Food addictions can be so difficult to address because we are talking about a substance that we can not abstain from in our lives. We need food to survive. However, we are hearing all over the place about how the foods we are consuming are having very negative consequences from obesity to diabetes and several other concerns. Yet, despite being bombarded with messages of the negative consequences of an unhealthy diet, people are still struggling with removing the unhealthy foods from their diets. Like any addiction, then, it becomes clear that outlining the negative consequences of an unhealthy diet is not sufficient to create changes. People continue to eat foods that are high in sugars because they serve a purpose, beyond filling a need for nourishment. These foods have a job to take care of some psychological need. And, until you discover what job these foods are serving, there is no diet or surgery in the world that will be able to get you to the place you want to be.
The best way to start to understand the job that your crutch foods (maybe it is chocolate, or breads, or macaroni and cheese) are serving is to slow down enough to be able to listen to your body. A basic exercise in mindfulness is to do a meditation around a raisin. This meditation around a single raisin can be over 5 minutes long. Some people don’t even take 5 minutes to finish an entire chocolate bar. So, imagine slowing down at any meal or snack. I believe in small steps so I don’t care if you are being mindful about an apple or a chocolate bar, just slow down. Start by taking deep breaths and look at the food you are consuming. If you are eating a food that is not a whole food, read through the ingredients list. If you are eating a whole food, imagine where the food came from. Look at the piece of food and notice the colour, the texture, and the smell. Feel all the contours and edges of the food. Notice what you are aware of in your body. Is there a sense of anticipation? Have you already started to salivate? Are you getting anxious or stressed? Just notice the feelings without trying to analyze or judge. After you have connected to your body, take a bite of your food. Notice how it feels in your mouth. What are the tastes that you are experiencing? What is the texture? And, how are you feeling in your body? After you have swallowed, take another moment and check in with how you are feeling in your body. Do you feel satisfied? Guilty? Again, no judgments; just awareness.
Once you take the time to slow down you will be creating a new awareness of your food. You might become aware of how the food makes you feel. Perhaps the food has an emotional component. Or, maybe you might even realize when you slow down how the food is not serving you or your needs. There are infinite possibilities when you slow down long enough to listen.
Tessa Martin Registered Psychologist
P.S.- If you have really uncomfortable feelings that come up when you slow down around eating, send me an email and we can chat about ways to deal with the discomfort.