Tag Archives: Eating

Phase 2, Step 4: Emotions and Food (Exploration)

Experential phase

Worries go down better with soup.  Jewish saying

Chowder breathes reassurance. It steams consolation.   Clementine Paddleford

It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption.  Edward Bunyian

Emotions and weight gain

bored eating          betty white angry eating  

Don’t we all want to eat a healthy diet?  With all the information we can  find about food and weightloss we pretty much know what to do.   In theory.  However, when it comes to food, we are not rational beings. Emotions and past habits rule.

I have often heard my clients say:  “ I eat  too much when I am anxious, when I am depressed,  or angry at somebody.”  More psychologically minded clients will even say:  “I eat my emotions. “

Numerous articles and book talk about emotional eating.  It is true that when dessert was used as a reward or consolation by her parents, a person will tend to adopt this habit.  It worked at the time: the child felt cared for, the physical or emotional  booboo was forgotten.

Michele May MD, describes the connections between emotions and weight gain and concludes: “Foods themselves cannot satisfy emotional needs. If we are depressed, eating chocolate chip cookies may stir the memories of a carefree childhood, but they do not remove the cause of that depression. Indeed, the foods we are eating may be creating the emotional problems we are trying to escape from.”

A cookie or a cup of ice-cream can make up for a broken toy, it will not comfort you for situations adults face: being laid off, losing your house, failing a class, having a car accident, or even a flat tire. If one cookie does not work, a box will not work either.

I have seen a lot of clients becoming experts in identifying their emotions. They can find the source of their eating habits in different events of their childhood and still being unable to lose weight.

They may succeed in restraining themselves when they are emotional and tempted to eat too much or some fattening food.  For a while.  Sooner or later, their restrictive diet, their guilt and shame when they eat the forbidden food will throw them in a hellish (and fattening) cycle: Deprivation, mindless eating, guilt, and deprivation. 


Matching the right food to the emotion, as thin people do

Realize that all of us eat different food according to our moods, and specific emotional states. Thin people also eat while experiencing emotions but they have a better way to adjust their diet to them.

If you are very frustrated and want to chew on someone (in your imagination), a mouthful of ice-cream will not give you the satisfaction of working your jaws and teeth, while thinking about this person. 

So become aware of your emotion first and choose to eat what is more likely to calm or satisfy you. Here are the most common examples of adequate food, from my personal and professional experience.

Emotions Inadequate food for emotion Why it is inadequate More Adequate
joy Bland food No great taste  in mouth Bubbly drinks. Brightly Colored food. Gourmet food (expensive food in small quantities)
Sadness/ worries Meat, cheese, nuts No comfort in belly warm and high volume food for comfort: soup, chowder, stew, ratatouille. Hot drinks.
Boredom High calorie food with high content of sugar and fat, (donuts, cookies, candies) or drinks/smoothies  with high content of sugar Eaten too fast. Artichokes, shrimps,  celery, lettuce…Tea, herb tea, Yerba Mate
Disgust/contempt Salty food No sweetness in mouth high quality chocolate and pastries  melting in the mouth
Fear Cold food. Sweets. No comfort in belly Hot drinks (hot cider, hot wine with cinnamon, hot milk)
Anger Soup. Ice-cream. Pastries. Buns and white bread. No action from teeth., jaws Celery, meat, cucumbers, apples, any crunchy food.

Here is the big “secret”  

angry swarsernager   1203385_large 

The problem is not that you are “eating your emotions,” everybody does. Since diet don’t work and no one can shut off all his emotions, the only way is to choose the food that fits the emotional need.

This week explore what kind of food feels intuitively right, for the emotions I mentioned and take notes about what works for you.


Phase 2, step 4 cheking in: hunger (Exploration)

The past weeks, we explored

  Phase I. The Preparation Phase. 

  • 1. Getting your kitchen and your life ready for change.
  • 2. The cook and the helpers
  • 3. Food and life

We are starting

Experential phase

  Phase II. The Experiential Phase

  • 4. Checking in: hunger, satiety, taste, pleasure, habits
  • 5. Cooking and moving: Long and short meals. Exercising versus moving.
  • 6. Eating with others. The gym and other places of fun or torture

 Checking in: Experiencing hunger (Exploration)

Some of you may remember when you were a child and you went to play with your friends; all of a sudden it was dark, and you came running home, announcing; “I am so hungry, I can eat a horse!”  

From experience, one big difference between thin and overweight people is that thin people can bear being hungry and can wait until they are home, or have finished preparing a meal before they eat. They don’t have to eat in the car even if they have to wait one or two before they can eat. Eating when hungry is a pleasure. Everything tastes better, the satisfaction is greater.

I had a client, Christina, so afraid of being hungry that she was eating as soon as she felt the first hint of hunger. As soon as she became aware of this fear, and recognized it as a feeling, not a precursor of a famine, she was able to eat less junk food between meals. She could wait until she took the time to prepare a decent meal.

Hunger is a natural mechanism, not to be avoided but to become aware of, so satiety can be recognized too.


Recovering  hunger  

Christina was not aware of her fear of going hungry until I suggested that she fast for a day. All spiritual traditions recognize the value of fasting as a practice with many benefits. It is a great way to break habits and to see how unaware we are of both our body sensations and our cravings. If we are usually eating at noon, let’s see what happens when we wait one o’clock or two. Is eating at noon a question of life or death? Probably not. If you are still eating a lot of sugar, you will probably go in hypoglycemia which is an indication that your body is not functioning right because of a high intake of sugar. If it is the case, it is even more necessary to cut off all sugars and carbohydrates for five days, to reset your body balance mechanisms and get rid of your cravings.

If fasting for a day seems too challenging, even during the week end, fast for half a day. Take a regular breakfast and abstain from eating until dinner.

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the sound box
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.  Rumi

 Rumi for flyer

The inner war to lose weight

This mini fast is just a way to gain more awareness. It is not a suggestion to skip meals and starve yourself, if you want to lose weight. It would start a useless war against yourself.  If your desire to be slim cannot be achieved –in your imagination- unless you refuse to satisfy your hunger and your taste for certain foods, you will lose the battle sooner or later. Your desire to satisfy your appetite will increase as you become hungrier, as well as your desire for the kind of foods you refuse yourself. What you call your “will power” which is in fact a denial of the natural tendency to eat when hungry and eat tasteful food does not increase. The forces on each side of this imaginary war become more and more unequal. Finally the “you” which identifies to this “will power” loses.  

For this reason a great majority of people who lose weight through any kind of restrictive diet that denies them the satisfaction of their taste buds and hunger regain weight, as soon as they stop their diet.

With rare exceptions, thin people eat only when and if they are hungry…

 Next week will be about taste and emotions related to food



Phase 1, Step 3: Food (Exploration)

step 3

Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space
combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives
and labors that we may eat.
May we be nourished
that we may nourish life.

Buddhist Blessing for Food

 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and to all the fowl of the heavens, and to everything that moves upon the earth, in which there is a living spirit, every green herb to eat,” and it was so.


Let man, then, consider the sources of his food: how it is that We pour down water, pouring it down abundantly; and then We cleave the earth with new growth, cleaving it asunder, and thereupon We cause grain to grow out of it, and vines and edible plants, and olive trees and date palms, and gardens dense with foliage, and fruits and herbage, for you and for your animals to enjoy.

 Quran 80:24-32


 This blessing and the passages from the scriptures remind us of the limitless bounty of God mirrored in the abundance of the creation,  and our dependence upon other human beings.  Buying and eating food are spiritual and moral acts. We honor this limitless bounty when we by food that keeps us happy and healthy. By buying real food –as opposed to heavily processed and artificially sweetened  food- we help the food producers to stay in business. The more we buy locally, the less percentage of our spending is devoted to the transport and conservation of the food.

Diet comes from  the  Latin  word diaeta, in  Greek diaita , which means a mode of living. This word has the same root as from diaitan ,to direct one’s own life.

It is unfortunate that the word diet, the kind of food a person or a community habitually eats, is almost always associated with restriction: eating less, or depriving oneself of a kind of food.

When we buy food, we may remember first this humorous quote by Michael Pollan: “Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. There are a great – many food-like items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food.. stay away from these”


In his little new book, Food Rules, Pollan offers more common-sense rules for eating:

“If it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”

 “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”

 “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk.

Most of all, Pollan tells us , we are victims of the ideology called “nutritionism”

“…based on several “unexamined assumptions,” among them that “foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts” and “that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health.” Moreover, nutritionism has foisted on us a view of a kind of eternal food fight going on in our bodies: “protein against carbs; carbs against proteins; (…) fats against carbs” as well as “smaller civil wars (…) within the sprawling empires of the big three: refined carbohydrates versus fiber; animal protein versus plant protein; saturated fats versus polyunsaturated fats; (…) omega-3 fatty acids versus omega-6s.” No wonder the pharmaceutical industry makes so much money from drugs to combat heartburn. “  Charles Matthews

 Istanbul053012 026

In the next post we will look at how thin people experience pleasure, comfort, satiety, fullness, gratitude through eating.

Phase 1, Step 2 (exploration): The Cook

2. The Cook
The Cook who fed the man who became the Buddha


According to the Buddhists texts Siddhartha Gautama, hoping to reach enlightenment spent 6 years undergoing extreme deprivations, subsisting on one grain of rice a week. He became so emaciated that the skin of his belly was touching his spine. One day he lost consciousness and his companions thought he was dead. But he regained consciousness and realized that extreme asceticism was meaningless.
Now at that time there lived a young woman named Sujata. In reaching maturity she had made a prayer: “If I get a good husband and give birth to a child, I will make an offering of a hundred thousand pieces of money.” Her prayer was answered. So, to prepare for this offering, she first pastured a thousand cows and fed their milk to five hundred cows, then fed the milk of these cows to 250, and so on down to feeding the milk of 16 cows to 8. This was to increase the thickness, and sweetness of the milk. She, then, cooked the milk with rice, while four guardian angels stood guard over the fireplace. She finally put the rice cake in a gold dish worth the sum of money she had promised to give away. She found the future Buddha at the foot of a tree, who was waiting for the time to go begging for food. The great being looked at her and she perceived he was a holy man. She offered him the dish saying “May your wishes prosper like my own” and departed, not caring for her golden dish. The future Buddha went to the river bank. After bathing, he ate the cake and disregarded the dish. It was his only meal for the seven weeks he stayed under the tree where he attained enlightenment. (summarized and adapted from the introduction to the Jakata in Warren’s book, Everyman’s life of the Buddha.)

For many women and men, cooking can be a spiritual practice

c Niderlander | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images photo: Niderlander | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Cooking requires an opening of the senses first. We pay attention to the colors, to the smells, the texture of the food. It is an opening of our heart. We cook thinking about the pleasure or just the satisfaction of those who will eat our food. We find the joy of finding ourselves hungry and then satiated. It is an affirmation of our self-worth and a thankful prayer to the Divine Love and Power to feed us. We pay heavily for our busy lives. We give the power to unscrupulous companies to feed us with high amounts of sugar, salt and many additives to preserve the food on the shelf.
The only question you have to ask yourself this week, is” Are you ready to cook for yourself, and prepare all the food you eat, with a few exceptions?” I don’t think it is possible to lose weight, if we are not in charge. Before we look at what kind of food we want to eat, we must have the power to make decisions. Cooking does not have to take much time. For most of us, who have jobs, children –and no personal cook like Oprah or Jennifer Aniston- the only alternative to eating already prepared food is to learn to prepare a simple and healthy meal in 20 minutes. As I was mentioning last week cooking once a week, for the whole week is also a possibility. We will look more deeply at cooking in step 5 (see the post “A time for exploration” for the different steps) and you will have more chances to succeed in losing weight and maintaining your weight loss for years if you don’t make drastic changes for a few weeks. You need time to adjust: see post “A no-shame, no blame approach”).

cook with pot  ©Natie | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

So for now, simply look at how you are going to manage preparing your meals and snacks at home. If you are living with a partner and children start looking at how you can include each member of the family in the preparation of the meals. Try that. Cooking and eating will become, as it used to be, a family spiritual practice, even if it takes less time, fortunately, than it took in our old families.

file0001527574719 ©CByron | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images