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Enjoy Food Again

Dr. Linda Mintle

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Suzy and I took our usual places in the overstuffed chairs in our favorite coffee shop. As we sipped our tall, skinny, one-pump decaf mochas, her eyes kept wandering to the display case of pastries. She seemed unusually distracted. "Suzy, I know my problem with the rabbits eating my begonias is not exactly front page news, but you seem distracted. Is everything okay?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess so. I was just looking at those pastries in the display case. They look so tempting. I would really like an apple fritter with my coffee. My mouth is watering just thinking about it, but I know I shouldn't eat it. I've got to lose ten pounds. Oh, what the heck, I'm going to get it. It looks yummy. Coffee and pastry are great together."
Suzy headed for the counter, bought the pastry and began munching on it while I resumed our conversation: "Here's what a friend of mine suggests for my rabbit problem. Whenever you have your hair cut, you should ask for the clippings and then spread them around the bed of the begonias. Supposedly, this keeps the varmints away. Sounds a little creepy to me. Like a CSI episode for furry critters. (Pause) Okay, you're not laughing. What is up with you?"
"I just ate that apple fritter."
"I know. I was sitting right here, remember? I witnessed the crime."
"It's not funny. I do this all the time. I eat when I'm not hungry, and that makes me crazy."
"Well, then, stop it."
"If I could stop, don't you think I would have by now?"
"I suppose so. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be insensitive."
"It's like I don't have control over this and then I end up gaining five pounds. It is depressing. I'm caught in this vicious cycle. I try to resist but have no willpower. Then I feel bad
and could kick myself. So I try to be good, but then a pastry starts calling my name. And you know me. If it's calling my name, I'm going to answer!"
"Do you have to answer by eating it?"
"Yes. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a problem, right?"
"Wrong. Anytime you think there is only one choice, you create a problem. There are other ways to handle this. You have more control than you think you do. Look, I saw that apple fritter too. It looked delicious and I thought about how great it would taste with my coffee. I wanted it just as badly as you did. But I've learned a little secret that really helps me when it comes to eating. I've learned to press pause."
"Press pause? What are you talking about?"
"I've learned to press a mental pause button and become more aware of my eating. Basically, I've learned to be more intentional with my eating. It doesn't mean I am perfect when it comes to food, but it sure has made a difference."

Press pause is more than a strategy. It is a mindset that has been the foundation of my work with clients in therapy and clinical practice for more than twenty-five years. As an eating disorders specialist employed by medical schools, hospital programs, public schools, universities, and private practices, I have used this technique to help people from all walks of life who struggle with food and eating.
My professional life has focused on developing strategies that work when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle when it comes to food. During the past six years, I have had the privilege to talk to an even larger audience through speaking, writing, and appearing as Dr. Linda
on ABC Family's Living the Life television show. I often remind our viewers that you don't need to be in therapy to have issues with food!
In fact, have you ever said to yourself, "Why did I just eat that? I wasn't hungry. I can't believe I just ate that"? This book is for you and the rest of us who eat when we aren't hungry, eat without thinking, or overeat when we are full, then find ourselves saying, "I hate myself right now. What is wrong with me?"
Once we eat to our own regret, then our sense of defeat only leads to more overeating. What a vicious cycle! We don't want to overeat, but do. Then we feel terrible, make self-disparaging remarks or excuse our behavior, feel even worse, and overeat more. We give up and give in. We tell ourselves that the food is more powerful than we are and that we can't defeat this inner urge or impulse. We are left feeling hopeless.
And statistics seem to bear us out. Despite the billions of dollars spent on diets and fitness products, Americans experience record rates of obesity and remain extremely weight conscious. According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, 90 to 95 percent of people who diet are unsuccessful in the long term-and other studies indicate that most of those dieters regain their lost weight within one to five years! These are not encouraging statistics- just thinking about them makes you want to grab the hot buttered popcorn.
To make matters worse, after we eat something we don't really want or need, we don't usually tell ourselves to let it go and move on. Instead, we give in to the hopelessness of the moment. What we need to do is learn from the moment: Think about why we just did what we didn't want to do and focus our efforts on changing this practiced habit rather than simply feeling bad about it or excusing it.
Let's be honest. We know the facts about food. I mean, look around you. We are saturated with information. We are bombarded by diet and fitness facts. You can hardly pick up a magazine without finding recipes or reading about a new ab reducer. Truth is, these days you don't have to be a registered dietitian to make good food decisions!
Most overeating or unhealthy eating is not cured by more seminars on what to eat, another new and improved diet, or more creative exercise ideas. The problem most of us have is that we don't do what we know is good to do! What we need to focus on is why? What is missing? Why do we eat when we aren't hungry?
Our lives are busy. Food is always available and often times we eat without thinking. We need to press pause. Our goal is to feel in control of the food we choose to eat, rather than the food controlling us.
We want eating to be an intentional behavior under our control. Wouldn't it feel great to be in control of the apple fritter rather than the apple fritter controlling you? Wouldn't you like to look at a yummy pastry and make an intentional decision whether you are going to eat it or not? Or if you do choose to eat it, to not feel guilty afterward? It can be done!
To get there, we must understand that eating is more than a physical act that satisfies hunger. It is emotional, relational, environmental, and spiritual. We eat when we are hurried, stressed, and feeling all kinds of emotions: happy, sad, fearful, and more. Eating can distract us from uncomfortable feelings or connect us to memories of love. Food comforts us when we are lonely or rejected. It distracts us when we are angry and calms us when we feel stressed.
We eat when we fight with our spouse, feel sexually insecure, are stressed by the demands of elderly parents, try unsuccessfully to comfort a screaming toddler, are frustrated with work, and so on. Food gives us pleasure and a momentary break.
We eat because we can. Walking past the smoothie bar and seeing those machines foam up tropical concoctions moves us toward the counter. A cold winter night is warmed by a hot cup of peppermint mocha. The television advertisement of chocolate topping on rich vanilla ice cream is virtually telling us to march to the freezer. Our environment provides ample opportunities and cues to eat and provides inviting choices. We respond.
And finally, we eat to

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