Do you put food on top of your feelings?

Food, it doesn’t matter if it’s healthy or not, for many of us, it comes down to the why of eating rather than the food itself. Whilst some of us eat for any reason and love all things food, others love food but eat only when they are hungry. I don’t know about you, that’s not me, I eat for many reasons. I didn’t always know this simple fact. In fact it took me years of struggling with my body and weight to come to this (now) simple realization. What’s more is now I also know I am not alone. Many, if not all, of my clients often eat for myriad reasons as well. There is a certain freedom to be gained from knowing what lies behind our habitual ways of being, especially for those of us addicted to food.

How about you? Do you eat even when you are not hungry? Once I tapped into the fact that I didn’t just eat because of physical hunger and need, it became apparent that I eat when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am indifferent, when I am antsy, oh yes and when I hungry. Basically I am an emotional eater, and as a very emotional person, this leaves most of my life open to being partnered with food. Pretty much there isn’t any occasion or feeling that doesn’t spark the desire to feed the emotion food. The funny thing is that until I needed to eat for fuel that I tuned into this startling fact.

It’s interesting isn’t it, our associations with food and how they can differ from one person to the next? To some of us, food is the comfort we can’t find anywhere else. It can numb out the most painful feelings, if only temporarily. It soothes us to think about it and get it, and to others, people like Cemaaj and my mum, food is just food. It’s as though we are each wired differently when it comes to food and our relationship to it. So it becomes more about our unique relationship to food, than the food itself. But we are not taught to have a relationship with food, food is marketed to us as a commodity, we are told we need the food, it will make everything better is the underlying promise. And sometimes it does, the question is, at what cost to our health? And here they have us again, the food is addictive, and even though we know we shouldn’t eat it, we want it anyway. After all there is a void inside that needs filling and this is how we have learned to fill it.

The food industry knows this about you and me, they are not interested in the ones like Cemaaj and my mum, who don’t have the same emotional attachment to food as we do. They know there are some of us that cannot say no once we say yes. They even used that line for years in the Pringles campaign, they are banking on us not being able to say no. To them we are marketing gold. All they have to do is get us to say yes to one bite and we are hooked. And they spend lots of time and money hitting just the right triggers so we respond in our habitual ways and eat more. They know you and I can’t eat one chip or cookie, and that the first one will just lead to another and another. The next thing you know the packet is empty and the feeling is still there. We begin the cycle of wanting more.

For those of us seeking comfort from or food, satisfaction is generally short lived and so we have to do it again, and again. And like any drug, the more we use it the more we need it and more and more of it is needed to get the same feeling. And as the food is not really food, it’s a manufactured food like product.

But here’s the thing-food is not meant to be a comfort, food is fuel for our bodies and brain. We are designed to eat to nourish the body, to provide nutrients and energy. Like a car needs gas to run, our bodies need food for fuel.

A car cannot run on bananas, it needs gas. Like a car, our bodies need fuel, but unlike a car, our bodies will try very hard to keep running even on the worst of fuels. The challenge is that our relationship to food, and our everyday lives, have changed so drastically over the last 70 or so years. Food has become a commodity that is made and manufactured to cater to our taste preferences, and not to promote our ideal health. Of course that means food products with more sugar, salt and fat. Foods are expertly manipulated and made to appeal to those of us use food for things other than hunger. Health is the last thing on the mind of those making it, even many of those that proclaim to be healthy.

Many of us are addicted to food and don’t even realize it. We blame ourselves for a lack of willpower and walk into our supermarkets to get our fix, legal drugs, sugar, fat and salt with a good dose of chemicals and processing for good measure.

I remember the first time I had to think of food as fuel not as reward or treat. It was 2001, the year that would be the THE year for me. Miserable in my successful life as an attorney, and my out of control body, I decided that doing something for me just wasn’t working. I decided to do something to help others, I had no idea at the time that this would be one of the pivotal events in making my own tides of change.

I signed up to raise money for the SF AIDS Foundation and run the Honolulu marathon to be held later that year. I was not a long distance runner even during my school athletic years, I was a sprinter and had no endurance for long distances. I was also 34 years old and 185lbs when I signed up, my high school years were far behind me, my sedentary life had begun to make an impression on my body.

We started with a 3 mile run to group us into similar paced groups of 8-10 people that would train together as a team for 6 months. Each week we gathered at the windmills by Ocean Beach to do a weekly training run. We had people who were amazing athletes and we had those like me, who were no in any way athletic. Each week after a pep talk by our running coach, we would head out. Our first training run was 5 miles. We coughed and spluttered our way through the walk/run program, we ran for 3 minutes and walked for 2. We had a group leader who called out the times to run and walk.

As the weeks passed, we got a little better and we learned a ton about ourselves and running. We shared information about the best socks to wear and the best energy replacements. We spent a lot of time together during those training runs as we made our way up to 26.2 miles. We shared highs and we shared lows. As the mileage increased, it became apparent that more pre-run prep was needed on our parts.

Some found out the hard way that they couldn’t go out and bang down half a bottle of wine with a rich dinner the night before a training run. In fact as the runs got longer, the pre-run prep started earlier. On Thursday I would start my extra hydration. At that time I had only been drinking water for less than a year. Being dehydrated before a long run was something I learned I couldn’t fudge.

The better I fueled my body in the days leading up to the training run, the better I performed and the quicker I recovered. I am a quick study at times like this and soon started to make Thursday and Friday prep days, water, food, rest and sleep became integral to my training, now I had to make time for them or I suffered during our group run, I am not the nest sufferer out there, so I did what I had to.

And my body responded in ways I was really quite amazed by. I was eating well and not feeling hungry, of course I still had cravings, but it became a different internal conversation. I no longer wanted to sabotage my efforts, I wanted to support them because in doing so, not only did I feel better when we ran but I felt better in all areas of my life. I was started to become vibrant, something I had not felt in a couple of decades or more. I was falling awake with every mile we pounded around San Francisco.

At the time it was a revolutionary way of being for me, today I look back and it is a natural part of my life now. Like all change, it starts with a desire to make change that is stronger than the desire to stay the same along with an awareness of what we are doing. I will be back to share more on the Buddhist practice that I have used to help become aware of my habitual ways and make changes to them. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you, do you eat as a response to physical hunger or are there myriad emotional and environmental triggers that have you munching away? As always it is my pleasure to share with you, may we all know peace and be free from suffering. And may we do it together.

Alone we can do so much, together we can do so much more.

Sat nam