Right from our first session, my client Ellie told me she always has an incredibly difficult time stopping at a reasonable amount of food. She always wants to eat more, even if she’s just eaten a lot. Ellie described herself as having a “huge hunger” and initially felt powerless to make changes in her eating.
I asked Ellie if we could first look at the phrase “huge hunger” and examine whether or not that was entirely accurate. The problem with telling herself that she had a huge hunger was that it legitimized eating. If you’re hungry, you should eat, right? I said to her, “This week, pay attention. When you’ve eaten dinner and then you want seconds, where is that urge coming from? Is it an empty rumbling in your stomach, or is it coming from somewhere else?”
Ellie came back the following week and said that once she’s eaten a meal and wants to continue eating, it’s her mouth and her mind that want more. Her stomach didn’t feel empty, but she still felt like eating. Because it wasn’t an empty rumbling in her stomach that was demanding more food, and instead a psychological urge, I proposed to Ellie that we reconceptualize her “huge hunger” as actually her having a “huge appetite.” Telling herself she was hungry for more dinner after she’d eaten a reasonable amount legitimized her continuing to eat. Recognizing that her appetite – her desire to eat – was motivating her to want more, not a lack of sufficient food or physical fullness, is crucial in helping her stop at a reasonable point.
Ellie made the following Response Cards to help her start working on this idea:
I have a huge appetite, not a huge hunger. I don’t physically need a lot of food to feel full, but it’s true that I do like to eat a lot. Working on slowing down and eating mindfully will help maximize my psychological satisfaction and get my appetite more aligned with my hunger. I need to remember that I’ll never give up eating, but I will have to give up overeating in order to lose weight. But, in doing so, I won’t be depriving my body of food that it needs.
While Ellie and I have more work to do in uncovering and addressing other beliefs that get in her way, helping Ellie realize that it was her appetite, not her actual hunger, that was leading to a lot of her overeating is an important first step in Ellie ultimately learning how to eat but not overeat.