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Here’s a snippet of dialogue I have at least once a week with clients. They say, “It’s hard to eat without distraction. It’s weird and I don’t like it.” And I say, “Understanding how you’ve changed in other areas will help you form a new habit in this one.”
I vividly recall one such conversation with a client who insisted that it felt intolerable not to watch TV/read/play computer games/answer emails while she was eating, but agreed that the discomfort was probably more habit than anything else. I explained that neurons that fire together wire together, and that her eating while doing other things for decades had fused the two together though they don’t rationally belong that way. Remember, any activities you repeatedly do concurrently will became habitual.
What makes disregulated eaters expect that they can learn to eat “normally” while doing another activity? I asked one client, a yoga instructor, if she would encourage her students to be eating, reading a book, or watching TV while she was teaching them poses. She laughed. I’ve asked other clients similar questions, depending on their jobs. Would a music teacher tolerate a student munching on a sandwich or answering emails while learning to play the piano? Would a dancer expect to master intricate ballet steps while crunching on chips? Would an engineer encourage subordinates to be watching a movie while teaching them how to repair a transformer. I realize I’m guilty of overkill here, but if you’re learning to ski or speak Italian, you’re likely not doing it while doing anything else.
Most of us grew up with single-focus learning because our elders knew that was the way brains acquire and integrate new information. Our parents and teachers understood this process, so why don’t we? Teachers wouldn’t even let us look out the window when they were teaching important subjects. They constantly reminded us to pay attention because that’s how we learn best.
If you want to learn to eat “normally,” which means tuning into often subtle signals from your body about hunger, taste, pleasure and fullness, you cannot do it if you’re also doing something else. You will have to choose: eat or do another activity. Stop complaining that it feels weird and makes you uncomfortable. You’ve been learning without doing anything else for your entire life. Eating is no different. You’re trying to acquire new skills and they will only come if you have a single, unadulterated focus. Quit making excuses and give eating the laser-focus it deserves.
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