A funny thing happens to us when we’re not paying attention. The problem? You hardly even realize it’s happening since you’re not even consciously in the same room with yourself at these moments. I’m speaking about the unconscious eating you so often indulge in. You know, you’re chatting and cooking, having a stress-free hour or so, and tasting this and that. Have you ever noticed that when you sit down to eat at your own dinner party you aren’t at all hungry? You might even think to yourself, Wow, I’ve got this thing down! I cooked it up, dished it out, and remained in complete control! I can’t recall ever being in this powerfully in control. I don’t think I need to go on with the apparent ending of this particular story, instead let me share a client’s story.
A client and friend was doing an amazing job having lost about 60 of the 100 pounds she planned to drop. It was slow going, to say the least, but not a problem since it all did eventually come off. Every week I would review her food list for the previous week and would never see anything that stood out; mostly it was a portion control issue for her and we were dealing with it, or at least “we” thought we were. I say “we” because she truly had no idea that she was engaging in unconscious eating.
Our story takes place one winter evening when Sylvia decided to have a bunch of kids and adults for an impromptu dinner. The plan was to feed the kids while the adults visited in the living room. As it happened, I had a clear view of the kitchen from my perch on the couch and watched as Sylvia busily served up plates of spaghetti to the ten kids. As I watched, not spying mind you, just casually observing, I was amazed at what was unfolding in that kitchen. To my utter amazement, this woman whose fierce determination had enabled her to monitor every ounce of food that had entered her body for the last year was scooping up a forkful of spaghetti, placing it on one child’s plate, and then forking an equal portion into her mouth. After serving each child’s plate, she served herself a similar portion. By the time the kids’ meals were in front of them, Sylvia had consumed the equivalent of a very large dish of spaghetti! I was stunned, and not wanting her to think I was spying, I quickly scooted out of sight and waited for dinner with the rest of the group. When the adults were served, Sylvia enjoyed a glass of white wine and a moderate, healthy meal. She looked fabulous and felt confident in her ability to control her portion.
As you might imagine, I was anxious to review Sylvia’s food journal with her when she came for her weekly weigh-in. I don’t recall if she was up or down, and honestly, that was insignificant. What we needed to discuss was not a matter of good or bad, right or wrong. It was a matter of behavior, or more to the point, unconscious behavior. As anticipated, I read her food journal, and low and behold, she happened to have completely omitted the kitchen caper with the kids. I shared what I witnessed that evening, and Sylvia was as shocked to hear it as I was to have seen it. She had no recollection of that extra course, and I believed her since she was meticulous about owning up to every morsel she consumed each week. The habit of tasting her children’s food or anything else she cooked was so ingrained that she wasn’t even aware of doing it. Almost like sleepwalking, Sylvia was sleep-eating!
This was an enormous eye-opener for the two of us, and by bringing her “tasting” to consciousness, Sylvia was able to stop the behavior and lose the remaining pounds. I gained an even greater awareness of how certain habits are so deeply ingrained that an outsider’s observant eye is sometimes needed to pick up on them. Therefore, the next time you’re cooking or serving food, please pay attention to what you are doing. If you are munching away oblivious of the amount you are taking in, you must stop yourself! This is not “free food”; these food calories contribute to your weight just like any other, and they might be the reason you aren’t having the level of success you desire.