Eat As Much As You Want
Does the name of this chapter make you nervous? It certainly made me nervous! Satter quickly reassures us by noting that fear of letting us eat as much as we want leaves out an essential part of the equation: the body’s wisdom. Being hungry can be a positive and exciting feeling or a negative and distressing one depending on whether or not you are confident that your hunger will be satisfied. Many of us fear hunger because we obligate ourselves to undereat or eat foods that we don’t really like.
People who overeat have a history of restrained eating. They restrict themselves until they can’t stand it anymore and then they overeat. It’s the undereating that causes the problems! This pattern of “being good” and “being bad” is so common that it has a name: restraint and disinhibition. It means eating less and less-appealing food than you really want on the one hand, then throwing away all those controls on the other. Disinhibiting isn’t just stopping restriction; it is catapulting way over it, often with a sense of careening out of control. We do this because our fundamental need is to be fully nourished and fully satisfied.
Your eating will fall into place when you learn to trust yourself, accept that taking pleasure in eating is natural, and acknowledge that eating enough is essential. Self-trusting eaters truly get enough to eat without overeating. Giving permission to eat preferred foods in satisfying amounts won’t promote gluttony because foods that are no longer forbidden become ordinary and can be consumed in ordinary ways.
If you ever feel deprived in your eating, you are restraining. If you ever sneak off to eat, you are disinhibiting. Feed yourself reliably and well, and eat as much as you are hungry for. Your body knows how much it needs.
But what if your internal regulators have been damaged over the years? In order to recover your ability to recognize hunger, appetite, and satiety, it’s important to work with your body. You should give yourself permission to choose foods you enjoy in the amounts you want and be disciplined enough to feed yourself regularly and pay attention while you eat.
It’s important to reassure yourself that you aren’t slowing down your eating and paying more attention in an effort to get yourself to eat less. That is restraint! Keep eating until you really feel like stopping.
First your hunger will go away, then your appetite will go away and food will stop tasting as good. Eating past satiety may be pleasant for you if you make a deliberate decision to eat more than usual (think Thanksgiving dinner), but it will feel negative if you have impulsively thrown away your constraints. If you continue eating past the point of fullness, you will feel stuffed. This is almost always a negative experience. You may arrive at this point accidentally, out of habit, or because you decided to continue eating deliberately. Satter doesn’t recommend stopping eating at the point of fullness; she recommends stopping when you are satisfied.
Giving yourself permission to eat and tuning in on you eating will enable you to rediscover the sensation of truly feeling like stopping within two to four months. Sounds like a long time, right? It can be a long process, but I’m personally motivated thinking about all of the years I have ahead of me where I will be able to relax and enjoy eating.
Many eating practitioners say that emotional eating is to blame for overeating and weight gain and that the key to weight loss is to get rid of emotional eating. In her experience, Satter has found that people who eat for emotional reasons tend to be restrained eaters. People who do not restrain are far less likely to use food for emotional reasons.
Moderate levels of activity make internal regulation cues more prominent and therefore easier to read. Moderate activity also appears to make those cues more accurate. People whose activity is below the minimum are more hungry, eat more, and gain weight. Your level of activity is up to you, but it’s important to make it enjoyable so it can be sustainable.
To become a competent eater, you have to take risks with your weight. Eating in the way Satter is promoting may have no effect on weight, may have a slight effect on weight, or, if you are very overweight or very underweight, it may have a dramatic affect on your weight. You have to take a leap of faith that you can internally regulate your eating and that your weight will be all right. Trying for a specific weight will tip you into restrained eating and undermine your eating competence. In her experience, Satter says that most people stabilize their weight right where it is, even if they have been showing extremes of restraint, disinhibition, binging, and purging.
Next up, Feeding Yourself Faithfully.