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Don’t Let Shame Be Your Dinner Date

Don’t Let Shame Be Your Dinner Date

What brings you pleasure? Real pleasure, so rich and deep that even thinking about it creates a visceral response? Right now, see if you can list a dozen things that bring you shivers of excitement or delight, elicit little mmmmms of satisfaction or make your lights burn a little brighter.

Your sources of pleasure may be as mundane as getting a manicure, as spectacular as skydiving. But more likely than not, food is somewhere on your list. Nothing wrong with that… until there is. When food becomes the primary — or sole — source of pleasure, that’s when problems arise. Food as a source of pleasure is natural; it tastes good. It’s comforting and reliable. Compared to other sources of pleasure, it’s cheap, fast, easy and legal. And like some other pleasures, it’s addictive, shame-provoking and harmful when taken to extremes.

Food was our first pleasure. When we were babies, we cried for food; it filled our tiny bellies. It gave us comfort in other ways — we associated being fed with being embraced, with the sensuous delight of being cradled in loving arms, held close, cared for.

As toddlers and preschoolers, we were praised for eating; we were good little boys and girls for finishing our peas. We got cupcakes when our plates were cleaned. When we skinned our knees or banged our heads, we were soothed with cookies and kisses. The link between food, physical comfort and love became ever more inextricably intertwined.

Then, as we moved toward puberty, the tables turned — especially for girls. Suddenly, eating mounds of food wasn’t good after all. Suddenly, we were encouraged to minimize and restrict intake. “Don’t eat so much, or you’ll get fat,” we were cautioned by peers, mothers, fashion magazines. Being “good” no longer meant cleaning our plates. It meant restricting food in a way that was perceived to encourage slimness. We were taught to make self-denial more important than pleasure. That message was reinforced through our adult years. So, for many of us, the simple act of eating has become a torturous, tangled web of love, comfort, guilt, shame and fear.

If food is one of your great pleasures, then celebrate it, in all its lush, robust glory. Start like this:

Make it beautiful. Whatever you’re going to eat, bring an element of beauty, grace and dignity to the experience. Set the table with utensils and napkins, maybe flowers or candles, too. Arrange your meal on a plate in whatever way you find most visually appealing. There’s nothing elegant or dignified about standing in front of an open refrigerator, furtively spooning chocolate chip ice cream from the carton and into your mouth. If you’re going to eat ice cream, serve it in small, lovely dishes (or anything besides the carton). Sit down at the table and really eat your ice cream.

Savor it. The last time you had a massage, did you rush the therapist, urging him or her to go faster, to just get it over with? Probably not. The same goes for any pleasurable experience, be it a trip to Provence or a memorable erotic encounter — you don’t want the experience to end, and the last thing on your mind is rushing. But that’s often what it looks like when we use food for pleasure: we eat hurriedly, even frantically, as if we’re racing to get it over with. The next time you decide to eat for pleasure, savor the moment: Maintain a leisurely approach, chew slowly, taste each flavor, enjoy the textures. Be exquisitely conscious of the entire experience.

Really get into it. We’re afraid if we really get into food, the pleasure will be so overwhelming that we’ll never stop eating. But some studies suggest that women who get less pleasure from eating actually eat more. In one study, as women overate and gained weight, they subsequently derived less pleasure from eating — but they still continued to eat more. They were chasing that first high they got from food. Conversely, women who are really into food — who find robust pleasure in a well-designed meal — actually eat less. It’s as if they’re so acutely aware of the experience, their senses are sated long before their physical hunger is.

Release the shame. In my experience, most women would rather talk about their sex lives than their food lives; they feel guilty about the hidden chocolate bars, the binges, the bags of chips and boxes of cookies furtively consumed in a shame-filled spree. Even a shocking number of “normal” eaters are bound up by guilt, fear and shame; we know too much about food — the sugar, trans fats and pesticides. It’s hard to be fully receptive to pleasure when a big hunk of your brain is screeching “Dear God, have you gone mad? What are you thinking, eating that?!” Or the low, menacing whisper that says “You are so bad. I am ashamed of you for eating that.” If you choose to eat a food you love — food that brings you pleasure — eat it slowly and mindfully, bring an element of beauty and grace to the experience. Tell the voices that they’re not invited to the party.

Find other pleasures. It’s okay to love food — to find joy in eating — but keep it in perspective. For all its sensory pleasures, food is ultimately fuel, not entertainment. While it can (and should) delight the palate and stimulate the senses, it’s no substitute for human touch, goals reached, adventures had and love fallen into. But it does make a pleasant way to power yourself through such endeavors.

 

Afraid to eat.

Afraid to eat.

Last week, I read six articles with variations on the good-versus-bad-food theme. Good food? Bad food? It’s funny how we attribute moral properties to what is, essentially, a glob of chemicals in a tasty package. Eating is supposed to provide nourishment and pleasure. But in our diet-obsessed culture, we have attributed to food a sometimes-sinister quality.

afraid to eatHere’s one example: “Annie” was so tormented by her fear of food that she avoided parties and dinner invitations, because she didn’t want to be tempted by the tasty treats. When she ate, she spent the entire meal adding and re-adding the number of calories she was consuming, and continued to do so well after she had finished the meal. She read labels obsessively, and could tell you the calorie count of almost any food–and usually the number of carbohydrates, fat and protein as well. At best, she regarded food with suspicion; at worst, it terrified her.

Dieters are most susceptible to this mindset, but they’re not the only ones. Other fear-inducing foods and ingredients include saturated fat, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, GMOs, gluten, dairy, soy, pesticides, refined carbs, wheat, diet sodas and anything that’s even remotely related to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, inflammation, heart disease or cancer.

It’s important to be wary of some of these. I’m a huge proponent of eating clean foods, and make my living writing about them. Will eating trans fats kill you? Perhaps. If you’re sensitive to gluten, should you avoid bread? Absolutely. But prudence and mindful choices can sometimes go the way of fear.

Think of how children eat. When you offer a child a cookie, he doesn’t think, “Dear god, that cookie was made with high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats! And it probably has 500 calories!” They think “Mmmm. Cookie. Sweet! Crunchy!” They eat the cookie, and have an experience of pure pleasure. Somewhere between the happily ignorant bliss of a child, and the ever-vigilant eye of a nutrition-savvy adult, there lies a middle path, one that doesn’t include worry, stress and fear.

If you find yourself from time to time (or frequently) seized by a fear of food, here are some ways to loosen the grip:

1. Confront your fears. It’s not the food you fear, it’s the potential effect of that food. Write down what really scares you, and carry it to the worst possible outcome. It may look like this: “I’m afraid if I indulge my sweet tooth, I won’t be able to stop. I’ll gain a lot of weight until I’m morbidly obese. I’ll be so fat, I wont’ be able to go on business trips any more, and my boss will fire me. Then I’ll be out of work, and I’ll lose my house, and be homeless.” Or maybe it’s as simple as “I won’t look good for my high school reunion, and my old friends will judge me.” Whatever your fear, when it’s on paper, it’s easier to then decide if it’s reasonable, or out of hand.

2. Get to know your food. When you’re eating, just eat. Don’t watch TV, work on your computer, read a book, drive, whatever. Look at the food on your plate, chew it slowly, really taste it. Be fully present, enjoy what you’re eating, and then move on to the next thing. You’ll soon find that even “off-limits” foods aren’t really that scary. And notice what that food feels like in your body. Do you feel lousy after eating it? Maybe it won’t be your first choice next time.’

3. Choose foods for the benefit. Rather than saying “no” to what you don’t want, try saying “yes” to what you do want. Instead of saying “I can’t drink coffee because it makes me jittery and makes my skin look bad,” try saying “I choose to drink green tea because it’s calming and makes my skin look healthier.” Same end result–but instead of rejecting what you don’t want, you’re choosing instead what you do want.

4. Eat for quality. There’s a lot of nasty food out there, and it’s reasonable to be careful. But if you choose foods for quality, you’ll eliminate many of the justifiable concerns, like agricultural chemicals, trans fats, sugar and so forth. If you enjoy cheese, choose organic varieties, and pay attention to how much you’re eating. If you like sweets, go for raw, unfiltered honey, instead of high-fructose corn syrup. And if you shop for foods without labels–whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans–it’s hard to go wrong.

5. Banish forbidden food. The concept, that is, not the food. Unless you have an overriding health concern–you’re diabetic, or allergic to nuts, for example–it’s really not necessary to outlaw any one food. When you make a food off-limits, you only increase the cravings. So if you love potato chips, but you avoid them because they’re fried and high in sodium, have a few potato chips when you crave them.

6. Trust yourself. Speaking of potato chips, are you afraid you’ll eat the whole bag? It’s a common fear. When we fear food, it’s not really the food we’re afraid of. It’s our uncontrolled reaction to it. A spoonful of ice cream turns into a quart, a few cookies turns into a whole bag. That may happen at first. But in my experience, when people allow themselves to remove the labels and indulge in a “forbidden” food, it soon loses its appeal. Once you see it as just another food, you’re on your way to being free.

The Pleasure of Food.

The Pleasure of Food.

What brings you pleasure? Real pleasure, so rich and deep that even thinking about it creates a visceral response? Right now, see if you can list a dozen things that bring you shivers of excitement or delight, elicit little mmmmms of satisfaction or make your lights burn a little brighter.

pleasure of foodYour sources of pleasure may be as mundane as getting a manicure, as spectacular as skydiving. But more likely than not, food is somewhere on your list. Nothing wrong with that… until there is. When food becomes the primary — or sole — source of pleasure, that’s when problems arise. Food as a source of pleasure is natural; it tastes good. It’s comforting and reliable. Compared to other sources of pleasure, it’s cheap, fast, easy and legal. And like some other pleasures, it’s addictive, shame-provoking and harmful when taken to extremes.

Food was our first pleasure. When we were babies, we cried for food; it filled our tiny bellies. It gave us comfort in other ways — we associated being fed with being embraced, with the sensuous delight of being cradled in loving arms, held close, cared for.

As toddlers and preschoolers, we were praised for eating; we were good little boys and girls for finishing our peas. We got cupcakes when our plates were cleaned. When we skinned our knees or banged our heads, we were soothed with cookies and kisses. The link between food, physical comfort and love became ever more inextricably intertwined.

Then, as we moved toward puberty, the tables turned — especially for girls. Suddenly, eating mounds of food wasn’t good after all. Suddenly, we were encouraged to minimize and restrict intake. “Don’t eat so much, or you’ll get fat,” we were cautioned by peers, mothers, fashion magazines. Being “good” no longer meant cleaning our plates. It meant restricting food in a way that was perceived to encourage slimness. We were taught to make self-denial more important than pleasure. That message was reinforced through our adult years. So, for many of us, the simple act of eating has become a torturous, tangled web of love, comfort, guilt, shame and fear.

If food is one of your great pleasures, then celebrate it, in all its lush, robust glory. Start like this:

1. Make it beautiful. Whatever you’re going to eat, bring an element of beauty, grace and dignity to the experience. Set the table with utensils and napkins, maybe flowers or candles, too. Arrange your meal on a plate in whatever way you find most visually appealing. There’s nothing elegant or dignified about standing in front of an open refrigerator, furtively spooning chocolate chip ice cream from the carton and into your mouth. If you’re going to eat ice cream, serve it in small, lovely dishes (or anything besides the carton). Sit down at the table and really eat your ice cream.

2. Savor it. The last time you had a massage, did you rush the therapist, urging him or her to go faster, to just get it over with? Probably not. The same goes for any pleasurable experience, be it a trip to Provence or a memorable erotic encounter — you don’t want the experience to end, and the last thing on your mind is rushing. But that’s often what it looks like when we use food for pleasure: we eat hurriedly, even frantically, as if we’re racing to get it over with. The next time you decide to eat for pleasure, savor the moment: Maintain a leisurely approach, chew slowly, taste each flavor, enjoy the textures. Be exquisitely conscious of the entire experience.

3. Really get into it. We’re afraid if we really get into food, the pleasure will be so overwhelming that we’ll never stop eating. But some studies suggest that women who get less pleasure from eating actually eat more. In one study, as women overate and gained weight, they subsequently derived less pleasure from eating — but they still continued to eat more. They were chasing that first high they got from food. Conversely, women who are really into food — who find robust pleasure in a well-designed meal — actually eat less. It’s as if they’re so acutely aware of the experience, their senses are sated long before their physical hunger is.

4. Release the shame. In my experience, many women would rather talk about their sex lives than their food lives; they feel guilty about the hidden chocolate bars, the binges, the bags of chips and boxes of cookies furtively consumed in a shame-filled spree. Even a shocking number of “normal” eaters are bound up by guilt, fear and shame; we know too much about food — the sugar, trans fats and pesticides. It’s hard to be fully receptive to pleasure when a big hunk of your brain is screeching “Dear God, have you gone mad? What are you thinking, eating that?!” Or the low, menacing whisper that says “You are so bad. I am ashamed of you for eating that.” If you choose to eat a food you love — food that brings you pleasure — eat it slowly and mindfully, bring an element of beauty and grace to the experience. Tell the voices that they’re not invited to the party.

5. Find other pleasures. It’s okay to love food — to find joy in eating — but keep it in perspective. For all its sensory pleasures, food is ultimately fuel, not entertainment. While it can (and should) delight the palate and stimulate the senses, it’s no substitute for human touch, goals reached, adventures had and love fallen into. But it does make a pleasant way to power yourself through such endeavors.

 

The story behind your diet

The story behind your diet

What’s real story behind chronically weighing, calorie counting and dieting? In Journalism 101, we learned the importance of the Five Ws (and one H) in gathering information. Answering the Ws (and H)chronic-dieting—who, what, where, when, why (and how)—is considered essential in understanding the full story. What would happen if you applied them to your weight loss goals? Some Ws (and an H) to consider:

1. Who is it that wants to lose weight? Who is the “you” that’s dieting? Another way to ask this is, who are you, inside your body? The bottom line is, your body is a place for your soul to live. That’s it. Should it be comfortable, healthy, happy? Absolutely. But losing 10 pounds is not the call of your soul. It’s the call of your ego.

I once knew a woman who could light up a room just by walking through the door. Her eyes literally sparkled. When I spoke to her, her attention was so fully and completely on me, that it was as if no one had ever spoken before. I knew she would remember every word I said–and she did. She was so vibrant, deep, warm, compassionate, that it was a very long time before I noticed she was what some people might call “heavy.” Actually, I don’t think she ever noticed she was what some people would call heavy.

Likewise, I knew a woman who was wildly self-assured, sexy, vibrant, alive. She was in her mid 40s, tall, big boned; she weighed close to 185 pounds, and she literally turned heads walking down the street. Her secret: Inside, she loved herself, she was healthy and she felt good. That was enough for her. She knew who she really was, and that her body was comfortable, well-nourished–even if it wasn’t petite.

2. What would happen if you never lost weight? We set so many conditions on our love for ourselves. Unconsciously (or not) one of those conditions may be our weight. “I’ll feel better about myself when I’ve lost 20 pounds,” or “If I can just get rid of this last 5 pounds, I’ll be able to get on with my life.” As far as you know, this is the only life you have, and it’s happening right now. What would happen if you lived it right now, as you are, weighing what you do and wearing the size you wear? Can you love yourself anyway? Pause here, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and ask yourself that question. See what comes up. If the answer is “no,” it may be that learning how to love yourself is a bigger priority than losing 20 pounds.

3. Where do you want to be in ten years? Answer that question, and you’ll have a better sense of your reason for being here. Write down where you’ll be in terms of physical health, family, relationship, spiritual practices, career, home, travel–whatever comes up for you. Chances are really good that “I’ll be X pounds lighter” will come up on your list. That’s okay. Just recognize all the other things that are on your “where I’ll be” list.

How much time, mental energy and passion are you devoting to those aspects of your life, compared to counting calories and obeying the bathroom scale? Maybe you can see where weight loss falls on your list of dreams, goals and visions, and maybe you can assign it a different priority. Losing weight is not your life’s work. Your life’s work is to love, to serve, to be honest, to develop personal integrity, to be kind, to raise healthy children, to grow spiritually, to adore yourself. Which is not to say you can’t choose to shed some excess baggage. You’ll just do it with a sense of perspective.

4. When will it be okay? I once worked with a man who slaved tirelessly to lose 15 pounds. He exercised obsessively, starved himself, became a fanatic about supplements, drank diet soft drinks and coffee throughout the day to blunt his appetite, even took up smoking to blunt his appetite. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But here’s what’s really crazy: once he lost 15 pounds, he wanted to lose another 5. (I should pause here to tell you that the term “crazy” was his, not mine). He felt that being 5 pounds under his goal gave him a buffer, in case he gained a few pounds back.

I realized then that, no matter how much weight he lost, he wasn’t going to be satisfied. It would never be okay, because it wasn’t about his weight, or his body. It was about his sense of self; he was depressed and dissatisfied with his life, and no amount of weight loss was ever going to make that okay.

When will it be okay for you? Ask yourself that question, then listen softly and quietly for the answer. It might surprise you.

5. Why do you want to lose weight? Ask yourself with gut-level honesty: why do you want to lose weight? Is it because the doctor told you your weight was harming your health, or because that little red two-piece swimsuit went on sale at Neiman Marcus? Is it for your wife, your health, your ego, your high school reunion, your best friend’s wedding? Is it because you’ve decided the ten extra pounds around your middle no longer serves you, or because you still want to fit into the size 4 jeans you wore in your senior year of high school? Once you’re honest with yourself, you can decide just how important it is to you to lose weight and where it fits in the grand scheme of your life.

6. How will shedding pounds serve the world? We’ve already touched on how it will serve you. Now, take it to a deeper level: how will losing weight make a difference in the world around you? Perhaps being lighter and slimmer will boost your health, and make you feel more confident, inspired, energetic and passionate; in turn, that will positively affect your children, your mate, your co-workers. There’s no right answer here; it’s just about being aware and exploring possibilities, and perhaps understanding how your own personal goals fit into the grand scheme of life.

Be Nice: why beating yourself up doesn’t work.

Be Nice: why beating yourself up doesn’t work.

How many times have you criticized yourself in the last 24 hours? Stop for a minute and think about it. If you’re having any doubts that you’ve been anything but complimentary, think back to when you got dressed this morning. What exactly did you say to the image in the mirror? “Look at that stomach! Your thighs are enormous! You’ll never fit into those pants you got last month. You look terrible!”

Most of us wouldn’t dream of speaking to another human being like that. But we have no problem routinely addressing ourselves in a disrespectful, even demeaning, way. And those voices make weight loss, or any kind of change, difficult or even agonizing.

Where do they come from, these critical, demeaning voices? Mostly, they’re the collective, cruel voices of our past — our parents, our siblings, schoolyard bullies, former lovers — that we’ve internalized. Over time, we come to believe them as true. They’re incredibly powerful. And they can set up all kinds of horribly self-sabotaging situations.

Not long ago, I was in an unavoidable situation with a person from my past who was the source of many of my own voices. I had gone into this situation feeling positive, even elated: my career was successful, my friendships were solid, my family life was strong, my health was great. Less than 24 hours after being with her, I felt demoralized, pitiful, small. Nothing in my life had changed, but I was utterly deflated — until I became aware of a cacophony of voices inside my head. There it was: a steady stream of small but painful self-criticisms, like an onslaught of tiny, fierce hornets. The irony is, this woman’s criticisms of me paled in comparison to my own self-talk. I’d done most of the work for her.

How does negative self talk hamper your best efforts to lose weight or, for that matter, get a job, run three miles, begin a new relationship, even move through your day in a peaceful fashion?

 

    1. It keeps you stuck in the past. Most of the time, negative self-talk has nothing to do with what’s going on in the moment, in present time. Those critical, blaming voices are based almost entirely on past influences that don’t recognize who you are today. They’re not accurate. Staying in the past also keeps you in a comfortably familiar role, even if it’s a miserable one. No matter how much you want to change, it’s scary to step out of a familiar pattern and into a new way of being — even if, ultimately, it will bring you joy and peace.

 

    1. It increases cortisol. Stress — any kind of stress, be it physical, mental or emotional — increases levels of cortisol which in turn encourage the storage of fat, especially around the belly. A new study published in the journal NeuroImage, found that study participants who engaged in self-criticism showed more brain activity in the regions associated with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. In other words, mean self-talk makes you eat more, and hold on to excess weight.

 

    1. It undermines your confidence. You’ve got to be your own champion, your own best friend. No one else will do it for you. If the voice in your head is hurling demoralizing epithets at you every 10 seconds, you’ll feel defeated before you’ve even left the starting gate. And when you’re standing on the sidelines screaming, “Who are you kidding? You’ll never lose weight,” you probably won’t.

 

    1. It destroys your trust in yourself. When the nasty little voice in your head is hurling unkind words at you, it’s impossible to simultaneously trust yourself. And trusting yourself is key to any kind of change — especially a positive change in dietary habits.

 

  1. It’s really believable. The voice that’s spewing out that steady stream of negative talk is powerfully persuasive. It knows the right phrases, the exact tone, the fastest way to cut you off at the knees. But the voice isn’t always obvious; it can be clever, slippery and so hard to pin down that you’re not even aware of its presence until the damage is done.

Knowing that negative self-talk is a nasty habit is one thing. Stopping it is another issue altogether. The first step is to simply draw attention to the voice in your head. What is it saying? And whose voice is that anyway? Try this exercise: for one hour every day, become acutely aware of your negative self-talk. You don’t have to confront it right away; this first step is a fact-finding mission. Take a step back from the voice, and listen to it with curiosity. Give it lots of space to express, but stay non-committal. For some people, 15 minutes of this practice is plenty.

Once you’ve become painfully aware of your own negative self-talk, talk back. This is your chance to say all those things you didn’t get to say in real life. If it’s possible for you, talk back out loud. Really loud. It’s freeing to holler at the voice that represents the critical people from your past.

I had a client whose parents sat at the dinner table every night and poured on a torrent of criticisms as she ate: “Why are you eating so much? You’re already so fat! You’re only going to get fatter!” Mind you, this woman was a child at the time, and she played out their predictions: she ate more, and she got fatter. She’s a grown woman now, and not speaking to either of her parents, but their voices continue to ruin her meals on a nightly basis. Once she became aware of how efficiently she’d internalized their negative dialogue, she started to talk back — or, rather, holler back, using words I can’t print in this column.

Eventually their voices stopped, the negative self-talk slowed, and she regained control of her own mind and life once again. Try it yourself; with practice, you’ll become your own champion and best friend — and speaking nicely to yourself will become a cherished habit.

Love the One You’re With

Love the One You’re With

love-your-bodyNo matter where you go, there you are. And no matter how you feel about your body, your weight or the size of your thighs, it’s still you. Hating yourself into being different never works.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the importance of self-love and how it relates to food, weight and health. I’ve talked about how you can’t flog, demean or hate your body into changing, whether it be to lose 10 pounds or heal from disease. But some readers have asked me “How do you learn to love yourself?” That’s a good question; most of us don’t know. The first place to begin is to just notice how you relate to your body’s physical needs in general.

Every time you deny your physical needs–you stay up just a little longer when you need to sleep, or work right through the flu, or “hold it” when you really have to pee–you send the message to your body that it’s not important. We do this all day long with food; we shovel down breakfast on the way to take our kids to school, or we rush through lunch so we can get those last few emails sent, or we skip dinner because we’re dieting. Then we expect the body to perform for us, like a dog doing tricks.

You must make yourself be a priority, if for no other reason than your desire to eat better and/or lose weight. Begin by recognizing that you are your first relationship. I’m not saying to ignore your child, neglect your friendships or run roughshod over the needs of others. I’m saying to make yourself one of your friends, and treat yourself like a beloved child. Here are six ways to begin.

1. Act as if. The quickest way to feel loving toward yourself is to act loving toward yourself. Some 12-step groups say “you can’t think your way into right acting, but you can act your way into right thinking.” If you don’t know what that would look like, try this simple but profound exercise from Louise Hay: on the top of a sheet of paper, write “I love myself, therefore,” Then list all the things you do, or would do, out of love for yourself. These might include “I love myself, therefore I feed my body clean, wholesome food,” or “I love myself, therefore I refuse to starve myself.”

2. Eat when you’re hungry. Hunger signals mean the body needs to be refueled; ignore them long enough, which we do when we’re busy, stressed or dieting, and they’ll become blunted. I hear so many people say “I never get hunger pangs.” That’s not the only physical sign of hunger; lack of focus, irritability, nervousness and light-headedness can all indicate the need for food. Food provides nourishment, and to deny yourself food is, literally, to deny yourself nourishment.

Now, here’s a fine distinction: people say “So I should eat every time I’m hungry, even if it’s all day long, nonstop?” To that, I would ask, “What are you really hungry for? Is it really food?” You’d be surprised by how often “hunger” is really the body calling for rest, or sweetness, or some kind of attention that has nothing to do with food.

3. When you eat, eat. Don’t read, watch TV, work, drive or engage in stressful conversations. Just eat. Be present with what you’re doing and mindful of the food and your body’s sensations. Look at your food; smell it, notice how it feels in your mouth, really taste it. Most important, pay attention to how it feels in your body. Is it working for you? Your body will give you feedback if you just slow down and get quiet enough to hear. Which brings me to the next point:

4. Slow down. Part of that feedback loop includes the body’s message that it’s full. Sometimes, that message comes long before the plate or bowl is empty, even mid-forkful. But you’ll miss that signal if you’re rushing through your food. Related to this idea is to sit down for meals. I know so many people–usually moms–who eat most of their meals standing up. Sit down, every time, even if it’s for “just a few bites.” If all you want is a spoonful of ice cream, take a spoonful out of the container, put it in a small bowl, return the container to the freezer, and sit down at the table with your small bowl. Eat it slowly and mindfully. You may actually be satisfied with “just a few bites.”

5. Eat what you’re hungry for. I can almost hear you saying “What!? Are you nuts?!” I realize this is discouraging or even frightening for people with food issues and sensitivities, like allergies, certain food addictions, diabetes and people on strict weight loss diets. Let me explain: examine your desire and see if there’s something in the food that you’re specifically craving. For example, if you’re yearning for Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, what is it about that food that you need or want? Is it the coldness, or the creaminess, or the sweetness? Is it the bits of cherry, or the chocolate? Once you identify what exactly you’re craving so strongly, you might be able to find something else that satisfies those sensory taste needs.

6. Treat your body with respect. Mindless binging, shoveling food into your mouth or chomping on a fast-food burger while you’re driving your car are disrespectful, even demeaning, behaviors. Treat your body as you would a beloved child. Feed it gently, attentively, with care. And feed it clean food. We say we want to “indulge,” and then we do it with too much cheap, low-quality food: fast-food fries, donuts, oversized restaurant meals, chips by the bagful.

If you want chocolate, and you’re a person who can eat chocolate, then have chocolate; buy an expensive bar of the highest-quality stuff you can find, drive all the way home with it still in the wrapper, sit down with it, unwrap it slowly, break off a small piece, smell it, place it on your tongue and let the warmth of your mouth melt it against your palate. Notice the sensations you experience in your mind and body. It’s a completely different experience than snarfing down a Snickers bar on the way out of the grocery store. And one that’s very loving.