Summary of ideas so far ~
- WOLAR – you are always worthy of love and respect
- When we are distressed by our eating being kind to ourselves can help (kindful eating cycle)
- Strengthening our body-mind communication helps us make sense of what’s going and it helps us navigate strong emotions. In turn this can help us feel in control of our eating. Practising self-compassion, body awareness, deep connection and having a comfort menu are all useful here.
- The hunger-o-meter can help us make links between what’s happening in our body and how that influences our impulse to eat.
We also found out that it can be tricky knowing whether we are eating mainly for emotional (coping) reasons, mainly from physical hunger, or mainly for other reasons. And where these overlap. Any reason is fine. There is no right or wrong reason to eat. Eating to cope is just as valid as eating because you have an appetite for lunch. However, making sense of our eating can help us alter habits that cause us pain or confusion.
This lesson continues exploring body signals, emotions and sensations.
Here’s a quick warm up activity. Can you name five things that we might confuse with being hungry. My list is here ~ You’re Sensational . Some of these might seem surprising – when we are very disconnected from our body it may be hard to read what’s going on in quite dramatic ways.
Image from EASO
Exploring Ideas About Eating
Many people who struggle with eating have spent a lot of time dieting. This may have acted as a ‘holding place’ for you at some time and provided much-needed structure, despite the downsides. Maybe you value/d the relationships with people you met at a slimming club or fellowship group or in eating disorder treatment.
Along the way, you might also have tried to find an alternative to dieting. This could mean you decided not to apologise for who you are. Or you decided you weren’t going to deny yourself food when you were hungry.
You might also have found more formalised alternatives to dieting in body positive and non-diet groups or eating disorder recovery treatment.
This activity is for you to revisit what you’ve learnt from all the different approaches you have tried so far to find peace with eating. It’s designed to help you decide what seems helpful and what’s not so helpful from what you already know, and maybe learn helpful new words and ideas too.
- Think about how you approach eating at the moment eg. keto, mindful eating, ‘f*ck it diet’, intuitive eating, vegetarian, ‘no added sugar rule’ or anything else. If you can, write a brief definition of what this means to you.
- Take a look at the images of people eating on this teach sheet.
- Who seems troubled by eating? Who seems at peace? How do you know?
- Think of what guides you now when you approach eating, or go to your definition. Are the people who seem at peace with food eating in line with this guidance?
- What does this mean to you?
In Well Now I teach an approach called Connected Eating. Connected eating recognises
- that food and eating serve many roles and meet many needs
- the value of combined knowledge from our body, mind, and circumstances
- you are worthy of love and respect, you always were, and always will be
Connected eating assumes there are many ways of knowing which are inter-linked and shape each other in a particular time and place. In other words, what we think and what we feel and what we value is important knowledge that is true for us in a specific situation at that time.
Because connected eating is interested in combined knowledge (body-brain-context) it encourages us to value what we think and what we feel and be curious about what this means. This makes it distinct from approaches that separate body-brain-context and encourage an over-reliance on the separated brain, (trust the experts) as in dieting, or an over reliance on separated body signals (trust your body), as in intuitive and mindful eating.
If you’ve benefited from intuitive or mindful eating that’s great! I am glad when anyone finds relief from suffering. However, they aren’t helpful for everyone. Some people find themselves trying to follow rules again, or notice the ideas interfere with social eating, or aren’t sure if it’s ‘ok’ to eat dinner watching a film. There are also practical issues that restrict the ability to follow body signals with food choice, such as finance or disability, of course. Also, like any other approach that teaches us to think of body signals and our brain as separate and pitted against each other, they in fact rely on binary thinking.
As well as dividing body and brain, binary thinking also removes context. This makes it hard to make sense of how personal circumstances shape – or construct – our body signals and thinking (e.g. values, history, trauma) when it comes to eating. It is also a missed opportunity for supporting deep social change. This is because separating body-brain-context aligns with the thinking that leads to eating problems, and oppression, instead of drawing our attention to it so we can change.
Again, if you find certain ideas about eating useful that’s fabulous. I am not saying you need to change anything. I’m explaining connected eating in case it’s something useful for you.
Connected eating teaches that body-brain-context are related and in fact unified. We might investigate them one by one and talk about them as if they are distinct, but in fact they are never actually completely separate.
Hence, it can be helpful to talk about eating for ‘mainly physical reasons’ or eating for ‘mainly emotional reasons’ to remind ourselves of this from time to time. When we describe comfort or coping eating as ’emotional eating’ it implies that emotions aren’t always circling around food!
It values knowledge from all sources. It values body signals but it doesn’t treat them as uncontaminated ‘pure’ truth. It thinks the self-society are in flow and shape each other. It also values the intellect and this helps us be curious about the meaning of body signals. Combining knowledge helps us make sense of comfort/coping eating, self-harm, shame and trauma responses. For example, instead of believing the body signal of shame is ‘true’ and means I am shameful, I can add in what I know intellectually and from my life so far.
By assuming our circumstances matter, it also helps us realise that what we feel and like and think is strongly shaped by our wider social context. This is why we don’t all eat the same things for breakfast the world over! Knowing that our body signals are shaped by culture, upbringing, and trauma helps us figure out new ways to address oppression from body shaming to racism.
(Here’s a blog in case you want to read more about the links between eating narratives and social action to end racism).
Understanding Trauma and Eating
- Now is a great time to check in with yourself and find out if you need a break . . .a hot drink? . . . a good stretch? . . .ok, when you’re ready here’s a blog post ~
Photo of mandala by Mayank Baranwal on Unsplash. Photo of hot cross buns by Jasmine Waheed Unsplash.
‘There is that hunger which is not for food’ (Gwendolyn McEwan, Canadian poet)
Thinking about food and hunger can put us in touch with other hungers. Some of these are psychological hungers of structure, stimulation, and recognition (from Eric Berne’s work). The changes with Covid can mean that it has become harder for you to satisfy these hungers. Other hungers are for connection – with land, people, ancestors, spirituality. Does anything else spring to mind?
Being aware of what we hunger for beyond food can sometimes help us make sense of what is going on with food, especially around comfort or coping eating.
I love this poem by May Sarton where she talks of “ripening/ To a greater ease,/ Learning to accept/ That all hungers cannot be fed,. . . “
What Influences Our Size?
We’ll discuss this in the live session.
What are key influences on adult height? What terms can we use to talk respectfully about people whose height is towards the upper or lower end of the height spectrum?
What about weight? Here’s a one question teach sheet that might be useful for thinking this through.
What terms can we use to talk respectfully about people whose weight is towards the upper or lower end of the weight spectrum?
A Reminder to Go Gently
This section might give you a sense of deja vue! I decided to repeat it as I think it’s really important to know and is suggesting something that goes against the grain of much of what we are taught.
Remember, some of these questions might land deeply and feel unsettling. It’s fine to be unsettled – we need this for change to happen. It’s also true that there’s a point at which we can be too unsettled to engage with learning, which clearly isn’t helpful. We need a steady place in ourselves to return to (the body awareness exercises will help with this) as we adjust to new ways of being with food, emotions, knowledge and so on.
The most important thing for the learning and healing that’s happening here is that you explore your feelings and beliefs. This means being able to engage, and this means pacing yourself. Don’t worry about doing everything that’s suggested, amount doesn’t matter. It’s more important that you can be present with whatever you do, even for a short time and even for a tiny amount.
Last question, what are you looking forward to? Have you got any treats planned? If not, now is a great time to put something in your diary!
See you soon ~