I had coffee with a friend recently. Retreating from the cold Wisconsin weather, we settled in, warmed up, and savored the wonders of our steamy beverages: the taste and warmth of the drinks, to be sure, but also the experience of connection in a cozy setting.
Later she sent this:
Yes! We eat – and drink – for reasons that are complex and interconnected. Do we ever eat simply for physical hunger and nourishment? If so, it is rare, at least in developed countries. I understand the metaphor of a human body as a car, and we want to use good quality fuel, but it’s not that simple!
We are human beings, not machines, so eating decisions are always interesting blends of physical hunger, pleasure seeking, and emotional needs. We often weigh these factors unconsciously, so food decisions can seem to be controlled by factors beyond our control. “I don’t know why I ate those cookies. I couldn’t stop, and I didn’t even really like them that much.” (In reality, the cookies may have been a mindless attempt to meet an emotional need, one that might have been more truly soothed with a non-food solution.)
I believe that one reason we tune out and don’t hear our genuine needs is that our diet-focused culture seldom encourages that kind of non-judgmental observation. Why would we be curious about that if we believe that we should just follow a plan no matter what?! Why question that craving? Just resist it!
People who blindly try to follow a rigid eating plan do not always realize that ignoring real needs does not make them disappear. In fact, the opposite is usually true; ignoring them is more likely to cause uncontrolled eating that appears to have no logic other than “I have no willpower, and I’m a total failure.” There’s not much insight in that kind of thinking!
This is not to say that having a plan is a bad thing. It is actually a very good thing if a plan is defined as having an intention to do something, but any plan that will work long term must be chosen, not imposed. That means it should make sense for your body and be realistic for your life. Maybe most importantly, any good plan for human beings needs to be flexible.
We know what we need if we pay attention. If we listen, true needs (sometimes for physical nourishment, but sometimes for more complex things like warmth or comfort or pleasure or pain avoidance) become less mysterious and we can choose to honor them and care for them kindly, or we can decide to ignore what would be truly supportive and act outside of our best interests.
Either way, a choice is better than mindless default. Choice always leaves the door open for a kinder approach next time, and choice is less likely to cause regret and disappointment, guilt and shame.