What’s your relationship with food like? From the time I was around ten years old, and my aunt invited me to try my first “diet” with her (eating only grapes – we lasted around six hours), until just a few years ago, I was obsessed with food and the way that I looked. Even though most of that time I actually looked fine (in retrospect), I didn’t think I would ever be “good enough”.
I was recently interviewed about this issue as a panel expert on a talk show, and was floored when a beautiful panel member commented on-air that she’s felt awful about her body her entire life, even in her twenties, when she performed as a professional dancer! That illustrated to me, yet again, that the way we feel about our bodies, and ourselves, is an internal phenomenon that often has nothing to do with reality, or the wonderful version of “you” that so many other people see and appreciate.
The same goes for dieting. On the outside, we may try out some new weight loss fad, or promise ourselves that we’re going to stick to a new “diet”, but our enthusiasm disappears after a few days and we find ourselves right back in old habits. We fail because we don’t understand what’s really going on inside of us. We don’t understand our relationship to food, our ideas about weight loss, and why we can’t succeed with this goal. Most diet programs don’t properly address our behaviors and beliefs around food, and they also aren’t designed to be sustained for life.
From the age of ten through twenty, I dieted. At its worst, I counted calories all day and panicked if I couldn’t find a restaurant option that was “low fat”. I hit bottom the day I bought a sandwich at the deli at work. They didn’t have my usual whole wheat, and had to use multi-grain bread with sunflower seeds. I was so worried about the extra fat in the seeds, that I hid myself in a bathroom stall, and picked them out, one by one.
Shortly after, a friend who’d observed my worrisome behavior gave me the card of the dietitian that his sister, who suffered from anorexia, had been seeing. I’m convinced that he was sent into my life, just to give me that card.
The dietitian informed me that at the rate that I was exercising (long daily workouts), and given the minimal calories I was eating, I was sure to be hugely suppressing my metabolism , and actually making it more likely that I would gain weight, not lose it. She made me a bet that I will never forget:
“I want you to leave my office today, and eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but follow one rule. If you follow this, I bet you that you will not gain a pound and you will equalize out to your perfect weight. This is the rule: only eat when you’re truly hungry, and stop when you’re full”.
I only saw her one more time – to tell her that she’d been right. Today, I actually weigh slightly less than I did back then, seventeen years ago – and I rarely weigh myself. I don’t even own a scale.
Every now and then I “forget”, or more accurately, ignore, her rule (for example, on vacation), and my clothes start to get tight. Whenever I notice that, I start following the rule again, and go for a bit longer walks. That’s it, works like a charm.
I had to use the rule as a defense this Christmas season, in the face of over-indulgent holiday celebrations. These days, I don’t worry much about weight anymore, but I do know from multiple similar experiences that eating too much rich food, particularly white-flour-based foods, cheese, and chocolate, makes my face horribly puffy, ages me more quickly, makes me sluggish and irritable, and causes my skin to break out. Yet it still can be so hard to resist, or stop!
So many times in the past few weeks I would be sitting at a post-dinner table, feeling full and happy, but staring down a banquet of desserts and goodies. I would be so tempted, almost to the point of pain, to fill my plate with several of them and then go back for seconds. On multiple occasions, it helped so much to just stop, and consult my tummy. Was there really room for more? Was I truly still hungry? Each time, the honest answer was no. I wasn’t hungry, I was just feeling tempted, and wanted to greedily push my body over into the “totally stuffed” mode.
This recognizing of the true already-full state of my stomach helped me put on the brakes, and enabled me to wake up guilt-free the following morning, looking fresh and feeling great. Don’t get me wrong, I failed a few times, and the way I looked and felt after reminded me why the rule is such a great one!
The “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full” rule is about consulting your tummy to see if you’re truly hungry, or if there’s truly room for more. Another essential tool to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is to be in touch with your reasons for wanting to eat. Like so many people, and maybe like you, I used to use food compulsively to make myself feel good. Why not? It did feel absolutely fantastic whenever I was sitting down with a fork, in front of a giant piece of chocolate cake. The problem was what came after, when the cake was gone. Guilt, shame, regret, sluggishness, allergies and other health problems – the list goes on.
There’s a funny thing about addictive, yummy foods, which is very similar to what alcoholics and drug addicts experience. When I crave something, my brain and body trick me by saying “come on, just this once”. Like this: “Why don’t you get into your car and drive to the grocery store and buy yourself a big tub of rocky road ice cream? It will feel so great. Come on, let’s go – we’ll do it JUST THIS ONCE, you really need it, today. You’ll feel so much better, and then we get back to our plans for healthy eating.”
That’s the lie: “just this once”. Because it doesn’t work that way. When you indulge yourself with foods that you crave, it’s almost guaranteed that your body and mind will crave them again, sooner and more forcefully than ever, often right the next day. Or, later that same day! The more junk food, or comfort food, you give your body, the more your body emotionally and physically wants it and will ask you for it again. This is very different from hunger.
I’m not saying that you don’t ever give yourself comfort food, but overall I’ve found it far more helpful to find non-addictive, healthier foods that I love and make me feel great, than to “treat” myself to the junk foods that I know will get me into trouble, the things that I “can’t just have one” of. There’s a sweet granola bar that I really enjoy, for example, but I’m done after just one. A package of chocolate chip cookies? I’d eat all of them in under an hour, and probably lick the bag. I know myself. Know yourself, and admit your weak spots: you’ll find it helps, so much.
Pay attention to the difference between the feeling of cravings (from boredom, stress, sadness, habit, comfort, etc.) and hunger. There’s a huge difference. Notice how no matter how much you promise yourself “just this once”, the craving soon comes right back.
The only way to make cravings go away is to interrupt them and shut them down by recognizing them as self-sabotaging feelings and impulses that don’t serve you at all. Do something else instead (call a friend, go for a walk, do something on your to-do list, pray and ask God for help – the last one’s a tried and true favorite that works really well for me), and the craving will pass. Wait until you’re truly hungry to eat something.
You’ll notice that the cravings get less and less, and when you do fail and indulge them (we all do), you will see how truly “empty” that promise of feeling good after turns out to be. You’ll also notice that the cravings come back harder, and with a vengeance.
I’ve found that this understanding of what’s going on for me physically and mentally has made all the difference in the world. I can’t let my body trick me anymore, as I know what it’s up to. I no longer feel that I can’t control my impulses and behavior around food. It’s a wonderful freedom, though it’s not always easy. The results, however, are fantastic, particularly when I see how so many other people suffer with their weight and food.
Make this the year you stop “battling” with food and your weight, and discover a joyful relationship instead, one in which you discover that eating healthy, and eating when you’re truly hungry, makes for a life full of energy, joy and health.
Such a simple way to control and lose weight. Fantastic article and advice. Keep up the good work. Thanks.
We all know we are supposed to stop eating when we are full, but like a drug addict or alcoholic, we are unable to do so. This is because of our paradigms, or how we are programmed. It is a must to change our paradigms for permanent weight success. It’s not easy to do, but oh so necessary. We must get to the “Why” behind our overeating, and neutralize that, so that overeating no longer becomes a coping mechanism. Thanks for sharing your message, it is inspiring.
:cry About 2 years ago, I went through Weight Watchers (an excellent program) and lost over 40 pounds. I felt so good physically and emotionally. However, my best friend was diagnosed with cancer, and she died within 6 months. Not a good excuse, but I completely lost motivation and started gaining some of it back – luckily not all of it. Now I’m struggling to get back on track and it’s a real trial. Thank you for your article and that additional insight. I wanted to look nice for my son’s wedding coming up in August, but I seem to keep sabotaging myself.
I really feel for you Lori – and I can also feel your courage and strength coming through my computer screen. You can do it! As I get older I appreciate more and more that the most important things worth doing in life are HARD. Losing weight is hard. When you find yourself wanting to sabotage (probably more likely just a craving for food), ask yourself why. Are you stressed? Tired? Could you try eating something healthy first? Is there some other way you could nurture yourself without food? You can do it, August is still far away!
This is a great article. I’ve never been really overweight, but have had issues staying consistent with my weight over the years. I’ve been really fit, and really unfit. I find it difficult to maintain a good weight because of a few reasons: I love desserts, and sugary foods, I love carbs like pasta and bread, and I always eat more than I should. And I eat more than I should because I eat fast and don’t let my food digest. So I don’t even notice I’m full until I’ve already eaten too much. I know I should really eliminate dessert altogether from my diet, but what are your thoughts about eating dessert instead of a meal (not often, only when you have a craving, lets say once every couple of weeks)? Is it better to eat dessert instead of a meal than to eat both? Like dessert after dinner? I can’t stop, I’m addicted I guess you could say 🙁
Your article made me cry. This is exactly what I need right now. I am not over weight but I am not as thin as I would like to be and I am a soccer player and it’s hard looking at all these other players that have these nice toned lean muscles and I am more bulky in my legs and hips than lean. I am addicted to food and I can’t seem to control myself. I just eat and eat whether I am hungry or not. At meals, I know I don’t have to eat everything on my plate but I do it anyways. Or sometimes I will leave some on it and just sit there enjoying the conversation trying not to look at my plate or think about food, but then 5 or 10 minutes later I almost always give in and finish it off. I have tried so many different things to try and overcome this addiction, but nothing seems to work. Thank you for sharing your story and this rule. I think it’s exactly what I need. I am going to put it on sticky notes everywhere around my house and car so I can always remember it. Thank you so much!!!
I’ve been over weight since I had my 4 kids. Everyone says I look fine, but i don’t feel fine. I hate looking at pictures of myself. I need to lose about 20 – 30 lbs. Just by reading Dr. Biali’s book, I’m ready to get started on my weight loss. Thank you Dr. Biali.
In high school I was always the thin girl, the one everyone envied. I could eat whatever it was I wanted and I wouldn’t gain a single pound. Now, I’m 22 and for the first time.. my diet is affecting my weight. I’ve gained ten pounds and not only am I suffering from these junk food urges..but it’s making me depressed. And it’s also affecting my relationship, he’s in the same food craving overeating boat I am. We’re both kinda captains of that boat and it’s usually really late at night.. and that just means the calories sit there and turn into more fat. And it’s just..depressing because I used to be the hot girl and now I’m not. I honestly don’t care if others have it worse, this is bad for me and I don’t know how to get out of this boat and onto a jetski. I work too much. I don’t have a car. I don’t have time to exercise, and when I do have time..it’s so hot outside I can’t. And I can’t afford to get a gym membership because I can barely handle all the expenses I already have. Ugh. First world problems.
Hi Allison, I feel for you but ultimately YOU have to decide to stand up for yourself. Work together with your BF to stop having the junk in the house (it actually helps to have someone committing to this with you, if you can get him to), and find a way to get active, period. When I was living in Mexico and didn’t have A/C in the early days I practiced flamenco on an outdoor stage for hours every day, midday. Thankfully the stage was in the shade but still, it was 40C/100+ F and almost 100% humidity…you need to get determined and find a way. Stop with the late night snacking, go to bed earlier, get up while it’s cooler and start walking every day, no more excuses : ) You can look “hot” again – let that be your motivation if it works for you!
I’m so glad I came across your article, you are such an inspiration.
Today was the day I said I would start my Diet!! But you and I know it will be only a few days or maybe the end of this day that I will start over-eating again. So Thank God I came across your article, I love the concept of
Eat when hungry, stop when full! So simple but that is the secret. I think depriving food when I’m on my diet makes me crave it all that much more. Just knowing I can eat anything when hungry naturally makes me want to choose healthier choices than go for a chocolate bar coz I can’t have it on a DIET!
I was just wondering if you have any other information on this, like a book or cd, I just want to make this part of my life. I was reading the comments and would love to get to WHY I over-eat I really need to find that underlying reason for me. I’m sure it has nothing to do with food, I have been overeating since my high school years I’m slightly over-weight and keep losing and then gaining due to ..dieting.
I really want to make this part of my life and you have really inspired me today, so thank you! If you have any more tips or information on this I would love to hear about it.
I’m so glad you came across this and you sure sounds like you GOT it. The key to successfully maintaining a healthy weight is listening to your body’s cues (like hunger/fullness) and becoming aware of the reasons why you reach for food or don’t make healthy choices…and yes, I have an e-book idea in the works on this, I will put the link here on this post when it’s available, will probably be a few months yet!
Cheering you on!
This is the post just what I was looking around and found it totally handy for me so far. I wanna stop overeating and this way help me for sure. Thanks
ive been struggling with my weight for years and i can last on a low calorie diet for a couple weeks then i give in to a tastey treat and i cant control ill over eat for a couple days i just cant seem to make it stop! Please help me any tricks
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I eat a normal amount of food when I am eating in front of others and can listen to my tummy to know when I am full. However, when I am alone at night I will always overeat. It only happens at night because I know I can hide my bloated tummy under the covers of my bed and sleep the pain, guilt and embarrassment away. I am 21 years old and have had issues with food and my weight since I was 19. I am definitely not overweight or even fat but always think I can be skinnier (like i was when i was 19) if I just try harder.
Two years is actually a very short time to be in a habit (some people have had a habit for decades), so there is much hope for you. I’m glad to hear that under social circumstances you are able to listen to your body and note when you feel full. It sounds like you are eating emotionally in the evening, probably to stuff down pain or feelings you don’t want to feel? It may help to avoid, if you can, having foods at home that you’re likely to binge on. And when you feel that urge to binge coming on, try writing in a journal instead, to get in touch with what it is that you don’t want to feel, that you are covering with food…it’s worth a try. You may also want to try working with a counselor or psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, or even just to talk to someone about what it is inside that is upsetting you that makes you want to seek comfort in food…
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Hi I am also struggling with overeating. I really identify with the “just this once” voice you write about. Although I have been committed to exercise, having a balanced diet has been a struggle for me. I have gone through binge eating and health eating periods on/off since I was 15 years old. I am now 29 years old, and it angers me that what was supposed to be “just this once” has actually lasted fourteen years of my life. I am currently on weight watchers, I just started this past week, and learning how to eat balanced throughout the day is a struggle-especially measuring servings. But I feel confident that I am getting to eat regularly throughout the days, and its foods that I enjoy. I also recognize what you say with regards to trigger foods that you can’t control. These foods are easily available and very rich-usually fast food and takeout food. I also like it that you touched on identifying the reasons for why you’re eating. For myself, I suffer from very low self esteem. Although I am very successful and have achieved many things, my sensitive nature and low self confidence make me focus on only the negative things. The main thing that makes me feel bad is worrying about what others think of me. I feel very judged by a few people in my life, and because of this I am afraid of letting new people and experiences into my life. Recently I’ve found some peace in building my own self confidence by realizing that what others think of me is really just none of my business and I don’t need to make it my problem.
Thank you for this article. It is reassuring to know its possible to live a balanced life, and that other people have the same struggles and have gone through what I have.
This all sounds so familiar! I have struggled with my weight since I was 11 and am now 33. I know I over eat and binge when I’m bored, stressed etc especially late at night but over the last few years the guilt after these ‘episodes’ take over and I force myself to throw it back up. Now I’ve somehow convinced myself that IF (and always find I do) have to have the chocolate, sweets, biscuits etc then I can throw it back up and it becomes void! Except it doesn’t… I’m going to try and follow this and see if I can overcome this horrible, vicious circle and eat when my body really needs to. I hate the way I look, how I feel, have no motivation and no enjoyment in my life anymore. Something needs to change! 🙁
Thanks for the advice. x
Hi im 19 and ive always had weight issues. I have been trying to turn my life around the last 6 months i have lost 20kgs. But it hasnt been easy. I keep yo yoing my diet. Ive had no professional help and i comfit eat all the time.ill eat to the point where ifeel so sick and it lasts for days.i find it hard to snap out of it. Im also gluten intolerent so i really need help to stop. I dont have very good commitment with in myself. I just dont want to go back to the way i was before.would you have any advice 🙂
Thanks so much for all your enthusiastic comments, I’m so glad to hear it. Re. what foods you eat, I don’t know if you have my book Live a Life You Love (see http://www.livealifeyoulovebook.com) but it has some suggestions in the back about food choices and also has a chapter which talks about how I eat. I have a feeling you’d like the book : )
All the best,
Fantastic Blog, Questions and Replies…I loved it all and see myself in a lot of them.
From today…cravings, excuses, whatever… will no longer rule what I eat and drink.
I am going to let happiness, good food and the way I prepare it rule my life. I will enjoy the things that make me happy, like Reading, Beading, Knitting, Sunshine, Exercise,Friends, my beautiful Children and Grandbabies I am blessed with and of course good food choices that will make me look younger and live longer. I do have The Perricone Promise in 3 easy steps Book and can you believe it I have forgotten what I read therein.
The Book is now off the Bookshelf and I will read and absorb it with a different mindset.
The light in my head has gone on today and brightly too,…Thank You Dr Biali, I am so grateful and happy that I found you this morning and by chance too…you are going to be the inspiration in my life from today.
Sincerely from a very appreciative Lynnie all the way from a sunny Johannesburg South Africa.
P.S. Would you please let me have a list of what foods you eat and Recipes too.
I’m so sorry to hear you’re having such a difficult time, many people face these challenges (and I have myself). One of the best sources of help that I know of is Overeaters Anonymous, there are local community groups and also online groups, and for no cost. Google the name to find a group in your area. Bless you, there is help and hope for you!
I binged tonight. I used to just restrict….now I binge and purge with laxatives or exercise. I’m scared. I really don’t want to get fat and I feel so alone in this. When I get depressed I turn to food…when I get anxious I want to eat….when I get bored I want to eat. Please help me
Hi Susan, Love your article. For the last year, I’ve invested time in me at the gym doing yoga, pilates and strength training. Cut out sugar, tea, coffee and bread. But I often get attempted as the food counter, especially when i see other people eating chips, fried food, cakes and then i cave in. Any further advice please. B
Just a message to say thank you very much for your page.
I really enjoyed reading through it and some bits actually made me laugh because I could really relate to them, especially where you start talkin about the rocky road ice cream !
I will definitely use some of your tips and advice in my goal to gain full self controll of my over eating addiction.
I have a very negative relationship with food and have had for years. I went through a stage in my younger years where I used to exercise alot and did become quite slim. I never could maintain it and have always felt like a failure, that I didnt have the self control to maintain being slim.
In my 20\’s I used to binge.I would buy loads of junk, eat it in one sitting and then purge and still feel disgusted with myself.
Now, I am a stay at home mum with two small children. Food is a constant battle everyday. Everything I put into my mouth which is not \’healthy\’ makes me feel like a failure and that I have no self control. I don\’t purge the food anymore. I just have no self control and constantly feel like a failure. I spend my time caring for my young family, cooking healthy meals for them and making sure they understand what healthy eating is. The problem is I won\’t help myself and give myself the same care that I have for my family. I don\’t understand this. I won\’t do anything to help myself. I dont understand why I loathe myself so much and have no respect for myself and continue to abuse my body on a daily basis. I really want to be around to see my children grow up. I want to be healthy and not feel like food is such a big part of my day. I constantly feel out of control around it and like a failure daily when I overeat. I don\’t quite know how to get back on track. Is it really that simple to just stop when full ? I keep giving in to cravings and have been doing this for years. Thanks
Hey.I’m 16. I’m like 164 ish cm’s tall around there and 45.5 kg but it changes between 44-50. I can’t stop thinking about my weight. 24/7 I’m always thinking of it. I didn’t eat any unheathly food for a while and exercised lots I used to be 50 something kg. But lately I can’t stop over eatting.Ill eat and eat and feel sick but still my head says I need the food to feel okay but then I just feel like a huge fat failure.I hate hating myself. I tried to count calories but have stopped because I could feel it getting super obessive. WHat should i do?to eat normallly? Is it okay to it juke?will it make me fat?.Do you think i should put on or loss weight or how many calories should I eat.I’m so lost.I don’t know what normal is?and have been eatting way to much but can’t stop.I use to be able to eat only a little but now I just fail.[EMAIL]null[/EMAIL]
I am a boulimic girl and I have been this way for nearly 20 years. I am trying to stop being obssesive with my weight and how I look. But it’s not easy. I want to be able to just eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full but I don”t know how to. I am so used to be in super control of everything coming into my mouth and the timing of the day where I eat my food. I count calories and measure my quantity with a cup and a scale. It just seems scary for me to ler go. I don’t know what to do. I din’t know how to eat naturally. I am always thinking of food and I’m tired of this. Anyone as suggestions.
I appreciate your article and it sounds wonderful to be able to eat only till you are full. I do not ever feel full and nothing on the market gives me that full feeling. I do not understand why I cannot recognize when I am full. Do you have any suggestions as to how to recognize the feeling of being full so I do not wind up so big I cannot move anymore? I did Nutri System and the first month and a half I lost 15 lobs and then the next 3 months my body did nothing. No matter what I did my body would not lose weight. I am so discouraged. Nothing works. I have been on thyroid medicine for over 7 years and that did not even help my body to lose weight.
When I was recovering from anorexia I allowed myself to indulge in any foods I wanted because I knew I needed to gain weight. Now that I’m back to my healthy weight, I still crave eating the unhealthy things that got me here. I’m no longer trying to gain weight but am now so used to letting myself eat freely and limitless. Now I worry that I might become over weight due to my habits.
I completely relate to this, and know that when I’m tuned into my body, the ‘weight’ issue naturally sorts itself out. I believe this is the kindest, truest, and most effective way to be, creating a lifestyle rather than a diet ‘phase’. However, one thing I haven’t yet learned to do is to deal with the life circumstances that lead to over-eating in the first place. I realize on an intellectual level that I’m filling up on food to ease my anxieties, and I know where these anxieties come from. I just don’t know what to do about the situation. I am broke and can’t find work, I’m dependent on someone I’m not sure I should be with, I have no close friends to turn to, and there is no easy way out of the dilemma. So I eat. Of course there are other ways of managing stress, but none of those things will solve the underlying problems, which require resources I simply don’t have. Thanks for the reminder, though.
I’ve been battling this all my life and I’m only 20. I lose myself over food so much. I get hungry and I can’t control myself. I eat and I don’t feel any better. I’m just hungry and I don’t know what for.
This was so, so helpful for me. I’m a 16 year old who has a past of binge eating and bulimia, and this really made me feel better. Starting tomorrow, I’ll do this. Thank you!
As I read this, I kept hearing that voice in my head say “that is ME!” I am at a point where I have completely lost control of my eating, and I keep submitting to those urges to eat more, and eat poorly. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin right now! And I see the extra weight every time I look in the mirror. Yuck! That is actually how I stumbled upon your blog post today, as I am searching the Internet for tips and advice on how to get myself back in control. I have subscribed to your email list so I can receive good advice and tips from you on a regular basis. Thank you!
I am a 40 year old woman I have 4 children 20, 17, and twins that are 15. I have been in fitness model shape at 35 and 36 years old. I am certified to teach cycle and am extremely active I work out 5 to 6 days a week hard. I am about 5’8 and 200 lbs. I am a little depressed and I continue to binge eat sugar, and anything I know that I should not have. I get sick of always obsessing about it. I am the heaviest I have ever been and I need help. Its not easy with my teens they want to eat pizza and pasta. I blow up like a balloon and get severely depressed after eating any gluten or sugary starches. I feel like hopeless I just cannot get this right.
I was the same as you Natalie. I looked and felt my best when I was 36 years old. I was buff and lean. I ran races and lifted weights. I was 133 pounds at 5’10” tall. When I was 40 I had several setbacks (divorce, job loss, driving a Lemon, etc.) I went on Prozac and gained 50 lbs. in three months. I lost some then gained another 70. I can’t seem to get on track. I am 54 now and still binge eat and eat too fast. I do not take any medication at all for anything but I don’t know how to eat anymore. When I watch football and they state the players height and weight it upsets me that as a woman I am as big or bigger! I would do anything to have never gotten off track in the first place. The man I have been with for eight years now also sabotages me. He offered to pay for weight loss surgery then backed down when I called his bluff. I take responsibility for this but it has taken it’s toll on me physically and emotionally. I think deep down I have been very unhappy for a long time and I just binge. Is there anything in your life making you unhappy? I am sorry if I ranted on but my hope for you is to try and get this under control right now before the problem gets bigger. Good luck to you.
This article makes so much sense to me – I’m a classic! But reading the article about wanting another cake/chocolate/glass of wine etc reminded me of when I gave up smoking several years ago. The hospital told me “don’t have that one” i.e. if you give in and have the one you’re craving, you’ll want another in an hour or two and the merry go round starts again. So I didn’t have “that one” and haven’t had it for 12 years! I will try – no, I shall be positive – I will not give in to the cravings when I know I am not hungry.
I have simply lost control of my eating and am so disgusted with it. I’ve dieted so much that now I don’t think I know what healthy eating looks like! Your article is very inspiring and simple. Thank you for sharing!