Every week when we introduce the concept that overeating is part of ‘normal’ eating, and that occasional overeating can be healthy, we hear sighs of relief from women who have been struggling for years to control that urge.
Normal eating can be thought of as a style of eating that’s hardwired into most of us because there are survival mechanisms behind it. When a food is especially tasty or something we haven’t had in a while, or if we’ve gotten a bit too hungry, it’s a normal reaction to eat more than usual because we may need a bit more to feel like we’ve had enough. That’s our internal cues at work. If we end up eating a bit more than we need, no worry. It will just take longer before we get hungry again. Our bodies balance it all out over time.
In today’s weight-worried world, though, we tend to think we shouldn’t overeat, ever. We try to always be ‘in control,’ and when we inevitably overeat, we feel bad about it. That often leads to more overeating, which isn’t the normal kind because it’s done out of guilt. In this case, we frequently eat much more because we override our internal cues with emotions like guilt and shame.
Two articles recently came across my desk that seem to support the concept of normal overeating, and that we might do best letting it happen normally, rather than fighting it.
- One made the case that as humans, for evolutionary reasons we don’t do so well when it comes to self control. I don’t agree with all the points made, but I do think there’s value in the idea it presents of ‘control fatigue.’ “We live in busy, complex communities surrounded by desirable goods and ideas, and so all day, every day, we hold back. ….We are hit hard by…our own weary self-control….”
- Another reviewed a study that showed when restaurant menus featured salads, diners were more likely to choose fries than when the menu didn’t include salads. (Check out Cranky Fitness for an interesting discussion of the study.) The results sound odd, until you think about it from the standpoint of control fatigue. Maybe the mere presence of the salads kicked in the fatigue. The study actually found that “the diners most affected by the presence of a healthful item were those with the highest levels of self-control….” Maybe these folks just couldn’t fight the fight anymore.
So does this mean to give up and eat all the hot fudge sundaes we want, every time we want them? In a word, yes. Because we’ve seen that if we truly give ourselves permission to have the sundaes whenever, we won’t want them as much as we thought we did. That’s internal cues at work, too.
A caveat: For our internal cues to work accurately, our bodies need to be in good operating order. After years of trying to control our weight, many of us aren’t there. We may need to immerse ourselves in a healthy lifestyle for a while before we can feel what’s right for us again.
Still, even when we’re trying to re-learn what we were born with, if we begin to think less of control, and more of doing what truly feels good, we’ll likely have a much more pleasant — and perhaps successful — journey back to wellness.