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How to Stop Calorie Counting

how to stop calorie countingDo you ever feel like counting and numbers are taking over your life and your mind? Are you constantly counting pounds on the scale? Weighing and measuring your food? Do you know the number of calories in every food and the grams of carbs in everything that you put in your mouth? Is this obsession driving you crazy?

Many of my clients come in feeling as though they’d love to stop counting calories, but they don’t know how, they feel as though if they did, they’d totally lose control. Counting calories helps give them a sense of control and satisfaction.

Usually, when I begin people on the road to intuitive eating and mindful eating, I help them wean off of calorie counting by using numbers to help them assess their appetites. It’s actually a lot more challenging than calorie counting, but ultimately more useful. It increases mindfulness and helps you to actually get in touch with the needs of your body.

How to do it: 

1. Learn the hunger and satiety scale.

 

0 Starvation mode. Void of feelings. No energy, tired, empty.
1 Ravenous. Feeling uncomfortably hungry. Dizzy, grumpy.
2 Very Hungry, unable to focus on work or conversation.
3 Hungry. Stomach is beginning to growl, you are beginning to lose focus.
4 Getting Hungry. First thoughts of food begin.
5 Neutral. Not hungry, not full. Not obsessing about food. Nurtured, productive, able to focus. If you are eating, you can still eat more.
6 Satisfied. You’ve eaten enough to be content. You are not uncomfortable, yet you do not need more.
7 Slightly Full. A bit more than satisfied. You might feel like you had a bit too much.
8 Very Full. You begin to feel bloated as though you’ve had too much.
9 Uncomfortably full. You just want to go to sleep. You might feel depressed or regretful.
10 Completely Stuffed. You feel like you might throw up. You are in pain, you can’t focus, and you don’t know how you got here.

2. Decide to  learn to not let yourself drop below a 3 and not go above a 7.

3. Check in with yourself throughout the day. When you find yourself at a 4, it’s time to think about getting a meal.

4. Before each meal, note or write down where you are on the hunger and satiety scale.

5. Eat your food slowly and mindfully and stop right in the middle. When you stop, note or write down where you are. If you are at a 5, you know that you can eat a bit more. Stop again and if you are at a 6 or a 7, stop eating.

It’s that simple. But it’s not simple really because you are using the wisdom of your body to tell you how much or how little you should be eating rather than an arbitrary number that doesn’t necessarily relate to what your body needs. Keeping track of the numbers on the hunger and satiety scale will help you to feel as though you are in control in a way that calorie counting did only it’s also a way to increase mindfulness. After a while, you will be able to stop using the numbers because you will intuitively know when to eat and when to stop eating.

Start by trying it for one meal a day. You can also check in with yourself every 1-2 hours and ask yourself where you are on the hunger and satiety scale.

You might try some hypnosis to help you stop dieting and to eat more mindfully for your body and less by someone else’s calorie chart.

Interested in doing a  seven day experiment? Try it and link to this blog post, I’d love to see how it goes for people!

How do I Stop Binge Eating? – Top 20 Ways to Stop Binge Eating

How to Stop Binge EatingHere is a quick little round up of different ways to heal from binge eating. Several of these tips are longer posts in other parts on this blog, so you can bookmark this page and come back and read more when you are ready or just go through the tips quickly. Enjoy!

1.)Eat a balanced, healthy breakfast with protein every morning. Starting your day off with a solid meal will stave off hunger and mindless eating during the day that can trigger binge eating.

2.)Give up Dieting. Diets actually cause binge eating. Instead begin to adapt healthy eating patterns by adding a healthy habit instead of subtracting a kind of food or food group.

3.)Get Support. Binge eating is a disease of isolation and secrets. When you attempt to recover in private, you perpetuate the isolation that drives the disorder. Getting support helps you to be accountable and helps you to talk it out with other people who are going through the same issues. Good places to go to for support: A therapist, a 12 step group, an online support forum, online or telephone meetings.

4.)Don’t let yourself get very hungry. When you let yourself get very hungry, your blood sugar drops which in impairs cognitive skills. Your body just needs glucose and it needs it now, so instinctively, you will start to grab for anything you can to raise blood sugar. Instead, use the hunger and satiety scale to help yourself eat what your body needs.

5.)Learn intuitive eating. This is the opposite of dieting, where your body is the wise one that lets you know what, how much, and when you need to eat. Your body wants to be healthy, so learning to listen and respond to it, will help you to find peace with food and with your body.

6.)Exercise Daily. This doesn’t mean spending arduous hours at the gym or running 5 miles a day. This is about moving your body. The more you move it, the more aware of it you are, and the better you begin to treat it. This can mean anything from 30 minutes of walking each day, to doing yoga, or going on a jog, or lifting weights or even just window shopping. But moving and being out in the world is crucial. Need some motivation to exercise? Try this. 

7.)Learn Mindful Eating. Mindful eating is the act of slowing down and actually noticing, tasting and being with your food. Mindfulness is about being in the here and now. Binge eating is about chasing the taste. You don’t necessarily taste your food when you’re bingeing because your waiting for the next taste, the next bite, and this hunger is insatiable. When you incorporate mindful eating, you learn how to stop and interrupt a binge. Mindful eating is peaceful, yet it is an amazingly effective tool in fighting binge eating.  Check out a guided visualization to learn mindful eating. 

8.)Add more protein. Nutritionally, protein will feed your brain, keep you feeling fuller longer and it will help your brain to function better so that you can make better choices about what kinds of food to eat.  This doesn’t mean eschewing carbohydrates, but eat your protein first so that you can make better choices about the next bite.

9.)Set a timer. When you feel the urge to binge, set a timer for 20 minutes, in that time, do something different other than binge. Let yourself know that you can binge if you still want to in 20 minutes. Often the very act of interrupting the compulsion will stop it.

10.)Meditate. Daily meditation will help you to slow down so that you can think about what you’re doing. You don’t even have to do it every day or make a big deal about having a practice. You can spend a few minutes each day breathing. Even in the middle of a work day, you can escape to the bathroom, close your eyes and breath for a few minutes to help slow down and ward off stress. You might want to download meditations to stop binge eating.

11.)Eat by the clock. If you are too entrenched in binge eating, the when part of intuitive eating might be difficult. So, at the beginning, when you are first starting to recover,  you might want to set some parameters around when to eat. Example. Breakfast 8am. Snack 11am Lunch 1pm. Snack 4pm. Dinner 8pm. Or whatever feels right for your. Don’t forget to include at least three meals per day.

12.)Give Up Diet Coke.  A lot of people who suffer from Eating Disorders are addicted to Diet Coke. There are some theories that postulate that diet drinks cause weight gain. That may or may not be true. But what is true is that many binge eaters attempt to substitute food with diet soda. This causes bloating, discomfort and lethargy, all of which contribute to body disconnection making  binge eating more palatable.

13.)Remind yourself “I can always have it later.” Because binge eaters view food as so black and white (this is a special occasion, I have to eat it now) they tend to justify their binges. Just because it’s Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you have to eat Pumpkin Pie. Seriously. You will not stay up all night regretting what you chose not to binge on. This isn’t the last time that you can eat ice cream, it’s not black and white, it’s not all or nothing, that pumpkin pie will always exist. But do you need it right now? Can you have it tomorrow instead? Think about what your body needs in the moment.

14.)Know your triggers. Does going to the movies make you binge on popcorn? Does Halloween make you binge on Almond Joys? Does going to your parents house make you binge on bread? Does looking at facebook cause you to binge on candy? Does looking at fashion magazines cause you to binge on pasta? Get to know why and when you binge and intercept these events at the pass. Find ways to deal with the binge before it happens. For instance, if you know that going to the movies causes you to binge on popcorn, get there without time to go to the concession stand.

15.)Get more sleep. Being tired can cause binge eating. Again, being more cognizant and mindful of what you are doing can help you to extinguish these behaviors.

16.)Treat yourself with Love. Remember to do nice things for yourself at least once a day. This could be showering, taking care of your nails, your hair, your skin, making your bed.  Being self nurturing will remind you of your own value so that you can feel better about yourself.

17.)Don’t compare yourself to others. You have your own path and your own dharma. Comparing yourself to others takes you off your path and stunts you. Try to look forward and move forward on your path rather than stopping yourself by looking longingly at other people’s paths.

18.)Be kind to your body. Learn how to love your body.  Don’t say mean things to your body, don’t call it fat. Don’t engage in fat chat with other people. Don’t bond with others by discussing how fat you are or what different diets your going to go on. Don’t talk about other people’s bodys’ no matter what they look like.

19.)Learn how to fight the urge to binge eat. Remember that wanting to binge isn’t enough of a reason to binge. Even if it feels overhwhelming. Remember that you are stronger than the urge to binge.

20.)You are not perfect. If you have a slip, just start again. You don’t have to wait for the next day, you have millions of moments to start over. Start over immediately. Wash your hands, wash your face, take a shower and just recover from the binge. You can do that in any given moment.

 

Understanding Hunger

In order to carry out the processes that keep your body alive, your body needs to be fed (given fuel). Thus, your body is in a continual state of hunger  which can be quickly relieved by  eating. Having food present in your GI tract neutralizes the feeling of hunger which helps you to feel calm both physically and emotionally. Once your body metabolizes this food and utilizes it to carry out the functions that it needs to survive,  you feel hungry again and it’s time to eat. Simple. But not really, right?

If hunger were such a basic biological process, then no one with access to food would ever starve or overeat, right?  Well clearly that’s not the case. Somehow, along the way, when food became plentiful and a doctrine of thin became dictatorially pervasive, our minds and bodies began to disagree on what we should eat and how much we should eat.

We have more access to food and we have more rules about what our bodies are supposed to look like. Food is everywhere, it’s advertised all over the place, but so are promises of an ultra thin body if you follow this one diet- the very last diet you will ever need. It’s not uncommon to be watching TV when a commercial for the Olive Garden’s never ending pasta bowl comes on followed by and advertisement for NutriSystem. Wait. What? It’s kind of insane. It’s like the media wants us to have  eating disorders because it’s the only way all sides win. EAT! EAT! EAT!  STARVE! STARVE! STARVE! EAT! EAT! EAT!  STARVE! STARVE! STARVE! EAT! EAT! EAT!  STARVE! STARVE! STARVE! EAT! EAT! EAT!  STARVE! STARVE! STARVE!

It’s incredibly confusing and messes with our ability to understand what we need or don’t need physically.

No wonder our cues for hunger and satiety are so out of wack. We are told at some young age that we need to lose weight and so we begin to deny our hunger. Then, of course we binge because we are biologically predisposed to overeat after times of restriction to keep our physiological processes going. This is a survival mechanism, just in case we are restricted food again, we must binge to stay alive. But then, our neurosis kicks in, full of guilt, full of shame, full of anxiety, and we either start some kind of new diet to gain some control (thus denying our hunger which ultimately backfires) or we eat compulsively to stuff the feelings of stress and anxiety.

We begin to confuse real physiological hunger with cravings or we begin to deny our hunger and confuse the feeling of hunger with virtuosity, self control and willpower.

When you don’t eat enough, your body begins to shut down. You become tired. Your body tries to conserve what it has to carry out basic functions such as respiration. When you go long periods of time without eating, your organs shut down and you die. This is what happens with anorexia and unintentional starvation.

When you eat more than your body needs, you are overloaded with energy and your body has to work extra hard to process that food. This is why people often feel sluggish and tired the day after a binge. For you biology nerds out there, check out this more in depth piece on the pathophysiology of digestion.

But so how do you know if you’re hungry or not?

1.)When you think that you are hungry,  ask yourself how you know that you’re hungry before you eat anything. Sometimes people think they’re physically hungry, but they’re actually bored, procrastinating, tired, anxious, lonely, angry, stressed, sad, happy or thirsty.

2.)Check in with your physical cues for hunger. These signs might be your stomach growling, pain in your stomach, a feeling of emptiness, a lack of energy, fogginess, lack of concentration, headache, dizziness, obsessing about food, or other feelings. Your body will let you know when it is ready for more food.

3.)If you are not having any physical cues of hunger, see if you can wait 10-15 minutes and do something else. Set a timer and walk around the block. If you are still obsessing on food, think about what it is that you actually need. Sometimes it’s easier to just eat than to deal with the real issue at hand. Food is always there if you need it, but push yourself a little bit to tend to your other needs. Eating can be a way of neglecting our other needs.

4.)Don’t neglect your body if you are hungry. Feed yourself.

The hunger and satiety scale can be helpful here. This is a scale that helps you to relearn your hunger.

Hunger & Satiety Scale

0- Beyond Hunger

At this point, you have denied your hunger for so long that you don’t even have any symptoms of hunger. Your body is in starvation mode. Your metabolism is slowing down. You probably feel low energy, tired, and empty.

1-    Ravenous

At  this point you feel like you’re starving. Your body is just looking for nutrients before it shuts down and you begin running on adrenaline. This is this place where many people binge. Your body needs food now and will eat as much as it possibly can to get the nutrients it needs to run without you having the power to intervene.

2-    Very Hungry

You are thinking about food a great deal now, unable to focus on work or conversations.

3-    Hungry

You notice that your stomach might be beginning to growl, you begin to lose your focus a bit, you are becoming distracted easily.

4-    Almost Hungry

This is when your first thoughts of food begin, or, if while you are eating, you stop too soon, still feeling as though you need more food.

5-    Neutral

At this point, you don’t feel hungry, nor do you feel full. You are not fixated or even thinking about food.  You are able to be productive and focus on work or conversation.

6-    Satisfied

You have eaten enough to feel content. You have fed yourself what your body needs. You are no longer hungry, yet you are not feeling too full. You are able to stop eating at this moment if you want.

7-    Slightly Full

You are a little more than satisfied, you aware of the feeling of food in your stomach, possibly feeling as though you’ve had a few bites too many.

8-    Very Full

You are feeling your belly pushing out, you feel like you’ve had too much.

9-    Uncomfortably Full

Your body feels uncomfortable. You just want to go to sleep at this point. You might be feeling depressed or regretful.

10-Completely Stuffed

At this point, you feel like you might throw up. You have eaten so much that you are in pain. Your belly hurts and you can’t focus on anything else.

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When using the hunger and satiety scale, you should try not to let yourself get lower than a 3 or higher than a 7. Meals and snacks should be slow and mindful to allow you to understand what your body needs.

It’s not easy to get this after spending years dieting, restricting, bingeing or comfort eating. I suggest starting by checking in with yourself a few times a day. Am I hungry? Where am I on the hunger and satiety scale? When you find that you are at a 4, you know that you are going to need a snack fairly soon.

And then, at meal times, before you eat, ask yourself where you are on the scale. If you consistently notice that you are at a 2 or lower when you begin your meals, you are waiting too long to eat. This can of course lead to bingeing because your survival instincts are kicking in and storing up food for the next starvation cycle.

When you are halfway through, put your fork down and ask yourself again. If you are at a 5-6, try and put your food away for a couple of hours then let yourself return to it rather than finishing everything on your plate. This is to help you remember that you do have more food coming to you when you need it and that you don’t have to compulsively eat what’s in front of you.

As you begin to understand what you personally need, you are able to take care of yourself better. There is no set time for how long you should wait between meals. We are not all built to scale. We are different sizes, different shapes and have different structures, and thus different needs. Some people need to eat every 2 hours, some people can go longer periods of time without eating. Find out what you need, don’t look to someone else’s plan to tell you.

Just One Day Without Binge Eating Challenge

One of the many AA mottos is “One Day at a Time”  That just has to be true.  People who binge eat are often very polarized in their thinking. It has to be all or nothing. So,  when people decide to recover from binge eating, they set the bar very high for themselves. “I’m never ever going to binge eat again. I’m only going to eat healthy every day for the rest of my life.” Wow. That’s really way too much to think about. And not only that, but it’s a giant set up for failure. When you decide that for the rest of your life you’re never going to binge, you establish a really difficult task for yourself. And it’s a set up for a binge. “Well, if I’m NEVER going to binge again, I might as well have a really good one tonight. Then tomorrow I’ll be perfect.” That almost never works. You wake up ill the next morning and are unable to eat or feeling too guilty to eat for several hours. When you finally do allow yourself to eat, you are so hungry that… well, you know. The cycle starts again. There are variations on this. And certainly, there are people who make a decision to never binge again or never binge and purge again and never do. But, for the most part, this is incredibly overwhelming for the psyche. And it backfires. However, if you can break the task down into small, manageable pieces, recovery becomes more tangible.  So, make a decision that you are going to choose one day. Just one whole day, where you don’t act out in any eating disorder behaviors. No bingeing, no restricting, not purging, no overexercising. You are going to take one day to act as if you are recovered. Just to see what it’s like. You must do this with the caveat of letting yourself know that this is only a one day experiment. That is what will make it more palpable.

So, here’s how you do it.

1.)Pick out a day that you are going to act as if you are  without eating disordered behaviors.

2.)Remember, it’s only one day, so you don’t have to prepare yourself the day before by bingeing or starving.

3.)Wake up that morning and EAT BREAKFAST!  What I find  incredibly common in binge eaters  and bulimics is the propensity to skip breakfast. The idea for most is to go as long as they can without eating. The belief is that if they skip breakfast, it will set up a “bad” precedent for the rest of the day. But remember, this is the day that you pretend that you have no eating issues, so go ahead and eat breakfast.

So, when I say breakfast, I don’t mean a piece of fruit. I mean a good hearty breakfast. Try to have a high protein breakfast with some fiber and complex carbohydrates. Such as two eggs and a cup of oatmeal with a piece of fruit, or some turkey sausage with whole grain bread and fruit, or if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, a tofu scrambled with vegetables and a side of fruit.

4.)When you make your breakfast, make it with loving kindness. Try to get up a bit earlier than usual. Instead of rolling out of bed and chugging coffee while you’re running out the door, set your alarm for 1/2 hour earlier. Before you shower, before you do anything, give yourself some time to make yourself a nourishing breakfast and really take time and space to eat quietly. Sit down at a table without turning on the television or looking at the internet or reading the paper. Eat slowly. Notice your food. Notice the tastes, the textures and the feeling of eating. Let your body take in the nutrients it needs.

5.)Notice as you shower and get ready for work what it felt like to give yourself some time and space and nurturing in the morning.

6.)As you begin your day, notice what your body feels like. Check in with your body for cues of hunger and satiety. If you did indeed feed yourself a good hearty breakfast, but you feel hungry in an hour, this is probably not physical hunger, but emotional hunger. Are you stressed about something? Are you tired? What else might be going on?  Continue to assess your hunger throughout the day using the hunger and satiety scale.

7.)When it comes time for lunch, again, don’t skip it. Don’t eat lunch in front of your computer. Eat something healthy such as a salad with protein and a broth based soup, or a sandwich on whole grain bread with lots of vegetables and some kind of non processed meat and a piece of fruit. As you did with breakfast, try to give yourself space and time to actually taste your meal. Don’t inhale it. Notice it bite by bite. Allow it to feed your body and nurture your cells.

8.)Check in with yourself throughout the day. Am I hungry? Am I tired? Am I stressed? What do I need? How can I give myself what I need? Do I want to eat? Do I want to eat because I’m hungry or do I want to eat because I’m feeling something else?

9.)If you are finding that you are feeling hungry in the afternoon, let yourself eat something with protein and fiber, such as nuts and fruit together. If you want to eat something with sugar like a cookie, limit yourself to one serving and eat it with some protein such as raw nuts or seeds or a piece of string cheese or even a hardboiled egg or slice of meat.

10.)When you get home that evening, if it is a time that you usually binge, remind yourself that this is only one day of not bingeing, it’s just a one day challenge, and see if you can use your recovery tools to do something different.

11.)Again, make yourself a good dinner and eat it peacefully.

12.)After dinner, let yourself unwind. No work, no running around, no gym, no errands. Just a relaxing evening. You might want to take a bath or get into bed with a good book, or talk to a friend that you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

This is just one full day of self care and trying to see what it might be like to be on the other side of this. It’s just an experiment. As people with eating disorders, the days are filled with experiments. Experimenting on how little you can eat, what you can omit from your diet, how much you can eat, this diet, that diet….  Try seeing what it might be like to do this.