53. How to Think About Your Cake and Eat it Too
Welcome to episode 53 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I am talking very specifically about eating, not just cake, but anything that you might consider to be an indulgence; something you might formerly have considered dangerous or off limits; something that you perhaps even feel you can't control yourself over.
And even for those who don't feel the lack of control, this can be extremely tricky especially once we learn to listen to our bodies. I can't speak for everyone, but I struggled with this for a long while because what I found is that my body didn't want these foods. When I was legitimately hungry, my body wanted nutritious, filling, balanced meals. And so I would eat those things and and then I would wonder when do I get to eat the other food that taste really good - food like cookies, cake, ice cream.
And it became frustrating because it almost seemed like the only logical answer was to give up these kinds of foods. And I see others often in that same predicament. Your body doesn't really want to depend on these things as primary fuel, and these are the exact foods that we tend to compulsively overeat, which is exactly what we want to stop.
But then on the other side of it, we don't want to completely give up these foods and restrict them because then we will feel mental deprivation and probably want them even more.
To me this felt like a Chinese finger trap, or that I was kind of damned if I do, damned if I don't, because it seemed that if I gave up binging I would have to give up these foods because I was never physically hungry for them. And that didn't seem like what I understood food freedom to be.
But here's the middle way that I wasn't seeing: You can eat only for the pleasure of taste, regardless of hunger. And no, that doesn't automatically mean you need to overeat or eat beyond fullness. And this was the thing I didn't get. I remember asking a coach, "What do I do if I want to eat a piece of pie? Do I try to save room after a healthy meal so I feel good physically or do I just eat the piece of pie for my meal and pay the price of feeling bad later?"
And in essence she explained that when I truly eat just for taste, I'm not going to need an entire piece of pie. And so, no, I don't have to make pie my entire lunch and nor do I really have to try to save enough room for the piece of pie. And gosh, this really blew my mind. And notice how I felt caught between these two options, neither of which sounded great, and the solution was neither of those things. The solution was something completely different and I had to change my thinking to understand that solution; to see beyond what I thought were my only two options.
And this new understanding freed me from thinking that I absolutely had to eat only because of hunger, and it also opened me up to seeing the importance of eating for taste. And frankly many of us don't eat for taste because we're either restricting ourselves to hunger only eating - which can absolutely be enjoyable, but not necessarily peak enjoyable like your absolute favorite dessert prepared to perfection. And on the other side of it we're binging or overeating and when we're doing that we're not having an enjoyable experience no matter how good the food is.
And so it might sound crazy and impossible, but truly when you isolate for the pleasure of taste and taste alone you really do only need a few bites. And when you do that you don't have to worry about being overly full or having some sort of sugar crash or hangover - because it is just a few bites.
And now how you do this is important, because you want to be sure that you don't eat in response to the urge to overeat or binge. So you really do need to plan to eat purely for taste. And you want to plan to eat for taste when you are highly unlikely to feel those aforementioned urges.
So for me, what this looks like is not waiting until after dinner to indulge because that's when I'm likely to feel an urge to overeat. My best time to really taste something is in the early afternoon. I'm not likely to be stressed or tired at this time and so not only can I give the taste of the food my full attention, I'm not looking for it to change my state. I'm not looking for the food to help me relax or distract me. And as a result, I can eat just a few bites and enjoy the taste and be satisfied.
And if I planned to eat something for taste and found that I was stressed out and felt anything like an urge, I would postpone eating it, because I don't want my body to eat in response to that feeling. That's the habit that we want to break.
And for most people eating something indulgent earlier in the day is key. Research supports the idea that consuming something sweet at breakfast time actually prevents sweet cravings later in the day. And that's because our serotonin levels - i.e . our feel good chemicals - are at their highest. We're feeling our best, therefore we aren't craving feel good foods to make us feel better or distract us from unpleasant emotions.
And because those serotonin levels are already high, eating something sweet won't give you quite the boost you would feel if those levels were lower. In other words, you don't get the same mental reward from eating something sweet, which is actually a great thing if you want to break the habit or association of food as a reward or a means to change or distract yourself from your emotions.
And now, for some of you, there may be some disappointment here, because essentially what I'm telling you is, plan to eat the food when it's no big deal to you. Eat it when you feel your best and when you could take it or leave it. And then, later on when you are really craving the food and feel like you really need it - that's when you don't eat it. I know that is going to feel backwards to many of you. But that really is the key to putting an end to these urges to overeat - you don't reward them with food. And the less you give in, the less they appear.
And yes, this piece is incredibly important, and it's not necessarily easy. BUT it's also only half of the solution. The other half, which may be even more important, is to plan for these indulgences, when you are feeling good, and to actually follow through and consume them and enjoy them.
Because what we tend to do is skip this part. We do the hard part. We do the work of resisting the urge. But then because we feel good and because we think it's virtuous or we think we'll get ahead, we skip the part where we indulge. We think we don't need that part of the equation.
But when we do this, almost unbeknownst to ourselves, we are restricting and setting ourselves up to binge or overeat later. And when we do this repeatedly we teach ourselves that the only time we are allowed indulgent foods is when we overeat or binge. And by doing this we are giving ourselves more motivation, more desire to overeat and binge.
And so truly, you can't skip this step. You need to show yourself; you need to truly experience that you can eat something decadent and delicious and that it is indeed no big deal.
And it's funny because just last night I was watching the British Baking Show with my husband and kids and for the Signature Challenge the contestants made petit fours which are very small, very fancy cake or cookie which is typically had after a meal. And the way Paul Hollywood described them was so incredibly fitting with what I've described to you during this episode. He explained that precisely because these confections are typically served after a meal, when you are no longer hungry, they need to be just a mouthful and they also need to be delectable and very tempting.
And that, I think, is something to celebrate - the idea of treating yourself to something that is really delectable. Forget the Oreos that have been sitting on the shelf for who knows how long, unless that is your jam. I'm not saying you have to go to a bakery and get something expensive, but go for quality over quantity - go for something that really knocks your socks off.
Go to the bakery you always see on your way to work. Stop by the fancy donut place. Truly treat your taste buds and enjoy every bite. And really pay attention to how much you enjoy those bites, because, you'll find that it really doesn't get any better after those first three or so bites. And it's incredibly liberating to find that you can consume just that much and be satisfied. It's a stark contrast to binging and feeling like you can never be satisfied.
And I'm not saying you should only ever have three bites of something. There are no shoulds or have tos and you can eat the whole donut or the entire slice of cake if you want to and you can feel totally liberated that your satisfied with that. Again, it's not about being virtuous. Really it's just about putting food in it's proper place. Ultimately food can't fix your emotions or distract you from them for long, but it can fuel your body AND it can taste really, really good. And it's mandatory that you learn to indulge and sometimes eat just for the pleasure of taste.
So please, do some homework this week and try this out. Do it two, maybe three times this week, and don't stop doing it. Do it regularly. Truly, the more you do it; the better. This is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of food freedom and you've got to experience it to really believe it.
Like always, I hope you enjoyed this episode and I look forward to seeing you next week. Take care.