they couldn’t accurately account for what they have put in their mouths. This is an indication that your emotional side has left your logical eating intentions in the back seat. Your emotions are 'driving the bus!'
Many women zone out with regard to how much they’ve eaten. Notice about how many crackers or potato chips you are eating. You don’t need to weigh or measure. (Women who restrict their food like to weigh, measure and count. We are also trying to take the obsession out of eating and move on to bigger and better things.) I have a sense of a serving, especially for those couple of foods that are 'bottomless pits' for me. A bottomless pit is a food that doesn’t give you a stop signal. It could be cookie dough, popcorn, potato chips or crackers. Don’t be afraid of foods that are bottomless pits for you. You will only have a few of them. Realize what they are, keep them in the house, and enjoy them in mindful moderation. Having them close by will make you realize that no food is imbued with any special power. You hold the power. This helps you take the fear out of eating. Everyone has a few bottomless pit foods!
Enjoying your food?
Notice what you taste in the food. Is that cinnamon? How creamy is that frosting. Eating is designed to ensure the survival of the species by being a pleasurable experience:
. . . perhaps the greatest damage done by (diet culture) is how it poisons much of the joy that countless people would otherwise get from what may be our richest and most democratic sensual experience: the daily act of feeling ourselves and those we love. (Paul Campos, The Diet Myth, 2005, pg 251).
Are you on the computer or watching TV while you are eating? Turn off the electronics and enjoy your meal. Mealtime is the ideal time for social connection in your day. So enjoy every bite and focus on the whole experience of connecting with people and nourishing your body.
Satiated? Satisfied? |------------------------------2/3----full----3/4------------|
If your stomach were a gas tank, how full should it be to signal you to put down the fork? You don’t want to be too full. But, you don’t want to be hungry again in an hour. Notice when you are 2/3 to 3/4 full at a meal. This may be the hardest part of the fundamentals if you have stopped listening to your body cues for many years. When we diet or restrict, we learn to eat based on external factors: half of the salad, 3/4 of the plate of food, when the food is gone, when I need to pick up my kids etc. You could have been ignoring your internal, full signals for the last 40 years!
Ask yourself, “Am I satisfied now?” Maybe get up from the table mid-meal. That helps me feel my body/stomach. Ask yourself, “Could I be finished and walk away happy at this point?”
Often diets have you focus on 'how much you get' of a certain food. On Weight Watchers, they might give you a cup or berries a half cup of rice for their point system. But, if you spent your mealtime noticing how your stomach feels rather than weighing the food or measuring the serving, you might actually realize you want less than they have given you. This question re-trains you to key into your internal satiation cue and not be guided by external ones.
Was what I just ate actually what I wanted? What can I learn for next time?
This is your learning tool for next time. Emotional eaters don’t learn lessons about eating to use for next time because when they have an eating lesson in front of them from an eating experience that didn’t go how they would have liked – like a cookie dough bonanza -- often they are spiraling off, flooded in a panic from an emotional storm, tornado or tsunami. In theory, if you detach from your guilt about what you ate and view a cookie bonanza as an opportunity to learn, what could you learn if you were not spending that time beating yourself up?
- “Next time when making cookie dough sounds like a good idea, I will keep in mind how regretful I felt after the last bonanza, and try to put some of the dough in a dish for enjoying during the baking process”
- “When I drink too much wine, I lose my awareness around eating. Next time I will not sit next to the nachos after 2 glasses of wine.”
- “When I go to Joy Yee’s I will put the food on my plate rather than eating off the shared serving plate.”
If you learn lessons about how to eat for you, you could hold on to the lesson next time you are in that situation. We are cultivating personal emotional eating intelligence which is understanding how your emotional life affects your eating behavior.
What did you eat?
You only need to record this if you are trying to come up with your eating guidelines and you are doing the research on food and you. You may want to understand what you are currently doing to figure out how to adjust your behavior to the way you WANT to eat going forward.
Start with hunger and fullness . . .
You'll get used to the main questions you will ask yourself, but for now, I suggest start working with hunger and fullness for the first week. Once you have the hang of these two cornerstones, add mindfulness and enjoying your food for another week. Then, on week three, add a focus on free choice with the deprivation focus and awareness of your eating guidelines. (You may have your own logical food plan for how you want to eat, but read through that blog, just to make sure you understand the theory behind what you are doing.) The whole time you can focus on whether you are hungry or not, and notice when you are reaching for food and might be emotionally eating. And, you can always be looking for what you could learn from an eating experience.
The Post-its flag emotional eating by asking you to notice if you are not hungry and are reaching for food. This asks you to pause and figure out "what is going on?" Could you be feeling "stressed, angry, lonely, bored, sad, tired or let down?" These are the big 7 emotions that send people to the fridge for comfort. Once you notice this going on, you can figure out what is happening inside you and process the emotions that were sending you distress signals.
I hope these intuitive eating lessons will have you view yourself compassionately, as someone who never learned how to eat this way because you were never taught. People ate this way forever before our time. Unfortunately for our generation, at the time we were trying to learn how to eat to manage our bodies responsibly, this crazy culture exploded with a plethora of available food, a mentally unhealthy dieting culture, and a hyper-focus on women being thin. I think most women in our society have suffered with eating to some extent in today’s world. I think most women would benefit by getting intuitive eating on auto-pilot, so we can get on with living, doing the things that really matter in our lives.
- Paul Campos, The Diet Myth, 2005.
- Jonathan Lear, Freud, Chapter One: Interpreting the Unconscious, 2015 (2nd edition).
- Susie Orbach, On Eating, 2002.
- Susie Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue, 2006, (2nd edition).
- Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, 2012 (2nd edition).