I often see clients who describe their lives as stressful and I note the strong correlations between stress and behaviours with food. We can use food as a tool to distract ourselves from stress and push down uncomfortable feelings. Lets see if you resonate with the following example. You are experiencing stress in the workplace. There are demanding deadlines, challenging relationships with a colleague, and a fear of redundancy. This situation is in you mind a great deal; at home as well as at work. You get home at night feeling tired and anxious and then the following thought floats into your mind;
‘Gosh I really feel like having a chocolate biscuit. I deserve it, it’s been a tough day. It’s only one.’
The advice is what the stressed parts of you want to hear. Yeah, I deserve it. It’s only one, that can’t hurt and wham, next thing you know you have devoured half the packet of biscuits and your mind has started to turn on you.
‘You are such a loser, I knew you couldn’t keep to one. You can never stick at anything.’
Additional suffering and anxiety all over again. What is the mind up to? It’s like a naughty child. Offering you temptation, then putting you down if you act on its advice. Is there an alternative?
There is a part of me that can seek out unhealthy food at times. When I am feeling a bit tired or not one hundred percent well, the mind chips in with a little offering.
Pssst, this will pick you up, how about we go down to the supermarket and get chocolate,
Sometimes I laugh out loud when I hear that now. Oh boy, that mind is cunning. Sabotage. I will often respond out loud now. ‘Good try, but I’m not buying into it.’ I feel for what is going on inside of me at that moment.
Putting food inside me at that moment is a diversion away from uncomfortable feelings. Chocolate is a ‘comfort food’ for me. A reminder of earlier times in my life where the sharing of such things was in a loving family setting. Associated with security, safety and happiness. It feels like an escape ploy in the moment, but it’s actually a trap. Rather than facing the difficult emotions I am attempting to run from them. I am stuffing food down on top of the emotions, but it doesn’t work. They will just come bubbling up again. If this eating pattern becomes a default response to challenging situations, I am adding a secondary problem on top of the original one.
OK. So what do I do? I hear the chocolate idea drop in, but I feel for the other viable alternatives. Healthy nut mix, a piece of fruit, a sugar-free home made snack. So I eat the healthy option and the chocolate idea appears a second time? Oooh, it’s quite persistent. So lets try a different tack because this chocolate idea seems quite compelling. Lets immerse ourselves in an activity that we really enjoy now. Something that absorbs us completely. Dancing to some music, repotting some plants, meditating, working on a creative project. Suddenly time passes and I realise that the mind has been diverted. No hunger detectable and a realisation appears. I didn’t NEED the chocolate.
The key here is DELAY. Delay allows us to effectively shift our focus away from food for a while. As time passes we get to feel for what our body really needs, rather than the mind’s hollow temptations. Another good test is the following. If I follow the mind’s offering right now how am I going to feel afterwards? Uplifted, grateful, happy? Or unhealthy, conned, guilty? When we delay our action or response to unhealthy food temptations we are deliberately becoming more aware of our behaviour rather than running on programmed reactions. In delay we become more empowered and have more choice. See if you can play with delay.
(Picture header is juvenile Cacao plants. The basis of chocolate)