Step 1: Keep a Food Journal, write down everything you eat. Step 2: Keep a…
Step 1: Keep a Food Journal, write down everything you eat.
Step 2: Keep a Food Journal, write down everything you eat before you put it in your mouth.
Step 3: Keep a Food Journal, write down everything you eat before you put it in your mouth, plus where, when, why, and with whom you eat.
Step 4: Eat whatever you want but first drink a glass of water.
Step 5: Eat whatever you want but only at the table.
Growing up in a large family with eight siblings, I was competitive, we all were! It was fun to be first, win a board game, catch a fly ball on the softball field, get good grades, receive Girl Scout badges, score a basket for the team, or tell the best story. It was even better to be recognized, to be singled out for any accomplishment no matter how big or small. I remember a tremendous feeling of pride when I received the weekly “Miss Neat” award in first grade. Yeah, I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal but when Sister Mary Alicia at St. Lawrence Catholic School handed me that little certificate, I was so excited you would have thought I’d won an Oscar! My point is, as a child, I was good at making almost everything into a game and really liked winning.
Years later, when I was beginning to better understand my relationship with food and learning to love myself, I made that into a game, too. It was a game nobody else even knew I was playing. I was playing by myself and for myself. I might not win but since nobody else was playing, nobody would beat me.
The rules of this new game were easy. All I had to do was continue the previous steps as I added new ones. Winning didn’t mean that I always chose the healthiest food options, it just meant that I accurately maintained my food journal. Like any new skill, with repetition came improvement. Journaling was becoming a habit and I was getting good at it. It sounds crazy but I felt the same sort of pride as when I won “Miss Neat!”
Once I felt proficient at journaling, I added two new steps over the next month. For the first two weeks, I challenged myself to drink a glass of water before eating any snack or meal. At the time I thought, “I’ll fill my stomach with water, so I won’t eat as much.” I had no idea there were so many health benefits associated with proper hydration. According to the Harvard School of Public Health drinking enough water each day helps “regulate body temperature, lubricate joints, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly.” But after two weeks, I discovered another benefit. I noticed that intentionally drinking a glass of water before eating gave me a sense of control that felt strangely freeing. For example, if I walked into the kitchen and saw cookies sitting on the counter, I realized that I didn’t have to eat them immediately. I could pause, get a glass of water, and then decide whether to eat the cookie or not. I was beginning to feel that I had more power over food than it had over me. I still ate cookies, but I ate them guilt-free, which felt like a big win!
Feeling confident, I added Step 5…I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted if I consumed it at the table. Believe it or not, this was the most difficult step so far. At that point in my life, I was a skilled eater and could easily devour food while watching TV, sitting at my desk, driving the car, reading the newspaper, playing cards, and talking on the phone (which back in the day was attached to the wall and nowhere near the table.)
The list of steps was getting longer, which meant there was more time between wanting to eat and eating. To win the game, besides drinking a glass of water, I had to record what I was going to eat along with whom, where, when, and why I was going to eat. At least now I knew that going forward, the “where” would always be at the table. I can’t tell you what a difference this step made in my life. Never had I considered the table the sole location to consume food. But once I took on the challenge, I stuck with it.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was eating less often. “Who”, I asked myself, “has time to sit at the table and eat all day?” Not me…I had things to do! Long story short, within a few weeks, without restricting any of my favorite foods, my clothes were feeling more comfortable. Thanks to swearing off the scale in the upstairs bathroom, promising to never again allow it to dictate how I felt about myself, I felt healthier and proud! Rather than focusing on my weight and what foods I ate, I focused on how I ate them. And I was winning a game nobody knew I was playing…and boy, did that feel good!