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The Secret to Having a Sane Relationship with Food

VegetarianWoman_400It’s all about learning to eat until you’re full but not over-stuffed, and to never let yourself get “hangry” enough to eat whatever’s in reach. Here’s how to find the right balance and feel satiated but energetic, and enlivened but not weighted down by food. From Women, Food, and Desire.

It took me half my life to finally get a handle on what being full means. I had always equated being full with being stuffed to the gills, with also being utterly hopped up on sugar or caffeine (or both). It meant being uncomfortably numb, bloated, and heavy. And tired. It wasn’t until my own first detox at twenty-five that I realized that the sensations I used to describe “full” were extreme ones and that there is a subtler, healthier, more gentle and loving way to know when you’ve had enough food.

I find it helpful to share a hungry-full scale with my clients, with zero being empty, five being neutral, and ten being bursting. If we wait until we are at zero to eat, we’re so ravenous that we have no sense of control or moderation or discretion. This is a state I call being “hangry,” because if we get this depleted, we are often on the verge of an angry meltdown (both physically and mentally). When we fall toward zero on the hungry-full spectrum, then we’ll eat anything we can get our hands on, and this is when we speed to the drive-through or grab the cookies hiding in the back of the freezer.

So we want to avoid zero at all costs. I find it takes most of my clients a bit of time and experimentation to really get a handle on what five, or being “hunger neutral,” feels like. When most people detox, they find that their own sense of scale had until then been pretty out of whack. Getting to a clean slate and being able to familiarize yourself with what it truly feels like to be satiated, or digestively content, is a gift we rarely give ourselves.

Being free from reacting to food and no longer being prisoner to our habits and cravings allows us to tune into ourselves and our appetites in really intimate, empowering ways, and once you land on this neutral midpoint between truly starving and overstuffed, you find that you can relax around food in profound ways—maybe for the first time in your life. From this easy, grounded place, you can make much more mindful choices about how, when, and what you will eat.

The midpoint on the hungry-full scale is the sweet spot on the nutritional continuum, the balance point, the place where we’re likely to experience our bodies and the world with satisfaction and acceptance. This is the point where hunger vanishes and we lose our obsessive awareness of food. From here, you become free to notice subtleties and variations in how you feel that you weren’t available to experience when you were eating in a more volatile all-or-nothing way. For example, you may find that when you wake up, you feel that you are at a relatively comfortable four, so you decide to enjoy just water or tea for the first hour or so of the day, allowing your body to rehydrate before you eat any food. You may wait to eat until you reach a more compelling three, when you decide it is time for breakfast. I have one client, Jane, who doesn’t really hit this place until late, late morning, and that’s okay; she has breakfast when a lot of us are already thinking about lunch.

The goal with breakfast—or any meal for that matter—is to bring us just up past five to a really pleasant six or seven, and when we hit eight, we pretty much know it’s time to stop. Getting into nine or ten territory means certain misery that may manifest in several undesirable ways including cramping, bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue, brain fuzziness, and weight gain.

Finding balance on the hungry-full scale is all about moderation and staying on the middle path. It’s about checking in with ourselves gently and regularly about what we need. When we do this, we find that eating actually soothes and energizes, rather than stresses. When we stay in that comfortable midrange, we feel enlivened, not weighted down, by food. This is when we feel healthy and supported—not harmed—by what we eat. Striving for this smooth, fluid, easy relationship with food is the goal, because our relationship with food ought to be a happy and harmonious one, always.


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