I read an interesting short book recently - Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, by Geneen Roth. Despite the hyperbolic title, this book has an interesting premise. Her idea is that most disorders of eating - including over-eating and under-eating, and making poor food choices - has to do with our lack of awareness of our own bodies and our "emotionalizing" our eating. The solution is mindfulness - this will come as no surprise to those who've employed mindfulness practices in their lives. Her program involves learning to be aware of our own body and its sensations - so we may know when we're hungry and when we're not, to be mindful in our eating practices (more on that in a minute) and to decouple our emotions from our eating.
Her belief is that many of our dysfunctional eating habits arise from how we related to food in our past, and the role food has played in our emotional life and relationships with other people. Her wish is for people to stop replaying old, cold emotional loops and just focus on here and now. The technique to do this is to practice being aware of the emotional loops as they start up, and that awareness, where we observe and experience the emotion, but are separate from it, may be the first step to breaking its hold on our eating patterns.
Being aware of our own bodies and their sensations is a road out of the control/permission cycle experienced by those who diet and those who have eating disorders. She recommends being friends with your body and being kind to it, as opposed to wanting it to be something else. And listening to our bodies well enough to know when we (our bodies and not our emotions) are hungry, and what food will meet that need, and when our bodies have eaten enough, leads right to eating in a healthy manner, which she says will lead you to your proper weight. This makes very good sense to me, and it seems that being aware, and being able to observe rather than just "be" your emotions, could also have useful applications to other addictive or compulsive behaviors.
This book is also not really rules-based, but there are "guidelines", which make very good sense. Here they are - numbers 2 and 3 have particular importance, I think:
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
- Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music. [I would add computers, the telephone and texting to this list.]
- Eat what your body wants.
- Eat until you are satisfied.
- Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
- Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.
Not a bad prescription, in my opinion.