Aren’t “hummers” and “beckoners” another diet regimen?

Dear Ms. Wollinger,

I bought your book last week and am reading it for the second time. The Amazon book review jumped out at me, and I could only confirm the positive impression when I read the book. I was thinking all the time: “She ticks just like me!”

In any case, – I like the book a great deal and I’ve already highlighted many of the important passages. I bought the book although I’ve been dealing with eating disorder for the past eleven years. I’ve read and done lots of different things and made noticeable progress. I underwent two different therapies plus a stay in a rehab clinic. Still, the path ahead is a long one, also because I am severely overweight. According to your description, I’m probably in the phase “I can accept myself, but I’m still eating much too much.” Therefore, I bought the book in order to get a few suggestions and, perhaps, to have a few “aha” experiences. It worked for a total of three entire days. 😉 Maybe you’ve got a few more ideas for me.

By the way, I thought it was really great that you didn’t mention any weight specifics. I secretly hoped you would (the old diet mentality), but I also kind of feared it because I knew that when something concrete is in the book, I would only hope to lose weight quickly, according to your example.

And now my questions:

At the moment, I often perceive waiting for my hunger and stopping at the point of satiety just to be yet another diet rule which I dislike adhering to. I don’t have binging attacks, but I graze a lot, oftentimes by consuming high-calorie beverages, like juices, and, above all, ready-made ice-coffee.

Whenever I’m able to wait, I sometimes deliberately stay hungry 15 to 30 minutes, because I’m thinking that I’ve waited so long – why should I now erase this feeling by eating? I want to enjoy my success and reward myself.
Regardless of how hungry I was before I ate, when I become full, I’m thinking: “I’ve been waiting so long to be allowed to eat. That was supposed to have been it? I want more!” This means that I really see eating only as a reward for having been “good” and done without it for a couple of hours, because then it is “allowed”. Accordingly, I am full, but not satisfied.

Both things taken together are actually only shifting my problems (I call it the small circuit of eating disorder), and I don’t know what to do about it.

Often I eat because I think that I can’t stand something (boredom, work, but also waiting for the hunger, fatigue). I became aware of it in connection with the exercise from your book – when do I eat and what would I be doing if I could not eat. How can one learn that it is absolutely possible to endure it? I tried to deal with it by “surfing” on emotions, with diversions, with well-meaning promises (You’re going to be allowed in just a moment!), also by setting the watch alarm in order to at least interrupt the automaticity of the inability to endure and eating. All of this, however, only helped to a limited degree since it to me is connected with negative connotations. These are always moments and situations where there are no other alternatives.

Finally, I’m having trouble finding good solutions to my biggest problem: drawing boundaries. While I would not call myself highly sensitive (this sounds so fanciful), I am much more sensitive than other people. Therefore, I find it for instance extremely exhausting to spend 8.5 hours a day in a duplex office (secretariat) where people come in all the time. At home, too, I often feel stressed by my family (sometimes even by their sheer presence), although I love them dearly, but I can only really relax when my daughter is in bed and my husband has left for work. Moreover, I really detest the fact that most people are complaining all the time, instead of dealing proactively with their problems. This is always a great burden for me (earlier even more than nowadays). I have the sense that they’re talking about it because they want to be rescued by me. Then I feel automatically responsible for them. Especially, because these are always negative things. I get the feeling that everybody has the worst imagineable life and everything is just endless suffering, although I know that it is not so. I feel so powerless.

My answer to all of this: food and eating. I am fully aware that I want to place food and my weight as a puffer between myself and the world. I am trying to afford myself generous time-outs by long lunch breaks and a nice private corner in the bedroom with a cozy chair, and the like. In the office, too, I prefer to keep my door shut. Unfortunately, my colleague, with whom I share the space, feels otherwise. Strangely, however, here, too, it is never enough. The more I get, the more I want. It leads to my staying up much too late at night in order to fully savor the precious time by myself. Sometimes, I feel like disappearing to a deserted island without my mobile phone and without leaving an address. Simply so I no longer have to see or hear anybody. Obviously, that’s not possible. But I don’t know what else to do. I don’t dare to send my colleagues out of the office when they violate my boundaries or to tell my female colleague to shut up. Somehow, I think I’m not entitled to do this and that it probably would alienate others. (“Would you please only communicate with me in writing? I am so irritable today.” No, I can’t say that.)

I am afraid of being met with a lack of understanding and even anger, because that’s what my mother used to do: Punish me by remaining silent, sometimes for days, whenever I tried to impose my will. This is still a problem for me. I don’t know how to learn to articulate my needs and to bear the potentially negative consequences.
I look forward to your response. Meanwhile, I’ve become quite self-sufficient in this area, and a couple of suggestions are often enough.

Here is my reply:

Dear Ms. K.:

Many thanks for your feedback on my book. I am very pleased that it “jumped right out” at you 🙂

Regarding your first question:

There are different phases in overcoming eating disorder. When we are at the very beginning, we are overwhelmed by binging episodes (or by constant grazing). The binging episodes literally attack us from behind, without warning, and there’s no escaping them. They are simply stronger than we are.

Once we start working on ourselves, we understand that these binging episodes (or the permanent grazing) do perform a function and that there’s a reason for their being with us. Gradually, we learn to recognize the first signs, so that the binging episodes no longer surprise us (or, we recognize that we’re grazing, instead of never realizing that we’re actually eating at the moment). At the same time, we deal with emotional hunger on the path of recovery from eating disorder. The more we’re able to lessen our emotional hunger, the less the binging episodes (or the grazing) will become. Gradually, we learn to endure our feelings without abusing food to compensate for them.
If I understand you correctly, you’d like to eat without limitations and still not be overweight. Unfortunately, that won’t work. Once we’ve progressed on the path of recovery from eating disorder, the day will come when we need to decide how we want to continue. If you decide that you don’t want to limit your food intake and eat everything our surplus society has to offer, that’s okay. However, you will probably have to carry a few more pounds with you. I’m not making a value judgment, but stating a fact. When we eat more than the body needs, it will store up reserves.

(I have deliberately written “once we’ve progressed on the path…..” because, when we’re in middle of eating disorder, the addiction decides, and we often have the feeling of being powerless)

If, on the other hand, you decide that you don’t want these “reserves”, you will need to find a system in order to say “no” to the foodstuffs or dishes that are too much for you.

That’s where the body-oriented measurement units of hunger / satiety and hummers / beckoners come into play. To me, that’s not another diet, because these measurement units let us know what the body needs at that moment and when we need to take a break from eating. One aspect that’s comparable to a diet is the need for willpower and consistency in order to say “no” whenever a beckoner shows up. The inner voices you describe might be similar to the voices of my inner child which I describe in my book. Repeated and loving communication is needed, as described in the book.

When we still are in the throes of eating disorder, however, this inner communication is very difficult because we have not yet learned to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. Once we know the difference, the next step is to learn how to endure feelings like boredom or over-stimulation, instead of swallowing them by eating.
If we don’t want to carry surplus weight, renunciation becomes necessary. In order to do this with as little pain as possible, it’s important to offset the void we may feel through other things. Here, I would recommend, for instance, doing some of the “butterfly exercises” from the book, learning that enjoyment doesn’t only come from eating. I use the word “learning” advisedly, because rewarding ourselves with food is often a habit that has been trained, and therefore is accustomed and simple. All new behaviors require practice and willpower.

On the topic of high sensitivity: The more we are aware who we are and where we stand, the more we dare to observe our own boundaries and to find clear words and, above all, a clear inner stance. Once we’ve reached that point, we’re able to respond to repeated complaints: “I feel with you, but I can’t help you with this. No matter what I’ve advised you so far, nothing has helped. This makes me unhappy, because I feel responsible that you aren’t doing well. What can we do about this?” or “I am sorry, but I am unable to concentrate right now. Could we talk about this later? At the moment, I need some peace and quiet. I hope you’ll understand.”

I hope to have helped you with my response. Warm regards from Vienna,
Olivia Wollinger

(translated by Ulli Wiesner)

P.S. If you’ve got the time, I would really appreciate your writing a book review on amazon. Nowadays, that’s what’s needed when you’re authoring a book 🙂


Finally, Ms. K. answered as follows:

Hello again,

Thank you so much for your comprehensive answer. At least, your response showed me how far I’ve already come. In the past, I knew nothing about myself, except that I wanted to eat all the time. Today, I realize from time to time: “I want to eat now because I really want to get out of this situation, and it isn’t possible. Right now I don’t know any other way out, so it’s okay. I’m doing my best.”

Once in a while I even reach the point when I try out an alternative or simply go without eating, but these times I can count on the fingers of one hand. I think I’ve got to learn first and foremost, no longer to impose rules on myself, because that’s what I resent the most. No wonder after 20 years of dieting. I want to become more spontaneous and more flexible. Then it would not be difficult to say “no” to a “beckoner”.

I found your response regarding high sensitivity interesting because you used to think you were not allowed to do well when others were doing less well. That’s exactly what I think. When, for instance, I visit my father and my sister whom I believe to be worse off than me, I eat beyond all reason. While the visits are always pleasant and we get along well, I always had a strange feeling for which I had no explanation and to which I reacted by eating. Only during a recent visit I realized that I wanted to tell them: “Look at me! I’m totally uncontrolled and fat. I’m as badly off as you are. We’re at the same level.” From a logical standpoint, this doesn’t make any sense, but that’s exactly the way I perceive it. During that visit, I ate significantly less because I no longer was ravenous due to having become conscious. Emotionally, I was going back and forth between feeling irate and compassionate, although there were no immediate triggers.

I suppose, only increased mindfulness, coupled with flexibility, is going to help me with this issue. Thus far, I’ve been clinging to the old diet “switch” – “From now on I’ll do everything differently, forever”. I expected that I immediately would start to eat only based on my hunger, and never more or less, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. My goal is now to let go, to slowly let go of deliberate control.

Thank you again. Our little exchange has again given me some useful ideas that have been very helpful.
With kind regards,