I was given a great article this morning that was published a while ago by the California Pacific Medical Center (“A Healthy Outlook, Winter 2004”) about understanding the physical responses that signal satiety. While its a short piece, there were a couple of great zingers in there. First off the author, Sonia Elkes, mentions that “the reality of eating past the point of ‘satisfied’ is that it is not comfortable, and is often downright painful.” She then notes that all the food we eat PAST that point is just going to be stored as fat.
Although I couldn’t find this article on their website, I did read a few of CPMC’s online health resources on weight management. I was particularly fascinated by an article that stated that children have a natural food regulating mechanism, which is affected by family eating patterns, food availability, and marketing. Their recommendation was for parents to set the “when” and the “what” for their kids, but not to force the “how much.” It might drive an adult crazy, but kids who eat some days and don’t eat other days are actually more likely to be in touch with their natural regulator. (So much for that special home made meal you might have prepared!)
My own well-meaning (and overweight) parents, using the wisdom of their day, did try to establish some boundaries for my siblings and me. But in their own lives, my parents dealt with a variety of emotional issues which led them to overeat and diet, cycling up and down. Sometimes my Mother would eat nothing but cottage cheese. Other times my Father would announce that he couldn’t have cookies (or cake, or candy) anymore. Inevitably, these approaches failed.
When I think of the many, many nights that I went to bed (as a child AND as an adult) having overeaten to the point of pain, I’m both astonished and embarrassed. But when we eat based on emotional signals, there simply isn’t any way for our satiety signals to kick in properly. The things that make me eat (boredom, anxiety, depression, stress) have nothing to do with food, really.
To the extent that we can be objective about the eating process, there is a lot we can learn about “knowing when to say when.” Elkes recommends that we “pay attention” to the stomach muscle and “feel the distention as it begins to happen.” Since the empty stomach is rather small, about the size of a large apple, it must grow and stretch as we eat in order to function properly.
But just as we can either pay attention to our breathing and heartbeat or ignore them at will, we can do the same with the stomach. When we overeat on a consistent basis, we are overriding the information naturally present that can serve to help us regulate our behavior.
An oft-repeated, yet successful, practice is to put one’s fork down. Another possibility is to sit back in one’s chair and take stock. Whatever we do, we need to get in touch with our stomach as a muscle, rather than as a receptacle for emotions.
According to Elkes, in doing so we can discover that leaving food on the plate “is a nurturing act” not a depriving one.