If you have discovered from experience that dieting does not work – but you still want to lose weight – it’s time that you learn a healthier and more effective approach. It is likely that your excess weight is a sign that your eating is out of sync with your body’s nutritional needs (e.g. you are giving it more than the necessary amount of calories). Assuming this is the case, it’s time to increase your awareness of your body and your eating. Given that this can be difficult, you need to be patient, caring and supportive of yourself. You need to be compassionately self-aware.
Compassionate self-awareness is a combination of self-awareness and self-compassion. It offers a way for you to better understand your eating habits and to learn to nourish your body in a way that makes it feel healthy; all the while remaining motivated to lose weight and to continue the path toward feeling healthier. This will help you to stay true to your goal for the long haul. Essential to compassionate self-awareness is a deep caring about yourself – not just your weight or your looks or any other specific aspect of you, but rather the sense you carry of yourself as a whole person. When you are compassionately self-aware, you very much want yourself to feel happy and healthy and at peace.
From this broader perspective, you can easily see that simply restricting food intake doesn’t work for the long-term because it leaves you feeling deprived and hungry. It doesn’t respect your body’s cues of when it is hungry. Instead, you are setting up a battle within yourself that you are bound to lose – either by overriding your hunger and treating it as unimportant, or by eventually giving into your hunger and eating with the voracious appetite of someone who has been deprived of food.
The best answer to this dilemma is to avoid it. Instead of ignoring your body’s experiences, consider opening up to greater self-awareness and recording it. Keep a food diary in which you list what you eat, when you eat, your hunger and fullness levels, and other comments related to your eating. By doing this, you can help yourself be more aware of your body’s cues and how you are responding to them. You can also choose to respond in a healthier manner.
A great way to increase your awareness of your levels of hunger and fullness is by rating them. Try rating your hunger before you eat and your fullness after you eat (or as you are deciding whether to eat more). You may find it helpful to use a rating scale from 1-9:
1 Extremely hungry
2 Uncomfortably hungry
4 Slightly hungry
5 Neutral (not hungry or full)
6 Slightly full
8 Uncomfortably Full
9 Extremely full
You generally want to eat when you are hungry (about a 3) and to stop eating when you are full (about a 7). When you wait until you are extremely hungry (about a 1), you are likely to overeat and eat high calorie and high carb foods. In addition, if you frequently eat until you are too stuffed to move (9), you will likely gain weight in addition to feeling feel physically uncomfortable. Such unhealthy eating patterns are out of sync with your body’s system, and so they are worth reflecting upon.
Reviewing your food diary can help you identify and rectify unhealthy patterns. If you tend to skip meals or eat very little, you’ll likely hungrily overeat later in the day – feeling very cranky until then. And when you do eat, you may eat so fast that you are stuffed before you realize it’s time to stop. All of this and other patterns can become clear when you review your food diary. Then you can use your insights to adjust your eating.
One common pattern that you might find is eating as a way to cope with intense emotions, such as sadness, hurt, or anger. If you notice that your eating coincides with feeling emotional, you might want to make some notes in your food journal about it. You might also want to journal separately about your emotions, talk with a friend about them, or even talk with a therapist. Once you notice this pattern, choose to pause and address your feelings before reaching for food – or if it’s too late for that, address them during or after you’ve eaten.
While you could be angry with yourself for repeating unhealthy patterns, it makes more sense – and is more helpful – to give yourself credit for trying to change. If you could have changed sooner and more easily, you would have. So instead, be gentle and supportive of yourself as you gain greater insight into your struggles. By developing compassionate self-awareness for your eating patterns, you will also be developing an incredibly powerful tool to eat healthy and lose weight… for now and the rest of your life!
(For those who are struggling with an eating disorder or who have a loved one who is, you may find it helpful to read, Supporting yourself through eating disorder therapy.)
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness