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asking different questions: reader’s thoughts on the journey to eating competence

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in Blog Posts | 10 comments

Occasionally I want to share a particularly powerful exchange from the comments section here is one in response to the last post.

Jennifer: I guess I’m more eating-competent than I thought, because I also plan to eat what I enjoy (within the constraints of my budget and schedule) while considering the after-effects of what I eat. I’ve been working on this since I quit Weight Watchers.

I recently realized that one of my old “trigger” foods, Fritos, isn’t a trigger anymore. (For people who were never in WW, a trigger food is something that you find yourself eating until it’s gone regardless of what you planned to eat or whether you are even hungry.) For years I struggled whenever it was in the house. I tried repackaging a standard-sized bag in serving sizes and allowing some every day, but it simply didn’t work–I ate every bit, even though I felt bloated, my mouth hurt from the salt, and everything tasted like corn oil for the rest of the day.

Then I stopped dieting. I quit the endless dance of “I planned to eat a good meal–I’m eating Fritos instead–I feel so guilty but it tastes so good–I’m pleasantly full but so ashamed–I’m never buying Fritos again–might as well indulge now–urgh, there goes the last of the bag.” Instead I asked myself as I ate, “So, is the enjoyment you are feeling right now worth what you know is going to happen if you keep going?” Most of the time the answer was “No.” Sometimes it was “Yes, because I am ravenous, I don’t have time to fix myself something because I have three kids and a house to keep, and this is here and quick and filling, corn oil aftertaste be damned.” I kept on eating Fritos, but I found myself stopping after smaller and smaller servings, and eventually just nibbling a handful and feeling done. The bag in my cupboard right now has gone stale. This never happened before.

Nothing is indulgent anymore. It’s tasty, filling, nicely creamy, piquant, hot and satisfying, crunchy, cold, chewy, savory, or sweet. And now that the indulgence factor is gone from the Fritos, I have discovered that I would rather have a nicely salted hard-cooked egg if I had time to make some earlier in the week, or some peanut butter on toast if I didn’t.

Me: how did you do it? What were your resources that helped you make that leap? For me, Coke and any kind of chips were the same way. I’m happy to say that I too have gotten to the point where it’s just food, not indulgent or “bad” and that bag of tortilla chips often hangs around for a month… Yay for permission and tuning in!

Jennifer: I lurked here and at other sites around the Web as I studied fat acceptance and HAES. I mulled over what I read, slept on it, struggled with it.

At some point a passage from one of C.S. Lewis’s books floated into my consciousness and stuck. The gist of it was that the root of right action is asking the right questions and the questions we ask are themselves rooted in the premises we accept–so we had better be clear about what premises we accept. He was talking about religion, but I realized that his argument applies just as well to self-care.

If I accept the premise, “The number on the scale (barring rapid gain or loss without apparent cause) is not a measure of anything meaningful,” then the questions I ask myself as I decide what to eat have to change. The questions I had been asking myself were, “How little can I eat without being driven out of my mind by hunger pangs and headaches? How can I eat something I really want without deviating from the assigned eating system? How do I cope with the guilt of once again having been too busy or sick to prepare the correct meals? When O when will I be thin?” But they came from a premise that was doing me good only tangentially–teaching me to pay attention to hunger cues and stay hydrated, for example, but always in the service of the number on the scale. So I slowly hammered out a list of new questions.

What questions are you asking?

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  1. Jess

    “The bag in my cupboard right now has gone stale. ”

    This! As a kid/young adult, I couldn’t have chips in the house because they would be gone instantly. Now “treats” go bad around our house– the big pack of cookies go stale, the chips and goldfish go uneaten… my son even forgets about his stash of Easter/Halloween candy after a couple of weeks, once the novelty has worn off. I’m also terribly proud to have a four year old that will spit out or just take one bite of candy/sweets that he says don’t taste good (he’s a chocolate snob– only the good stuff for him :-)– i.e., he gets enough access to treats to be discerning and not just hoover up the forbidden fruit, YKWIM.

    My mother and others in my family called me fat constantly when I was growing up and the amazing thing is, although I was never actually fat, I totally believed I was. I only realized that I was not, in point of fact, fat about 4 years ago (I’m 35 now). It was only when I started reading this site (and other resources) about how to feed my kids that I learned how to feed myself. Amazing! Thank you Katja.

  2. Jennifer Hansen

    It’s still happening!

    There was cake at a thing today. I got a small piece for my kids to share (not a lot because I didn’t want to deal with hopping bouncing sugarbuzzers). Then I went back to the table. I could hear the old tape playing: It’s cake, it’s cake, who knows when you’ll get any more cake, you weren’t planning on cake being here but here it is so maybe that means the points won’t cost you anything, you’ve been without cake so long, it’s cake it’s cakecakecakecakecake . . .

    But I started asking my new questions. Okay, what kind of cake is it? Chocolate with cherry filling and white with lemon filling. I like those. But what I really like is the frosting. It has to be that lovely buttercream without any artificial colors. Is this the kind I like? No, no it isn’t. And anyway I know I can have cookies and milk for dessert tonight or maybe some ice cream. So, meh. And I walked away from the cake. No guilty sugar high, no desperate recalculation of points.

    • Elizabeth

      Jennifer, that made me think of this story for some reason. “Cake is the only thing that matters!”

      I guess this is what happens in restricted households.

  3. Emgee

    I love all these posts. Especially grateful to know I am not the only one. However, I am in the “still working on it” phase, especially needing LOTS of that self-forgiveness stuff. You all rock!

  4. Kate

    One of my trigger foods was cheetos, I’m not even sure when it became a trigger food, but at some point I realized that when I go to pick out chips for myself, I always got cheetos. My husband is also a big guy with his own set of food issues, but he can eat a “normal” amount of chips and then stop with seemingly no difficulty and that amazed me, because I couldn’t stop.

    I’m not really sure when it changed because it changed so slowly I didn’t even notice it. I know the changes started after I began implementing things I read in Ellyn Satter’s “Secrets…”. Sometimes I don’t know if I did it right, but I believe it did it right for my family (my husband and me), which I guess is the only thing that counts. I got rid of every food rule and made one new guideline: every meal, whether we ate together or separately had a fruit a vegetable on the table. It didn’t have to be eaten, but it had to be there. Sometimes, often times, especially for lunch when we were not together, it was the bunch of bananas I kept on the table or an apple out of the fridge, but for dinner it was usually something more prepared, but sometimes just a salad. We also try to have a new vegetable or an old vegetable prepared in a new way each week, sometimes it bombs, but oftentimes not, and the most important thing is that we did something new.

    Anyway, I realized about a week ago that I hadn’t had cheetos, or even thought about them in about 3 months. I’d even bought chips since then and contemplated getting cheetos, but didn’t. (I’m not really much of a chip eater anymore, I don’t even know when that happened.) I finally got a snack sized bag at the store the other day and I had a few with a couple of meals over the weekend and I honestly don’t know if I finished the bag, but I haven’t really thought of them since. I never thought life could be like this.

    I used to feel like there was something wrong with us that we had such a limited range of food that was acceptable to us, but Ellyn Satter (and Katja) really made us feel that not only were we not defective, but also provided a roadmap to eating differently, if we wanted to.

    I think, if I were giving advice to another couple like us, I would say that you have to do what works for you and what feels safe. And what works for one person won’t necessarily work for the other person, and that’s okay too. (I have a long story that demonstrates that fact, but I won’t get into it.)

    I still have trigger foods, like ice cream or any sort of chocolate covered nut, but even those I feel slowly diminishing, again, I don’t even notice it’s happening until I think about how I used to feel and how I feel now.

    I have to echo Dominque’s comment that if I hadn’t been badgered into dieting and hating my body at such a young age, that my body would have been much better off and I be a much, much smaller size.

    • katja

      thanks Kate, I had a tough day, and this really made my day. I’m tearing up a little, which is embarrassing ‘cus I’m at a coffee shop…

  5. Jennifer Hansen

    I think it’s hard to think straight when one is tired even without diet talk floating around in one’s head. My problem is that two of my children frequently have problems during the night that require my attention, so I have to stay up late often. (My husband has to work early in the morning, so I don’t ask him to get up unless there is a really big problem such as two kids with vomit flu.) Past a certain time of the evening, I get hungry. I know intellectually that if I have anything more nutrient-dense or saltier than a piece of fruit and a glass of milk, I will have trouble settling into sleep and may wake up with a headache–but when it’s oh-dark-thirty and I’m too hungry to sleep, I find myself going for the meat, cheese, ice cream, etc., and only remembering after the fact that it’s going to make trouble for me.

    A big dose of self-forgiveness does wonders. I have also had some success by imagining what I plan to do ahead of time: “I can see that a late night is probably in the cards again. I am picturing a juicy pear in my mind. Fragrant, sweet, juicy pear. And a tall glass of milk. If I find myself up so late that I get hungry, I am going to savor this juicy pear and this lovely sleep-inducing glass of milk.” This makes it more likely that when I am dazed with fatigue, I will go for the snack that won’t mess up what sleep I go get. And if it doesn’t work–that’s where self-forgiveness comes in.

  6. dominique

    Oh my, trigger foods. For one time in my life I had so many that I couldn’t count them. It’s still the case with store-bought cookies and cheap chocolate or any restaurant food; I can’t manage to let some in the plate, except if I can bring a doggy bag which most of the time am to shy to ask for.

    I can remember one of the foods that was just like Fritos for me: Celebration Café au Lait Cookies. They are just like mini-coffeecrisps and I.JUST.COULDN’T.GET.ENOUGH.OF.IT. (Kiss signing in my head right now.) I bought four boxes, and decided to eat it everytime I wanted it. I was really afraid, since I previously ate half of the box during the night. But the miracle happened: I ate two boxes in three days, then one box lasted one week, then the last box got rancid. It was frightening because the voice in my head was screaming, WEIGHT GAIN, WEIGHT GAIN! YOU FAT PIG, DON’T YOU THINK 235 POUNDS IS ENOUGH? YOU ARE MORBIDLY OBESE, YOU’RE GONNA DIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE! but… the weight was the same BEFORE and AFTER the «binge». I was startled.

    I still tend to wake up to eat foods which are BAD, sweet and fatty. I don’t really know how to take care of that, even though I’ve been in therapy for an ED during around two years. I noticed that everytime I start to think «diet, eat right, lose weight» and make a conscious effort during the day not to eat any of the «bad» foods, I end up eating it during the night, while I’m semi-conscious. I wake on the morning with heartburn, pasty mouth, headaches, and teeth problems. It’s hard to tune in when you are only semi-awake; it’s the time when my body does its small revolution because my guard is down. It makes me hate myself sometimes, but now that I understand better and can read a lot about HAES and FA here and on other blogs, I understand that the DIET MENTALITY is flawed and made me do it. The chubby, 160 pounds 16-year-old I was ten years ago should never have had to be lectured and threatened by a physicist and made fun of by her peers; then, she wouldn’t have dieted, and would probably still be 160 today! Thanks for sharing, I feels good to know I’m not the only one with trigger foods.

    • katja

      It is miraculous isn’t it? To realize you just don’t want it so much anymore? I agree. I was very curious throughout the process. Your last paragraph is so profound, and is why I do what I do for kids…