Category: eating

Lesson Seven – Finding fullness.

Close on the heels of checking in, but also permission, comes the sometimes-tricky issue of figuring out when you are full.

If you have been eating regular meals at regular times for a while, then chances are pretty good that you are developing regular and consistent hunger signals. This tends to happen when your body becomes accustomed to getting fed at particular times during the day, which actually makes responding to that hunger a lot more convenient, because it is predictable. I know I will be hungry around 1:00pm each day; therefore, I can plan to have food on hand before things get desperate.

In the past, I would have waited until I felt hungry before I even started thinking about what to eat, and then by the time the decision-making was finished, the food acquired and put together, I would probably be cranky and famished. Not a good way to go! So, eating at regular times for a while, even, at first, when when I am not hungry at those times, sets up the predictable-hunger system.

As a result, having predictable, moderate hunger signals seems to make it easier to figure out how full you are. After all, if you start eating in that nebulous state of not-quite-hungry, you’re probably only going to finish eating when you’re either not-quite-full, or else seriously-overfull. Neither of which are great options. We’re looking to establish a habit of both comfortable hunger and comfortable fullness.

Once you are coming to the table hungry, on a regular basis, and finding that table laden with enough tasty food, and giving yourself full permission to eat that food, then you are in a good position to start listening for the sounds of fullness.

I do this by checking in with myself when my plate is about 3/4 empty.

This does not mean I am necessarily going to stop eating or declare myself finished. A lot of the time, it might mean I actually need to get up and get seconds, because I’ve miscalculated how much food was there, or how hungry I was. The important part of this end-of-plate check-in time is permission.

Yes, that again – permission to still want the food, and permission to go and get more if I want it.

I find that it’s important to continue eating until my mouth, or my aesthetic hunger, is satisfied – not just my stomach. I have sometimes messed this up, and stopped eating when my stomach felt full, even if the food was still incredibly appealing to me. The result was simply that I was hungry again within the hour – not a tragedy, but not super-convenient, either. I need to know that I can eat enough to not feel hungry again for a few hours, because otherwise I will never stop thinking of food.

Different people choose to reach different levels of fullness, but almost everyone knows that feeling of being unpleasantly full, and almost no one wants to go there on a daily basis. There may be occasions, like holidays, where the discomfort is worth the experience, but who wants to put themselves into a state of pain regularly? Not me. But before “painfully full” there is a range of experiences of fullness, from neutral to kinda-full, to good-n-full, to really-full-but-not-in-pain-yet. And you get to decide which one you like, at every meal you eat.

This is a learning process, and one that will require you to make mistakes in choosing a level of fullness. You will sometimes leave the table under-full and be hungry again soon (but if you have a snack coming up, it won’t be a big deal.) You will sometimes leave the table feeling like you blew it, ate too much, and now will be uncomfortable for a while until it subsides – but it will subside, and you may find yourself naturally wanting to eat less at your next meal or snack. This is how self-regulation of food intake works – you take in feedback, and then you respond to that feedback in the way that helps you feel most comfortable.

Never, at any point, is there a reason to beat yourself up for what is a simple miscalculation. Getting overly full, even if it happens a lot, does not say anything about your character, your worth as a person, or your willpower. It simply says that something is getting in the way of your fullness signals, or some anxiety is pushing you to override them.

That anxiety is most often related to a fear of not getting enough to eat – and it can take time to build trust and soothe that anxiety by continuing to feed yourself regularly and give yourself permission, regardless of whether you get overfull. The anxiety might also feel like a form of rebellion or resentment, where you purposely eat too much for your own comfort because, screw the world that tells you not to eat, you want this food, dammit! But the root of the problem is the same – lack of permission, and fear of not getting enough.

The answer to both of these problems is more permission, more trust, and more commitment to continuing to feed yourself reliably.

When you are calm enough around food, you can feel the sense of fullness that Ellyn Satter terms “the stopping place.” It is more than just stomach fullness, more than just satisfaction from the food, and more than just the relief of nutrient stores being replenished – it’s a combination of all three, plus the overarching sense of well-being that comes from knowing you can, and you will, take good care of yourself with food.

When all the forms of hunger are extinguished, you will find a stopping place that is subtle but definite, and slightly different from anyone else’s. It might require a slightly different mix or amount of foods, but you will know it when you feel it.

If you trust that more food will be coming later, when you need it again, you can calmly let go of eating when you’ve reached the stopping place.

It will take some practise, permission, tuning in, and the healing of broken trust. But it will be worth it.

There are still spots left in the spring Eat Without Drama groups. If you’re raring to do some intensive work on the how of eating, come along with me.

Or if you just want to tell me how you figure out fullness, I’m all ears.

Lesson Six – Checking in.

When discussing emotional eating, I described a method of doing what is often termed “mindful eating” – picking a delicious food, sitting down alone with it in a comfortable place, giving yourself permission, and then eating it without external distractions.

This is basically what is meant by “mindful eating” when it is discussed as part of intuitive eating, and I do think it has its place. However, I feel like the term “mindful” has some connotations that make it challenging for lots of people. It seems to imply full, willful attention given to the food. Even the circumstances of mindfully eating a delicious food can seem rather ascetic – no distractions allowed. The focus is solely on the food.

However, in real life, not all eating can be this way. And maybe all eating shouldn’t be this way.

For example, eating is often a social experience. We eat with family, we cook for friends, we go out to restaurants on dates, we eat at parties. Socializing while eating, when you get down to brass tacks, is a form of distraction. It is also a wonderful way to eat.

There are other cultural food rituals in which distraction is embedded, and I really can’t bring myself to have a problem with them – popcorn and Jr. Mints at the movie theatre, pizza in front of the TV on Friday night. You can pry these from my cold, dead hands.

“Mindful eating” terminology also conjures up, for me, images of the previously-mentioned foodgasm. Real talk: not every meal is foodgasm material. Sometimes you just have to get the job done, quick-and-dirty style. Sometimes eating isn’t pretty.

Mindful eating is also often promoted as a sneaky method of food restriction, either overtly by intuitive eating approaches that promise weight loss, or we do it accidentally to ourselves, because our neurotic feelings about food can creep into even the most benign and food-positive activities.

And for these reasons, I’ve chosen to think about mindful eating a bit differently, and in a way that removes some of the pressure — since we looooove to pressure ourselves about eating, and even when we’re rejecting the idea of dieting pressure, somehow we manage to find ways of flagellating ourselves with the idea of Doing Intuitive Eating Right.

I think about mindful eating, at regular day-to-day meals, in terms of checking in.

Checking in with your food does not require a sustained level of monastic attention and being-in-the-present – although if this is something you do well, then by all means, knock yourself out. Checking in takes only a few seconds. It will not make you look weird. It is not even noticeable at all to the people I eat with. In fact, I’m willing to bet it’s something you may already do from time to time.

If you don’t, then having an explicit, sustained practice of mindful eating – the intense kind, where you sit down and eat food without distraction – on a regular basis, actually can start to generalize itself to other situations. It can become a completely unintentional habit that feels damn near effortless – this is how it happened for me.

After practicing having some pretty intensely mindful meals and snacks (mainly because I had reached the desperation point and couldn’t take another moment of alternately over- and undereating and feeling like crap about it, so I finally just went and did the thing that my dietitian was telling me to do), in a few months I started to notice that I do this thing, and I don’t really do it on purpose. It looks like this.

While I’m eating dinner with my family, or even just eating Kraft Dinner out of a mixing bowl in front of the TV (it happens), there will come a point where I stop for a second. Maybe five seconds. I stop picking up food with my fork, I stop looking at the TV, I stop talking, I even stop listening, and I just look at my food. Or I just close my eyes briefly and taste what’s in my mouth. I give my mind a moment to float, and listen to my little caveman thoughts of “Mmmmm, food. Food good.”

On occasion, I’ve been known to make a yummy sound.

And then, I go back to the rhythm of eating and talking, or eating and watching.

It happens several times during any given meal – tiny moments of food appreciation. Even if the food is not spectacular, I can still appreciate the sensation of hunger becoming satisfied.

Checking in also allows me to eat exactly what I want of what is offered – no more, no less. It tells me when I’m full, when I need seconds, or when I’m done with dinner but still want dessert. It tells me whether or not I’m still enjoying the food, and thus, whether to keep eating. It brings the food I’m eating into brief bursts of focus, enough to let me enjoy what I’m doing and truly get enough – so that I can then be truly finished with eating, and move onto other things.

Eating is one important part of your life. Whether you are having a sandwich or a five-course meal, practise spending a few moments to give it its due – no obsessing needed.

Sign-ups are now underway for the spring Eat Without Drama groups. If you want a safe, fun place to practise eating normally, come join us.

If not, that’s cool – I still want to hear about any sneakily-restrictive “mindful eating” messages you’ve received, in comments.

The Last Supper Syndrome

Happy Mardi Gras! Also known as Fat Tuesday. Or Shrove Tuesday. Or pancakes-for-supper.

It struck me as an odd coincidence that, just last night, I was talking with one of my groups about the thing I call the Last Supper Phenomenon.

Here’s how it happens: Something happens that makes you feel bad about your weight. You feel fat.

Because you’ve been inundated since childhood with the message that being fat is the worst thing that could ever happen to you, an uncomfortable tension (between the fat body you have, and the thin body you think you should have) builds.

Almost automatically, to release the tension, your brain rides the crazytrain straight to restrained-eating-town.

Even if just momentarily, you think of food restriction. You tell yourself, “On Monday I’ll cut back.” Or even, “I’ll start making Smart Choices ™ ” (which is translated from the original Jerkbrain to mean “eat food I dislike, and avoid food I do like.”)

And then the Last Supper Phenomenon kicks in.

As soon as you have that thought of restriction, or that thought of possibly-maybe-in-the-misty-uncertain-future restriction, you begin to think about food – specifically, the foods that will soon become forbidden. You want them. An uncomfortable tension (between the foods you want to eat and the foods you think you should eat) builds.

To resolve the tension, you hit on what seems like a brilliant solution – feast now, fast later. You empty the pantry, make a special run to the store, to your favourite pizza place, in anticipation of self-imposed food scarcity. You make what looks for all the world like a valiant effort to EAT ALL THE FOODS!

Which is kind of like Mardi Gras – the last hurrah before Lent, the time to get all the fat out of the larder and make delicious things. Things you will very soon have to go without. Things that you must eat ALL OF. RIGHT NOW. OR ELSE.

For some of us, because we are completely sick of dieting, Monday never actually comes. Nevertheless, just the thought that Monday might come, that the other shoe might drop, is enough to keep the restraint-disinhibition cycle alive.

Because you are, in effect, threatening yourself. You’re threatening to take food away from yourself, and especially if you have a history of chronic dieting or disordered eating, this is going to scare the shit out of you, and you are going to react violently to the fear of food scarcity.

After the violent reaction, you feel guilty. The dissatisfaction with yourself deepens, and you begin to look forward to NEXT Monday morning, when you will finally, really this time, once-and-for-all, stop eating food like some kind of dirty human being.

Which leads to the reappearance of the Last Supper Phenomenon, which has now escalated to the Last Supper Syndrome – a cycle of bouts of wildly eating, threatening never to eat again, and then even more wildly eating until you have finally become a flesh-and-blood substantiation of a Cathy comic.

The trick, then, to ending the Last Supper Syndrome is to stop threatening yourself.

You do this by first becoming aware of when it happens. You listen to your thoughts, especially the quiet, slippery ones in the background that seem to have a mind of their own. The ones that come automatically, like a knee-jerk reflex, on a bad body-image day. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear them.

They say things like, “On Monday, I’ll cut back.” Or “I’m going to start making Smart Choices ™ .” Or “All I need is portion control.”

The gist of all of them is “I feel fat and that is unacceptable and I need to do something about it RIGHT NOW.”

When you hear them, it means you’ve caught them in the act. When you catch them in the act, you can drag them out of their preferred obscurity into the light, and force them to undergo rational scrutiny. You talk back to them, again and again, as many times as it takes.

You remind yourself that, no matter what your weight, your first duty is to take care of yourself. Which means feeding, not depriving, yourself.

Finally, you make a promise to yourself – that Monday will never come again.

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When I wrote this post, I hadn’t read the book Intuitive Eating for ten years. I recently (at the end of 2012) went back and re-read it, and realized the authors use this same term – “The Last Supper” – in describing the same phenomenon, so I wanted to give them credit! It’s also just a great book.

Lesson Five – Putting food in its place.

I want to preface this post by saying that we observe the Division of Responsibility in Blogging around these parts – which means, I offer information, and you decide what and how much of it you want. Not everything applies to all people – because People Vary, and because Reality is Complex.

As Ellyn Satter says, food is one of the great pleasures of life – but only one of them.

It is important, but it has its place – which is to say you should not have to be thinking constantly about it. And you want the thought and attention you do give to be of the useful and pleasurable sort, not of the fretting and obsessive variety.

In this lesson, I’m going to talk both literally and figuratively about putting food in its rightful place.

Let’s get the literal out of the way first, because it is astoundingly simple.

Put it away.

Yes, that’s right – put your food away. Be neat and tidy with it. Organize it a bit.

Don’t leave random stuff laying around on counters, coffee tables, desks, bookshelves. Don’t put food somewhere it will hover right in front of your face, especially if you are slightly food-preoccupied due to chaotic eating and lack of permission, a history of dieting, or just because you are a primate who is immediately attracted to tasty, tasty food, regardless of whether you actually want it at just that moment.

Because if any of these are true, having it constantly before you gives the food more power than it deserves. It interferes with genuine decision-making. It calls to you in that really annoying food-voice.

In a sense, the food begins to boss you around.

We don’t want that. You’re the one in charge here. You get to decide what you eat, what you like, and how much feels good.

You don’t want those important decision-making criteria pushed into the ditch by RANDOM COUNTER COOKIES!!!

Now, it’s one thing to think, “Yeah, some cookies would be awesome right now,” and then you go and get some cookies, and indeed they are awesome.

It’s another thing entirely if you pick cookies by default because they were there and you didn’t have any better ideas.

If they’re right in front of your face, you will probably never come up with tastier or more nourishing ideas, because you’ve got an easy out – something sweet, perennially tasty (even when you’re not particularly feeling cookies), and that requires no thought, effort, or preparation.

You’re human, which means you are an animal. Animals like to conserve effort wherever possible – including when it comes to acquiring food. So of course you’re going to take the easy way out.

However, a strong aside:

This is not a trick to get you to eat less.

This is, however, a trick to help you be the one making the decisions about it. I really don’t care how much you eat, because that is none of my (or anyone else’s) fucking business. That’s entirely between you and your stomach. I only care about your eating being enjoyable, nourishing, and satisfying.

At the same time, especially if you’re of the “Oops, I forgot to eat lunch!” variety, it’s important that food be reasonably convenient to you, so that you can continue having regular meals at regular times.

That still doesn’t mean it should be staring you straight in the face. It means that, if you’re busy and don’t have much time or energy to cook, you should find some quick and easy meals, even frozen or instant stuff…and then put them away until it’s time to eat.

It means that, if you sit at a desk all day long and often forget to take a lunch break, or bring a lunch to work, you should get some tasty, filling snacks…and put them in your desk drawer until it’s time to eat.

Or create a snack box.

I have a snack box. It’s where I store the food that I eat with my clients during sessions. Because we’re dealing with food issues like guilt, or shame, or vague fears about “unhealthiness,” a lot of this food is of the delicious, immediate-gratification variety. Otherwise known as “junk food.”

I discovered long ago that leaving this food just sitting on my desk – a Snickers here, a bag of chips there – instigated both Jeffrey and me to primal feeding sessions of the type not seen since Wild Kingdom. Which was rather inconvenient, since then I would have to go back out and buy the food all over again, and also since we’d not be very hungry for dinner. Which is a crappy feeling.

The solution cost like two bucks at Ikea – one of those cardboard cassette boxes with a lid.

I set that puppy on my desk, all the tasty snacks went in there, and it was just…no longer an issue. Not because we were disallowed from eating the tasty food (we can still raid it, in a pinch, and we still sometimes do), but because it suddenly just didn’t occur to us anymore.

This works because, first of all, neither one of us is a restrained eater, meaning we’re not abnormally preoccupied with food – and second, because it is no longer bossing us around by gazing into our hungry ape souls.

When we do decide to open the snack box, it’s because we really want that food, and it’s going to be awesome enough to be worth the hassle. Win-win.

That said, now for the figurative aspects of putting food in its place.

Food is only one important aspect of your life.

It is necessary for survival, yes, just like sleeping and going to the bathroom and drinking water. But, ordinarily, none of those activities consume our thoughts when we are not doing those things, or preparing to very soon do those things.

When we do start to become preoccupied with them, it’s usually because something is out of whack – we’re stuck in traffic with no bathroom in sight; we’re burning the candle at both ends to get a project done, or to nurse a baby; we’re hiking in hot weather and the water bottle is empty.

So, what does that mean for food? When you are preoccupied with it, outside of planning for meals to happen, or actually sitting and eating, then it could be a sign that something is out of whack.

Normally those things are either 1) you’re not getting enough to eat, or 2) you’re not getting enough permission to eat.

If you’re not getting enough to eat, it may just be a practical issue – you need more time. You need more money. Or you need to be a bit more organized about getting groceries into the house and food on the table.

You need to make getting fed more of a priority, just like most people normally do with sleep and going to the bathroom.

When you gotta go, you gotta go – and when you gotta eat, you gotta eat.

It may also stem from a lack of permission, which is the second issue, and which is something I see very often in my clients.

You need to give yourself permission – by saying explicitly to yourself that you have it, and then following through as though you believe it – to eat as much as you want. To eat the food you really, really like. And to eat frequently enough that you’re not starving in between times.

Sometimes a lack of permission is present even when you are getting enough (or sometimes too much!) to eat – though that sounds totally counter-intuitive. Even so, merely the hint of a thought of possible future food restriction, maybe, at some point, on the Fourth of Vague – that can be enough to set off the alarm bells in your crazy monkey brain.

And here’s how it responds:

“OMG SHE DISAPPROVES. MAYBE SHE WON’T FEED ME AGAIN. WHEN WILL WE EAT? WHAT WILL WE EAT? WILL IT BE GOOD, OR WILL IT BE THAT BLAND CRAP SHE EATS WHEN SHE FEELS BAD ABOUT HERSELF? WILL IT BE ENOUGH? CAN WE GET DESSERT JUST THIS ONCE? MAYBE WE SHOULD EAT THE LEFTOVERS RIGHT NOW JUST IN CASE.”

This is not only the sound of crazy-monkey-alarm-bells, it is the sound of food taking over your life in a completely inappropriate, and totally useless, way.

How do you get over it? Present yourself with enough tasty food at regular times, and then give yourself the permission to eat it. Even give yourself the permission to overeat it, since that is probably going to happen anyway for a while, until your crazy monkey brain starts to trust you again.

You may as well short-circuit the shame spiral, right now, and interrupt the feast-famine cycle. And since it’s hard to interrupt the panic eating part of the cycle, target the thing you can control, and stop beating yourself up about it. And for God’s sake, stop threatening yourself with thoughts of future restriction.

Once you’ve calmed down and stopped obsessing, you can work on directing your attention toward other things – like pre-planning some of your meals for the week. Like asking yourself what you’re hungry for, and then putting in some effort to make that happen. Like making a list of what you need to stock your cabinets and fridge, and then actually going and buying those things.

Like eating with a reasonable amount of attentiveness, and pausing to give yourself explicit permission.

You know – useful stuff. In manageable quantities. Right where it belongs.


If you feel like you need to work on this more, you can sign up for one of my groups, or work one-on-one with me.

And we’re also going to talk about it right here, cause that’s what we do.

Lesson four – Emotional eating.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.

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A lot of the time, emotional eating is discussed as a somewhat dirty little secret.

Even in the intuitive eating world (see #7), it’s presented as something undesirable, something that indicates you’re emotionally unstable and Not Very Good at Eating, but most of all, something that causes you to get fat. I’ve even heard emotional eating blamed for the Obesity Epidemic ™ (I’m not going to address that here, except to say: I Really Doubt It’s That Simple.)

But, to be honest, eating is inherently emotional. First, in the sense that it provides us pleasure, otherwise we probably wouldn’t take all the time and effort to find food, prepare it, and eat it. Because it is so essential to our survival as a species, it has, of course, become embedded in our brain’s pleasure-pathways as something intensely enjoyable (much like, ahem, other species-propagating activities.)

So whether you think you’re eating for emotional reasons or not, whether you’re doing it intentionally or not, all eating is fundamentally emotional.

On top of that basic biological foundation, we can place the obelisk of culture – all cultures use food as a way of bonding, expressing aesthetic values, celebrating regional flora and fauna, and marking both sad and happy occasions. To attempt to divorce food from this context and view it purely as biological fuel is not only overly simplistic, it is practically impossible.

This is a large reason why strict diets often do not play well with real life – because as primates, we live social lives, and as Homo sapiens, our social lives are organized into culture. We run into it at every turn: going out for coffee or lunch with a friend who needs some quality time; eating as a family on a Wednesday night; popcorn at the movies; holiday dinners; Shrove Tuesday; casserole to a grieving neighbour; cake at a birthday party.

When dieting turns you away from these traditions, or significantly complicates them for you, that is isolating. Sometimes it’s necessary, when it comes to a food allergy or therapeutic diet, or ethical and religious food restrictions, but its impact can be minimized, or it only centres around a limited set of foods to begin with, and the outcome is vital to survival or one’s moral values.

But I cannot help feeling that, when a voluntary weight-loss diet (by cutting out or significantly reducing broad swaths of the diet) imposes such demands on you, it’s destructive. It’s isolation from the larger culture and a way of bonding with others, done through emotional blackmail of the evillest sort: No one will love you unless you’re thin, or at least repenting of your fatness by making a visible, distinctly pleasure-renouncing effort to become thin.

Which makes dieting, itself, a form of “emotional eating” – eating a certain way in an effort to gain love and acceptance.

But, the way that emotional eating is most commonly understood and portrayed is eating directly in response to an acute emotional upset – stress, trauma, anger, sadness, rejection, worry. This type of eating is institutionalized in media through the trope of Sad Girl Eats Ice Cream from Container; or Harried Woman Eats Chocolate with Eyes Closed; and even Woman Laughs Alone with Salad.

(Which brings me to an important pet peeve, that “healthy eating” is never portrayed in images by anything other than FRUITS AND VEGGIES!!! and, most often, a white lady eating/cooking them. However, one cannot live by salad and laughter alone. Not for very long, anyway.)

I find this annoying because it presents emotional eating in a good-food, bad-food light (and images of orgasmic chocolate experiences have become part of that good-food narrative now that chocolate, or specifically, dark chocolate, has been officially approved by the Foodguilt-Industrial Complex), but also in a very gender-stereotyped way.

Women eat when sad. Women orgasm for chocolate. Women eat virtuous salads.

Men eat things like Manly Steaks and Beef Jerky and Dos Equis and Delicious Bacon and Dr. Pepper Ten (and they wash their faces with soap that comes in gunmetal grey packaging, and their shower gels don’t contain moisturizers, they use HYDRATORS, and they don’t even wash, anyway, they DETAIL because their bodies are machines, MANLY EMOTIONLESS MACHINES.) And they do it all between kickin’ ass and takin’ names. Women, meanwhile, eat and moisturize between bouts of laundry and bathroom-scrubbing.

Why yes, I have been drinking many cups of coffee. Emotionally.

Anyhow. The thing with emotional eating is that we, as a society, are in denial about it. Because it’s bad to have and express emotions, somehow, and that leads us all to do this thing that every single person in the world and all of human history has done at some point, in a secretive, guilty, furtive way.

Herein lies the problem.

When you are secretive, guilty, and furtive about your eating, it is not satisfying.

I absolutely agree that eating cannot solve life circumstances or emotional problems, but it can provide pleasure, comfort, a shared experience, and enough distraction to distance you temporarily from the problem at hand – and this is not a bad thing. We all need things like this in our lives – it is a legitimate coping mechanism for when things get a bit overwhelming. And, if anything, food is one of the more benign substances we can use for this purpose.

Used exclusively for escape, no, it is not healthy. But, ironically, forbidding emotional eating may actually cause people to use it this way – forbidden fruit syndrome being what it is. Forbidding it is also going to distract us from doing the thing that can help – using emotional eating as a trigger to investigate our emotions, and to acknowledge what is actually going on that food can’t fix.

Because we will be too busy feeling guilty and trying to hide the evidence to matter-of-factly assess the situation – or even to enjoy the goddamned food in the first place.

So – emotional eating: learn to do it well. Here’s how.

1) Acknowledge that something is going on for you emotionally. Take a moment to name it, if you can. It can help to write this down on a piece of paper – even just one word or phrase, like “sad” or “bored” or “freaking out.”

2) Pick a food that is really, really enjoyable – not just the random thing sitting on the counter, or even the thing that you always go to, out of habit, without asking yourself “What do I really want right now?” Get enough of it, too – you can always save extras for later, by storing them in a convenient but not distracting place (we’ll talk about this next time.)

3) Find a comfy place, without external distractions, to sit. (Put on pajamas or comfy pants too, if practical.) A recliner or couch is awesome. Turn off the TV and the computer, or turn your chair away. Close the book or the magazine or the newspaper. This will only take a few minutes, and then you can go back to what you were doing.

4) Remind yourself that eating is morally neutral – you are not doing something “bad” by eating delicious food. You are simply being human. (And if you have worries about the ethics of food production, you can address those things with more upstream, systemic approaches – beating yourself up at the point of food-on-plate, or depriving yourself of foods that matter a lot to you, won’t fix a problematic food system.)

5) Give yourself full permission to have as much as you want. Say it out loud if you can, or say it internally, sort of like saying grace before a meal.

5) Eat the food. Pay attention to how it looks, smells, and tastes, how it feels in your mouth and throat, and how it settles in your stomach. Give yourself the mental space to just have the physical experience of eating.

6) Pay attention to whether the food reminds you of anything, has family or other associations, brings up familiar feelings and memories.

7) Your mind will wander to random things – let it. Just check in, periodically, with the food and your body.

8) Eat until you are truly, honestly satisfied. Even if that means going back for more.

9) Afterward, assess how you feel again – have you felt comforted? Do you have a little distance? Is everything feeling a little less…intense? What else do you need to take care of yourself? Go and do that, or make a promise to yourself to do it later, when it’s practical. Write it down.

In short, emotional eating can be healthy and useful – if you do it with your eyes open, and short-circuit the shame spiral with permission.

This will take practice – guilt is not something you can unlearn with one try. If you do it consistently, daily or a few times a week, even when you are not in emotional distress, you will be ready for the times when you are.

If you feel like it’s time to commit to eating well, I’ve just opened sign-ups for January groups, or you can do the program one-on-one with me.

But we can also talk about it (for free!), right here on the blog.