It’s Monday and you’ve promised yourself that you’ll do better. After a whole week of “bad eating,” you decide that Monday is absolutely the day you’ll get back on track. You’ve mapped it out already - you’re going to pack salads all for lunch, stop eating sweets, and finally “get clean.
The first day isn’t too bad, the second okay, but by day 4, the sight of your spinach salad makes you gag. You also can’t tolerate another green protein smoothie, after drinking the same thing over and over again. Your coworker asks you out to lunch and you simply oblige.
Sound familiar? Yep, while I’m not saying that meal plans aren’t necessary (they can be useful at times), like dieting, they’re temporary and just plain suck after a while. Then pretty soon you’re off nosediving back into the afternoon sugar pick me up, the afterwork binges, feeling like you’re back to square one.
So what can you do instead? Here are some suggestions:
When I ask my clients to food journal we often see a common pattern in non-hunger, problematic eating. The good news with this is that because it’s often a habit, it’s predictable and therefore easier to anticipate and plan for. While you may consciously wish you weren’t eating mindlessly in these times, a part of you is getting a need met. There is always a “gift,” a positive intention being met. Once you know what positive intention is being met, it becomes easier to replace that routine.
Do any of these patterns describe you? Here’s the real need and some suggestions on how to meet the need without using food.
It’s 5 pm Costa Rica time, and I have finally arrived back from work. Right on queue, I sense a craving for sweets, specifically chocolate. “Come on, one piece won’t hurt. …” the voice of craving says. “It’s been a long day at work – I DESERVE a treat.” In fact, I’ve noticed that the voice has been saying this same message all week.
I'll admit I’m not perfect – even as a coach, sometimes I give into my cravings while other times I walk away (which feels great when I do!). When my emotional eating was at it’s worst, I found myself at the mercy of my cravings – unable to say no. What I recognize now is that when I’m not physically hungry, cravings for food often represent another need – perhaps something that my body, mind, or soul is hungry for at the time.
I have learned to be thankful for my cravings. They are clear messengers that something is off-balance in my body or in my life.
A few years ago, I was at Vegetarian Fest in Seattle where a vegan chef and author, Alan Roettinger shared what he believed it meant to truly love someone or something. He shared that when he fell in love with his wife, he found himself paying attention so intently on how she moved, what she said, and what she did. To him, to love meant to give complete focus and intention. He brought that same focus to the food he made with love.
“I wish I could stop eating, but I just love food too much!” I am guilty of uttering these words and have heard them countless times from friends and clients, who deep down are frustrated with the weight loss process. Chances are though if you identify as an emotional eater or someone who is overweight, you probably don’t pay much attention to your food or at all. In fact, you may find that you eat distracted perhaps in front of your phone or the TV. Perhaps you may find that you are using food to go unconscious and to soothe, as is common in emotional eating.
So what if you agreed with Alan Roettinger’s definition of what it means “to love.” What would it look like to truly love food? Perhaps you would make your meal times special. Perhaps you would place the food nicely on the plate, focus fully on how the food tastes, and be grateful for what it provides you.
There are many variations to this story – perhaps it’s free samples at the grocery store or an abundance of different food at a party. In the case of “free food,” the mind often defaults to how great the opportunity is. However, in choosing “free food,” you may find that in exchange you are giving up something- perhaps sabotaging your commitment to your health goals or just that feeling of vitality. In my case, I found myself feeling sluggish after all my “free food fun” in Costa Rica.
So how can we make more conscious decisions that best serve us? The first step is to bring awareness and learning to the situation.