Wednesday 22 September 2010

How much do you really need to eat?

Before Beyond Chocolate, in the days when I dieted, I know that I used to eat more food than my body really needed, day in day out, all the time, whether I was on a diet or not. Ironic eh?
Every time I started a new diet I  would look for the one that would allow me to eat as much food as possible. The one which had free foods which I could eat in unlimited amounts. The one which decreed it was ok to stuff myself with carrot sticks if I was bored. The one which preached that as long as it had no fat, no sugar or no carbs, I could take the breaks off and go for it. The one that permitted regular 'snacks' throughout the day. The one (the last one I ever attempted) that dictated I should eat fist sized portions of protein foods and lots of veg for six days of the week but, glory be, I could PIG OUT on the seventh day and eat whatever I wanted. Seriously! This was a diet with an official binge day. How much better could it get? I would always, always go for the diet that would allow me to eat as much as possible. The idea of eating less, a lot less, terrified me. I felt deprived at the very thought!
When I look back I realise that in many ways the diets taught me how to overeat. They sanctioned it and even encouraged it with their free food soups, enormous salads and the bucket fulls of raw veg they suggested I keep at the ready in my fridge, just in case I got ‘hungry’. And because I was hardly eating any fat, I was never truly satisfied and had a constant urge to eat! If I wasn't eating because I was lonely or frustrated or pissed off or bored, I was eating because I fancied something... something nice, something sweet, something creamy.
And then between diets I would be eating for Britain and the rest of Europe. I would be stuffing myself with all the 'forbidden' foods I had been trying desperately to stay way from while I was on the diet. And I knew it was just a matter of time before they would be off limits again.
If we truly want to lose weight, if we want a body size which reflects a healthy and balanced attitude to food, thinking about how much we eat compared with how much our bodies need for healthy nourishment is key. Finding out how to manage our desire to overeat is the only way I know to arrive at a normal relationship with food. When we are willing to stop the overeating without ignoring, stuffing or distracting ourselves from the reasons which drive us to the food, that’s when we can begin to make real changes and lose weight. When we are willing to feel the sometimes excruciating discomfort of not treating ourselves, of not finishing what’s on our plate, of not having a second helping, of not whiling away a lonely evening with a pack of something… that’s when our bodies begin to let go of the excess pounds.
I'm not saying "Just eat smaller portions" or “ Just say no and don’t overeat” that would be just too trite and patronising! You know more about all that diet stuff than anyone else. You could write the book, we know that. What I am saying is that hand on heart, if you were to ask yourself how much of the food you eat every day has NOTHING to do with being hungry, how often you eat because you are bored or annoyed or anxious, how often you eat more than  you need at a meal because it's there, because it's nice, because it would be a waste to throw it away, because you habitually fill the plate without taking a moment to ask yourself how much food you are hungry for... what do you think the answer would be? Would you be willing to experiment with pausing just for a moment to see what it would be like if you didn’t eat? To see what’s behind (and underneath!!) your overeating?
I used to eat a lot. I love food. I love cooking and baking. Food is one of the pleasures in my life. And yet these days I eat precious little compared with amounts I used to eat in my dieting days. When I think about how much I ate yesterday it doesn't sounds like a lot! A cup of tea in the morning, a small empty tartlet pastry case (Audrey had been baking and she makes the best buttery, crumbly pastry - sadly hadn't filled them yet but they're good even empty!) with another cup of tea mid morning, half a ham and mustard mayo sandwich and an apple a few hours later, handful of cashews at about 5.30pm and a bowl of watercress soup and a slice of bread with thickly spread butter for dinner followed by one square of Valrhona chocolate. Not a great deal. But that's all I was hungry for. I would have loved to eat the other half of the sandwich, but I honesty wasn't hungry. I would have quite liked another bowl of soup, it was so warming and tasty... a bit more of that delicious home made bread and cold, salty butter...
That's why I don't always eat only what my body needs. If I did I would probably be slimmer but I decided several years ago that I was willing to forego my ideal body for a good enough one and the chance to eat a bit more cake and chocolate, puddings, peanuts and crisps... things that I am very rarely hungry for when my body needs food and I tune it to what it wants to eat. 
These days I eat a slice of cake just because it tastes so heavenly, sometimes. And sometimes I do choose to have peanuts for lunch because I love them. Sometimes I eat just because it tastes good or because I fancy it. Sometimes I eat til I could burst. Sometimes. Not every day. Not even every other day. Just sometimes.
Mostly I tune in and listen to my body asking for creamy mashed potatoes, made with butter and roast chicken with all the juices and crispy skin. I tune in and feed my body  saffron risotto with smoked haddock and lots of parmesan. I tune in and stop off for a Pret a Manger BLT Sandwich and a latte.... Sometimes just half the sandwich is enough, sometimes not. My dinner portions are far smaller than they once were. I rarely need seconds. And when I look back at what I have eaten in a day I am amazed at how little I need to eat. I never go hungry. And I don't deprive myself. And when I need to, I have a conversation with my petulant little gremlin and remind her that it's OK not to have something, that the longing, the desire, the discomfort will pass. That if that food is really what I want, I promise can have it next time I'm hungry. And I never ignore my promises!
How much do you eat? How much do you eat at mealtimes? And in between?
If you were to ask your body how much it needs on any given day, what would it say?
Join us for our  Emotional Eating Day and find out how to stop overeating in a way that's sustainable.
And if you're completely new to Beyond Chocolate, welcome! Join one of our fabulous Chocolate Fairies on their One Day Workshops - they will take you through the principles one by one with humour & kindnesses.
And if workshops are not your thing, there are loads of online options to choose from that you can download right now.

Being willing to work on your relationship with food and your body in whatever way works for you; with us, with another intuitive eating 'system' or on your own, is the only way we know to make the changes you want to make and get the body you'd love to have!


  1. I found this very inspiring. Thank you.

  2. Yes, you're dead right about choosing the diet that lets you stuff the most food down you - even though it was (as I recall) Muller Light Yoghurts, bananas and packet noodles. I remember the moment I decided to give it a whirl was when a friend of mine who had started it said "I still binge!"

    I liked your phrase "precious little". That's what my body would really appreciate.

  3. I agree totally - I remember eating huge amounts of 'free' food on diets just because I could. I remember particularly the very unsatisfying 'free soup' and how a bowlful of that was never enough because it never hit the spot. I remember being recommended to drink a can of fizzy drink before each meal to 'fill me up' so I'd eat less - since when did fullness have anything to do with the amount I ate?! Finally, like you, I've begun listening to my body's needs and feeding it the amounts it needs and, like you, it's sometimes disappointingly little. Other times I eat a lot because I need to or want to. What I am really valuing is the freedom to choose after all the years of being told what, when and how much to eat - thank you Beyond Chocolate!


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