Friday, August 04, 2006


In Overcoming Overeating, Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter presented one of the first guides for intuitive eating, namely eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. As they contend, a compulsive eater is not addicted to food, but to the diet-binge cycle. Their theory purports that overeating results from overly rigid (diet) standards, and that it is your (healthy) way of asserting yourself. Hirschmann and Munter write:

You the hopeless case feel out of control and despondent because you’ve bought the line that you’re a failure at the idealized task of body shaping. But you the rebel are a success. You break the rules and assert your right to eat what you want and look as you do. The compulsive eater is, in an interesting way, a rebel in constant protest against what has, by now, become her own imposition of cultural standards and judgments.

Their approach allows you to eat whatever you’re craving in a given moment and focuses on equalizing different kinds of food, so that you can arrive at a place where a carrot has the same value as a slice of carrot cake. Whenever you’re hungry, you’re encouraged to ask yourself what you’re craving: Something sweet? Salty? Crunchy? Mushy? Hot? Cold? And, you’re encouraged to eat exactly what you’re craving. Time and time again, Hirschmann and Munter (in their clinical work) have found that people may make some unhealthy choices early on, but eventually their bodies regulate and they begin to crave, at different times, foods across the spectrum.

Other aspects of Hirschmann and Munter’s approach include:
1) Carrying around a food bag, stocked with different types of food, in order to prevent those moments of excessive hunger that lead to overeating.
2) Cleaning out your closet to reflect your current weight—either giving away or hiding the clothing that no longer fits, since seeing it on a daily basis is a reminder that you’ve “failed.”
3) Stocking your home with an array of foods, including what they call “formerly forbidden foods.” The theory is that by exposing yourself to foods that you used to deny yourself, you’ll, over time, reduce their “glitter,” and, consequently, their grip on you. As for amounts? Hirschmann and Munter encourage you to have, on hand, three times the amount of food that you’re capable of eating in a binge. Ideally, it’s all in a single container (think stuffing three bags of Oreos into a large plastic container), so that you’re not able to get caught up in amounts (“I’ve now eaten an entire row”), but instead can focus on what your body wants. We tend to overeat when we know there’s a limited amount (possibly a relic of dieting, in which we’re stocking up before a self-imposed draught).
4) Thinking beyond meals—eating when you’re hungry and not around a preordained schedule. In practice, this results, typically, in more than three “eating experiences” per day.
5) Engaging in “mirror work,” in which you practice looking at your body, without judgment.
6) Working at distinguishing between “stomach hunger” (when you’re physiologically hungry) and “mouth hunger” (when you’re craving food out of boredom, anxiety, anger, loneliness, or any other motivation that doesn’t involve physiological hunger) and, over time, arriving at a place where you’re eating more frequently out of stomach hunger and able to identify mouth hunger and why you might be experiencing it.
7) Tossing the scale.

Various aspects of this approach (or the approach in its entirety) may seem ridiculously radical, particularly in a culture that preaches regular meals, precision, restriction, monitoring, and self-loathing. Certainly, it won’t work for everyone. But, I’ve found that it can be quite helpful for women who have historically cycled through the diet-binge chain, who would like to disempower the hold that food has on their lives, and who are interested in promoting a body image governed by self-acceptance.


Teacher lady said...

Not surprisingly, I truly "buy in" to this approach. When I fully engaged this approach, I lost 10 pounds without even trying and without even knowing. Got weighed on the doctor's scale and that's how I figured it out (that, and my pants were falling off.) Perhaps surprisingly, "mindful eating" is very difficult to do, and it's amazing (once you pay attention) how often you eat when you're not hungry because you had reservations, or because someone made it "especially for you," or it's lunchtime and everyone's going out. Very interesting.

Jennifer said...

I into buy most everything on that list, and have accomplished all but two of the tasks: I'm still working to toss out the scale - my goal for this month is simply to be able to go a whole month without stepping on it. (I went for a week at a time in months previous...). And I just can't, no matter how hard I try at this point, fathom the idea of putting "off limits" foods in the house - particularly in large quantities. I'm MUCH better off, saying, "gee, I have a craving for ice cream - I think I'll go to the local parlor and get a scoop," making it a full experience (plus I have to I really want this enough to go out for it). Having stuff around me is like taunting me...which is fine on the days I have no desire to binge. On those days where the "binge monster" comes out to play, however...that would just truly be a recipe for disaster. It also wouldn't help my efforts to eat those kinds of things publicly (something I'm working on) since the binges typically happen in secret. One of the techniques my nutritionist taught me was, "if you want it, eat it in full view of the whole world." And *that* helps me (at least at this point in my journey), not tortmenting myself with loads of binge-worthy foods.

PalmTreeChick said...

Good for you with the scale goal Jennifer. I can't even go a day without gettig on it.

stephanie said...

My therapist gave me #5 as homework, and it really does work after a while. Yes, I do have backslides, but I'm getting more used to the idea that this is what I look like and that's okay.

HaileySqueek said...

Great post! You were the one that clued me into this way of eating when I found your site 2 1/2 weeks ago. I have done many of the things on that list, and I am amazed with the results.

Prior to this I would either be "eating healthy" on a diet or eating way too much and mostly junk. There was no middle ground. Now that I am allowing myself to eat whatever I want whenever I'm hungry, I find that I eat mostly healthy food and some junk food. When I know that I can eat the "bad" stuff whenever I want, I am free to make healthy choices. I don't feel like it is my last chance to eat it before dieting again. I can trust myself now. I bought a bunch of my so called trigger foods, and I don't binge on them. I don't even choose to eat them very often. They have lost their pull now that they aren't forbidden. I feel so relieved and so free.

I feel like I have been let into a secret club. The one full of all those people who can eat whatever they want and still be at a healthy weight.

drstaceyny said...

tl--yes, there are so many times that we eat out of convention, and it's not the easiest thing to ignore (at least socially).

jennifer--it makes sense to eat "in full view." That's one of Geneen Roth's principles, as well. It seems like you've found a good way (for you) to incorporate some of these principles--I'm not sure it has to be so absolute/rigid as to not allow for individual preferences.

ptc--a new challenge for you! ; )

stephanie--that's great--it's difficult work to stand there w/out thinking anything negative. I think the ability to do so can have far-reaching consequences (not just related to body image, but to self-concept, in general).

hs--I'm glad these approaches are working for you (they're certainly not my ideas, but the ones I buy into!) It does feel incredibly freeing to allow yourself to eat what you want, particularly after periods of deprivation.

PalmTreeChick said...

A new challenge for me?? Nah...maybe I should just try weighing myself less than a dozen or so times a day. That might be a little easier.

Funny how I read this after just getting on and off the scale 4 times in a 2 minute time span.

ps22 said...

Great post. I seriously need to forward this to my parents, their lives are structured about "appropriate" planned meal times.