Recently, one of my clients came to me with a question about her emotional eating situation. She said,
“Even though I know it won’t taste very good and that it’s bad for my body, I want the freedom to eat whatever I enjoy, to do whatever I want. All my life, I’ve always done the ‘right’ thing and held up as a model of the good child, the good student, the successful [professional].
I think food is my escape from this pressure of perfection. How do I overcome this?”
After taking some time to think about the answer during my morning meditation, this was my response:
As someone who has always craved freedom since childhood myself, I can certainly relate. But you have to ask yourself, ”Am I really getting satisfaction from this food item and is my need for freedom really getting quenched when I eat junk food? Go deep down to inspect again. I have a feeling that the answer will be – “no.” It is always your choice what you can eat (if you are an adult living in a country where you have an abundance of food at immediate disposal.) So why do you choose to eat the foods that you know are harmful to your body? Can’t you make the choice to eat the food that is nourishing your body, instead of empty calories? You are an adult with full rights to make the choices, so why do you make those choices? You have to realize that your freedom to eat what you want means that you can make the choice that is good for you not because it is the “right” thing to eat, not because someone told you, or that you won’t be perfect if you don’t choose the healthy options. Get deep down with yourself and ask yourself, in this present moment, what do you really want? If the answer is “a cookie” – have one, and see if you have satisfied what you wanted in that moment – something sweet. Be still and present when you ask yourself these questions and listen for the answer that your body will give you.
Have your freedom – eat what you want, but do it for the right reason, not because you feel freedom is binge eating an entire pint of ice cream or a bag of candy bars. You are not a child who has no control over their urges – you are a conscious adult who can make the right choice.
After answering the question, I thought about it some more and examined my own relationship with food. This is what I realized:
I hardly ever restrain myself from eating anything I want and I regularly give in to my cravings. When I want a piece of banana-bread cake, I have it – and I enjoy it A LOT! I know I have complete freedom to eat what I want. But do I eat a second piece of cake? Do I then go and eat more sweets later that day? No! I intuitively eat that cake because I truly want it, not because I feel tired/sad/lonely/stressed/upset. Once my craving has been satisfied, it is usually gone…at least for that day. And usually over the next few days I don’t want any more cake, provided that I had that first piece with full attention and presence, and not just scarfing it down during a morning rush to work or while in a zombie-like-trance induced by watching TV.
When I feel the urge to eat something sweet (or anything at all for that matter) after a nutritious and ample dinner, I quickly do an introspection on the inside: “Do I really want it because my body needs it/ because of hunger/ for nourishment?”
Or is it just a habit? Is it just my mind talking, trying to trick me into thinking that it’s my body? Is it just an old pre-conditioned mind pattern that makes me wrongly believe that eating something now will bring me some kind of relief from the dissatisfaction I’m currently feeling.
Sometimes it’s just that – a means to get away from that background “hum” of dissatisfaction we all feel on a daily basis that comprises most of our unconscious existence. But you have to realize it’s a temporary “fix” – something that will patch up that feeling briefly and not give you a permanent solution to your feeling of despondency. So find a way to distract yourself from that mind pattern and break the habit. Channel your energy into something else. It will be hard at first and it will take some will power on your part at the beginning. And only after you learn how to identify those thought patterns, will it get easier to see them for what they are – illusions. Once you grasp this concept, all you will have to do is a quick scan of your body and a thought check, to be aware that you’re not hungry – you’re just feeling (x, y, z) – and you will move on to doing other productive activities.
So here are some tips to try to be an intuitive eater, break the old mind-pattern or bad eating habits, and stop emotional binge eating for good:
- Do not eat while working, watching TV, or having engaging conversations with people – focus on what you are eating, the taste, how you feel while eating and actually enjoy it consciously.
- Designate an eating area in your house or workplace, that is dedicated to just this activity, so you can break the old habits and start enforcing a new one.
- Give in to your cravings but cut the portion size to a minimum and take a lot of time to savor it. For example, if you crave a cookie or ice cream, take a bite/spoonful and keep it in your mouth for as long as possible before swallowing it. Sometimes your mind craving will have been satisfied with just that.
- Before you give in to your craving, make a promise that you will meditate for 5 minutes, and then have your treat. You’ll find that you won’t eat as much.
- Take a cinnamon stick and dip it in honey, then suck on it for 20-30 minutes to kill any cravings you may have, including caffeine, cigarettes, sweets, or salt.
Final thought: Keep it balanced. If you are going to go all out and eat junk food, have a lighter meal next time, or skip the next meal all together. Or have a few cheat days, but compensate by having healthy days right after. There are no secrets to a healthy diet, it’s all about how many calories you eat vs. how many calories you burn.