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Back To Basics: Making The Match

by Carol Coven Grannick and Judith Matz

By definition, demand feeding means eating when you are hungry. You eliminate schedules that tell you to eat because it is "breakfast," "lunch," or "dinner." The concept of "mealtime" originated with the workplace requirement that people eat at times convenient for industry; our culture as a whole has adopted this schedule as "normal."

As you begin to demand feed, you challenge the existing organization of the correct times to eat. "Who says I should eat at noon if I'm not hungry?" "Who says I should wait to eat my chicken and potatoes until tonight if I'm hungry for them at 10:30 in the morning?"

While working toward becoming a more attuned demand feeder, you may wonder how to handle social situations in which other people's eating schedules do not match your own. Here are some situations demand feeders frequently confront.

"I often eat out socially with friends. Sometimes I get hungry just before it's time to go out. Any advice?"

As you become more familiar with stomach hunger, you can choose to "arrange" your hunger. Let's say you plan to meet friends at a restaurant at 7:00 p.m., but by 5:30 you feel hungry. As a demand feeder, you want to respond to this physiological signal. By eating just enough of something to take the edge off your hunger, you arrange to become hungry again in a short period of time yet avoid depriving yourself right now.

This technique is fine, but do not turn it into an expectation that you should always arrange your hunger to match a schedule of events. There may be occasions when you decide to have the spaghetti you crave when you are hungry at 5:30. Then at 7:00, you go to the restaurant and, if you are not hungry, you simply enjoy the atmosphere and socializing. A comment such as "I'm not hungry now, but if I get hungry while I'm here, I'll order something," explains why you're not ordering and respects your needs as a demand feeder. You might consider ordering something to take with you in case you get hungry later.

Consider another situation. Emma had just finished satisfying her stomach hunger with a bagel with cream cheese when a friend called to invite her for lunch and some shopping. Emma met her friend at the mall. She noticed that she was only slightly hungry as they sat down for lunch. So she ordered a Caesar salad which felt "just right" to her.

"If I had known that I would be going out for lunch, I think I would have skipped the bagel and waited to eat until we got to the restaurant," Emma commented later. "But I probably would have felt uncomfortable by then because I would have been too hungry. When I'm too hungry, I find that I overeat."

Emma's experience shows the importance of staying in the present when making decisions about feeding yourself. Rather than think about what you ate a couple of hours ago or what you will eat later today, focus on exactly how you need to respond to yourself now. Although arranging your hunger is a useful tool, make sure that you listen to yourself about the best way to take care of yourself with food as each new situation arises.

"If I don't eat at a restaurant, even though I am not hungry, I end up feeling deprived."

If you feel deprived by not eating in a restaurant, chances are that you need to legalize the restaurant's food. You may feel that if you skip what is offered on the menu but crave the food later, you will be unable to get it. Certain restaurant foods may still feel forbidden to you so that they continue to "glitter." There are several ways to handle these issues.

First, remind yourself that you can come back to this restaurant anytime you are hungry for the food it serves. You also might decide to order what you like and take the food home for when it is the correct match for your stomach hunger. (Make sure to order plenty to take home!)

Think about whether any foods on the menu still feel forbidden to you. If so, bring these items home in large quantities. For example, if you feel compelled to eat a piece of pecan pie even though you feel full, buy as many pies from the restaurant as you need in order to feel that you have "more than enough." Also, think about whether you can prepare any of the restaurant's dishes so they are available to you whenever you need them.

Randy found that whenever she met her family at their favorite Chinese restaurant, she ate egg rolls whether or not she was hungry. To solve the problem, Randy began to stop at the restaurant everyday on her way home from work and buy several orders of egg rolls. As egg rolls became a part of her life, she found that she no longer felt deprived when she passed on them while eating with her family at the restaurant.

"I was invited to a dinner party. Although I was hungry, none of the food appealed to me. If this happens again, what should I do?"

Often, when you attend a social gathering, there is enough variety of food for you to make a good enough match. Remember that each eating experience need not be the eating experience of a lifetime. In such a social situation, choose from what's available in order to take the edge off of your hunger. Plan to get what you really want after the event if you are still hungry.

If the dinner party is being given by a close friend, you might call ahead and ask what he or she will be serving. If those foods don't meet your needs, say that although the menu sounds nice, you may bring something extra for yourself because you are eating in a new way. You could also offer to bring a dish that you know you will enjoy. Or, you might simply ask if you can help yourself to something from the refrigerator. Remember that many people have special dietary needs and make special requests at other people's homes and at restaurants. Most people will be happy to accommodate you because they want you to leave their home feeling content.

"I was recently in a situation where I was hungry and knew exactly what I wanted. By the time my friends made up their minds and got to the restaurant I suggested, I was too hungry and overate."

As always, your food bag insures that you never become too hungry. However, when the food you want is not in your food bag, you may need to take immediate action. Say something like "I really need to eat now. Anyone interested can come with me. Otherwise, I'll meet up with you in a little while." Sound outrageous? When one person tried it, the group went with her immediately and actually felt relieved that someone had finally made a decision!

"If I decide not to eat in a restaurant or at a social gathering, I end up feeling left out."

Food and socializing frequently go together. We commemorate and experience important events through the sharing of food. Yet, what is really significant about coming together with family, friends or business associates? Do you really feel more connected to others because you eat the same things at the same time? Or is the important aspect of the occasion the opportunity to spend time together, talk, or work together on important tasks?

Granted, if you're used to always eating when others are eating at a restaurant or social gathering, you may feel awkward at first when you decide not to eat because you're not hungry. Not eating when everyone around you is eating is truly an act of independence. You will stand out. You may not be used to being so self-assertive and defined.

Remember that by not eating, you are able to be more present. Being more present makes you more aware of certain issues and may stimulate mouth hunger. For example, you may be more in touch with the following concerns:

  • Ambivalence about being at the gathering.
  • Ambivalence about the people you're with.
  • Shyness or feelings of isolation.
  • Discomfort about getting attention or not getting attention.
  • Feeling different or disconnected.

These or other issues may be at the heart of your reluctance to not eat at a social gathering even though you're not hungry. Of course, if you need to eat, you do so without judgment, looking forward to the day when you'll feel more comfortable putting socializing and eating on separate tracks.

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