Stage I : Acknowledging That There Is a Problem, that the problem is more complex than simply [wanting to lose weight], and that dieting does not, and will never, resolve it.
Stage II : Beginning/Rebelling Against the Years of Deprivation
Physical Aspects :
Eating mainly (what were previously) "forbidden" foods; eating all the time- not just when hungry and until satisfied. Learning what hunger, satisfaction, and fullness feel like. Learning what makes eating pleasurable (i.e., sitting, not reading or watching TV, eating slowly, etc.). Possibly gaining weight.
Emotional Aspects :
Relief and exhilaration at not dieting. Panic and fear that this stage will go on forever, and that because this looks like a binge, breaking free is no different from binging. Sometimes there will be a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling that there is no end to compulsive eating.
This stage will end. Do not go on another diet because you are afraid the stage will never end.
Don't panic at the weight gain. It is not atypical, and it is a natural reaction to years of deprivation. You will not gain a hundred pounds. Throw away your scales, or paste your ideal weight on them. Try to distinguish between foods you think you want (because before you weren't allowed to have them) and foods that you really do want in the present moment.
Stage III : "The Middle" Nitty Gritty/Learning-to-Trust-and-Befriend-Yourself Stage
Physical Aspects :
Eating without guilt. No more bingeing. Weight stabilizes. Distinguishing foods you really like/want from those that were previously forbidden (they were hummers/beckoners). Ability to eat only a bite or two of chocolate. Foods other than sweets begin to taste good - you learn what nourishes you. You begin to have faith in body-wisdom as you see that you can eat what you want and not gain weight. You eat when you are hungry although, often, don't stop at just enough.
This is the hard-work stage: You can stop eating when you're not hungry, and the emotions that drove you to eat in the first place surface. If you are willing to work with yourself, you develop ways of dealing with your feelings other than using food. Some of these ways are:
The mind still wants more food than the body, which is a little difficult to accept. A lot of joy in realizing that after all these years, your body can still get hungry. A sense of power develops as you see that you can control food - it no longer controls you.
You learn that food isn't all that's good or pleasurable about life. You learn many other ways of nourishing yourself:
You begin to value things abourt yourself other than your body - and begin to realize that other people value you as well.
Your values about living change as you see that you can feel happy and satisfied without being thin; your inner life becomes important.
Weight loss might occur but this is not the predominant characteristic of this stage. What is predominant is the shift you make from viewing yourself as an out-of-control human being to one who can make choices that will nourish yourself.
This stage is the most difficult one because of all the feelings that arise, and it takes "an ocean of patience" and renewed commitment to the Breaking Free process. Remember that this is a stage, and that it will end.
The fear that often occurs in this stage is that if you deal with your compulsive eating and lose weight, you will no longer have an excuse (i.e., your fat) on which to blame all your "failures" - and that's true! But on the other hand, you'll have more available energy. You'll feel better about yourself, and you won't need an excuse.
Stage IV : The Joys of Breaking Free
Physical Aspects :
Emotional Aspects :
Weight loss occurs - slowly! You eat what you want, stop when you're satisfied. What you want has drastically changed from Stage II. What you want now are usually nourishing foods with occasional or small bites of sweets instead of large amounts of sweets and occasional [healthy foods]. You enjoy your body. You accept your body, even though it is not perfect. Food becomes delightful, rather than a source of pain. When you're not hungry, you don't think about eating. You can go anywhere, have any kind of food in front of you, without going on a binge/eating compulsively.
You ask for what you want as well as eat what you want. You feel better about yourself than you ever imagined you could feel. You are self-confident, self-trusting. This confidence and trust extend into many other areas of your life - your work, your relationships. Since your life is no longer revolving around food, you have more energy with which to live. You have many more skills with which to deal with problems.
Sometimes you, like anyone else, will overeat. But now you will not take it as a sign that you are a failure. Your weight will fluctuate by five to eight pounds from season to season. Sometimes you will want to eat more than you do at other times. That's okay - sometimes your body needs more food.
Exercise : Where Am I?
Some people are in Stage I and Stage II simultaneously; some people take a year to go through stage I and II and two months to go through Stage III. Wherever you are is absolutely fine. And as long as it takes you to complete each stage is absolutely fine. Judgement has no place in any part of Breaking Free.
I am in Stage ____. The food issues I am dealing with in my life right now are __________________________________ and ________________________________.
Wherever you are in the stages, acknowledge yourself for the effor it's taken to get there.
The Eating Chart
Keeping an eating chart is like using a road map. If you don't know where you are, you cannot possibly find the way to your destination. Many of us (myself included) have strong feelings about keeping a chart. It reminds us of our dieting days, when we had to keep track of calories, carbs, and how many carrots we ate in the morning. When I began eating consciously, however, I kept a chart every day for one year - I wrote down every bite, lick, fingerful of food that I put into my mouth. And it helped. A lot. I was amazed at what I was eating that I didn't realize I was eating.
A chart is important because it reveals our patterns with food exactly as they are and not how we imagine them to be. For the next week, and longer if you find it helpful, track your eating habits by keeping a chart.