More Difficult than it Sounds

A few weeks ago, I blogged about trying to learn a new way of eating to help me develop eating competence and stop with the permanent diet. This is an update on how that’s coming along.

It is surprisingly difficult to learn this new approach, even as I’m eating basically the same food as I always have and not in too much different a way than I did before. For those of you just joining the party, I am shifting my eating habits away from classic diet/restricted eating/obsessive calorie counting and trying to develop (or rediscover) my eating competence as presented by Ellyn Satter and the institute she founded.

Some of the issues I’m facing are related to starting my new work contract which has turned over my more flexible schedule of the last few months. I’m spending time commuting to work and back home that I didn’t need to allocate before. My time at the client’s site is not entirely my own to schedule. I’m still learning their company culture, which distracts me from other things. This is a matter of getting a routine established, which I expect to have settled into by the end of the month.

After that, the two biggest issues I’m working with are a stricter eating schedule and a more permissive eating mode.

I hadn’t realized until I set up three meal and three snack times how lackadaisical my eating patterns are. Meals are pretty well set, but I have been grazing and nibbling far more often than I knew. The food I am eating is the same; I eat the same thing for snacks and I eat the same amount as before. It’s that I would not allow myself to get hungry between meals. I spaced the snack food out so as to quell hunger pangs, which means I’m not being aware of my true hunger levels. Now, I eat at 6:00, 9:00 (if feeling hungry), 12:00, 3:00, 6:30, and 9:00 (if feeling hungry). About every three hours, but two snacks are optional if I’m not having any sense at all of hunger. I tend not to get hungry between breakfast and lunch, but I think that may be due to the amount of coffee I drink. What I have started to do is pull out the morning snack and have a small nibble of it, then wait 5 minutes and see if that triggers a “Oh, yeah, food!” reaction. Usually it doesn’t. In the evening, if I have had a big dinner, I’m usually not interested in food. If I have something sweet or treat-like, I’ll save it for my evening snack so I end the day with something emotionally satisfying.

Being more permissive about food is challenging. Until I sat there, facing my plate, knowing that I could eat all I wanted, not just a single serving, I didn’t realize how strictly I’d been controlling my intake, mostly at dinner.

Breakfast has been a bowl of some kind of cereal with milk and sugar for as long as I can remember. That’s just what breakfast is to me. If I’m traveling, I’ll order eggs and toast because I never like how other people prepare cereal and I always want skim milk on my cereal. Again, this is just How I Eat My Cereal. I am very solid that I’m not restricting calories by drinking skim milk. I can’t stand any other kind of milk on cereal – it tastes thick and wrong to me. I grew up pouring reconstituted not-fat powdered dry milk on my cereal (usually Cheerios, but sometimes Cornflakes or Wheaties), and that’s just what cereal tastes like. I like hot cereal in the morning, and love the texture of steel cut oats, so that’s what I have.

Lunch is also not problematic. I eat raw vegetables. Lots of them. It’s what I’ve eaten for years, and I always have more than I want. Plus a hard-boiled egg for protein and fat. I don’t eat them with a dip because of childhood encounters with spoiled food and messy/bad tasting/mixed up dips, salad dressings, and other creamy substances. Like people dripping ketchup into the mayonnaise jar, or watching people drink glugs of dressing right from the bottle, or trying to force me to eat flavors of condiments that I loathed (sweet relish, Miracle Whip, blue cheese anything, 1,000 Island dressing, etc.). As a result, I will eat vegetables raw in preference to risking getting a mouthful of spoiled dip. And, I really, truly, honestly love fresh crunchy vegetables. The taste, the texture, the colors, the way I can pick up this one, then that one, mix flavors, and so forth. I bought a bigger lunch box and bigger containers so that I can always carry enough and never be looking at the box going “I wish I’d packed more.”

Snacks between meals depend on where I am. At home, I’ll mix up things that require a bowl, eating utensils and might be drippy. At the client’s location, dry things, easy to eat, not smelly stuff. For example, at home, my afternoon snack is usually rice cakes smeared with peanut butter, while at work, I’ll have a container of spicy rice crackers and nuts.

Dinner is where I’m getting tugged in different directions. I am used to cooking things in 2 or 4 servings to reduce leftovers and food waste. With just two people, a meal of 12 servings is overkill unless I can freeze some for a later date. What I have a problem with is that I only make enough for exactly 2 or 4 servings, so, if I want more, I can’t have it because it’s either gone after me and the Spousal Unit have dished some up or else I’ve planned to have the leftovers later in the week. With my new work schedule, I need to save leftovers so dinner is available at a reasonable hour.  So, I’m having to learn how to extend the servings so that there’s a bit more than just 2 or just 4 – adding more rice or bulgur, chopping up more vegetables, taking out some extra chicken, etc.

Then there’s the mental block of “You’ve had your meal, no more!” I’m now making myself put a second serving (even if it’s just a small spoon of something) on my plate and trying at least one small bite before I say “Yup, I’m done.” It’s unlearning an arbitrary limit. Now, at a party where there is a lot of food laid out, I don’t feel this limit. I also don’t feel any limit, which is a different problem. I’ll work on that next. Right now, I’m trying to get past the sense that I don’t dare eat more than my one, single, measured, calorie-counted serving at dinner. If I want another bite, I’ll have one.

So, that’s where I am with developing my eating competence. It’s going to be slow and I’m learning to be patient with myself on this.


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Posted in Anglachel, Food, Health
5 comments on “More Difficult than it Sounds
  1. quixote says:

    As someone who was brought up on “eating competence,” I’m not sure I have anything useful to add. When something isn’t difficult for you, you don’t know what the difficulties are. (Duh.) So take the following for whatever it’s worth for you, which may be nothing.

    The crucial element is having enough communication between mind and tum to know when you’re full. I describe it as the feeling that you still have some room, but everything is holding hands and feeling happy and more would just overdo it. The communication takes time so you have to eat slowly. If there’s no time to do that, then for me at least there’s no point eating. It wouldn’t be enjoyable, And you don’t eat unless you’re hungry, ie physically hungry, and have been for a while, like an hour or so. Then you eat an actual meal. Snacking isn’t part of it.

    So, anyway, what I’m trying to say is you’re right. No arbitrary limits. Just keep learning to listen to yourself.


    • anglachelg says:

      Hi quixote,

      Yup, that’s the “all you have to do” part of difficult – learning to respond to those physiological cues with awareness, but not obsession. That’s what vanishes from the diet-driven table, the ability to not have to always think about what you’re eating. Even if the what and the how much are reasonable, the hyper-awareness disorders consumption habits. I thought I really wasn’t being so vigilant, so it’s a bit sobering to uncover my unacknowledged “rules.”

      The roots of eating habits go deep. The Spousal Unit does this very easily, and he grew up in a household with unlimited food and constant urging from the various female family members to eat more, you’re a growing boy! There are a few foods for which he is extremely greedy (fresh baked bread, hot corn muffins), but most of the time he has a serving of something and that’s fine. I grew up in a hideously disordered eating environment, plus have some powerful genetic tendency towards large body mass, so the end result ain’t pretty physically or psychologically.

      I’m also wary of just substituting one set of rules for another. Sigh. It’s like learning a new coding language. You never think you’re going to get it until one day you write up something pretty cool and realize you didn’t have to look something up or even think about it very much.



      • quixote says:

        “Like learning a new coding language” Yes, indeed. Maybe it’s even more like learning to exercise. Forming a new physical habit that initially takes lots of attention, motivating yourself to get up and do it, and listening to your body about where “too much” and “enough” are. And then if you keep at it long enough, it gets easier and easier.

        At least as far as exercise goes, my problem if I do manage to get to that point of easiness is that then I tend to feel, “Okay. I can slack off now.” And then I have to start all over down the road. It’s ironic, but now that I’m older and feel dreadful much more quickly if I don’t exercise, the not-slacking-off part has actually become less of a problem. :wry face here!:


      • anglachelg says:

        Heh, I hear you about the exercise. I’ve had my usual routine disrupted by the new consulting gig because I have to be at the client’s site, which means commute time and not really having a mid-day hour free for workouts and so forth. This last week I’ve been A) grumpy because my routine has changed, B) aching because I’m trying to get back into a routine after a couple weeks off and my muscles Do Not Like This and, C) experimenting with what will actually be sustainable for the length of the contract.

        Overall, I find that changes to my routines (the when and the where of my activities) are more difficult than changes to substance of what I’m doing, be that a change to the food I’m eating or the activity I’m doing. This may be why activity has so much more profound an effect on health than diet. The habit of walking this much, lifting that kind of weight, riding a bike, etc. are more time consuming and complex to establish and maintain than having X for breakfast every morning. If you get them worked in, then your body is automatically “worked out” helping to keep the parts in balance. I went for a walk/jog this afternoon after two weeks of not doing this and it was difficult, but I could feel a sense of (for lack of a better term) happiness that *yes* I was doing movement again that made me feel like myself, even as I know that my thighs and shins are going to be bitching me out tomorrow.



  2. It would be good if I could do better about food. This checkup my numbers are better though I didn’t lose weight, & the next checkup is in six months rather than three. I’ve been eating less meat & cheese and more tofu, peanuts & yogurt. Also, possibly, more greens.

    The “learning to eat” idea is interesting, and I think I’ve sort of been doing something similar because my weight is at least holding steady. I’m more concentrating on not eating-past-full and not skipping exercise (usually walking or standing). I would like to loose weight so my “one size fits most” skirts fit more comfortably.

    The yogurt is specifically Icelandic style, “skyr”, which is new in the food co-op we’re members of. It’s milk+culture, no additional additives, and it’s like having milk in the fridge that won’t go bad. (I stopped buying regular milk a long time ago.) The cultures are very good for keeping my tummy feeling happy. I like the tofu — the co-op sells it in 4 pound blocks & I chop it up into portions and freeze & just keep a few portions thawed. It’s less-work protein than meat because cooking is optional. One way for me to get more vegetables regularly is that standing chopping veggies counts as exercise for me, if it’s 30+ minutes of standing while I chop and other food prep or cleanup.


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