Tag Archives: food addiction

What and When to Eat: always, sometimes, and never

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Always? Sometimes? Never? It depends . . .

Wouldn’t you like to know?!  We all love black and white information, especially about eating.  “I want to KNOW,” you may say, “exactly what to eat and what I should never touch.”

I am sorry to disappoint, but you will not get that here.  One of the problems I have with traditional dieting is that many of them offer lists like this.  As a culture, we love that!  “All I need to do is cut sugar (and/or wheat, gluten, dairy, carrots (!), . . . ) completely out of my diet and I will get to my dream weight and stay there for as long as I live.”

Good luck with that.  I don’t see that strategy offering long-term success to anyone I have met.  Unless a sharply defined eating rule has personal meaning for you, forget it; it will not stick.  If, however, you break out in hives all over your body when you eat even a single slice of bread, I would imagine you would have a relatively easy time giving up gluten if you can pin down the cause of your breakout to any food containing it.

What about WHEN to eat?  Many diets convey the message that if you want to lose weight, you should sometimes eat when you are hungry (when your diet plan makes it possible), never eat simply for pleasure, and never eat when you are emotional.

Here is how I feel about that:

You should always eat when you are physically hungry.  (There is no better reason to eat than this!)

You should sometimes eat for pure pleasure.  (Why not?  If you can supplement food pleasure with other life pleasures, a healthy diet can include some food for the sole purpose of taste enjoyment.  It won’t take much to satisfy a pure pleasure need.  Not being able to stop is a reminder that there is something else going on.)

Eating mindlessly for emotional reasons, with no physical hunger, will never resolve the emotional difficulty, but you will sometimes do it anyway, and you should never beat yourself up about it.  You will always be human.

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Do you think you have a “willpower disability”?

I have a client on my mind.  We met this morning, and the conversation was interesting.  “I am struggling,” she said.  I found myself asking lots of questions to understand exactly what the struggles are and what is causing them.

What I learned was that she is still having trouble controlling sweets at work. (People bring them in.)  After digging deeper, we discovered that she really doesn’t think she can resist eating the treats at work.  Although she avoids the room they are typically in, all it takes to trigger the “I can’t resist it” belief is the mention of cake or other treats by a co-worker.

She does feel conscious of the fact that there is a choice to eat it or not, but in reality it is not a choice at all.  The mindless part of the habit is in the deeper belief that she cannot resist  treats when they are available.  Checking with herself in-the-moment about whether or not to indulge is really just going through the motions.  The deeper (and less conscious) belief tells her she is not strong enough to really have a choice.  Call it a perceived “willpower disability.”

Add to this challenge the guilt that accompanies the inevitable “choice,” and it adds fuel to the fire of the belief:  “See, I knew I couldn’t resist.  I never can.”

Beliefs are strong.  And they are most often unconscious.  This can make a “conscious” thought a mere habit instead of a realization of actual choice.  There is a big difference between realizing on a superficial level that you can eat something or not, and really believing it.  In other words, it is possible to choose to eat something and also truly believe that there was a choice not to eat it.  In order for the latter choice to exist at all, one must believe that this is possible, at least sometimes.  And, of course, there are all kinds of choices that exist between the two extremes of all and nothing.

Being conscious of thoughts is important, but sometimes it takes looking deeper, especially when feelings of failure and disappointment keep popping up.  If the thought of an option to make a self-controlled choice is habitually followed by discouraging thoughts (“What makes you think you really have any choice at all, you spineless disappointment?”), those thoughts probably point to a deeper belief that keeps that habit going.

To be clear, it is still a good idea to keep from deliberately making choices too challenging by surrounding yourself with temptation.  Let’s face it – some kinds of food are just really, really hard to resist when they are too accessible.  There is no need to test your strength by leaving a whole cake out on the counter.  That’s just not very kind!

Choosing to eat any particular food is not the problem.  Knowing you could choose not to have something and having it anyway feels so much different than eating it because you feel too weak-willed to have any choice.  How much enjoyment can there really be in that?