Being consumed by the thought of food is not just about thinking about what you’re going to eat from meal to meal. It’s also what I call mental gymnastics around food. Before a meal you might think about what the best choice would be. You’re not 100% sure so you go back and forth about whether you should or shouldn’t eat it. Then, afterwards you continue to think about the food choice. Was it the right one? Maybe you feel guilty about it and beat yourself up. Or, maybe you tell yourself ‘it’s OK. I’ll do better during my next meal. Speaking of the next meal, I should eat a salad to be healthy. Oh! And how many calories did I just consume? Can I afford to eat what I have planned for dinner?’
If you can relate, there could be two reasons you’re consumed by the thought of food; physiological or emotional.
Physiologically it can happen when you aren’t getting the right mix of nutrients for your body, meaning the right mix of good fats, protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrates. For the purpose of this post we’re going to focus on the emotional aspect.
The emotional reasons we can think about food are because we typically encounter a number of small emotional triggers we may not realize throughout the day. I think of those as little minnows that are nibbling away at your willpower so you distract yourself and focus on what feels “comfortable” or safe. The reason we focus on food, even though it frustrates us is because we’re actually relieving pressure that’s building up throughout the day.
To illustrate what these minnows could look like, I’ll share an example of a client I’ll call Liz. Liz is a Therapist and during a patient session in the middle of the day she was finding it hard to concentrate because all she could think about was ordering pizza for dinner when she got home. She was so fixated on the pizza that she found herself struggling to stay present during the session. When we talked through what happened, we realized it was a Wednesday and she was already feeling depleted and burnt out from the week. She had been accommodating her clients so much that she never checked in on her needs throughout the week, so by Wednesday the only thing she could think about was the pizza. The pizza was a way to “take care of herself” and replenish, even though it wasn’t in line with her health and weight goals. So much pressure had built up earlier in the week that the minnows had been nibbling away at her willpower so she didn’t have any left and ended up ordering the pizza that night for dinner.
My clients who identify as accommodators are often in a pattern of avoiding so they aren’t clear on what they need. When this happens they tend to focus on food because it’s the one thing they’ve turned to for a long time for comfort.
This is not to say that you can never have pizza. The idea is to be more conscious of your needs so the mental gymnastics reduce around the pizza. As a result, you may find your desire for the pizza also naturally dwindles.
To help identify what your real needs are, I like to use the acronym NAILED. When you feel like you’re thinking about food in an unproductive way, check in to see if you’re feeling:
Once you identify what you’re feeling, reflect on what you really need. For example, if you’re feeling depleted do you need some space and time to decompress? Once you recognize what these emotions are and what they actually mean, we can experience freedom and rewarding experiences.
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