Summary by Katie Morton – Part 2: Eating Guideline #1 – Eat When You Are Hungry

Summary by Katie Morton


Don’t feel guilty for taking 90 minutes to yourself. Relax, but don’t fall asleep.

Allow yourself to have pleasure, not just by looking, but by really seeing. So think of something you’ve seen 1,000 times before and observe it like you’re seeing it for the first time.

Ground yourself. Be aware of the physical support of the ground without your having to ask. Become aware of your feet on the ground and what you’re sitting on, the points of contact that your body is making... center yourself. Become aware of your belly, your actual physical center.

When you pay attention to what you do have ... your breath in your belly, your feet on the floor – your body sensations, like hunger or the awareness of food in your mouth – when you start paying attention to what you do have and not what you don’t have, everything changes. We stop living in the past and longing for a future that never comes, because when the future comes, it’s just now. Now is all we ever really have.

Sense what you have right now and see if you can truly be aware of that.

What is your intention? What do you really want?

Where are we now? Can we be where we are now -- without feeling impatient as if we’re in that in-between stage like when we’re growing our bangs out?

What Happens When We Follow the Eating Guidelines

The unfelt universe arises when you start following the Eating Guidelines. Following the guidelines brings us back to using food for food – for nutrition and fuel. When we start to follow the guidelines and only eat when we’re hungry, all the other reasons we use food come to the surface.

The Eating Guidelines make us focus on the part of our life that doesn’t have to do with food.

When you overate or ate foods that your body didn’t want, that was the best you knew how to do at the time. You had exquisitely good reasons. That doesn’t mean you have a good reason to continue on that way. But it helps to treat ourselves with that understanding and kindness or otherwise we’re lost and we can’t do the work.

Be Curious About Yourself and Be Kind to Yourself

We must be interested in our own thoughts – we should even be curious about why we’re not interested. Kindness to ourselves is essential. We are going to develop relationship with ourselves as we go guideline by guideline. It’s going to be a challenge. We’ll be kind one minute, and then we’ll forget in the next moment.

The Eating Guidelines themselves are based in kindness. The guidelines steer you towards nurturing a kind and loving relationship with yourself and food. Eating when you’re not hungry is not a kind way to treat yourself. It might have been the nice thing to do for yourself when you first started using food as a distraction. That might have been because you didn’t think you had a choice.

When there’s something you don’t know how to feel, eating feels kind. It’s important to say “we used food for good reasons” because we didn’t know we had a choice. When we follow the Eating Guidelines, kindness is crucial.

“Kindness” is another way of saying “love.” Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness. We are learning how to be lovely with ourselves. This process doesn’t happen by force. We’re not going to force the guidelines on ourselves or we will rebel.

What’s kind is to tell the truth -- to see what’s going on -- to tune into your own body.

How Do We Know When We’re Hungry?

When we talk about hunger, we talk about the body’s need for food. We need to eat to live, to sustain ourselves. The body has biological cues that are related to survival and one of them is hunger.

A participant who has dieted her entire life, Margaret, wants to know, “How do I know when I’m hungry?” Being on crazy diets whacks our ability to sense physical hunger. Like many of us, Margaret has been eating because “it’s time to eat” and has no clue what physiological hunger feels like in the body.

Hunger feels different for different people, and at different points in our lives. Geneen says she used to experience hunger like a growling emptiness, like a bowling ball rolling around in her stomach, the space below the breast and above the belly button. Geneen’s hunger cues have changed over time. Now there’s a slight feeling of emptiness and a sense that she’s getting a little spacey. She feels it in her head. A feeling that there’s less of her there and she needs some sustenance.

We need to learn how to sense our own hunger cues by paying attention to the body, over and over again, come back into the body. Regardless of what your mind is telling you, see what the body is telling you. If your stomach could talk, what would it say? Are you hungry? Sometimes even if you’ve eaten an hour ago, you could be hungry now. Sometimes you’re not hungry even if you ate three or four hours ago.

To tell when your body is hungry, you have got to take a moment – at least a moment – to pay attention to it. It takes great effort to become effortless at anything. If you’re used to not paying attention to your feelings and your hunger cues, then it’s going to take practice.

Hunger on a Scale From 1 to 10

Really hungry is a 1, while a 5 is comfortable and a 10 is stuffed. It’s a good idea to rate hunger before you eat at any time. Remember that a 4 or below means you’re hungry, a 5 or above means you’re not.

If you wait to eat until you’re too hungry, you panic and are willing to eat anything, quickly, and you eat past satisfaction. You might feel best eating when you’re at a 4 or a 3. Waiting until you’re at hunger level 2, certainly at a 1, will mean you waited too long. We need to practice noticing when we’re hungry.

How Would Your Life Have to Change to Follow This Eating Guideline?

Geneen walks us through a series of questions that will illuminate how our lives could change if we follow the guidelines. Some of these changes might sound scary or unnerving, while others might reveal new and exciting possibilities for our lives. It’s important that we explore how our lives need to change to follow the guidelines, how they might change after we’ve been following them and to sit with those feelings and get comfortable with them.

If you haven’t been following the Eating Guidelines, and you haven’t been eating when you’re hungry, one thing to ask yourself is: how would your life have to change for you to follow this eating guideline?

If you’re used to plowing through your life without paying attention to your body, how would your life have to change for you to pay attention to your hunger signals? What is scary about only eating when you’re hungry? Notice what that is.

Let Yourself Feel Your Emotions Rather Than Eating Them Away

A participant, Casey, feels what she’s hungry for is a love she can’t attain. This is part of the reason she doesn’t eat only when she’s hungry. If she feels hungry for love she can’t have, then what happens? What do you do?

Last week we talked about being aware of hungers of the heart, when we’re hungry for something we might not be able to have, like a love we may not be able to attain. When we’re hungry for what we can’t have, we think, “Then at least food is always there for me.” Food becomes love.

So what do you do instead? You notice what it feels like to want something you can’t have.

Practice Sitting With Your Feelings

I have a choice here. I either eat food when I’m not hungry and I make myself miserable, or I notice that I’m longing for what I don’t have. Maybe you realize you can’t obtain your own love... a relationship with yourself. Often we look outside ourselves for something we want within ourselves. But if we’re always using food, we can’t name hungers.

The next step, after naming what you think you’re hungry for, is to know if these wants aren’t what we think they are. Is it really a love outside of yourself that you can’t have, or is it your own love? Here is where inquiry comes in, where you practice sitting with your feelings.

Find Other Ways to Feed Ourselves

When we get used to using food to soothe, then part of the practice is finding other ways to feed ourselves that don’t involve food and knowing yourself well enough to know what they are. Some people need action to soothe themselves – like a walk. Some need to sit or to take a bath. If you’re at work, then you can be alone or make contact. Read something you love. Read quotes that touch you. Listen to your iPod to change how you’re feeling.

There has to be some other way to manage your feelings and thoughts. Ask yourself,” Is it true?” in the example of wanting a love out there in the world, or if it’s our own love we want. Then also, ask how else you can soothe yourself, when maybe you really can’t have what you want. Go ahead and allow yourself to experience that. But then find and develop, practice -- even if it’s clunky at first -- different ways to soothe yourself, without food. Treat yourself well without food.

We’re a one-trick pony with food, it’s our thing; it’s the easiest way out. If you check in with yourself and you’re not hungry, yet you’ve committed yourself to eating anyway when you’re not hungry, then you need to learn a different way into yourself that doesn’t involve food. This is not something you’re going to be good at, at first.

Our Sense of Self Depends on Failure

Geneen tells the story of a comment on her Facebook wall. A woman had just left one of Geneen’s workshops and was feeling deeply fed in her soul, yet still felt the need to ask, “Where is the closest Mexican restaurant?” when she was not even hungry.

A lot of us eat when we’re happy, or excited, or a little lost. We fill up that nervous space with food, because then we’ll be somewhere we know and feel comfortable.

Eating kills off the feelings of newness, lostness, excitement, the sense of possibility. Instead of eating to kill feelings, what scares you about following the guidelines might be: “I won’t know myself” or “I might be able to do this, and then who would I be?” If my sense of self is based on failing and constant struggle, and the struggle ends, who am I then? That unfamiliar territory is part of what scares us.

Fear of Being Alone Makes Following the Guidelines Scary

If you are successful with this guideline – of Eat When You’re Hungry – then you will NOT be part of the whiners and diners. That need to belong and feel part of the tribe, to talk about our problems with weight ... we bond together through our wounds.

We’re so used to bonding together through the pain and anguish with food, that what scares us are thoughts of: “I might be alone. I might be unloved. I won’t be able to connect with my friends or loved ones. I won’t have anything to talk about when they are talking about the latest diet.” And part of that is true.

What Relationships Would Change if You Ate When You Were Hungry?

What relationships would change if you ate when you were hungry? If you were successful, more successful at this than at the diets you’ve been on, what relationships would need to change? Are there relationships that rely on your struggle with food?

What happens when you have nothing to say within a diet failure conversation? What’s that like, when you stop eating when your body has had enough and you feel great about it? Imagine that. We can be certain that it’s possible. Anyone can do it. What happens when you do it?

What in your life would change, and are you ok with that? It might mean you won’t be part of the whiners and diners club any more. Is your body , your health, your sense of wellness and connection to heart and soul – are those things more important than the whiners and diners, or less important?

As kids, we’ll do anything to be loved. It’s a necessity. We need to be loved to be taken care of. We need love to survive. For many children, if our needs were too much for our mothers, we separate from ourselves so that we can be loved and accepted. We become used to leaving ourselves behind and letting go of our own truth. We push our need for wellness aside, and instead, we think being part of the whiners and diners is a matter of life or death.

What would it be like to have some friends who shared your journey of ditching of your compulsions around food by following the Eating Guidelines? What if your relationships were based on truth and not on suffering? Do you want that?

What Is the Benefit of NOT Following This Eating Guideline of Eat When You’re Hungry?

What is the benefit of NOT following the Eating Guidelines? How does it help you? We already know about one benefit: being part of the club, being accepted and loved. (It’s as if think we won’t be accepted and loved if we follow the guidelines. Is that really true?)

There are plenty of other people in your life who are struggling with food. You keep yourself small by maintaining your own struggle. That way, you can fit in, stay small, loved and accepted. Being loved is a big benefit. But if you are loved based on a lie, because you’re pushing your true self away because you’re not being real and you’re not being everything you can be, is that really love?

Geneen doesn’t think so. We know that and we’re haunted by that.

We Sense the Promise That Our Lives Are

We sense the promise that our lives are. We sense that there is something bigger for us to be, and our compulsions with food keep us from that; it keeps us small and wedded to anguish. It might scare us to be big and to be who we sense we are. So we push ourselves down through our relationship with food and eating when we’re not hungry.

The Five Questions About the Eating Guidelines

1. What scares you about following these guidelines?

2. Who would be threatened in your life if you followed these guidelines? It might mean eating at different times from your spouse and children. Could you stand behind yourself and say, “This is important to me. I need to do this.” Does being part of a family require eating when you’re not hungry? Are love, connection and contact truly based on doing what’s not right for you?

3. How would your life have to change to follow these guidelines? Would you carry food around with you? Geneen carries food everywhere with her. If worse comes to worse, there is something for her to eat, always. How would your own life have to change?

4. What relationships would change, and how would they change?

5. What’s the benefit of NOT following these guidelines? How does it help? What do you get? We get to keep feeling bad. We get to keep recognizing ourselves as damaged goods, as people who struggle and fail. We stay comfortable in that status quo. We don’t have to fear change.


Our Sense of Self Is Rocked When We Follow the Eating Guidelines

We have two senses of self. There is the expanded self: the self we are destined to be. When we sense that self, it feels like we are coming home. We give ourselves power and we allow ourselves the spaciousness and the permission to be big. We fulfill the promise of who we are.

Then there is the second sense of self that’s more recognizable: that atmosphere of when you feel most like yourself is the familiar self. This is based on our history, the interpretations we made about our past, and the interpretations others have made about our past behavior. This is our ego, our identity. This self is described by a deep sense of who we believe we are based on how we were treated and based on what happened. This sense of self is based on failures and whether we were loved or not loved.

When we eat compulsively, we think, “I’m damaged,” and that cycle reinforces who we take ourselves to be. On the other hand, when we follow the Eating Guidelines, it’s scary and causes anxiety to that default, familiar self; it challenges that recognizable state and confronts that damaged way of being.

This isn’t just about food. When we’ve become compulsive, it’s the way we keep ourselves small; it’s how we maintain our most familiar self.

Sometimes We Use a Sense of Guilt to Stay Small and Damaged

When you start noticing what you do with food, you’ll start noticing what it’s like to be yourself. Some of us will have guilt about giving ourselves what we really need. Eating when you’re hungry might actually make you feel guilty. Both overeating and undereating are guilt-driven tools we use to keep ourselves small.

Allowing ourselves that time to check in with ourselves and seeing if we are actually hungry or not might give us guilt. Ask, “Do I deserve to feed myself?” We might think if we’re used to overeating and then feeling bad about that, then we’re not supposed to have pleasure or enjoy ourselves. We might think, “I don’t deserve that much.”

When we decide to eat when we’re hungry, we might feel guilty if we’re overweight. We might think that we need to starve or restrict what we eat because we’re fat. That’s an underlying belief. When we think, “I’m damaged and I’m not supposed to give to myself. I’m only supposed to stay small,” then we might overeat and eat when we’re not hungry in order to keep our defects of our familiar selves.

We need to allow ourselves to sense when we’re really physically hungry. That means giving ourselves time. It means waiting to be hungry. It means caring enough to wait to be hungry, to be kind to ourselves.

If you have guilt, then eating when you’re hungry will challenge that. So that’s the first thing you notice: do you have guilt about eating anything at all, because we think we should starve ourselves?

Geneen referenced a New Yorker cartoon and tells us, “Who I was, was not okay. If you believe who you are is not okay, can you feed yourself?” So that’s why following the guidelines brings up other issues.

Sometimes Following the Guidelines Means Choosing to Feel Well or to Feel Unwell

Karen, a participant who is insulin dependent asks what do you do when we want to follow the guideline Eat When You’re Hungry, but you have a medical restriction that means you need to eat every three to four hours, whether you’re hungry or not?

Geneen says if you have a physical condition, there are ways to work with the guidelines within your particular circumstances. You always need to ask yourself, “Is that what your mind thinks your body wants?” or is that what you truly physically need to stay healthy and feeling good?

There are many different kinds of deprivation. There is the deprivation you might feel about not eating certain foods, or there is deprivation when we eat in ways that result in our not feeling well. Sometimes we need to choose between one or the other. We can choose to focus on what we don’t have or we can focus on what we do have. You can choose to focus on what you can eat to make your body feel well, or you can have foods that make your body feel unwell.

Geneen tells us the story of how when she used to dine out at a restaurant, she always had to sample the fabulous desserts. When she tuned into how her body felt, she realized that she could leave the restaurant feeling good, or she could try the desserts and leave feeling full and a little sick.

She says it’s a question to ask yourself. There are always going to be foods your mind wants, but when eat them, your body isn’t happy. It’s a choice you need to make. You’re choosing one deprivation over another deprivation. She was choosing “not feeling great” over “not having dessert.” She lived that way until she caught on to the idea of: “I could feel great. Do I want to give that up?” No, she didn’t want to give that up, so she gave up dessert instead.

You get to choose. When you’re insulin dependent, then the answer is that you take care of your body. If you need to eat every three to four hours, then adapt the Eating Guidelines to your situation. Work with the health of your body first, always. Eat the kinds and amounts of food you need, but experiment within that and don’t risk own health for any of this.

The Eating Guidelines Are Love, Not Rules

Remember that the Eating Guidelines are guidelines, not rules. They are pointers for how we can eat. They are love in the form of guidelines. Let the love and kindness for yourself flower by following the guidelines and eat when you’re hungry.

What about chocolate? That’s a question you need to ask yourself. Geneen agrees with Dean Ornish who said he wouldn’t want to be in a world without chocolate. Is Geneen’s body really hungry for chocolate? No. But by experimenting, she has found an amount and kind of chocolate – a small piece of dark chocolate – that she loves and pays attention to, that feels good in her mouth and her body doesn’t feel sick when she satisfies that chocolate need. She explains that different kinds of chocolate contain fat and sugar in varying amounts. Finding the right formula for you that doesn’t mess around with your blood sugar and doesn’t make you feel bad might be the answer

Geneen says, “Pleasure and beauty are necessities in food and finances.”

Next Session and Homework.

Continue noticing when you’re hungry. Also, continue eating when you’re hungry and seeing what that’s like.

Next week, we are going to talk about the guidelines: “Eat sitting down in a calm environment, not the car,” and “Eat without distractions.”

This week, at least once a day, eat without distractions and in a calm environment. Pay attention to your meal and see what that’s like for you. Most of us are running around like crazy, or eating in front of the TV or internet. Slow down and take the time to focus on a meal each day. Try this and see what this is like.

Begin discovering one way to take care of yourself, to soothe, to calm yourself that isn’t centered around food.

Each week, we will continue doing the previous weeks’ assignments and add new guidelines to follow as we go. If at any point, it’s too much to follow with the additions, then just do the current week’s assignment.

Summary of This Week’s Assignments:

  • Eat When You’re Hungry.
  • Eat Sitting Down in a Calm Environment.
  • Eat Without Distractions.
  • Discover a Way to Soothe Yourself Without Using Food

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