Eating Disorders: Afflicting Mind, Body & Soul

Diet Free Forever!

If you’re a compulsive eater, by now you’ve probably tried every diet on Earth to curb your appetite and lose weight. Most likely you spend a large portion of each day fretting over your compulsive eating habits and the shape of your body, and berating yourself for lacking the self-discipline and willpower to overcome your overeating problem.

Sometimes you feel as if you exist in a cocoon in which every waking moment is preoccupied with thoughts of what to eat, what not to eat and what to do about your body. Often you despair that there just doesn’t seem to be a way out of the vicious diet/binge cycle in which you’ve been trapped for so long. There is a way out, and it has nothing to do with dieting and everything to do with eating.

Imagine that a strange gas been injected into the atmosphere. The moment you inhale it, it becomes impossible for you ever to lose or gain weight again. For the rest of your life– regardless of how many Hostess Twinkies you wolf down or how many times you skip aerobics class– you will have the same body you have now. This magical gas will also forever banish the concept of “fatness.” Everyone’s body will be considered beautiful whether it’s a size 3 or 33.

If this were reality, would you continue to diet endlessly? Curse your thunder thighs? Wear that tight belt to “remind” yourself you’re “fat?” Weight yourself daily to guard against creeping flab? Run 40 miles a week to burn off excess calories? Or would you say, “The heck with it. As long as I’m stuck with this body I might as well learn to love it, eat what I want, exercise when I feel like it, toss my bathroom scale out the window and wear clothes that don’t pinch back?”

We suspect you’d just say, “The heck with it!” Which is exactly the answer you’ve been looking for all along. The major cause of overeating is dieting, and the only way to bring your eating habits and weight under control is to never say diet again – ever. Never deprive yourself again of something you really want to eat; never force yourself to “feast” on food you hate, starve yourself on a diet a rabbit would sniff at or put a lock on the cookie jar.

We know it sounds revolutionary, but just as it would be in the imaginary world, as an anti-dieter in the real world you would eliminate the concept of diet and fatness, and thereby eliminate your ongoing anxiety about what you’re supposed to eat. Instead, start thinking about what you want to eat.

What most compulsive eaters fail to realize is that they don’t have an eating problem, they have a calming problem. For them, food is not fuel but a tranquilizer or drug they turn to when they’re feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, sad, sometimes even happy or excited. After years of reaching out to food for all the wrong reasons, the compulsive eater disconnects the experience of eating from the experience of hunger, and no longer “remembers” what it even feels like to be physiologically hungry.

Our diet-free program helps you get back in touch with your real hunger and break the habit of psychological feeding with a food program that legalizes all foods (yes, even chocolate and ice cream) and gives you permission to eat what you want when you want to, with no strings attached.

For this program to work, you must come to it with an acceptance of your body just the way it is right now, thunder thighs, love handles and all, even if that means relinquishing your dream of gracing a magazine cover or squeezing into those size 5 jeans without breaking the zipper.

We realize that this may sound as if we’re asking you to resign yourself to life in a fat body, and to eat in a way that will make you fatter than ever. Trust us: The more you love your body, the less anxious you’ll be, the less you’ll eat, and the less you’ll eventually weigh.

Remember that very few people make positive changes (like losing truly excess weight) through negative reinforcement (“you’re fat, you’re fat, you’re fat”). Berating and punishing yourself into losing overweight is guaranteed to boomerang. Self-flagellation is a reflex action for most compulsive eaters: You berate yourself, you feel bad, you eat, you gain weight, you berate yourself, and the vicious cycle continues. Every critical remark you make puts you at risk for compulsive eating because the rebel within you takes you directly to the fridge in an attempt to feel better. If it’s difficult for you to accept and love a body you view as fat, remember that the contempt you feel for it wasn’t your idea in the first place. We’re constantly surrounded by stimuli that tell us that “this” is beautiful and that “flab” is disgusting.

Once you can look at yourself in a full-length mirror without squinting, and commit yourself to never going on another diet, you’re ready to learn a new way of nourishing yourself that’s called demand feeding.

Actually, there’s nothing new about demand feeding. You came into the world knowing how to do it. As an infant you became hungry, you screamed or cried, and mommy materialized with food to feed you.Your adult feeding program works much the same way, and helps you relearn the healthy eating habits you were born with. Only now, you’re your own mommy.

Demand feeding will not only nourish you physically, but emotionally as well. Once you life the bans on food and feel “entitled” to eat, you’ll start “feeding” yourself in other ways. Also, by removing the emotional commotion in your life concerning dieting and eating, which is really just a smokescreen, you’ll be able to get to the real source of your anxieties. Instead of running away to food, you’ll be able to “sit” with your anxieties long enough to give them their proper name.

The $64,000 Question
Will you gain weight on an anti-diet that lets you eat what you want? Only if your current weight is Twiggy-like and so unnatural that to maintain it requires unhealthy semistarvation. Most women are delighted and surprised to find that once they start eating what they want when they want it, they settle into their ideal weights. And because all foods on this diet are legal, women quickly discover that the chocolate cupcakes they would have died for while dieting become pretty ho hum once they take up demand feeding.

Because all foods are legal and legitimate in any amount, there’s no impetus to cheat. That explains why one of the cardinal rules of demand feeding is that you keep your favorite foods near you at all times, whether it’s stocking your cupboards with cookies or toting a food bag filled with candy bars and potato chips to work with you.
By now you’re probably convinced that we, along with the entire staff at Shape magazine, have gone bonkers. We urge you to put aside your skepticism and give this diet-free approach a chance. It works!

Getting Started

Let’s start with a few words on why and how you become a compulsive overeater. There’s no one single cause for compulsive overeating. You don’t binge on ice cream because your mother dropped you on your head or neglected to feed you when you cried. Many of us, ourselves included, became compulsive eaters in response to societal pressures to be thinner; other women began binging in response to life pressures they couldn’t handle. Whatever its genesis, compulsive eating always involves the separation of food from stomach hunger, which means that we lose our most basic guideline for existence: We no longer know how to reach out for the supplies we need.

While a normal eaters sees food as fuel, a compulsive eaters sees food fulfilling this goal only incidentally. The “hungry” signal rarely sends her to the fridge; more often a compulsive eater eats in response to anxiety. To learn to distinguish between real hunger and emotional hunger, think of hunger as coming in to varieties: stomach hunger and mouth hunger.

Stomach hunger is the physiological hunger that sustains life and is connected to our biological need to refuel. Unfortunately, most compulsive eaters rarely experience this. Mouth hunger, or psychological hunger, which is what most compulsive eaters respond to, is eating because it’s there, because it tastes good or looks delicious, because it’s time for a meal, because someone went to the trouble to prepare it, because we feel anxious, lonely, depressed, bored, happy – for any reason except the fact that we’re truly physiologically hungry.

Mouth hunger is what sends us searching for a 24-hour pizza joint in the middle of the night, and keeps us munching long after we feel full.

How To Become A Demand Feeder
The goal of demand feeding is to break your habit of responding to mouth hunger and to relearn responding to stomach hunger. This requires time, patience, practice and the ability to love and accept your body enough to feed it the food it needs and wants, when it needs and wants it. You may find it easier to accomplish if you follow these steps.

1. Start a food ledger.
To become acquainted with your eating patterns, keep a ledger, recording when you eat and why. Ask yourself, “Am I hungry or is something else prompting my desire for food?” Don’t be hard on yourself; you job is to collect data, not judge or criticize yourself (we all know where that leads). Once you’ve recognized a pattern, you’re ready to take concrete steps to get back in sync with your natural stomach hunger.

2. Put yourself on a demand feeding schedule.
We want you to allow yourself to get hungry and eat on you own schedule, just as infants get hungry and eat on theirs. One day you may want to eat twice, another day, six or eight times. If you’re hungry at 4 p.m., eat then instead of waiting until 6 p.m., which will put you out of touch with your hunger. Your goal for now is to abandon all external cues like calorie charts and meal times and rediscover the internal cues you buried long ago. On your new schedule there is no such thing as breakfast, lunch or dinner – only times of day when your body tells you to eat.

Each time you experience physiological hunger and respond by feeding it, you’ll reaffirm that you can meet your own needs, and that your needs are worth paying attention to. So powerful is this message that the more you experience it, the stronger your psychological base will be. Believe it or not, the more times you can eat from physiological hunger, the better off you’ll be.

3. Learn to recognize your stomach hunger signals.
We realize that for many compulsive eaters, stomach hunger signals will be dim or nonexistent. If your signals are dim, make a conscious effort to tune into them, remembering that the more you look forward to the experience of stomach hunger, the easier it is to find. If your stomach hunger signals are gone, try asking some friends with normal eating habits what it feels like to be hungry. Some will describe an empty feeling in the pit of their stomach; others will describe a slight feeling of nausea. When you experience similar feelings, respond with enthusiasm. You’re hungry! Hooray!

4. Feed your stomach hunger.
To reiterate the No. 1 rule, eat whatever your body craves when you’re hungry until you feel full, whether it’s tuna fish with horseradish at 6 a.m. of scrambled eggs at midnight.
Stock your cupboards with foods you truly enjoy, and keep them filled. If you polish off a box of something, run out and buy another one. The idea is never to run out of food. Stash a food bag with your favorite goodies in the car or your desk at work, or carry it around with you during the day. This is you Linus blanket; don’t leave home without it.


A simple quiz is not the best tool for determining whether or not you are a compulsive eater, but this quiz can help you isolate telltale signs of compulsive eating. Read each question and answer “true” or “false” and follow the scoring directions below.

T F 1. I’m ashamed of how I look.
T F 2. I think about food much of the time.
T F 3. I eat without enjoyment.
T F 4. I feel controlled by food.
T F 5. I take laxatives or I vomit to eliminate food.
T F 6. I eat when I don’t feel hungry.
T F 7. I’ve tried many diets.
T F 8. To control my weight I don’t allow myself certain foods.
T F 9. My eating habits make me feel bad about myself.
T F 10. My weight makes me feel bad about myself.
T F 11. I feel guilty about eating certain foods.
T F 12. I feel guilty about eating anything at all.
T F 13. I would say that I’m addicted to food.
Scoring:If you scored more that THREE TRUES, we suggest you take a closer look at your dietary habits and consider putting into practice the tips suggested in this article and our book, Overcoming Overeating, New York; Fawcett, 1988.

5. Don’t worry that your edible urgings will leave you malnourished.
You don’t have to be taught how or what to eat. Studies show that young babies choose all the foods they need to ensure healthy growth. Don’t worry about fulfilling all the RDAs in one 24-hour period, and in fact, you might get rid of all your calorie counters, cholesterol charts and food wheels. Instead of focusing on one day’s intake at a time, look at your diet over the span of a week or two. While you may choose potatoes several times today, tomorrow you can be sure your body will steer you to salads, fish or whatever food your body needs.
If you’re not exactly sure what you’re hungry for, picture the food in your stomach and image how it feels. Is it too hot or cold? Too bland or spicy? Is it the right weight and texture?

6. Learn to listen to your “full signals.
Take a few bites, and stop eating. If you’re still hungry, take a few bites more. When you feel full, stop, regardless of how much is left on your plate.

7. Don’t worry that you’ll only crave formerly forbidden foods.
Many compulsive dieters who begin this program are concerned that oncethey’re allowed to eat anything, all they’ll want are Twinkies and ice cream. Our observations are that when people legitimize foods, their stomach hunger rarely turns them toward sweets.

8. Don’t worry about gaining lots of weight.
Most of our client who have allowed themselves to be ruled by diets are surprised to find their bodies return to their natural, usually normal weights when they feed their stomach hunger. As we mentioned earlier, if you were seriously underweight you may gain a few pounds. If you were overweight, you’ll stabilize. Once you become a good demand feeder, you’ll lose weight until you reach a weight that conforms to your genetic program.

9. Don’t be discouraged by occasional setbacks.
As you begin to feed yourself on demand, expect progress to be uneven. Be kind to yourself and expect occasional lapses and mouth hunger. Don’t panic if you binge, and don’t scream at yourself. Your binge is a symptom of anxiety. Be tender and nurturing to yourself, give yourself the foods you really want, make sure your cupboards are well stocked, wear comfortable clothing and stay off the scale. Remember that all binges end. All you have to do is gently nudge yourself in the direction of stomach hunger and you’ll be back on track again.

10. Expect to be a demand feeder for the rest of your life.
This doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to eating alone for the rest of your life, or avoiding parties or other social gatherings where you may be tempted or pressured to eat from mouth hunger. There will come a time when you’ll be able to arrange your hunger to better coincide with traditional mealtimes if you want to. But for now, it’s important to stay as free of outside eating schedules as you possibly can so that you can continue your search for your identity as an eater. It’s hard enough to figure out when you’re hungry and what you’re hungry for without having the added burden of conforming to someone elseˆs schedule and desires.