Eating Habits: Are You In Control, or Are You In Charge?

I’m still loving (and reading) this book by Michelle May, PhD., Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle.


She writes about the difference between being in control and being in charge of your food and eating habits. According to her, being in “control” of your eating habits is all about rules. These rules can be the rules of the most popular diet that is prescribed by the most recent weight loss guru or they can be your own rules that you make up for yourself. On the other hand, being in charge means you have options. It means you get to decide. Michelle expands greatly on these options in her book, and I’m not going to go into them here, but I just wanted to write about this for a bit.

If you think about it, being “in control” in this way is only an illusion, because you have very little say over what you do when it comes to your eating habits. I’ve tried following diets before. It seems like your life has to revolve around them. When I’ve done a diet, I felt like I was always thinking about the food I just ate, the food I would eat at my next meal, and the food I would like to eat. I would feel like I had a good day if I followed the rules really well, and then feel like I had a bad day if I didn’t follow them so well.

As I said in my last post, I decided to take one step that Michelle mentioned in her book: to pause when I wanted something to eat, and simply ask myself, “am I hungry?” I have been doing that ever since, and it has been liberating. In that post, I wrote that asking that question was the only thing I was going to do differently. It didn’t mean I would decide not to eat if I answered it with a “no.” What has happened since then, though, is that I have been more mindful of my eating and my cravings. It has actually helped to take the desperation out of some of my cravings.

I know “desperation” is a potent word here, but, seriously, sometimes that is how it has felt for me. Like, oh my gosh, I just want something salty and crunchy, or something sweet and heavy to fill this…this….whatever “this” is. Have you ever felt like that? It’s crazy!! Let me tell you–I certainly don’t feel “in charge” OR in control when I’m feeling like that. But stopping and asking myself this question has actually relieved some of the desperation around those urges. Actually it has relieved a LOT of the desperation around those urges.

If my answer is “yes,” I’m hungry, then I think–ok, you really ARE hungry. That means you just need to satisfy a physical urge. You can do that with a healthy food item. You see, when I get hungry for real, even then I can feel that sense of desperation and then want to eat something heavy and fattening because I just want to fill that hole in my stomach. Like this:


(and that’s vegan, by the way)

But asking this question makes me know that I just need to put something in my stomach. I guess it has made me separate my true hunger feelings of desperation from my false “hunger” (or really, non-hunger, or emotional hunger) feelings of desperation. I have actually responded to this question by changing what I ate when I was hungry. I have not, however, responded by NOT eating when I had emotional hunger. I haven’t gotten that far yet.

But, what this has done for me is make me feel that sense of being “in charge” about how I eat. How liberating!! I have CHOICES! I’m in charge!

So, let me ask you–are you in charge of your eating habits, in control, or are you still just desperately seeking food? :-) I can now say I’m in charge. If you are only in control, or if you are still just totally out of control, I challenge you to take that one simple step I took last week, and ask yourself “am I hungry” before you eat.

10 Responses to “Eating Habits: Are You In Control, or Are You In Charge?”

  1. Susan Cooper October 19, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    I am a far way from being in charge of what and when I eat too. By asking the question at least I am takng the steps needed to eat when I’m really hungry and then eating what I should. Wish me luck. I do want to improve that part of my life.

    • Bethany Lee October 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      you can do it Susan!! Once you start asking, it just gets easier!

  2. Jeannette Paladino October 20, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    A nutritionist I visited quite a few years ago gave me this advice. Eat when you’re hungry and don’t eat when you’re not hungry. His even better advice was to stop eating when you’re no longer hungry — don’t keep eating until you’re “full.” That’s just over stuffing yourself. Hard to do at the holidays which are coming up soon. So many temptations.

  3. Jon Jefferson October 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    I will never be a fan of the “rules.” But I do like being in charge. Go figure, I may never understand that myself.

  4. Cheryl October 20, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Great distinction! I fall into both categories at different times. :) Still have some work to do!

  5. Jo-Anne October 20, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    Sometimes I feel like my eating habits are out of control as much as I do try to do the right stuff and to eat healthy food there are times I know I am failing.

  6. Uzma | Embracing Sustainability October 27, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    I’m in charge! And it’s a liberating feeling.

  7. Steve October 27, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Am I in charge or control of my eating habits? That’s a really good question. I like to think I am. For the most part, I eat really well and healthy. But every so often I can’t resist eating something that’s bad for me like ice cream or pizza.

    I think that may come down to one realization: I want to eat super healthy, but I also don’t want to give up those food items. So giving in to temptation once in a while can be a good thing. Bad foods can be good to eat. I just choose not to eat them on a regular basis. But I often wonder if that’s just me losing control. Is it a conscious decision to eat these things? I like to think so.

  8. steven siemons December 5, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Thank you for responding to one of my posts. From that I found your website, where the issue of hunger appears front and center, an important topic to me. That was the focal point for my lifestyle change regarding food. After reading about the society in Okinawa that practices cessation of eating before feeling full, I adopted that practice. I felt if I could discipline myself to work through the feeling of hunger over an extended period, the battle would be won. This is not for everyone, but now, what I eat is never an issue any longer.

  9. Chris Bailey January 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    Really enjoyed this post Bethany!

    Something that I’ve found that has helped me a ton in taming my cravings is asking myself *where* I’m hungry (in addition to whether I’m actually hungry). I’ve learned a ton about my compulsions and bad eating habits by pointing to where I felt my hunger originated from, like my mouth (eating for enjoyment), stomach (eating because of hunger), or my mind (eating for emotional reasons).

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