Learn what my dog taught me about intuitive eating and binges. Otherwise known as the time I wrote a blog post as an excuse to share pictures of my dog.
Charlie, short for Charleston, is our Saint Bernard. We got him a month or so after we got married. Scott really wanted a Newfoundland, but during his search he found Charlie at a local rescue. I wasn't sure we needed another dog, but after keeping him overnight on a trial run, we were smitten.
Charlie loves everyone. When I say love, I mean LOOOOOVE. He can’t be in a room with someone without being right next to them, usually with his giant, slobbery head in your lap, staring and nudging until you pet him. He also likes to snuggle in bed. If you’re in bed and accidentally make eye contact, to Charlie that’s a signal to hop on up. There’s been at least two occasions when Charlie jumped on top of me in bed, pinning me down to the point where I couldn’t move and had to call Scott for help.
Charlie is also a little bit blind and probably a little bit deaf. Or maybe he’s got perfect vision and hearing and just isn’t very bright…we’re not too sure. He really loves cats, but we don’t know if he loves them wants to play with them or loves them wants to eat them. When we walk, he geeks out every time we see something that kinda, sorta (err, not really) resembles a cat – trash bags, jack o’lanterns, recycling bins, lawn ornaments. Like I said, not the brightest crayon in the box.
When we first adopted Charlie, they told us judging from his weight loss, eye infection and matted fur, he had probably been on his own, roaming around Columbia, for a couple of weeks. He was about 10-15 lbs lighter than he is now, so he probably didn't have much food...except possibly cats. It’s really pretty sad to think about.
For about a month or so after we got him, it was an endless battle to keep Charlie from getting into the food. We always left Savannah to roam the kitchen/living room when we were at work, and planned on doing the same with Charlie. That was until one day, a few days after adopting him, I came home to find our beige rug covered in giant splotches of red and orange. I was confused, until I noticed two cantaloupe seeds on the rug. As it turns out, Charlie had pulled 5 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, an onion, and an entire cantaloupe off the counter and ate them (on our nice rug and not the hardwood floor, of course).
The next day, we took all the food off the counters and stored it in the pantry or other places he couldn’t access. That worked for a few days, until I came home to find the garbage can tipped over and most of it’s contents sorted through for anything remotely edible.
This is when we realized we probably needed a gate to keep him out of the kitchen. We went to Home Depot and grabbed your run of the mill baby gate, which worked about as well as you might imagine a gate designed to block a 20 lb toddler would work for a 135 lb dog. So, we wised up and got a fancy gate, the kind that’s nailed to the wall. Sure enough, a few days later I came home to find Charlie, wagging his tail on the other side of the gate, trash everywhere. He had leaped right over.
Everything we did, Charlie would outsmart us. It’s like his need for food imbued him with extra IQ points. We finally decided the next time he got into the food or the trash, we would keep him locked during the day in the tiny hallway between the kitchen and our bedroom, something we really hated to do.
But, there never was a next time.
After about a month or so of feeding him consistently, the same amount in the morning and at night, he finally learned and began to trust that food was always coming. Now, we let Charlie wander free during the day. We can leave food over the countertop and the trash can overflowing and he won’t touch it. He knows tasty food and the occasional treat is always coming, so there’s no need to binge on trash he doesn't even enjoy.
It’s much the same with humans. When our body doesn’t trust that it’s going to get enough or certain types of food again, it reacts by binging as soon as food is available. There’s a biological reason. In human evolution, during times of scarcity our bodies were designed to crave and consume food as soon as we could get our hands on it. It was a survival mechanism, but it doesn’t work in our favor in this world of plentiful food (feast) and diets (famine).
When I see clients who struggle with binging or eating well past the point of fullness, almost always they've tried to control these behaviors with more restriction. Keeping "trigger" foods out of the house. Cutting back on portions using points or calorie counting. Counting certain foods off limits. Exerting more willpower. But all that does is set up the next binge. Because bingeing isn't doesn't stem from a lack of control or willpower. It stems from hunger. Hunger for adequate calories. Hunger for carbohydrates. Hunger for whatever food you've been depriving yourself. Or emotional hunger, such a need for love, friendship, compassion, or quiet.
Instead of deprivation, try nourishment. Provide your body with regular meals that satisfy. Fulfill your cravings. Set no food off limits. Engage in regular self care. With time, you'll build trust in yourself and the fact that food will always be there. And with trust, you'll no longer find yourself standing in the middle of the kitchen, gobbling down cookies....or digging through the garbage can for last night's leftovers (ahem, Charlie).
Also, here's a picture of Savannah cause I didn't want her to be left out ;)
More on intuitive eating: