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Helpful Food Rituals

Many of you might have food rituals which do not serve your recovery—logging calories for every morsel that goes into your mouth, always eating items in a particular order, weighing yourself after eating, or finishing whatever you started eating just because. These rituals are unhealthy because they are rigid, often occur outside your awareness, and their purpose is to reduce anxiety. They hurt you because they feed your obsessions about food and weight.

There are other rituals which actually can improve your relationship with food, ones that will remind you about and guide you toward following the rules of “normal” eating. Performing these rites repeatedly will help you acquire new habits—just as you learned the unhealthy rituals mentioned above—so that you automatically respond in a healthier way to food.

For example, every time you think about eating, ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” If the answer is that you’re hungry enough to eat, then go for honoring your hunger. If your response is that you’re not very hungry, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Getting in the groove of asking these two questions will go a long way toward feeding your body when it needs nourishment and avoiding mindless eating. You might start every eating experience by thinking or saying aloud a positive remark such as, “I will eat this food ‘normally’,” or by expressing gratitude that you are able to nourish yourself well.

Another ritual relates to selecting satisfying food. Rather than just grab anything available, stop and run through a list of foods you might enjoy—something sweet, sour, hot, cold, bland, soupy, crisp, spicy, etc. Write these descriptions on a card and whip it out when you’re hungry enough to eat. You could also include the following routine to help you stay conscious of finding food pleasurable: when you’re eating, set a timer for every two or three minutes, stop eating, and rate your enjoyment. Go through the same process to recognize whether you’re full or satisfied, that is, by stopping at pre-identified intervals for a satiation check. Sometimes it’s useful to set the timer away from where you’re eating so that you have to get up and reset it, giving you time to think about your response. You might also keep a card which asks, “Am I still hungry/Am I satisfied?” and glance at it as you eat.

Practice positive food rituals regularly and eventually you will not need to put a great deal of attention on them as they become more natural and ingrained.

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