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Back To Basics: Making The Match

by Carol Coven Grannick and Judith Matz

In the last issue of the newsletter, we discussed rediscovering and responding to the signal of physiological hunger. After asking yourself "Am I hungry?" the next step in demand feeding is to say, "Of all the foods in the world, what exactly do I want to eat right now?" If you have truly legalized all foods and are well stocked both at home and in your food bag, you will be able to respond accurately to your body's messages about what foods you need. If you're having trouble making the match, these answers to frequently asked questions may help you.

How do I know what to eat when I'm hungry?

The process of figuring out what you want to eat, known as "making the match," like any new skill, takes practice. For the first time in many years you have given yourself permission to eat whatever you want without judgment or yelling. Ironically, after years of rebelling against the restraints of diets by compulsively eating "illegal" foods, women are often surprised to find that without food rules to obey or disobey, they do not know what foods they actually like or need.

To hone in on what foods you might want to eat, make a list of the foods you think you would like or take some time to walk the supermarket aisles and notice what interests you. The trick is to buy many kinds of foods and allow yourself to experiment. Imagine that your fairy godmother arrives at the door with all the foods you might want; what has she brought? (You may find it helpful to do the "Food House Fantasy" exercise on the Overcoming Overeating Introductory Workshop tapes.)

At the moment of physical hunger, women use a variety of techniques to identify what food they're hungry for. Some people simply choose a food that they crave, one that just seems to come to mind. Others ask themselves a series of questions including "What sort of feeling would satisfy the sensation in my stomach right now? Do I want something hot or cold? Light or heavy? Chewy or crunchy? Spicy or bland? Salty? Sweet? Oily? Dry?"

Remember that you are trying to find out what your body needs at this particular moment of hunger. Some people start by identifying a taste they want in their mouth and others start by sensing what feeling they want in their stomach. Although you want to choose foods that taste good to you, what's most important is to think about how the food is going to feel in your stomach. Try out several foods in your imagination and let your stomach respond to the thought of each of them until you make the match. Listening to your body takes conscious effort in the beginning, but becomes more natural over time. Remember that noncompulsive eaters also take a moment to ask themselves what they are hungry for. This gentle attunement to your body's needs is a reminder that you are important and deserve good caretaking.

If I like all foods, why does it matter what I eat at any particular time?

At first, this belief that anything at all will satisfy your stomach hunger may be a response to the fact that many foods still glitter and are of interest to you. You have not yet learned to discriminate one food from another. However, as you begin to tune in to your hunger needs, you will discover that different foods do feel differently in your stomach.

Do you feel entitled to get exactly what you need? In order to be very specific about what food item will satisfy you at a particular moment, you must believe that you deserve to respond to yourself in an attuned way. Feeling entitled to notice what you are hungry for and, if necessary, to go out of your way to get it, means asserting and gratifying your particular needs as a demand feeder. Many women have a difficult time giving themselves this permission. Let's say that in your family, when you expressed a need, it went unmet, leaving you feeling disappointed. If this was a pattern, you may have stopped noticing your needs because it felt too painful to continuously be aware of your unmet longings. Now, in the Overcoming Overeating approach, you are faced with the fact that you do have specific hunger needs although you may have suppressed them for a long time. The good news is that as an adult, you have the power to feed yourself exactly what you need. And each time you give yourself permission to tune in to your stomach hunger in a precise way, you strengthen your sense of entitlement.

After discussing this issue in an Overcoming Overeating group, Penny realized that she craved home-cooked dishes but did not feel she was "worth the effort" of preparing these specialties for herself. She realized how, growing up, she felt that no one ever went out of their way for her. Encouraged by the group, Penny agreed to experiment with cooking lasagna for herself, a food she really liked. Penny reported to the group how satisfied she'd felt by the food itself and by the fact that she'd taken the time to take care of herself. These good feelings reinforced Penny's self worth. She told us that she was certain she'd cook for herself more often in the future.

A second important issue that surfaces as women try to make the match is the issue of independence. Women in our culture are taught explicitly or implicitly to "go along" with others. Making the match involves finding out who you are as an eater separate and apart from anyone else. You may discover that you want ice cream in the morning or that you need to pull out something from your food bag in the middle of a meeting. Although your wish to "fit in" is perfectly understandable, ignoring your specific hungers interferes with your efforts to solve your compulsive eating problem. The more convinced you are about the importance of feeding yourself in an attuned way and the more entitled you feel to meet your needs, the easier it will become for you to make a match, anyplace and anytime!

I have been making matches for many months, but nothing seems appealing anymore.

As you go through the process of legalizing, food begins to lose its magical qualities. Many women find that as food becomes "just food," the excitement of forbidden eating is gone and they experience a feeling of loss. There will still be lots of times when you are hungry and get exactly what you want. As Kayla put it, that experience is "most excellent!" However, as food becomes the fuel it is designed to be, to meet your body's need for energy, not every eating experience will be memorable and exciting. "It's just food," Elizabeth sighed. "I never thought I'd be able to say that!"

If you're having trouble zeroing in on your choices, make sure that you are truly viewing all foods as equal and giving yourself permission to have exactly what your stomach wants, every day for the rest of your life. Sometimes people think that having legalized pizza, for example, they should be "through it" by now and subtly censor their desire for this or some other food. Double-check to see that your supplies still include some of the foods you used to keep in large quantities. Just because a food no longer glitters does not mean you'll never want it again.

Other factors that can make it difficult to know what to eat are becoming so hungry that your stomach has a hard time discriminating or eating in response to mouth hunger. In the latter case, there is no physiological signal to match.

If you can't get a handle on what you want to eat at a given moment of stomach hunger, choose something innocuous, perhaps something bland. Since it's stomach hunger you're experiencing, it's essential that you try to respond. Remember that not every match is perfect and ask yourself what would be "good enough" at that moment.

How can I make a good match when I want something that is hard to get or impossible for me to create, such as a special restaurant dish?

It is really exciting when you go to a restaurant, experience hunger, crave a special dish, and it is set before you: The match feels superb! You may feel very disappointed when you find yourself wanting this special dish at some other time and it seems unavailable.

At this point, you have a number of choices, depending on what is most important to you at that moment. None of these choices is the "right" answer—only options from which to choose.

  1. Go out of your way geographically and financially to get that special dish freshly made whenever you want it.

  2. Order it for pickup in quantities that you can store or freeze.

  3. Attempt to recreate a recipe on your own.

If none of these options seems realistic, think about what the "next-best" choice would be for you. Something with the same texture? Or is it the particular spices that appeal to you? Would getting something with one of the same ingredients be a fairly good substitute?

Matchmaking is not always perfect and can only reflect your best efforts. Your goal is to make as close a match as you can, as often as you are able. Nudging yourself gently to go out of your way to make a good match helps you collect more satisfying stomach hunger experiences. And remember, it is significantly easier to stop eating when you are full if the match is right.

Now I find myself craving different foods each day. Last month I was craving the same old thing all the time.

As you work your way through "glittering" foods, you may want them frequently, or constantly, for some time. Then you may move on to another type of food for a while. Or you may find that your food choices change from day to day. Each one of you is unique, and through experimentation and the hard work of stocking, replenishing, and preparing your food bag, you will come to know the foods that generally interest you; other foods will rotate into your regular circle of foods. New foods may come and go; others may stay for long periods, perhaps for a lifetime.

The most crucial aspect of making a stomach hunger match is the recognition that the hunger you feel is YOURS—no one else's—and only you can identify that "just right" food for you at that particular moment in time. When you make a terrific match, it feels exhilarating, calming, and nurturing.

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