Food Freedom Friday Edition 65 - Is Food Your Crutch?

I really enjoy eating. I think many of you are in the same boatI believe that food can and should make you feel good. It is instinctive and an integral part of our survival mechanism. We eat to live, but pleasure does, and always has played a large role in our nourishmentWe are wired for itThe pleasure centers in the brain are stimulated when we eat and emotional satisfaction often follows. 

Bearing that in mind, not every meal is or needs to be a monumental creative accomplishment, but those that are, offer a unique satisfaction that transcends the physical quality of the food itselfFamily events and cultural traditions magnify and deepen the satiation and we often find sentimental attachments to food, in both positive and not quite as positive ways. At times, we are also drawn to eat due to our emotions and this is where we can often get ourselves into a nutritional pickle. 

On a day to day basis, many of you might not automatically identify your patterns with emotional eatingYou might use food in a crutch-like, but not overtly emotional way - downing a couple cups of coffee each day for a continuing energy boost or unwinding from the day with a regular alcoholic beverage. In these and many other cases, are foods you 'use' without problematic consequences.sometimes you just crave something off your 'plan' and you allow yourself this option. there is no Food Police ready to sound the alarm if you eat off your grid. Not every dietary indiscretion or indulgence suggests some deeper psychological issue. Sometimes a cookie really is just a cookie. 

On the other hand, many of you (me included) have turned to food at some point to stifle or distract your emotions. You might eat out of abject boredom or deep lonelinessit could be stress or anxiety, and food can feel like an emotional salve in the moment. you may be sick, and want comfort food or are experiencing physical or emotional pain and just want something to take your mind off the discomfort for a while. Difficult times or transitions can leave you with feelings of emptiness and food becomes the filler or coping mechanism for a few days or maybe a few weeks (or several years). In these ways, emotional eating stands on its own in a stark way and substitutes for something bigger than what could be contained on the plate. 

The fact is, food has tremendous power to heal, to enhance your enjoyment of life and to create both mental and physical shifts and changes When you begin to use food for these emotional triggers, you can, over time begin wading into self-destructive or at least self-defeating behavior. When it becomes a regular pattern not only does your health suffer, but you suffer emotionally by resisting addressing the underlying cause of the impulse. As a general principle, people too often seek out the food related hit to their pleasure centers when short on other pleasures in life. That leads to the question of what to do when the emotional impetus creeps in 

1. Accept . 

Yes, food stimulates your feel-good trigger. You are hormonally wired to seek out typical comfort foods based on the interaction of stress with ghrelin levelsyour mind is not deceiving you about the stress relief. Research shows it can, in fact, inhibit your brain’s anxiety response. That said, there are a number of ways to achieve the same thing. It may not be in your head, but there is a better way to work the system. 

2. Pause. 

Just stop. Stop yourself from walking to the fridge. Stop your thoughts. Go clip your fingernails. Brush the dog. Vacuum or shovel. Throw in a load of laundry. Not quite working out for you, then...  

3. Assess. 

Check in with yourself, your recent past, immediate present and near future. Put it in the starkest, most blunt terms you can. Use profanity if desired. Have you had a really (blank) day? How has this week been for you? Are you worried about that (blank) project coming up at work or how the (blank) you’re going to pay for an upcoming trip or home repair? You can even create a checklist. Journaling serves its purpose, but there is something about the simplicity of a checklist (kept right in site) that stares back at you with immediate clarity. Write the day and check off what triggered the (blank) cravings. 

4. Get your needs met. 

Especially if this is a frequent occurrence, what is food standing in for? What is really going on emotionally that needs tending? For some, it might be as simple as taking some time off work, spending personal time in a more quality-oriented way, or adjusting your schedule, commitments, or budget. For others, however, emotional eating is more than simply situational. It is a deeply rooted association that has perhaps built up over years or even decades. Finding an experienced therapist and/or relevant support group can be keyIt is not necessary to continue to force yourself to keep stuffing down the impulse. Unpack it. Bring it into the light of day to live unburdened by it. 

5. Change the menu. 

Again, post it in plain site. Put a copy in your desk, your car, your purse, your briefcase, and wherever else you need it. When feel that specific hunger (as in not for nourishment, but comfort), look at the list of other things you can do to make yourself feel good in the moment. Have at least ten things you can do. Add to it whenever you feel inspired. 

Personally I do my best to keep emotion out of eating. I call that guilt and I would venture to guess that more misery has been experienced and more pounds added from guilt than most other feelings. It becomes a cruel but telling irony. You eat what you feel you should not and perhaps even really do not really want to. Then you wallow in guilt, which leads to shame, which circles back to isolation and insecurity, and right back to the impulse to fill the emotional hole again. While it is impossible to change the past (whether it was five years or five minutes ago), you can make every effort to cut off the cycle you find yourself in right now. Cut it off at guilt. 

This does not serve to justify the undesirable choice. you are neither justifying it nor condemning it. In fact you should not tell yourself anything about it. Conversing with your impulses rarely if ever helps. Circumvent the mental chatter altogether. (It does nothing but takes you down a rabbit hole.) Come back solely to the sensory and physical. Do something (other than eating) to get back in your body, the very one you may be looking at with more frustration or disappointment or disgust or self-loathing than you had before you ate the thing-you-emotionally-ate. Go against every instinct you may have and do something good for you, for your body. Try something healthy or indulgent or aesthetically pleasing. Put on something you look good in. Trim your beard. Paint your nails. Go for a walk. Take a hot bath. Go float in the ocean or lay in the grass. The point is, realign your thinking in that specific moment. The cookie is gone unless you are doing your best to still carrying it around in your head. Let it go. The rest of the day is waiting.

Michal Ofer