Relating to food: hunger, habits, and addiction

If only making a change were as simple as making change.
If only making a change were as simple as making change.

So I have been working on eating better recently. For me, eating better doesn’t necessarily mean eating healthier foods because I generally eat a good variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. I just have a sweet tooth and tend to rely on high-fat, high-sugar and, therefore, high-calorie treats sometimes when I get stressed. Or sometimes I just eat them out of habit. Either way, they’re not great for my health, and when it comes to the visual representation (in a way) of that inner health, those habits wreak havoc on my waistline. So eating healthy for me equals eating fewer treats.

I’ve thought a lot about how I and many in our culture relate to food. It’s the center of celebrations and gatherings. It’s an easy and quick emotional crutch. It’s just habit. We get bored, we snack. We get distracted or just not sure what to do with ourselves, we pick up food and put it in our mouths, even when we’re not hungry. Often when we’re not hungry.

Our bodies naturally know how to regulate our food intake. If we really pay attention to our hunger signals, we can eat just as much as we need and then stop when we’ve gotten enough. But because of these distortions of food in our culture, it’s gotten easy for many of us to just drown out that inner voice telling us when to start and stop.

That means that we get into bad habits and we can even get addicted to certain kinds of food and food combinations. When the topic of habits comes up, I immediately think of a talk I heard when I was a teenager; the speaker said that if we want to establish a new habit, we must do it every single day for 14 days, and it will stick. OK. So if eating treats is a bad habit, I could stop that by very, very carefully monitoring what I eat for two weeks and just strongly reminding myself not to eat those things. Then I should be in a better groove, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be quite that simple. One, I might do fine for a while and stay in that better habit for a good bit. But then when trying situations or simple busy-ness come up, I slide right back into that bad habit. Two, maybe there truly is an addictive element to this, so it’s not as simple as working on habits.

I am sure this topic could be talked about in dissertation-length form. I can’t possibly address it all here. But I realize that with the various elements coming into play, really changing my/our relationship with food takes a multi-pronged and layered approach. It takes a couple of weeks of really focused effort to switch out habits. It also takes a lot of emotional digging and thought to change triggers and the tendency to lean on food instead of working through an emotional difficulty the harder and truer way. It takes support and, really, ideally, it should be a societal movement, where our whole country is more attuned to the problems and willing to change as a culture how we relate to food. It takes a lot of the same steps that are involved in addict’s recoveries, and knowing that we might actually be treat addicts our whole lives, aware that we could easily slip back anytime without the proper support and personal planning.

For now, I’m starting with trying to break the habits. I’m going cold turkey off of sugars and starches and all the treats for a while. Even as I feel happy about the progress I’m making as each day ticks by and I haven’t had bad stuff, I feel in my gut that this is going to be a lifelong battle. Next step is to look at those 12 steps. Either way, none of us should be doing this alone. We need to have a huge cultural paradigm shift. That’s a lofty goal. But in the meantime, more of us could talk about it and be aware and support each other. ‘Cause the obesity problem, among a lot of other food-related problems, is not just going to go away on its own. And being isolated from each other as we all run like hamsters in our little stress-balls of life isn’t going to cut it, either. Gotta press forward, be open, and be healthy, on whatever paths will help get us there, a step at a time.

Light life

Cathy Carmode Lim View All →

I’m a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is I’m a mom of four and grandma of three.

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