We eat for two reasons and two reasons only. I call them the two P’s – physiology and psychology. Either our bodies need something or our minds do.
Physiology is usually the easy part, and it’s pretty easy to spot and resolve these issues. For example, if someone goes all day without eating and then chastises herself for not being able to resist the cookies and candy that are stocked in the office, she is not weak-willed. Her body, however, is genuinely hungry! Which is a normal, physiological reaction – if you don’t eat, your body will send out signals telling you, no screaming at you to eat. And not the healthy stuff. When it is that hungry it wants the highest calorie, highest fat, and highest sugar foods it can get you to get your hands on. You can’t override these genetics. They have been around for thousands of years, and you’re not going to be the one person in history that somehow learns to outsmart what nature built in. So in this case, eat more regularly, throughout the day, and you’re set. Problem solved.
Dealing with psychology is a little trickier. We eat for so many reasons other than nourishment; we eat because we are sad, happy, angry, anxious, lonely, bored – the list is endless. Oftentimes we eat and we don’t even know why. We’ve just always done it so we keep doing it, not even realizing that there is some secret motive behind our appetite that has nothing to do with physiological reasons. Yet most of the time people only address the superficial – “just tell me what to eat.”
However, dealing with only physiology, and not psychology, is like making a birthday cake without the frosting. You can stack the layers and it might hold for a while, or you can use a Band-Aid approach like holding it together with toothpicks (which is what my Mom actually did with my birthday cake when I was six), but eventually, as was the case with my ill-fated cake, it all falls to pieces. And isn’t that what happens each time you start a new diet? Everything is going great for a while and you think you have finally found “the answer,” then bam! It all falls to pieces and you feel like a failure, again.
We can all change our habits in the short term, but if we don’t figure out why we eat, we’ll be back to old habits. The good news is that you can figure out why and you can change your habits, but you have to be willing to delve into the “why” – not just the “what.” Sometimes this can bring up uncomfortable feelings or fears. So you have to be brave, because you are fully capable of facing this discomfort head-on. You’ve just been fooled into thinking you can’t.
The culprit in this deception? It’s your mind again. This time though, it really does have your best interests at heart. It likes to protect you against anything that might cause pain. So if you grew up in a household where every injury (physical or emotional) was comforted by the sweetness of a cookie or some ice cream, don’t be surprised if, as an adult, you still find yourself seeking solace in this manner. Your mind has learned that cookies and ice cream are great distractions from pain. But here is the catch – this method of coping is only really meant to be a short-term solution, when we are young and don’t yet have the cognitive skills and strength to address the issues at hand. As we age our brains develop the ability to cope more effectively, yet we have become so attached to our habits, we don’t realize there is another way.
But there is another way. A better way. A more permanent way. When you find yourself using food for anything other than nourishment, stop and ask yourself why. What is happening in your life? How was your day? What’s on your mind? Once you know the “why” then you can find a solution to the real issue, and stop turning to food once and for all.