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A reader of my books and blogs wrote with a question that many of you might have: “Why,” he asked, “do I buy foods I think I’ll enjoy and bring them with me to eat, then find I don’t want them and crave something ‘quick and easy’ and eat that instead?” Here are my ideas on why this might happen and how to change the pattern.
Remember that intuitive eating isn’t a science. Sometimes we’ll nail a craving and sometimes we won’t. This occurs in other realms of life as well, but we probably don’t think much of it. We get excited about going to a movie because of all wonderful things we’ve heard about it but, when the time comes to go and see it, we’re more in the mood to stay home and read a book. Or we go to the movie and end up not caring for it. My point is that a change of mind about things comes up for most of us occasionally.
Pay attention to your eating patterns. Do you frequently buy, order, take along foods you think you’ll enjoy, then find yourself craving something else? If so, seek underlying causes. When you don’t fancy a particular food you thought you’d enjoy, ask yourself why not. Is not feeling overjoyed with your selection merely an excuse to eat something less healthy? This is generally the case. If you’re not in the habit of eating or enjoying nutritious foods, the non-nutritious ones will likely appeal to you more because your taste buds have become habituated to this over that. Sometimes you can split the difference and eat a bit of what you brought with you and a bit of something you hadn’t planned on eating. The key is to understand why you want this other food that you hadn’t planned on eating. My bet is that it’s because it’s the more non-nutritious or “forbidden” food and you think that it will be more fun or exciting to eat.
Another cause of not wanting what you intended to eat is due to choosing food in a restaurant or supermarket because it’s “healthy,” not because you like it. If there was a should involved in purchase or planning, it may be that you’re pressuring yourself to want certain foods, then rebelling against them. That said, if you truly fancy only non-nutritional foods, you’re going to have a problem instantly craving healthier ones.
I suggest experimenting by going in two directions. First, if you don’t mind eating the same foods repeatedly, eat the ones that you know you generally enjoy. Make them your go-to foods and have enough of them on your list that you don’t get bored with them. Rotate among the foods you crave and know you like. For example, I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning, plan a basic lunch in which I rotate vegetables, and have maybe half a dozen dinners I enjoy.
Second, occasionally pack foods that you think you might want but aren’t certain about. Make sure to eat them often enough to get used to them. It takes a while to change eating habits and you need to give healthier foods a chance by eating them and focusing on what is enjoyable about them—taste, texture, how good they feel in your body, the energy they give you—in order to habituate to them.
A few more points. When you eat a food you ordered or brought along that isn’t a perfect fit in the moment, remind yourself that the next time you’re hungry, you can eat something you enjoy more. Or, you can eat the food you brought, feel not terribly satisfied, and move on without caring very much. Dysregulated eaters tend to under- and over-focus on food and often want to have fantastic experiences every time they eat. They feel a need to love food rather than merely like it. “Normal” eaters don’t care if they sometimes don’t adore what they’re eating. Really, do you need to love or be excited about everything you do? This is an unreasonable expectation. Sometimes food is marvelous and sometimes it’s so so, but this is true of most life experiences.
The key to the inquiry I received lies in the words “quick and easy.” I hear this often from clients. Again, we can move in two directions in this case. The first is to consider that taking care of one’s body may not be something that can happen via “quick and easy” eating. It cannot be done by impulse or craving alone. Intuitive eating is not impulsive eating. Like most meaningful endeavors, nourishment involves saying yes and no to yourself in the right balance. If you don’t like planning or cooking, you’ll need to figure out why and resolve this problem to the extent that it doesn’t impede you eating well.
Alternately, I eat very simply because I don’t care to cook for myself (my near vegan husband does his own meal preparation). I have salad and vegetables at lunch so dinners can be eaten between seeing evening clients. I cook a wide range of grains in batches, freeze them and defrost a portion at dinner time. Broiled poultry or microwaved fish or seafood suits me fine. I eat snacks I love during the day to keep me going.
That’s my way, but it may not be yours. You’ll need to experiment with food—meals an
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