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Pavel Somov, Ph.D.

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Mindfully Choose What You Will Mindlessly Overeat

Posted: 02/09/10 03:12 PM ET

Strange as it may sound, having a full, even unpleasantly full stomach doesn't have to mean weight gain. Foodstuffs differ in their caloric density. Having a stomach full of cheese is different from having it full of spinach. Some new-paradigm nutritional authors free their readers to eat as much as they please as long as what they eat is low in caloric density. This kind of humanistic, harm-reduction approach to overeating comes without the dessert of guilt! Dr. Joel Fuhrman (2003), for example, challenges us to eat at least two pounds of vegetables a day, four pieces of fruit, a cup of beans, and small amounts of nuts and whole grains. Bottom-line is that it's okay to overeat, i.e. to eat beyond the sense of pleasant fullness, as long as what you overeat is low in caloric density.

Safe Overeating (a Harm Reduction Approach)

If you are shopping for a hassle-free philosophy of eating, if you resent portion control and calorie counting, you can overeat and not bother with being mindful of fullness as long as you mindfully choose what you will mindlessly overeat! (re-read the italicized part a couple of times to make sure we are on the same page).

Fuhrman, the author of the ground-breaking Eat to Live, couldn't be any more blunt about this: "completely rethink what your idea of portion control is; make it huge" (2003, p. 178).

So, let's overeat Fuhrman-way! Put together a huge, preferably, organic salad (do go easy on the dressing, though). Turn on the TV and "veg out." Don't worry about being mindful of fullness this time. Let's face it: being mindful every time you eat can feel like a hassle -- sometimes, you just want to grab something to eat and tune out. That's perfectly understandable! Learning how to indulge in harm-reduced mindless eating is part of the eating know-how. It's akin to consciously choosing to have a designated driver when you know you might get a little carried away on Friday night. The designated driver in this case is your stomach. With a Fuhrman-style feast in front of you, let your stomach stop you when you are pleasantly or even unpleasantly full. Sounds scary? Have solace in the fact that you've already survived this very fear time and time again in the years of overeating. Except this time, you are practicing harm-reduced safe overeating.

Some Food for Thought

The advice to "not overeat" -- frankly -- teaches you nothing. Harm-reduction approach to eating (including eating to cope) is a process of setting precedents of moderation and control. Abstinence-based approaches to managing overeating are a menu of unsatisfying "don'ts" (e.g. "don't overeat," "don't eat to cope," etc.).

Lasting changes require lasting foundation. Abstinence-based (don't-do-this/don't-do-that) approaches try to build a life of meaning on the foundation of self-negation and self-deprivation. In the result, just like absence makes the heart fonder, abstinence makes the forbidden apple seem only sweeter.

You might be able to avoid being in contact with drugs; perhaps, you might even avoid contact with alcohol (by moving to a dry county?); but when it comes to food -- this particular "drug" of temptation is everywhere. It's time we learn to trust ourselves with food. Sure, you can try to never overeat -- good luck with that! Or you can try to learn to overeat safely, by mindfully choosing what you will mindlessly eat. No, of course, not at every meal, but now and then when you feel fried, done in, and you just want to eat to cope a bit ...

Harm-reduced overeating (as described in this post) is, in essence, yet another form of coping in moderation. If you have it in you to cope through exercise, or yoga, or meditation, then, by all means, do -- but if you found yourself at the end of a very long day, too exhausted to cope, and all you want is just a coping pacifier in your mouth, then, so be it. Perhaps, the best way for you to take care of yourself at a moment like that is ... to veg out, by mindfully choosing what you will mindlessly overeat...

Sapience: to Taste is to Know