You are emotionally attached to food. We all are. We are intimately associated with the things we eat and even if you think that your dining decisions are automatic, I guarantee you that they are not. Three out of four people that eat more food than their body needs on a daily basis are doing so because of emotional attachment to food. Food is a reward, food calms their nerves, food gives them something else to think about. People eat when they are bored, happy, sad. Sometimes people eat when they are hungry. People eat sometimes just because it is time to eat and then they eat again when they feel like eating for some other emotional reason.
If you have come to the point in your life that you are trying to change the things you eat, and perhaps how many times you eat each day, you now have a need to understand how change is manifested in your life. You have to dive into your thought process to see what trigger has called you to the table or the candy machine, and then you have to figure out what to do with that trigger in order to interrupt the cycle of emotional eating (or really any other subconscious behavior).
So whatever the reason is that you have decided that you need to eat less, and to eat better you now are living in the world of change. In your recent past the cycle went like this–something triggers you to think about eating, besides hunger. You go to your habit-worn path to your food supply, select your comfort food of choice, you eat. Eating causes all of the natural reactions to food in your brain, dopamine, serotonin, glucose, insulin, as required by the food. After eating you might feel guilty about what you ate, or how much you ate. You might scold yourself for not being better at resisting. You berate and belittle the person in you that can eat without thinking or can eat without consideration of the future. Perhaps someone in your life is ‘helping’ watch what you eat. You try not to eat around that person, so as not to cause them distress. You plan on doing what they want, but for some reason, right now that doesn’t matter, what they don’t know won’t hurt. You do what you want to, you regret it, you promise not to do it again.
Promising yourself you won’t do it again is very simple to do moments after you have that cigarette, have that drink, eat that donut. Inside of your brain you have already gotten the machinery of reward going. The enzymes and proteins are released, the guilt is just setting in. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself when your reward centers are all lit up like Christmas. Your self-punishment has no effect on your eating, but does affect your brain. Negative thoughts cause a negative self image, they reinitiate the process of the cycle.
The way out of the loop is to, at any point in the loop, become mindful. When I was quitting smoking some years back I would always look longingly at coworkers that were happily smoking and I would wish to myself that I could just have one cigarette, that just one cigarette would not make me a smoker again. Eventually watching these men smoke would lead me to ask someone for a cigarette, then it would be every day, then I would buy a pack so that I wasn’t always bumming. Before you know it you are sneaking them at home again, then finally admitting to yourself and the world that you are still a smoker.
When I finally quit I hit on a radical strategy. My trigger was watching the men that I would see smoking on break at work. I would approach someone and instead of asking for a cigarette I would say “I thought you were going to quit smoking” (because all smokers are somewhere in the process) and then listen as he would tell me where he was in the process. Most guys just buy their smokes a pack at a time, because right after this pack… Asking that question and listening to that answer gave me time to not think about why I couldn’t smoke, but instead think about why he couldn’t quit. It gave me just a moment to pop out of the addiction loop. Finding a way to interrupt your cycle of emotional attachment to food will be like this.
For me, my food cycle is interrupted at the grocery store. I don’t do very well at not eating things that are already in my home and paid for. I know that it would be better to throw things that I don’t want to eat out, but I tend to eat them instead. I used to go to the store and walk down every aisle in order. This presented me with the temptations that I intended to resist, but had trouble resisting in the moment. When I started not going down every aisle finally I was able to quit buying foods on grocery day that would tempt me for the rest of the week. I would not make a special trip to the store just to buy ice cream when I craved ice cream while watching TV after dinner, but I might buy ice cream if I walk by it at the store. I broke my food cycle by breaking the little bitty habit of walking every aisle at the store.
When you do eat foods that you intend to avoid, another thing to do is be gentle with yourself. I know that there are constant temptations in our western society to eat the abundant foods that make up the Western Diet. Eating some of these foods does not mean that you have failed to change. Eating things you don’t want to eat is a chance to feel. Actually feel the changes that occur in your body and mind as the foods take their effect. In my case if I have a sugary soda I can actually feel it, like a chemical as it makes my heart beat harder. I can detect ways that my personality changes, I become more critical of both me and those around me. At that point, I remind myself why I want to change. I don’t call myself names, think myself weak. I don’t call off the struggle. I am not an emotional eater, I am an eater, no different than anyone else. I am not weaker than you, you are not weaker than me, we are just at different places in our different cycles. When I eat desert, it is because I want desert. I know that eating it when I eat right all of the rest of the week does not mean anything bad about me. I am deciding to eat and I have no reason to regret it.
If you spend much time in a day feeling bad about yourself or cussing yourself out because you haven’t changed, stop for a moment when you are doing it and really ask yourself what good you are doing for you or for change. Calling yourself names has never worked yet, has it? It will not work now. What is really going on is your brain is setting you up again to continue the habit. Don’t call yourself those names and instead spend that time feeling how having just given in to temptation makes you feel. How does it actually make you feel. You are standing at the table games in the casino, you just made a fifty dollar bet, take inventory right now of the places where you feel that. Just stop and think. Just stop and feel. Look around and feel around yourself emotionally as you wipe the sugar from your chin. Don’t say “I Can’t” “I Don’t” “I Always”. Think for a moment. Use these memories as you come up to the moment in the cycle where you break out of it. “If I don’t go down that aisle I won’t have to feel like that.” If I just go home instead of the casino I won’t have to feel like that.
When you do let yourself down, make the most of it. Remember what it feels like–put it in your memory. Sometimes we can be so hard on ourselves all of the time that we don’t realize what we are doing to our internal chemistry. It’s possible to be so used to seeing something that a woman can be seventy five pounds and about to die of heart failure from not eating and still see something imaginary in the mirror, a fat woman. If you look in the mirror and see a weak person you have to know that it’s imaginary too. You are not a weak person, because there is no such thing. You are as powerful as anyone alive, but you are in the habit of letting yourself do what you want by calling yourself weak. You must beat the urge to punish yourself like that when it does nothing to the habit except provide you a tag that allows you to continue it. Tell yourself how strong you are every day and you will be that. Tell yourself you are a weak and despicable gambler and you are that, too. Tell yourself you are fat like you mean it and you will starve yourself to death.