I have a confession. Even though each and every one of the many vehicles I have owned have had perfectly working fuel gauges, for whatever reason, I always ignored the warning light alerting me that I was getting close to empty. I honestly don’t even want to think about how many times I came too close to getting stranded on the side of the road as I coasted on fumes into many a gas station over the years.

But I am not here to write about how bad I am at stopping for gas and I’m sure you certainly aren’t here wanting to read about that, either.  The reason I even mentioned that is because I was having a discussion with a patient the other day about how much she was struggling after all of the diets she had been on.

By the time she got to my office, she was so confused and was desperate to just try and understand how and when to eat.  There had been so many years that she had relied on external sources (diets) telling her when, what and how to eat that she had completely lost touch with her own, internal ability to know when or if her body needed food or not.

I asked her to describe a typical day.  She spent most of her day just “going” and “doing” that she rarely, if ever ate.  To her, she just never thought that she needed to eat.  She certainly never felt hungry.  And, that was honestly just fine with her because she was almost scared to eat. To her, eating food meant gaining weight.  To her, anything she ate somehow just stayed on her and had to later be burned off.  So, the less she ate, the better.

Now, I have had my own history with an eating disorder, but I have to tell you that we need to clear something up for any of you out there who also have this belief.  Food, once you eat it, does not just make you gain weight.  Food, once you eat it, does not just stay on your body until you do something to “burn it off”.  Food does not need to be avoided or feared.  Food, like gas for a car, gets used to keep us going.  If we don’t put food into us, we cannot keep going.  Bottom line.  We only exist because of food.

Think about this:  as irresponsible as I have been in my past, I could risk running on empty because even if my car ran out of gas and my car stopped on the side of the road, I could call AAA and get more gas and my car could run again.  But, that is not the case with our bodies.  We don’t have AAA for after we run out of fuel.  It’s game over.  There’s no coming back from that.

Much like my patient described going through her day without stopping to fuel up, I recall that when I was driving in my car and I darn well knew my low fuel light had been glaring at me for miles and miles, that, even as I drove past a gas station here or there, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I probably needed to stop.  Probably knew I should stop.  But, I was “too busy”, “was in a rush”, “could do it later”.

And then I had a thought……”Wow, wouldn’t it be great if we had fuel gauges like cars did?”  What if we could look down at something and know we were at “half a tank” or “running on empty”?

But…you know what?  We may not have something we can actually see with our eyes that tells us all of this information.  But we do have the ability to know this information. Just as you sit here reading this right now, you actually have it right there with you.  In fact, you were born with it and have had it all along.  You have never needed a diet or anything or anyone else to tell you what your body needs to stay alive….OR, better yet: keep a stable weight.

“We have to eat to live”

We were all born with the instinctual ability to know when we are hungry and when we are no longer hungry.  We have to eat to live.  Food is our ONLY source of fuel and nutrition.  Without it, we no longer exist.  Our ability to know when we are hungry is a survival mechanism.  I will repeat this again: We have to eat to survive.  Food simply keeps us going just like gas keeps our cars going.  Once you eat it, our bodies start using it to do such things as: keep your heart beating, breathe, walk, blink, swallow, think, digest your food……

We have an internal, not an external, fuel gauge. Many of us have just stopped listening to ours.  There are many reasons for this. However, I do find that for many people who have dieted over and over again, they have become used to shutting themselves off from knowing when they are hungry.

Let’s think about this…when someone is on a diet, they exist on eating less than they need to survive.  Therefore, they are in a constant state of hunger. They get used to living in this state of hunger and, over time, start to habituate to this state as feeling “normal”.  Therefore, to them, hungry is no longer hungry.  It is just how they always feel.  Which is why I typically hear from people “I never feel hungry”.

Now, the good news!  You can get back in touch with it! Now, I am not going to sugar-coat this. After years of ignoring it, it does take some effort. But well worth the effort!  Let me just point out a few things to think about:

“Your body is unique, and no two people are the same.”

Your body is unique, and no two people are the same. So, how can the same two people follow the same diet..let alone hundreds or thousands of people follow the same diet?  Each day you have different energy and stress levels.  Each day your schedule is different.  Every day is not the same….so how can you possibly follow a diet for the rest of your life? If you get back in touch with listening to your body, it will tell you when it needs fuel.  It will tell you when to stop eating.

While learning how to get back in touch with your hunger and fullness signals is beyond the scope of this blog, you can learn this by seeking out the help of a professional and/or also finding resources by visiting: www.thecenterformindfuleating.com

For anyone struggling out there, just remember:

  • Food is meant to be enjoyed…NOT feared!
  • If you do not enjoy your food, then you will, most likely, binge on the foods you feel you are depriving yourself from.
  • Eat so that you feel better emotionally and physically AFTER you are done eating than you did before you started eating.

For anyone out there who is reading this and struggling with your body, food, and your weight…and just wants to stop the incessant search for the “miracle” diet that will someday be around the corner…please know that you can overcome all of this. It won’t happen overnight.  But it can happen.  You’re worth the effort…and You’re Enough.

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About the Author: Cristina Castagnini
Cristina Castagnini, Ph.D., CEDS, is a licensed psychologist and is Certified as an Eating Disorder Specialist by the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP). She graduated with her Master’s Degree in clinical psychology (with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy) from Pepperdine University and earned her doctoral degree in counseling psychology at the University of Southern California. She remains devoted to helping others overcome their struggles with eating disorders through her private practice and to help spread awareness in her weekly podcast, Behind The Bite.

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