Getting Back on Track

By Barbara L. Holtzman, MSW, LICSW

Anita Johnston, in her book “Eating in the Light of the Moon” describes how we all carry around 2 baskets – one that is filled with food and water and the other which is filled by non-food elements, including rest, loving connections, being in nature, deep breathing, intellectual stimulation, experiencing meaning in our lives… She describes how compulsive eaters attempt to fill all their needs through filling the food basket.

In this newsletter, I will talk about how you can get yourself back on track when you have gotten back into old habits of overeating or habitual eating. As with any readjustment, the longer and further you’ve been off-course, the more energy it will take to get back on-course. I find the 80/20 principle helpful in looking at this phenomenon. It is said that a pilot plots a course from point A to point B, yet is off-course 80% of the time – needing to readjust due to wind currents, other planes, birds… The further he or she is off-course, the more energy and fuel it will take to get back on-course. Regardless how long or how far you have been off-course, it will take a clear intention and a plan to steer you back. I will offer you some suggestions in this newsletter that I hope you will find helpful.

If you would like further support and guidance on the path, please consider my June 22 “Path to Self-Acceptance; Making Peace with your Emotions & Yourself” workshop at All That Matters in Wakefield RI, my workbook & guided-imagery CD, psychotherapy in Providence or Wakefield RI or lifestyle coaching via phone and email. You can also download my articles and tips from my website-

If you are feeling worried or frustrated with your overeating, it may be tempting to go on another diet. Often, this is instigated by our shame about our eating and our fear that we will gain weight. It is understandable if you are thinking of going on another diet. Often we have lost weight dieting in the past. It is summer and we may not feel comfortable exposing our skin. We hear friends, family and colleagues talking about their latest diet. But if, like many of us, you have been on a diet-binge yo-yo, dieting is not the answer. The deprivation and underfeeding of most diets is a setup to binge. I try to remember this definition of insanity – doing things the same way and expecting a different result!

Here are a few ideas to help you change your compulsive eating pattern without dieting:

Track your eating for several days to get a clear picture of your current eating patterns. In “Conscious Eating, Conscious Living,” I have a chart for tracking which includes: time of day and whether your desire was prompted by hunger, fatigue, habit or an emotion. Most people think of charting as a way to stop themselves from overeating Mine is an investigative chart where I recommend eating as you would normally. This allows you to become an interested observer, a scientist who is trying to understand his or her patterns. You can’t understand your triggers if you are being “good.”

Remember a time when you weren’t struggling with food. What were you doing differently? You can use yourself as a role model!
Chart your hunger and fullness levels before and after eating. Notice if you tend to overeat (to the point beyond satiation) when you have let yourself get too hungry. If that is your pattern, make it a priority to keep your blood sugar even. This means planning your meals (there is truth to the adage “failing to plan is planning to fail”)

Notice (from your charting) if you are eating from habit rather than hunger. The easiest way to change a habit is habit substitution. Discover what times of day and in what situations you are most prone to eating from habit and decide in advance what you will do in those situations. For example, if it has been your habit to head straight to the refrigerator when you first come home from work, you might decide to make a beeline to your bedroom to change your clothes and take the dog for a walk or lie down on the bed with the cat. If you are feeling ravenous after work, it may be stress, experienced as hunger. If you are too hungry because your blood sugar has gotten too low, try eating a snack at the end of workday. While some people can keep their blood sugar even on 3 meals a day, others, like me, need 4 or 5. Let your body be your guide, not some rules you have heard somewhere.

Whatever you decide to try, remember that this is a practice. Which means that you will forget and fall back into old habits. And then you will remember again. See if you can forgive yourself for being human.

And then remember the airline pilot and reset your intention and your course.

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