Becoming a Food Anthropologist Helped End My Binge Eating

When I used to binge on peanut-butter chocolate-chunk cookies while hiding in my dark kitchen late at night, my internal dialogue afterward sounded something like this:

“I’m so disgusting. I have no self-control. My willpower sucks. I can’t be trusted to have cookies in the house. I should know better by now. Why can’t I eat like a normal person? Starting tomorrow, no more sugar; I'm addicted!”

These voices in my head were anything but helpful, especially since I would find myself back in the same place doing the same thing again just a few days later.

Unable to take this torturous binge-repent-repeat cycle anymore, I reached out for help. A very wise teacher taught me that I had a choice: I could either ban the cookies or ban the voices.

Since I loved the cookies and hated the voices, the decision was pretty easy—even though it seemed like an impossible feat considering how ingrained in my brain the voices were.

A Powerful Ally Voice
Making peace with food and your body requires silencing the voices in your head that are constantly critiquing, criticizing and condemning your eating.

Replacing these disempowering, unhelpful voices with empowering, supportive voices is key for reclaiming the Intuitive Eater within you.

One of the ally voices identified in Intuitive Eating that my clients and I really gravitate toward is the Food Anthropologist.

The Food Anthropologist is a neutral observer of your thoughts and actions.

It doesn’t make any judgments or emotionally react. Instead, it witnesses what’s going on from a place of pure objectivity.

Unlike your internal Food Police that dictate if you’re good or bad based on what or how you ate, the Food Anthropologist simply states the facts. It sounds like this:

  • I ate six cookies at 10:30 p.m. and experienced stomach pain and feelings of guilt, regret and shame.

  • I skipped lunch, which led to strong sugar cravings at 3 p.m.

  • My eating felt out of control with all the different food options at the party.

  • The uncomfortable pressure in my stomach indicated I was full, yet I continued eating. I was angry at myself for overeating.

  • When I felt anxious yesterday, I ate a pint of ice cream while watching TV.

Distant Perspective, Deeper Connection
The Food Anthropologist voice gives you much-needed distant perspective. Yet, it also helps you stay in touch with your physical and psychological cues by eliminating all the noise that typically disrupts this connection and clouds your thinking.

When coupled with curiosity, the Food Anthropologist helps you expand your self-awareness and empowers you to better understand and release beliefs and behaviors that are no longer serving you.

Not a Lack of Willpower
When I became an objective observer of my binge-repent-repeat cycle, I was able to see clearly what was driving my cookie binges. It didn’t have anything to do with a lack of discipline or willpower, a character flaw or a sugar addiction.

Instead, I discovered my binge eating was driven by multiple factors including a restrictive diet, rigid food rules, a false persona, perfectionism and a pleasure deficiency. By addressing the root causes of my behavior and amplifying my ally voices, my binge eating eventually stopped.

If the loudest voice in your head is a critical one, it can take time to shift to a neutral, nonjudgmental voice like the Food Anthropologist. If you would like help identifying and strengthening your ally voices, give me a shout.

How to Eat Mindfully at Summer Parties

Summer means lots of fun in the sun, and lots of yummy food at park picnics, poolside potlucks and backyard barbecues.

With all the excitement and distractions, it’s easy to eat mindlessly.

Mindless eating can spoil a great party if it leads to gas, bloating, cramping, indigestion, sluggishness and other uncomfortable feelings.

It's definitely a show-stopper if it results in the desire to go home and lie on your coach.

The following five practices will help you eat more mindfully, including choosing foods that are pleasurable, satisfying and nourishing to your body.

1/ Pause and check in.
Pause before grabbing a plate to check in with your body’s desires and hunger level.

Is your body craving something light, cool and crisp or something hearty, warm and juicy? Is it yearning for sweet, salty, bitter or sour flavors?

On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being not hungry at all, 5-6 being moderately hungry, and 10 being really hungry, gauge where you're at. Let this inform what type and how much food you need to feel satiated (versus stuffed).

2/ Scan and plan.
Explore all your food options first to determine which dishes are really calling to you, and how those foods will feel in your body.

For example, I love a cold bean salad on a hot summer day, but my stomach revolts against raw onion, so I’ll skip it if it includes it. 

3/ Make a sampler plate.
Put just a small amount of your most desired foods (including desserts) on your plate so you can sample everything to determine which items you want more of.

Sometimes that delicious looking potato salad ends up tasting just ho-hum. For many of us (especially Clean Your Plate Club members), it’s easier to toss a few spoonfuls of something we don’t like, rather than a few large scoops.

4/ Return for seconds.
Go back for seconds of the foods you enjoyed the most. But first, assess your hunger level again to help guide your choices and portions.

5/ Slowly savor every bite.
This can be more challenging to do while socializing and absorbing the party scene, but strive to slowly savor every bite and pause throughout your meal to check your body’s satisfaction and fullness levels.

Mindful What?
Sometimes, it can be tough to remember these steps or put them into practice when you’re in party mode.

If you do happen to eat mindlessly or overeat, the most important thing is how you treat yourself--not with judgment or criticism, but with kindness and compassion. 

There's no need to feel bad or guilty or regretful. You’ll have many more opportunities to wear your mindful eating party hat, should you wish to.

Do You Often Eat Until You're Stuffed? Try This...

Most likely, you’ve heard of the Okinawans, the Japanese islanders famous for enjoying not only the world’s longest life expectancy, but also the world’s longest health expectancy.

There are many factors that contribute to their exceptional well-being and longevity, like eating a largely plant-based diet, staying physically active and maintaining a strong social network.

And, they don’t have a Clean Your Plate Club.

Instead, they practice hara hachi bu—eating until just 80 percent full.

By stopping at 80 percent capacity, they avoid overeating.

Rapid-Fire Plate Cleaning
Although hara hachi bu sounds simple in theory, putting it into practice can be hard for most of us Americans. Many of us were trained at a young age to clean our plates—especially when rewarded with dessert. We also live in a culture of rapid-fire eating while multitasking, whether it’s watching TV, answering emails, texting friends or driving to work. 

If you're not awake at the plate, it’s impossible to sense when your stomach has hit the 80-percent mark. As a result, you may not stop eating until your overstretched stomach starts screaming in pain to get your attention.

Ditch Distracted Dining
If the idea of hara hachi bu sounds intriguing to you, the first step I recommend for building this new habit is dining without distractions whenever possible. Make your kitchen a screen-free zone. Save the reading material for bedtime. Don’t eat at your desk, in your car or on your couch.

By removing distractions, you’ll be more present with the eating experience and more in touch with your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals.

It’s also helpful to place a note on your table reminding you of your intention.

ReneePletka_HaraHachiBu

As it can be hard to gauge when your stomach has reached 80-percent capacity, especially at first, pause throughout your meal to check in with your body. If you feel a slight stomach pressure or sense of fullness, you’ve most likely reached the 80-percent full zone. Honor this sensation by putting down your fork and packing up your leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.

Unfortunately, younger generations of Okinawans who don’t follow their island's traditional ways are living shorter and unhealthier lives. Okinawa serves as a potent reminder of how much we can learn from the wisdom of our elders.