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Food Bag

The Food Bag: Do I Really Need One?

by Carol Coven Grannick and Judith Matz

One of the most common questions asked by people working with Overcoming Overeating is "Why do I need to carry food with me?" Let's say your cupboards are full at home and you have plenty of food in your office. Is it still necessary to have that bag of food with you at all times? The answer is an unequivocal yes! The reasons for this are twofold. First, you cannot possibly eat on demand unless you have food available to you at all times. Your goal is to respond to your hunger day in and day out and this can be accomplished only by knowing that you have the food you require to meet your needs at a moment's notice. Secondly, your bountifully filled bag is a symbol of the consistent good caretaking that you are providing for yourself. It's there to remind you that you are well taken care of and can remain calm.

We live in a world that does not make it easy to attend to hunger in an attuned, natural way. Mealtimes have been organized for the convenience of the workplace, not to reflect the needs of people who listen to their stomach hunger. But imagine: You walk into that meeting, conference, class or social occasion with a food bag and, as you enter, you notice that your friends, colleagues, business clients or fellow students each have their own bags of food. Everyone is able to eat when they are hungry! Although this fantasy will take some time to become a reality, you can create this environment for yourself by carrying your food bag on a consistent basis. Here are some frequent questions and comments we hear and suggestions which we hope will send you packing!

"What type of food bag do I need?"

You need a bag that can hold all the food you would like to have with you in the quantities you require, i.e., large supplies of foods that glitter, favorite daily staples, whatever interests you that week. Women we know carry big paper bags, elegant leather packs, vinyl insulated bags and varieties of nylon "airline" bags with different amounts of space. Some people have several bags to accommodate various situations such as traveling, a two-hour activity away from home or a long day at the office. People who spend much of their day in the car may find a cooler to be useful. Also, different types of thermoses are helpful if you want to carry hot foods such as soup. Find what fits your needs in the same way that you attempt to find food that matches your stomach hunger.

"I have food everywhere—at my home, office and even in my car—so why do I need to carry a food bag with me?"

No matter how much food you have in these places, at some point during the day you are bound to be away from these sources of food for a short or long period of time. If you go too long without eating when you are hungry you are at risk for overeating later. Conversely, knowing that you will be somewhere without food puts you at risk for overeating beforehand. You cannot become a "very good" demand feeder unless you are in the position to feed yourself at the exact moment of hunger. Waiting 10 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour; getting stuck on the highway with no food bag in your car; or getting caught on an airplane without sufficient supplies are all situations which compromise your physiological and psychological well-being as a demand feeder. Also, many people get very involved in their task at work or at home and do not want to interrupt their activity to go out to get food, thereby waiting too long to attend to their stomach hunger. Again, having your food bag by your side ensures that no matter what else you are doing, food is always easily available.

In addition to the importance of having food to eat at all times, a food bag is proof that you are taking very good care of yourself. Having the food around you, whether you eat from your food bag or not, will create calmness. People often realize the great importance of their food bags when, after carrying one for a consistent period of time, they neglect to bring one on a given day and notice an increase in their preoccupation with, and even anxiety about, food.

"What kinds of food should I put in my food bag?"

Anything and everything! Whatever kinds of food you are interested in and may want. Remember that the food bag is not meant only to have snacks to tide you over until you get what you really want. All foods should be considered as food bag possibilities—lasagna, potatoes, sandwiches, cookies, yogurt, fruit, pizza, whatever appeals to you. If you are having trouble knowing what to put in your bag, imagine that someone else, a parent, partner, friend or even June Cleaver (Beaver's mom) is going to pack your bag for you! What would you have them put in? If your bag now becomes bountifully full, you will understand that the issue is not knowing what to put in your bag, but rather taking the time to do it for yourself.

"I'm too busy. It takes too much time to pack a food bag every morning."

Again, ask yourself whether you would carry a food bag if someone else would come in and pack it for you every day. Then, think about what it means to have to take the time to fill your food bag for yourself. Often, this act of caretaking is difficult because it actually does mean giving up the wish that someone else will do it for you. Certainly, there was a time in your life when you had the right to expect to be provided for in this kind of devoted and consistent way by a parent or caretaker. As an adult, you must now be both child in need and attuned parent to yourself. Saying "I'm too busy," is turning your back on yourself. Can you imagine leaving your home with an infant but no food packed for her and saying "She'll have to wait to eat until we get back?" Just as you would pack an infant or child's food supplies no matter how troublesome the task might seem, you need to take as good care of yourself. "I'm too busy" really means "I'm not worth the trouble." But you are!

"I feel too embarrassed to carry my food bag everywhere."

As women explore their problems about carrying a food bag, they often say "It attracts attention," "I feel ashamed of needing to have food with me" and "It makes me feel different." Try to explore the words you use to describe your problem with the food bag in the same way you would examine the language of a bad body thought. For example, is there is a broader issue about experiencing attention that makes you uncomfortable, with or without the food bag? What does the food mean symbolically? Is it an acknowledgment that you have needs which you intend to meet? Are there other needs or longings that feel difficult for you to acknowledge "out loud?"

It's true that we are taught very early that eating should be confined to particular times and particular places. And some folks may view you and your food bag as peculiar and out of line. What gets most people over the embarrassment hurdle is, once again, challenging some old assumptions by asking "Why should I hide my need for food?" and "Why should I wait to eat?" If you'll take the chance to be the first in your crowd to carry a food bag, we guarantee that you won't be the last. Those very people who at first looked askance will be glad you're around when they get hungry. Ask yourself what it feels like to challenge the destructive notion that women should not want food and should not eat it.

"When I carry my food bag with me, I eat all day and/or consume everything in it. If I don't have food around me, I don't eat—which makes me feel better."

When you say that you don't eat because food is out of sight, you are fooling yourself. You are simply keeping your compulsion at bay. In fact, the more abundant your food supply, the less you'll need. If you repeatedly finish all the food in your food bag, or if a particular item keeps disappearing, it means you are not carrying enough and you need to carry a larger supply. You will know you are successful when, at the end of the day, you get home with your bag still quite full.

"Will I always have to carry all this food with me?"

The answer is yes and no. As foods stop glittering, you will not need the same amounts that you must initially surround yourself with as you legalize food. But you will always need and want to carry food with you. As you experience the delight of being able to eat whenever you are hungry, you will find that no matter how neutral food becomes, you would never want to be without it.

"No matter how much I pack, how can I guarantee that I will always have exactly what I want?"

It would be impossible to always have all the foods in the world that you could possibly want with you at all times. If you desire a food that is not in your food bag, such as an ice cream sundae, make every attempt to get that food by going to an ice cream store or restaurant that has the kind of sundae you want.

If however, you are hungry for a sundae but cannot possibly get to a place that carries this item, then you have to make a substitution. Only you can decide what, of all the food available to you in your food bag, will come the closest to what you want. If the ice cream appealed to you because of its texture, perhaps some yogurt or pudding will suffice. If what you wanted was a cold, refreshing taste, you may choose some fruit juice. You may decide to eat just enough of something to satisfy your stomach hunger at that moment until you can get to the ice cream sundae. It is up to you to determine the best way to meet your needs at a particular moment. The food bag guarantees that you will always have a way to respond to physiological hunger, which is essential for demand feeding.

Facing and exploring your obstacles to carrying a food bag and gently moving yourself to do so can have powerful results. One woman said, "My bag of shame and burden became a bag of courage and self-care." The food bag is a reminder that you are trying to feed yourself in an attuned and loving way and helps you do just that. As another woman said about her travels with a food bag, "I carry a suitcase to take care of my outside, and a food bag to take care of my inside!" At some point you won't want to leave home without it!

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