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Why The Heart Longs for Food & Indulgence

Why is it so difficult to stay with a healthy routine
when people around you are eating and drinking everything that is SO delicious, but not that good for you? Are you asking yourself this question? I am.

I experienced this over the past month with my mother visiting from Venezuela for the holidays. Over the course of her stay, we were first indulging because she had just arrived and we were celebrating. Then we were indulging because it was the holidays, which apparently grants you a two-week special concession to eat and drink all you want. Then after the holidays, we were indulging because she would soon be leaving… and after all, “she’s on vacation so she was going to eat what she wanted.”

It’s not my mother’s fault that I ate more than I felt I really needed, or that I ate things that normally don’t agree with my body so much… like bread.

I feel comfortable sharing this because I hear it from my clients all the time. If their family/spouse/partner/kids/girlfriend are eating something, they find it very difficult to stick to their healthy routines that they feel so good about.

Why is it so hard?
I believe the answer lies in our emotional connections to food and eating.
Here are some of my hypotheses on why our heart just begs for food and indulgence sometimes:

  1. We socialize and express love through food. We feel connected when sharing food, ‘breaking bread.’ Food is central to most family gatherings, and giving gifts of food is also an old tradition.
  2. We also obtain direct emotional gratification from indulging in certain foods. They make us feel festive, abundant, joyful, pampered, etc. For example, when I eat a piece of Vermont-made cloth-bound cheddar I feel quite special.
  3. We feel carefree when we indulge. You just “go for it” and temporarily forget about everything else, even thinking about how your body will respond. You’re exercising your freedom to choose at any time. “I’ll eat this triple-chocolate cake tonight and go back to the gym tomorrow!”

I’m sure there are other emotional connections that can be drawn. Have you been able to identify any of your own?

My mother’s family – her parents, brothers and sisters – have always LOVED eating. It’s no surprise that weight gain is a family trait. So much of our family life has revolved around sharing food, delighting in it and eating too much of it.
So what can we do about it?

  1. The first step is to gain awareness of these emotional links to why we eat – and overeat. Why is it hard for you in particular? When do you find it hardest to say no?
  2. The second step is to acknowledge the emotional need. This is different from attempting to “fix it” or make it go away. You simply recognize: “I feel bored,” “I feel carefree when I eat cookies,” “I need to feel connected to my family,” “I feel loved through food,” “I’m stressed,” etc. This is where using EFT or the “tapping technique” comes in really handy. It helps you integrate what you are feeling and move through it, so it no longer has power over you. (By the way, if you’re in Vermont, I’ll be teaching an EFT class at CVU on March 7th -look it up under “self care” in the “living it up” section if you want to sign up for it)
  3. Address the emotional need. Whatever you discover should lead you to ideas that would better address that need at an emotional level instead of using food. Is it the need to feel connected? How about some fireside conversation, asking for a shoulder rub or a hug? Is it excitement that you need? How about planning a weekend adventure? Are you often eating for entertainment? Perhaps you need to explore new hobbies and interests.
  4. Then comes the real freedom. When you’re no longer feeling emotionally compelled to do something, you have true freedom to choose. The compulsion to eat every cookie that crosses your path gives way to the freedom of being able to pass on them when you wish, and still feel quite happy.

Another thing to look at is what you – and those who surround you – consider normal. This came up during an interview I gave to contribute to an article on detoxification just published in Seven Days (a wonderful local newspaper) today. I shared with the writer that a key step towards detoxification, and healing, is to eliminate and reduce congesting foods. However, many of those congesting foods are what most people consider “normal” and even healthy.

Deepening your awareness of the foods that are not so wholesome will magnify your ability to pay attention to what you’re indulging in that is perhaps not contributing to your health as much as you’d like.

For instance, my mother is one who considers bread very normal. So we ate a lot of it over this past month. However, I know that my body does not like bread so much. If I wasn’t aware that bread is congesting and hadn’t paid attention to the fact that it depresses my moods, I would not be able to notice that I’m indulging in it for emotional reasons. See what I mean?

In a nutshell, observe what you eat, notice what your body says and when you find yourself indulging. Ask yourself what you are feeling emotionally.

For more on listening to your body, see the article from our last issue: Learn Your Body’s Language. [NEED TO UPDATE LINK WHEN WE GO LIVE — THIS ONE WILL BREAK]

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