When I introduce people to the idea of eating whatever they want and ending overeating, I get a variety of reactions. Some people think these are two totally inconsistent things.
Some say, “If I ate whatever I wanted, I’d never stop eating!”
Your response will depend on where you are along the weight loss path.
You see, there are four stages on the path to eating the way naturally slim people do.
Knowing and understanding these stages can help you be more compassionate towards yourself along the way, and consistent and patient with the process.
The four key components to losing weight by eating like a naturally slim person are: (1) eating in response to your body’s hunger signals; (2) eating what your body wants—there are no forbidden foods; (3) eating mindfully without distractions so you can really savor your food; and (4) stopping when your body is lightly full. This means that you eat to fuel your body and don’t eat to avoid feeling negative emotions or dealing with life’s difficulties.
You probably don’t remember that when you were a baby, you only wanted food when you were hungry, and ate only as much as your body needed. At some point, that changed. I won’t go into the many ways it could have happened, but the fact is this: almost everyone who is overweight started eating for reasons other than hunger at some point, and lost touch with their body’s natural hunger and satiety signals.
To reestablish a natural relationship with food and eating, you have to learn how to eat all over again. You have to abandon your current habits and learn new ones. Here are the four stages you will go through to become your naturally healthy weight.
Stage 1: Unaware (unconsciously incompetent)*
People who are in this stage are likely overweight, and aren’t sure why. You may not think you eat too much. You eat for an assortment of reasons having nothing to do with hunger, including to avoid experiencing difficult emotions or boredom. You may go on diets to lose weight, then give up, and go back to your old habits, and gain more weight. You feel discouraged because you have trouble sticking with a diet, but are entrenched in the diet mentality, therefore believing that is the only way you can lose weight.
In other words, if you’re at this stage, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Stage 2: Beginning (consciously incompetent)
People in this stage intellectually know that diets don’t work, and are open to trying to eat in tune with their body’s signals. But growing up with and surrounded by the diet mentality, that mindset is hard to shake. You start rebelling against dieting, but with some trepidation. This means you’re experimenting with eating what you really want after years of deprivation. This may cause guilt at times. Sometimes, this means eating what you think you like, then discovering those foods aren’t as great as you might have thought.
You’re testing getting back in touch with your hunger signals, but may have trouble discerning body hunger from head hunger. You’ve gotten rid of the forbidden food lists, but still want to eat to avoid feeling your emotions. So you sometimes eat when you aren’t hungry and find excuses for not eating mindfully, like you’re "too busy" to take the time to eat.
At this stage, you may stop gaining weight or possibly gain a little more because you’re eating whatever you want without practicing the other components consistently. This is normal so please don’t go back on a diet or freak out!
Stage 3: Practicing (consciously competent)
This is the stage when you know what to do and are practicing all four of the components listed above consistently, but it still takes effort and awareness. It is the “this is sometimes hard, but I will keep at it because it really works and I feel great” stage. You are eating what your body wants and what you love consistently and without guilt. You aren’t afraid to be around any kind of food. This is so exciting!
You eat when you’re hungry, but are still learning what it feels like when your body has had enough. You are enjoying your food more than ever and having fewer cravings. Sometimes, when something really tastes good, your brain tells you it wants more food than your body needs, and you may be disappointed at having to stop eating. But you feel confident of your ability to control food and not let it control you anymore. Yippee!
You notice when you want to eat for emotional reasons, but usually don’t give in to the urge because you know that it doesn’t solve anything and isn’t worth derailing your efforts. You may sometimes mess up along the way, but you use it as an opportunity to learn, and not as an excuse to go back to your old ways of eating. You are likely losing weight at a healthy, slow pace.
Stage 4: Naturally slim (unconsciously competent)
You have arrived! You’ve reached the point where you don’t have to think much about food and eating. Yes, you love and enjoy great food, but because you have an abundance mindset, you don’t feel like you have to eat anything because “it’s there.” Although you may enjoy eating sweets, you don’t want them as much as you used to (because they are no longer off limits--see how that works?) and sometimes even forget that they’re in your home. You’ve developed a taste for foods that make you feel light and energetic, and love that feeling so much that you rarely overeat.
You eat only in response to your body’s hunger signals, and seldom think about eating for emotional reasons. You’re losing weight at a slow pace, but what’s the rush? Or you’ve reached your naturally healthy weight and are happy with your body as it is. Maybe you don’t look like Beyoncé, but you aren’t obsessed with having the perfect body. You accept the one you have, treat it well, and love it for all it does for you.
Indigestion is a thing of the past. You’ve tossed the antacids, PPIs and the like.
Best of all, you’ve arrived at a place you didn’t know existed: where you can enjoy the food you love, but not be obsessed with food and eating. You’ve freed up a lot of time and energy!
Which stage are you at now? Wouldn’t you love to arrive at Stage 4 and make peace with food and eating forever? I’d love to teach you how! Sign up here to be among the first notified when registration for the Weight Loss for Foodies group opens next month!
* In parentheses are the names of the corresponding four stages for learning any new skill originally introduced by Noel Burch.