Taking the emotion out of eating but not the enjoyment

Pretty much all of us have been there at some stage or another. Consoling ourselves over the break up of a relationship, a bad day at work, the kids playing up, the weather being grey and wet. Almost all and every excuse we can think of to have another slice of cake, eat the rest of that box of chocolates, or for those with a more savoury tooth devour those tortilla chips smothered in sour cream and cheese.

When our emotions dip we try to pick them up again with food. Equally when our emotions are high we turn to food to help us celebrate our good fortune or special occasion. It seems that every way we turn in our lives food is there as our crutch or our reward.

Turning away from cakes, chocolates and tortilla chips and looking for healthier versions instead means you can no longer enjoy your food – or so it would seem. You are labeled ‘boring’ or a ‘health freak’ maybe you even have an eating disorder for wanting to only eat food that is good for you. And you couldn’t possibly enjoy that food because you are denying yourself of all those goodies that you used to associate with having a good time.

This is where the problem lies. We are taught/conditioned from an early age to expect our food to make us feel good at an emotional level. But food is just fuel for the body; nothing more and nothing less. True happiness lies within, it is not something that can be ‘found’ in food. You can have a good time eating food but it is not the food that is giving you the good time rather your perception or the situation you are in.

To explain further lets take two situations:-

1. You are with a group of people celebrating a special occasion maybe in a fancy restaurant or outside in the sun. Now is it the food that is giving you a good time or the fact that you are with loved ones, in a relaxing and uplifting environment. Is it the food that is causing you to enjoy yourself or the fact that you are engaging with fellow human beings, talking and laughing and doing the things that as social/pack creatures we like to do best?

2. You have had a bad day at work and come home seeking solace in a bowl of ice cream. You have been thinking about it all afternoon and playing it over and over in your mind. Is it the ice cream that will make you feel better or your perception of that ice cream. For someone else it may be chocolate cake or chips and mayonnaise or for me it would be a bowl of fresh mango. It’s not the food it’s your perception of what that food will do.

Being able to make the distinction is half the battle to being able to realise that food is just fuel. It has no special powers to make us feel better because it is just food.

I have done my fair share of emotional eating over the years, and most of the time it has just left me feeling full up, bloated and still as fed up as I was before I started. Likewise I have gone out for meals and thought that just because I am out I must eat three courses to make the most of the situation. Then I have spent the rest of evening feeling uncomfortably stuffed and trussed up in my glad rags wishing I could just get home and undo my trouser buttons to get some relief!

Nowadays I don’t place any emotional emphasis on my diet. I eat simple foods and don’t deviate when I go out. I still occasionally eat chocolate – vegan or raw but that is becoming less and less because I honestly don’t want it anymore.

However, just because I no longer eat from an emotional standpoint does not mean that I no longer enjoy my food. To the contrary, I actually think I enjoy my food much more than I ever did. Because now my food nourishes me. I can feel it doing me good, making me stronger. I feel better than I have in years, I look good (at least I think so!) and most importantly my food tastes so good as well. Eating a juicy, sweet and ripe nectarine tastes so much better to my taste buds now than scoffing down a box of chocolates or a packet of biscuits.

So it is possible to let go of the emotion and keep the enjoyment, in fact it becomes easier to enjoy and I believe that eating a diet rich in healthy, simple foods that we were designed to eat helps to keep our emotions on an even keel anyway so no more need to ‘cheer’ ourselves up or ‘reward’ ourselves for doing good. Its a win-win situation.

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