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Competing Wants Around Food

A discussion on my Food and Feelings message board about believing that having the urge to eat means you must do so, got me thinking. When we want to eat, we’re singling out one desire among many others that we also have. Tuning into these other desires—for health, fitness, pride—increases our chances of avoiding mindless eating.

There are many things we want in the same moment that we crave a certain food, say, ice cream, pizza, or a piece of fudge. The action you take depends primarily on which desire you attend to. Before talking about these other desires, here’s an example of what I mean outside the food realm. Say you’re wildly physically attracted to someone. Simultaneously, you also may want to: find an appropriate life partner, learn to be more comfortable on your own without a love interest, and practice avoiding acting impulsively because it’s gotten you into trouble before. It would be essential to consider all these wants in the given moment in order to make a decision that’s best for you rather than focus only on animal attraction.

What might you want at the same time that you crave food that you’re not hungry for and want to eat just because it’s there? You want to:

  • be healthy
  • take better care of your body
  • be proud of yourself
  • achieve or maintain a comfortable weight
  • break the habit of giving in to mindless food cravings
  • strengthen your ability to say “no” to food without feeling deprived
  • become emotionally healthier
  • learn to engage in other activities which bring you pleasure
  • become a “normal” eater

When you talk with people who’ve triumphed over something difficult and achieved success, they’ll tell you that they kept their focus only on what would help them be victorious. They’ll say they took the long view and avoided thinking about what might deter them. Instead, they’ll describe holding onto thoughts which would propel them forward. When you crave food and aren’t hungry, ask yourself, “What else do I want or want more than this food?” Make a list of these desires and keep them handy to read every time you mindlessly want to eat.