3 ways we use food to self-medicate...
"Food is the most socially acceptable way to self-medicate."
I don't remember where I first heard this, but it struck a deep chord. I thought about this statement for weeks.
It sums up the way so many of us view food. Relief. Euphoria. Reward. Escape.
Food is within our control and readily accessible. And most of the time no one will judge us for using it as a way of "patching up" our feelings because it is so habitual.
While there is a lot of focus on women and eating for comfort, I see men who are also adept at using food to mask their true state. In fact for many men, there are even more limited avenues to effectively and healthfully express feeling, frustration, or loss. They are often expected to process their emotions in silence.
It can be difficult to catch ourselves and notice the many ways we are using food because we simply don't consider that we have another choice. And holding our real emotions at bay is so much easier.
Here are 3 ways that I have used food in my own life in an attempt to fill a gap in my experience;
1) Generate excitement when feeling stagnant. This is where I struggled most of my life, and had to direct a great deal of focus to awareness and interrupting this pattern. I know many people seek a life that does not include a lot of change. I am not that person. Hitting a place where I am no longer required to innovate, create, or face a learning curve causes a war inside my brain.
Feeling stagnant is the number one reason I begin to turn to junk foods that make me feel like crap. There is the sugar rush. There is the anticipation of eating a big, cheesy, pizza. There is the feeling of being "bad." And when I feel dull and stagnant, I just want to be bad!
2) Motivating my performance. I propped myself up on this one for a long time. It was primarily a way for me to justify a coffee habit. Usually the internal dialogue goes like this;
"Look at all this paperwork. If I finish this by 10 am, I definitely deserve a white chocolate mocha."
While I do suggest giving yourself room for your favorite indulgences, this type of thinking becomes destructive when we constantly reinforce that food is our reward.
3) Bonding with others. I'm still working on this one. I'm not usually the life of the party. I don' t drink, and most of the time I stay away from carbs, dairy and sugar. Add to this my preference for one on one conversations about health and spirituality, and yeah, I'm definitely not your choice party animal.
Social gatherings is where many (including myself) find themselves compromising the most.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
We learn to identify and address the real underlying need in a way that is not reliant upon food. Feeling stagnant has become my queue to explore where I feel stuck, and what needs to change. This can be as simple as starting a book on a topic entirely new to me, or it can be reviewing my career path and reconnecting with why I'm doing what I do and where it's taking me. What am I ignoring that is sparking my interest and excitement?
Food is our generator, not our reward. Rewards exist to pull us forward, and if food is all you've got, then you need to take a look at why your motivation is low and what goals you have for yourself. Use food to propel you forward by nourishing you deeply, creating a positive environment mentally and physically, from which your best work can naturally spring.
Meal times are a wonderful time to socialize and bond with others. Set it up in a way that allows you to be at your best. Choose restaurants with options that fit your needs and plan your order in advance. Invite your favorite people to cook with you in your home. But also find new ways to socialize that DON'T include food.
I started a walking group on Meetup.com a few years ago for women in my area that met every Saturday morning for an hour. It was the perfect way for me to meet and connect with new people, fill my social tank, and I didn't have to think about what I would be eating!
Above all, be willing to acknowledge your emotions and needs when they surface. This puts you back in the seat of power, and opens the opportunity to meet them in ways that support your greatest good.