How come some people are naturally slender? They don't watch their weight, count calories, or obsess about food. Being thin just seems to come to them, well, naturally. This tells me that a possible solution to weight problems could be something quite natural, something that's been with us all along.
In almost 20 years of working with clients, I’ve noticed that naturally slender people tend to approach food in an "inside-out" manner. They primarily relate to food through their internal senses (such as self-observation, self-sensing, self-talk, and mindfulness), senses that orient us to the internal world of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Naturally thin people's eating habits are influenced by how food feels when inside their body, by facts they know about food, and by how they feel while eating it. With their awareness primarily anchored inside the body, they tend to be fully present, attuned to the internal cues of being full, which is a felt-sense of having eaten enough.
They are not concerned about finishing everything or cleaning their plate. When their internal "full light" comes on they stop eating regardless of what's next on the menu or left on the table. Naturally thin people tend to eat only when hungry, that is, when they experience the internal bodily sensations that indicate hunger. They do not eat according to the clock or get influenced by what's put in front of them. They do not get tempted by the externals. They have an internal authority that guides food choices and timings.
People who struggle with weight issues, in contrast, can tend to approach food primarily "outside-in." They seem to relate to food through their external senses (i.e., seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling), senses that orient us to things outside of us. As such, overweight people can become easily influenced by factors such as how food looks, tastes, smells, etc. They tend to be disconnected from internal cues, easily missing the felt-sense of being full that is so important to becoming your natural weight.
An external focus can make them vulnerable to the appearance of seductive foods and to deceptive advertising that makes fatty, sugary, processed, unhealthy foods look and sound like they are good for us. It's not unusual for an overweight person to multitask while eating, to watch television, read, or surf the internet during breakfast, lunch or dinner. This pulls attention and awareness outside of the body and again allows for missing the internal cues of when to stop eating.
Another set of internal cues that can be easily missed by an external focus is emotions. Emotions happen inside of us, inside the body. But if we are disconnected from that internal realm and focused outside ourselves, we do not have direct access to those feelings. Still they influence us in a big way.
It is often said that people who are overweight eat for emotional reasons, yet many people with weight issues are not aware of what those emotions are. It’s as if they don't feel emotional, they just feel hungry. They eat to answer a craving that cannot be filled with food. Food satisfies physical hunger; it cannot satisfy emotional hunger. More food is likely to be sought and weight gained, creating an endless cycle.
Diets may work for a while but they ultimately do not solve the problem because the problem is not the food. Food is the symptom. The issue is on the emotional level and must be addressed on the emotional level. Those who are chronically overweight typically are not focused on feelings. If they were they would realize that food does not address those feelings. Instead, food is often used to avoid feeling the feelings.
The focus often stays on food, causing an overemphasis on food, and the real issue does not get addressed. Just as we have thoughts all the time we have feelings all the time. Emotions are ever present but by hyper-focusing on food we can easily distract ourselves from our feelings. For some people this becomes a way of life.
In terms of changing this cycle, a good place to start is to adopt an "inside-out" approach to food and to eating. Train yourself to interact with food primarily through your internal senses. Use self sensing - feeling sensations inside your body - to discern when you are hungry and when you are full. Use your mind to focus on the health content of what's available. Self-sense and observe your entire system's response to certain foods. Practice becoming attuned to what's going on inside your body as you eat. Try the conscious eating exercise below.
If you feel resistance to "dropping in" to your body, it could be there are unprocessed emotions that are scary to tap in to. Seek help from a counselor or coach who can guide you in the process. Feel free to contact me or check out my Energy Mastery program, which is all about navigating the internal realms and getting to know your true self. The simple shift in perception from an external to an internal focus can mean the difference between a fit, healthy body and an overweight, sluggish one.
An Exercise in Conscious Eating
While teaching a university course I designed on Principles of Holistic Health, I would facilitate an experiential eating exercise involving grapes, almonds and raisins. Each student was given a small paper plate containing one organic grape, one raw almond (not dry roasted), and one organic raisin. I would guide students to close their eyes and consciously shift their attention away from an external focus and instead adopt an internal focus, activating their internal senses. Eyes were to be kept closed during the entire exercise.
We would start with the almond. I invited students to hold the almond in their hands, using their fingers to probe the almond and slowly explore its texture. Then, with eyes still closed, time would be spent smelling the almond, taking its fragrance into the body. Next, the almond was carefully placed in the mouth for the first bite. What an explosion of flavor! I would guide the students to take time with the chewing process, really tasting the range of flavors available in the almond from beginning to end, and carefully listening to the internal sounds of the almond being chewed.
This process was repeated with the grape and then finally the raisin. Moving slowly through the exercise was crucial. By the end of the exercise, after just one almond, one grape and one raisin, every student would report feeling absolutely "stuffed," as if they had just consumed a big meal. Another frequent comment was that the raisin would taste so utterly sweet, almost overpoweringly sweet, that the thought of having anything sugary after that was nearly revolting.
I invite you to try the exercise. Of course, it is not realistic to take that much time to eat on a regular basis. But allowing yourself to experience food in this manner is quite powerful. By slowing down the eating process, being fully present, and experiencing your food from the "inside-out" you introduce yourself to a new food experience, one that can reconnect eating with your inner senses and help set the stage for a much healthier relationship with food, and with your emotional body.