I just don’t understand why I can’t stop myself from eating sweets whenever I’m stressed out. I don’t have any sweets in the house, I honestly have no desire to eat any sweets, but whenever I get to a certain level of stress I go almost into a zombie like stage for sweets.
Does this happen to you? It might not be sweets, it might be every time something great happens you go out for ice cream. Whenever you schedule is swamped you reach for a bag a chips. When a project gets dumped on your plate and you know you the amount of work you will have, the thought of what takeout will make you feel the best in the moment.
Isn’t it crazy how we actually have a relationship with food without maybe even realizing we do. I know I have many different types of relationships with foods. When I’m stressed about not having time I go for pizza. I’m super bored I eat meats and cheeses. I’m feeling exhausted I eat Chinese. I’m stressed about a project that I’m stuck on I go for candy. I have a flight or something new that I’m nervous to try I eat out the meals leading up to it.
Until I sat down and started to think about all the different ways I use food as a coping mechanism did I start to realize my relationship with food and unfortunately it’s a pretty bad and unhealthy one. I don’t ever reward myself with some carrots, when moments are tough I don’t reach into the fridge and pull out those pre-cooked veggies. I go to food for the quick dopamine response I can get from it, which is weird because I have created that dopamine fixation. Yes certain foods create dopamine response but we also create a joy when we connect those foods to being “bad” for us or secret. For me, I believe it has to do with, even though I’m forced to do this that I can’t control, I am going to do something that I want to do so I can control it. I lean into that “bad” food because somewhere along the way I connected my brain to believe I could get some sort of satisfaction from foods like that. I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact that we celebrate happy moments with sweets. Think birthdays, parties, weddings, Halloween, etc. Our brain knows these are happy moments and they revolve around sweets. So maybe I’m trying to draw on those memories.
If I’m being completely honest, I don’t have a solution for this. I think it’s more of an awareness conversation to start having with yourself. Are you not realizing that you are stressed and actually hiding it with food, even from yourself? I know this is what I am currently realizing. Instead of feeling certain emotions, my brain has become so good at making those feeling present and it does this by covering it up with food. I really have to dig deep to realize that I have underlying stresses that are bothering me.
Our brain also does a great job of adjusting our physical pain tolerance. Things like chronic injuries that we happen to get so used to we almost don’t realize they are issues that no one else actually has. I’m working on some back issues and one of the articles I read talked about the brain creating brain pathways to mask the pain. It talked about how overeating is a very common issue with this as a way to mask over the physical sensation the brain is trying to overcome. Our brains and bodies are some adaptive and if we don’t pay attention to them, we can get so far down a path we don’t even realize that the thing we are actually dealing with is not type or quality of food. It might be something emotional, it might be something physical, it’s definitely something stressful, and it needs to be something you start working on.
As I begin to unpack some of the things I think could be underlying in my relationship with food, I know it’s not a quick fix. It’s definitely not as simple as choosing an apple over a donut. If it was, I honestly believe most people would choose the apple. They desire to, they try to do it most days, but dammit that one day, they just don’t know how to control it. I don’t think that’s 100% a will power thing. It’s definitely something more, something deeper.
My strategy for this is to start listing some of the stresses I have in my life. First starting with physical stresses (back issues, shoulder issues, body image, etc). Then write out the big relationship stresses (family, friends, lovers, etc). Then the little stresses (pet peeves, work annoyances, etc). Then other stresses (finances, career, etc).
After I listed these all out, I have 14 stresses in my life. Some of them were super minor, most were a medium stress level, and a couple high stress levels. Having 14 stresses is a lot for someone who didn’t think they had much for stress. There are a few of these things I could probably remedy very quickly. Some of them are going to have to take a complete life change that I need to decide if it’s worth it or not. A lot might be fixed by a couple other decisions if I make them.
To bring this whole thing full circle, if you are really struggling with weight loss, it might be from a lot of things you don’t even recognize. I think it’s time we all started to have conversations about this, sit down and think about what things in my life are controllable and what aren’t. If I can control and change them, it’s time to start putting things in place to slowly make those changes. If I can’t control them, is there something else in my life I can adjust that will put that in a different light. If not, then those might have to be things I use my will power on and if I eliminate my other will power drainers, then I could have enough left to tackle that one issue each week/day.
Please, instead of just reading and agreeing with what I said above, because after reading it most of you will be like, yea that makes sense. Instead, please actually write them down, just getting these in front of you and on paper can make a worlds of difference in mindset.