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The Idea of Food

  • Eating

Clients keep teaching me more and more about dysfunctional eating. For instance, that it’s not really food that compulsive or emotional eaters want but the idea of what they wish/hope/perceive food will bring them. This is a crucial distinction.

Disregulated eaters turn to food to relax, unwind, kick back, let loose, de-stress, whatever you want to call it. This is what you’re seeking, what you erroneously perceive as the end result of eating or of eating particular kinds of foods. When we’re hungry, our bodies signal wanting food through rumbling bellies, hollowness in the chest, headaches, and light-headedness. When hungry, our bodies aren’t satisfied by watching TV or taking a walk. Alternately, stress signals that our bodies need to relax.

When we dive head first into a box of past-the-pull date, tasteless dry cereal, we can’t possibly be into “the food.” Or when we snarf down the leftover crackers we’re putting away after hosting (and eating) a four-course dinner. Can you see that it’s not food you’re after? You want what you think eating will bring you. Not food!

Though you tell yourself that food will make you feel better, does it actually do that? It may seem to until you swallow and the deed is done and you wish you could unswallow and erase the whole experience. Yet, time and again, you wrongly assure yourself that what you want is food when you want something else. You want what you’ve convinced yourself eating does for you but in truth does not. Fact is that eating for non-hunger reasons has a fleeting upside and a downside that just keeps on giving.

That’s because food tastes best in the first few bites when we’re hungry and before our taste buds become saturated with a particular flavor or texture after which they don’t get so excited by it any more. The evolutionary process answers the question of how “normal” eaters stop after eating only a small amount of food: because it doesn’t taste as good as it did when they first started eating it. As it loses its appeal, they move on.

If you’re looking to relax, you do not want food. So find things that will do the job. There is no other way out of stress eating than not eating and taking other actions to de-stress. Remind yourself that you yearn to turn off your brain and loosen up your tense body. Do whatever will accomplish these goals, especially activities (unlike food) that are all upside and no downside, and you’ll be all set. Remember, it’s not food you want, just the idea of what you hope it will bring you—but never does.