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Understand and Meet Your Other Needs

Hunger is one of the most primal drives that humans experience, but it certainly isn't the only need to which you must attend. Far too many people attempt to use food to meet these other needs, often to the detriment of their overall health and well-being. Part of leading a balanced lifestyle includes being able to identify and satisfy some basic needs in an appropriate manner. These needs include, but are not limited to

  • Adequate, quality sleep

  • Physical activity

  • Appropriate medical care

  • Connecting with other people (emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually, and socially)

  • Expressing emotions and thoughts

  • Respect

  • Rewards

  • Pleasure

  • Relaxation

How about you? Do you look to food to manage these needs? Do you eat when you are tired? Stressed? Bored? Lonely? Anxious? Do you reward yourself with food? Do you feel like you haven't taken a legitimate break from work unless you've had something to eat? Is food your primary sensual pleasure?

If you've answered yes to some or most of these questions, it's time to take a serious look at your behaviors and evaluate how you can begin meeting these needs in a healthier way. It never hurts to talk to someone you trust or to seek out a qualified counselor to help you identify and develop ways of satisfying your legitimate needs as a human being. The following story shows how one of my clients learned how to meet her own needs and break an emotional eating pattern.

Managing Emotional Eating (Gail's Story)

One of nine children growing up on a farm, Gail recalls childhood meals full of fried foods and unlimited desserts. Though body weight was "part of my family's consciousness," neither Gail nor any of her family members were seriously overweight, due in part to working the farm and plenty of bicycling on country roads. Throughout her high school years, however, Gail began to struggle more and more with her body image, self-confidence, and eating patterns.

"I don't remember having very much fun in high school. A couple of my older sisters had gotten into trouble, so I tried to be the perfect student. I got a job, dated a little, and went to night school, and that was the first time I can remember dieting. I know now that I was bulimic, but we didn't call it that at the time. I remember stopping eating for six days at one point; I was thin, but I was totally out of control."

Fortunately, Gail recognized how unhealthy she had become and gradually stopped her purging behaviors, going on to marry and move to Indianapolis. The move proved stressful, and she again turned to eating to manage her emotions. At 36, Gail was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and placed on medications, while her work environment and one particular supervisor were driving her back to destructive eating patterns.

"It was a horrible situation, and I started eating to deal with my unhappiness. I probably gained 50 pounds that year."

After discontinuing her arthritis medications during pregnancy, Gail decided she didn't want to start them up again after she'd delivered her son, so she joined the NIFS Fitness Center in 1996.

"I knew it needed to be convenient and supportive, and it was, but I was really disappointed that I didn't lose weight quickly at first. I yo-yo'd up and down for about seven years before I finally decided I had had enough. On December 4, 2002, I had just gotten to the point where I was feeling really horrible. I had watched a TV program that encouraged people to seek out a support system and develop goals, so that night, I drew up my own personal timeline. My goal was to lose 40 pounds, one pound per week."

Gail still struggled with emotional eating and with finding a time for her workouts, but she had an "a-ha" moment with both issues. First, she decided to keep track of every situation or emotion that seemed to trigger negative eating patterns. She wrote each situation on an index card, and on the reverse side, developed a list of "eating alternatives" for that particular situation.

I carried those cards with me wherever I went—in the car, at work, in my purse. They were always there to remind me what to do if I was struggling."

As for finding time for her workouts, Gail decided to juggle her schedule a bit to move exercise to her lunch "hour."

"It just came to me. I asked my boss if I could come in a little earlier and stay a little later, and take a long lunch for my midday workouts. I'm still coming to NIFS almost every day during the week to exercise. I know how important it is for stress relief, and it's almost like I have two days within a day now. I get to shower and go back to work in the afternoon more refreshed."

Gail firmly believes in personal responsibility for changing your habits while finding support and accountability to help you accomplish your goals.

"You have to find that place or that group or that person to support you—something to provide the consistency and accountability. It's tough to get out of the destructive cycles; I know I couldn't have done it without my husband.

But you have to make the decision. No one else can do it for you. I know my body so much better now. I know how I feel when I eat too much, and, because I'm much more tuned in to my body, I just don't think I'll ever go back to the kind of patterns I had before."

Natural Eating Starts Now

This is a perfect time in the process to evaluate your overall relationship with food. Is it generally positive? Do you tend to eat in response to internal cues rather than environmental, social, and emotional cues? If you feel like you have a long way to go, focus on making the transition to natural eating before you continue with the remaining chapters in this book. Even the most sound nutrition advice can become "diet-like" when applied inappropriately. Focus on healing your relationship with food before you tackle more specific nutrition information—you'll be healthier, happier, and more confident because of it!

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