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Best Way To Manage Weight Is To Listen To Stomach’s Stop Sign, Says CU Professor


Feb. 1, 2006, The most effective way for people to regulate their eating and weight without a strict diet is to use their internal signals to balance the overwhelming power of good-tasting food, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder psychology professor.

Linda Craighead, who has done research on eating disorders and weight management for more than 20 years, has developed a technique called “appetite awareness training” to help people stop overeating and control their weight, while still eating foods they enjoy.

The appetite awareness technique, a step-by-step plan to gain control of eating habits, is presented by Craighead in her newly released book “The Appetite Awareness Workbook: How to Listen to Your Body and Overcome Bingeing, Overeating and Obsession with Food.” The book was released Feb. 1 and was published by New Harbinger Publications.

“The fundamental principle of appetite awareness is learning to use your body’s internal signals to decide when you are hungry and need to eat and when you need to stop eating so you don’t get uncomfortably full,” said Craighead, who also is the clinical director of an intensive outpatient eating-disorder treatment center in Boulder.

“All of us started out eating this way as babies, but most of us learned to override these internal signals as we grew up and were faced with so many tasty foods. We learned to eat whatever we wanted, and often gained weight or learned to diet. In either case, we tuned out our biological signals,” she said.

The unfortunate thing, Craighead said, is those internal signals are the best protection we have against overeating when faced with the temptation of large amounts of tasty high-calorie food. A strict diet can work for awhile, but most people end up feeling deprived and sabotage their diets, she said.

Craighead’s technique retrains people, helping them tune back into their stomach signals and to use those signals to decide when and how much to eat. She has used the technique to help people stop binge eating, reduce overeating and recover from eating disorders such as bulimia.

“The goal I present in the book is to take charge of your eating decisions, to stop responding mindlessly to urges to eat,” Craighead said. “If you’re only focused on food, mostly the foods you can’t have, you are going to get into a very negative cycle. We try to turn this around and focus on the positive.”

To help people with the process, the book includes special forms for people to rate how hungry and full they are before and after every meal or snack. The goal is to reduce eating when not hungry, while increasing eating when you are hungry, according to Craighead.

“People usually focus more on the type of food they eat, most often on the taste or the calories of the food,” Craighead said. “Appetite monitoring focuses on you, why you start and stop eating not what you choose to eat. If you learn how to start and stop eating effectively, you can cope with any kind of food that is put in front of you.”

In order for people to stabilize their weight, Craighead said they must take charge of their eating decisions so they are not as vulnerable to environmental signals, such as commercials, to eat too much or to diet. Once their weight is stable, they can work with their internal appetite signals instead of attempting to fight their bodies’ biological weight-regulation system.

“Eating what you really want, often called intuitive eating, is an important first step. It just doesn’t go far enough,” Craighead said. “We are bombarded by cheap and extremely fattening food. Our bodies weren’t designed to live in this kind of environment so they don’t protect us from the temptation of all the good food that is available.”

More than 60 percent of Americans are now overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bottom line, according to Craighead, is many people simply do not know how to live in today’s food environment without gaining weight, nor do they know how to lose weight.

Craighead said her motto is “don’t fight Mother Nature. She has the advantage. She will eventually wear you out. She will win.” However, Craighead said, you can negotiate with Mother Nature. You can eat the foods you really desire and enjoy them as long as you listen to your stomach and not just your mouth.


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