I attended a nutrition conference recently and one of the best speakers was a specialist in behavioral economics, essentially the study of how social and emotional factors influence people’s decisions about what they buy and do.
The speaker talked about a number of phenomenon, including the ‘immediacy effect’ (the idea that eating to feel good now is more powerful than giving food up in the hopes of a payoff in the future) and the notion that humans are programmed to avoid pain, which is more powerful than seeking joy.
I am completely fascinated by this because it’s reflected in what I see with my clients. The truth is eating feels good. It “works” as a way to escape or temporarily experience pleasure. When you need that, and you don’t have an alternative that feels just as good, it’s very difficult to stop using food, even if your rational mind knows the side effects (weight gain, poor health) or wants to change.
This is something I work on with my clients, often in conjunction with a therapist. Many of my clients have said things like, “I really wanted the ice cream and I thought, what the heck, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” This is where what’s rational (understanding nutrition, wanting to lose weight or feel better, etc.) battles with what’s emotional (wanting to feel good right now).
I’ve said this before but in my opinion this has nothing to do with willpower – it’s purely human nature, and that’s pretty powerful. So the big question is what can you do about it?
In my experience the most powerful tool is awareness. For example, the other day I got some very bad news, and a few hours later I had a wicked craving for bread. All I could think about was the delicious looking rolls and loaves in the bakery around the corner, and how great it would feel to slather a big chunk with the olive tapenade or sundried tomato pesto stashed in my fridge. But I also knew that I had just eaten an hour before and I had no physical signs or symptoms of hunger. In other words, my craving had nothing to do with what my body needed. That awareness allowed me to stop and ask myself a few key questions:
What am I feeling?
What do I need?
How can I feel better without stuffing my face?
So I called my hubby, had a good cry, snuggled my cat, and without trying to “apply willpower” my visions of bread faded away. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I do believe you can break the cycle of turning to food to cope with your feelings.
For more about this process, raising your awareness and ending emotional eating, please see the emotional eating chapter in my new book Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Nature or not you can transform your relationship with food!
What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself reaching for food to feel good in the moment, regardless of how you know you’ll feel later? Please share your thoughts!