Why Do We Keep Making Bad Choices with Food and How Do We Stop?
10 November 2018 | Roni Davis
Why do we keep making bad choices with food and how do we stop?
That's what I'm talking about in this video, and it's a question that I asked myself for many many, many, many, many years and I spent many many, many years searching for the answer to those questions.
For close to two decades, I struggled with my weight and I was convinced that you know I was a pig and I just loved the yummy food too much and that's why I had no self-control.
And then I finally ended up losing the weight and I was a personal trainer and a nutrition and wellness coach for eight years and I was also bulimic and binge eating at that time.
I had been introduced to clean eating, you know, the whole, it's not a diet, it's just healthy balanced meals thing.
Yeah, that made me bulimic. Within about four days of attempting that, I ended up bulimic and so you know, I kept asking myself and trying to figure out the answer to this question, like why can't I stop making these choices that are making me feel so terrible right?
Because anytime you're overeating foods that don't agree with your body or that don't help your body feel the best you feel like crap afterward.
Your body tells you, right when you're eating something, or especially if you're eating too much of something that doesn't help its feet, help it feel its best.
And so I pondered this question.
Like what in the world?
Why can't I stop doing this to myself?
And then you know, while I was a trainer and a nutrition and Wellness coach, it was the same thing because I was seeing a lot of the same patterns in my clients.
Perhaps they weren't binge eating or bulimic, but they were still having the same struggles that I was having with just trying to make themselves eat the things that they knew help their body feel the best.
And so, I have learned a lot about the answers to these questions in the last number of years, and so that's what I wanted to talk to you about today.
Because the answers are really complicated and really nuanced, but I'm going to try to keep it short as I can today and just kind of gloss over the cliffs a little bit.
I do have a deep dive into this subject, here called Why We Eat
So, what causes it?
You know the traditional paradigm when we talk about or think about healthy eating, we think about it from the perspective of these are the good foods and these are the bad foods.
And if I want to eat healthy, I have to eat the good foods and I can't eat the bad foods or sometimes we'll hear like I, I can eat the bad foods but, only in moderation.
And so that's what we keep trying to do.
We get up every morning and we promise ourselves again and again and again that we're only going to eat the good things.
We're going to be good today!
Because we want to feel good in our bodies.
And so you know, we get up and we try our best to make the good choices and to avoid the bad foods and not eat the bad foods.
And then you know we're at work and somebody comes in with donuts.
Or, you know, we get invited to lunch by a colleague or something.
And we're looking at the menu, looking at all the things that look so delicious and we're trying so hard to resist them.
And you know, by the end of the day all we can think about is food, and we end up caving and eating way too much of the chocolate or chips or whatever it is.
The reason that that's happening, the reason that we end up caving over and over again and not being able to make ourselves not eat the bad things is in large part because we keep promising ourselves we're not going to.
So what I found out when I started diving into trying to understand some of our behaviors around food is that food restriction, anytime access to food or certain foods is restricted it sends our brains into panic mode.
It sends a message to our brains that makes them feel like we are going to starve to death, so that compulsion that we have to continually feel drawn to the supposed bad foods is due in large part to the fact that we keep trying so hard to resist them and the survival center of our brain is trying to protect us from starving.
And so one of the worst things we can do if we actually want to stop eating the bad things all the time is exactly what we've been taught to do.
It's continually promising ourselves we're going to be good and not eat them.
And you know, here I was finding this information while I was a personal trainer and a nutrition and wellness coach.
You know, I'm a nutrition and wellness coach trying to find the magic answer to help clients stick to their plans or stick to their new healthy habits and here I am starting to dig up all of this, these studies, the science showing that this is what happens when we try to restrict food or certain foods it sends our brain into panic mode and it causes obsessions.
It causes cravings.
It causes compulsions.
It causes our brains to feel like we need to have the thing and we can't stop eating the thing.
And when we get up every morning and we promise ourselves we're going to be good and send our brain into this panic mode, the more often we do that, the better our brains get at causing us to cave because it then fires up the habit center in them and it becomes a habit.
We restrict, our brain caves.
We restrict, our brain caves and over and over and over again.
The more often we do that, the faster we start caving.
Because the better our brain gets at convincing us to eat the thing we think we're not supposed to eat.
And for this reason, even the whole, eat this, but only in moderation thing is just as bad, because then you're still restricting.
You're only allowing yourself a certain amount, and so again brain is going no, no, but I just need a little more, a little more, a little more, a little more, and that's why we can get in that that you know, obsessive thought cycle in our head.
Over well, you know, maybe I shouldn't.
Maybe I will, but I'll just have a little bit.
Well, we'll just have a little bit more.
You know, we can get into that really obsessive kind of compulsive thoughts around the thing that we're trying to not eat or not eat too much of it's because our brain is in panic mode.
It's fear, right?
It's fear that we're not going to get enough that we're going to starve if we don't get it, whatever, it's fear.
And so that's why it's so difficult to stop ourselves.
Because not only is fear one of our most powerful emotions, it also, as I said, becomes a habit that can then feel automatic.
It feels like we can't stop it because it's wired into the way our brain naturally responds to whatever we're doing.
And so it can feel compulsive and like we can't stop.
And like we can't figure out why it's happening because it's happening on a subconscious level because it's gotten wired in there as a habit.
So that's one reason.
And what happens when we keep promising ourselves that we're going to be good every morning?
And then cave.
Or every week or whatever it is and then end up caving over and over again.
We're also teaching ourselves that or we're breaking promises to ourselves every time that
So we promise ourselves we're going to be good.
We cave and we fail, and then we feel bad.
And then we physically feel bad, because we've eaten the thing that makes us feel gross, we crap on ourselves for doing that thing again that we promised ourselves we weren't going to do.
We feel badly about ourselves, we lose trust in ourselves because you don't trust somebody very much if they keep breaking their promises to you, right?
And so it starts to erode the relationship that we have with ourselves and with food every time we do that.
And the worse our relationships are with ourselves and with food, the worse we're going to eat as well because we tend to treat ourselves the way we believe we deserve to be treated.
And so if we feel badly about ourselves or feel guilty or shame for the way that we've been eating we tend to be drawn towards eating more of that, as a tool of self-punishment, really.
So that's another reason why we can get into these patterns with food.
And again, that's also happening on a subconscious level, so we don't even we're not even aware that it's happening because it's happening under the surface, and that also can get wired as a habit.
And then the third reason why we can get in in these cycles with being unable to stop eating the bad foods is for emotional reasons, right?
Not very many of us were ever taught how to manage emotions and we are beings that live in emotional bodies.
We are emotional beings.
We can't escape emotions, and yet we were never taught what to do with them.
And in many cases we were even taught that it wasn't safe to feel emotions you know, growing up, we're often taught that you know we had to suppress our emotions and we weren't allowed to express what we were feeling or anything and so we learned coping strategies of our own and a lot of times that includes food.
Food becomes one of the coping strategies that we use for emotions and the more we use food as a coping strategy, the more we begin to associate food or a particular food with safety and with feeling like it's the solution to everything that we start to sense happening in our bodies, right?
Like I remember one client, one time on a call, we were talking about some particularly difficult thing in her childhood, and she started saying, you know, gee, it's weird, I'm starting to feel hungry and that's weird because I just ate. I shouldn't be hungry and so I asked her where she was feeling this hunger and she said in my chest. That's a sign that what she was actually feeling was an emotional need.
There was something emotional happening in her body.
She had simply just learned to associate everything that happens in her body with a feeling of hunger because she had been using food to numb and stuff and ignore emotions for so many years.
And so when food becomes the autopilot response for managing emotions, especially particular foods, and it's almost always comfort foods, every time something gets triggered in us, an uncomfortable emotion or something gets triggered in us, we can start mindlessly reaching for the food and we can feel it can almost even also feel compulsive or like we're unable to control it.
And again, that's also usually happening completely subconsciously, and so we're not even aware of it, and so you know, for these three reasons, we keep trying and trying and trying to do our best to be good every day with food, because at our core we want to be making choices for our bodies that help us feel our best.
But we end up with all of this conditioning on top of it that drives all of these autopilot behaviors with food that we're not even aware of.
And if we're not aware of them, we can't do anything about them, and we just feel hopelessly controlled by them.
And so when I started realizing this, I started going OK.
Whoa, these are the things that are causing it.
Then I have to start learning how to change these things.
These are the things I have to address and so that's what I would say to you in terms of how to stop eating the things that you know don't make you feel your best.
You're going to uncover your whys.
Is it because you keep promising yourself to be good?
Is it also because there's a little bit of self-punishing happening? Perhaps maybe. Anytime a feeling of unworthiness gets triggered in us, if we're somebody who has that self-punishment pattern, then we're likely to self-punish.
One client, one time was telling me that she was picking her daughter up from school and feeling a little bit guilty because in some way she had decided she was a bad mom.
Maybe she was, you know, short with her daughter or something.
And she started telling herself she was a bad mom and before you know it all of a sudden she's got this craving to binge and can't figure out why.
It's because anytime that feeling of unworthiness gets triggered, that self-punishment habit can get triggered and so if there's that happening that can cause it, and if there's any emotional eating that can also cause it, and so you've got to uncover for you which one of those three it is, or if it's all three.
For me and for many people it's a little bit of all three, and it just depends on the situation, and so you really have to start practicing presence to begin to understand in any particular scenario what's actually causing it.
The other thing you have to do, and this one, I admit sounds crazy and it is scary, scary, scary, but you have to allow yourself to eat whatever you want.
By allowing yourself to eat whatever you want, as much of it as you want, yes, even binge, it starts to rewire that restriction habit, the trigger from restriction that we can get stuck in.
It can start to rewire that when we give ourselves permission to eat whatever we want.
There's a very strategic way that I teach clients to go about using this permission element though.
Because if you're continuing to promise yourself, well, I'll you know I'll give myself permission to eat it today, but I'll be good tomorrow.
That's not permission.
If you're allowing yourself to eat it now and then, beating the hell out of yourself after you've eaten it because you feel terrible, that's also not permission.
True permission means always and forever, whatever you want as much as you want with no judgment or shame or any of those things afterward.
Even if you feel like garbage from eating the thing, or whether you do or not after you've eaten the thing that you've determined is bad, treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Like really lay on the kindness and the compassion for yourself in the way that you treat yourself and speak to yourself after the fact.
Because this is also going to help with that self-punishment element, right?
Anytime we feel like we've eaten something bad that can also trigger the self-punishment, we think, well I've already been bad so, I'll just keep eating it because I'm already bad today and I'll be good tomorrow.
That's a sign of that self-punishment, and also the restriction.
So really lay on the reminders to yourself that you don't have to be good tomorrow.
You are already good exactly as you are and continue with the kindness and the compassion to help rewire that restriction element and also the self-punishment element.
And then also you know, start uncovering, is there some emotional eating happening here like what are my triggers?
What's causing me to want to eat this?
And so I also have a short practice that I have clients go through in order to help them kind of parse out this whole, what should I eat question?
And you can grab a copy of that here but just briefly, what you want to do is pause before you're about to eat.
Bring some presence, some awareness, some connection to the moment, to your body, to the experience you're having in this moment.
Bring your attention into your body so that you can explore what you're feeling, where you're feeling it.
Are you physically hungry?
Is there an emotional need present?
Is there an autopilot pattern that's playing out here?
And then just simply start asking yourself like, what do I want to eat?
I'm allowed to have whatever I want.
I can have an entire, I can eat my body weight and chocolate if I want to right now.
Do I want to do that?
How is that going to make my body feel?
And do I want to feel the way it's going to make my body feel if I eat that?
And if I hear myself saying I don't care, and I'm about to eat something that I know is going to make my body feel like crap, if I'm about to eat something that I know is not in my best interests, then the question is why?
Don't I want to feel good? Why don't I?
Why don't I want to feel good?
Why am I purposefully making choices for myself and my body that I know are not in my best interests?
And so uncovering the answers to those questions really becomes key because so often we believe that you know we don't care about what we eat just because the thing tastes so good.
But what I've learned as I've healed my own binge eating and bulimia is that it doesn't matter how good something tastes, when we change those autopilot habits that are causing those choices, when we change that wiring in our brain, it doesn't matter how good something tastes, if we love and value ourselves enough, we don't want to ever eat in ways that don't make our bodies feel their best.
So it's about uncovering the patterns that are causing some of those behaviors with food and learning to love and value ourselves enough that we don't want to make choices or that part of our brain that conditioning isn't driving us to make choices that go against our best interests.
Because when we truly love and value ourselves and we're truly connected to our bodies and we're able to hear them when they're telling us what they want and what they need, it changes everything.
When we're stuck in those patterns with food that are on autopilot and we keep thinking, why can't I stop eating that thing?
That's an autopilot behavior that's being driven by our brain in all the ways that I've just talked about.
It's a sign that we're making choices with our brains and not our bodies, and so shifting out of those, in some of the ways that I've just talked about learning to love and value ourselves enough or more maybe, or recognizing if feelings of unworthiness are being triggered that are causing it and being deeply connected, living in our bodies, not our heads, and having our bodies drive our choices instead of the fear-based choices that we get stuck in our heads.
You know when we're going back and forth well, I should eat this, I shouldn't eat that, I should stop eating because I've been eating too much of it, or why can't I stop eating?
Anytime we're going back and forth in our head like that, it's a sign that we're making choices from fear, from those auto-pilot patterns, and we really want to shift into love.
Shut down the fear by getting back in our bodies and shifting into love and make choices from there instead.
So I hope that's helpful.
As I said, I've got multiple free resources on my website to help you kind of dive into some of this a little bit more. You can find them all here. You can also find lots more on my podcast, here.
And I've written a number of pieces for Tiny Buddha that you may enjoy as well. You can check those out here.
And as always, I would absolutely love to hear from you if you have any questions about any of this, or if I can support you in any way, please feel free to shoot me a message.
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