Like many of us this summer, I was glad to get out with friends to share a few meals and celebrate as things opened up for us here in Nova Scotia. I have grown to love looking at the menu and choosing foods that I know will do me good. And when I can find a few healthy options on a menu, I am thrilled. For many of us, it can be challenging to find what we might see as healthy food choices if we are trying to reduce or avoid meats, carbs, calories, wheat, dairy… and a whole long list of foods we have been warned to avoid.
When we place our order, we often hear the server ask, “Would you like fries with that?” Restaurants are experts at upselling by offering something we find hard to resist. Definitely, fries are a tempting addition. They speak directly to our memories of previous fries and the company and events we enjoyed with them. And the mention of fries also speaks directly to our brain’s reward centre.
Fries stimulate dopamine, one of our feel-good brain chemicals.
So even the offer of fries gives us a tiny taste of the reward. It’s very difficult to decline such an offer, and next to impossible to only eat a few. And that can set us up for a shame/blame cycle of self-judgement. We all have those mouthy little parts lurking in our subconscious ready to jump up and shake their fingers at us. The messages might differ from time to time, or person to person, but they all carry a similar theme. You are a bad person for eating those fries. You can’t have just one. You have no control. You will never change.
Simply adding fries can bring us into a downward spiral of guilt and shame and feeling hopeless. From this place, we really need even more relief than that first serving provided. And we start the cycle over again. Cravings can seem to pop up out of nowhere promising that we will feel better if we just eat those fries. Or chocolate. Or pizza. Or chips. Anything that will feed into our dopamine reward system. Anything!
We are hard-wired to behave this way from infancy. We feel bad, we eat and then we feel good. The food we eat provides us with much more than just chemical nutrients.
Nourishment also includes social and emotional connections, the pleasure of taste and much more.
All of these aspects of nourishment show up in our bodies as showers of various feel-good brain chemicals. These impact our nervous systems and influence how we see life. Sometimes emotional eating feels like our only defence against feeling bad. Whatever ‘bad’ means at the moment. It could be fear, anxiety, low self-esteem. And we may not even know we are trying to avoid a feeling until we are knee-deep in fries, wondering how we got there. It’s easy to slide into these cycles. But we can break out of that behaviour and learn how to really nourish ourselves.
Conscious EFT™ has helped me to find a new way of self-nourishment.
- Used regularly, it builds a foundation of emotional resilience, where I am not so easily triggered into having fries with that.
- It also helps me tap on cravings when they show up in the moment.
- But most importantly, it helps me explore specific cravings to uncover the real need the craving is hiding.
I have started to get curious about cravings. I did some tapping on my craving tor smooth dark chocolate. I discovered that underneath the urge to eat that special chocolate bar, I really wanted to be soothed. But I can also soothe myself in other ways. Music, singing, gentle movement, a bath, a conversation with a friend or some breathing exercises, and tapping (of course) can all be soothing.
Certainly, the chocolate bar works quickly by increasing dopamine in my brain but that doesn’t last.
And when it is gone, I still have the need to be soothed, plus I am blaming myself for eating it. And the cycle continues. The more often we fall into the ‘have some fries with that’, the more we strengthen the limiting beliefs lurking in our subconscious. (I’m a bad person, I have no control. Etc.)
Conscious EFT™ has helped me start to sort out my various triggers and cravings and find more authentic ways to meet the needs that the cravings hide. I have learned how to do some tapping and other soothing exercises when the cravings come up, and feel better for it. I have fewer cravings and more choices!
I am so grateful to start writing new messages for myself around food. When I look at a menu, I can ask myself some curious questions about each potential choice.
What will this food bring to me? Nourishment and pleasure or short-term bliss followed by self-judgement?
Some days it’s easy to choose the reward of authentic nourishment. On other days the cravings might be stronger. If the craving is really strong, the first thing to do is acknowledge it and then tap on it. Quite often the craving will just fade away but some days I cave in and eat it anyway. The good news is that this doesn’t happen very often anymore. And if it does, I can hold myself in compassion, learn more about my unconscious needs and how to meet them without diving into a huge cycle of emotional eating.
So when I hear the question, “Would you like fries with that?” I hear a deeper question: “Would I like guilt and shame with that?” We garnish our meals with a variety of unconscious messages. Do we choose to eat in a state of stress and negative self-talk or do we choose to eat in peace, gratitude and self-love?
Our relationship with food is complex and ever-changing. Conscious EFT™ and anti-inflammatory nutrition have come together for me to nourish a more resilient system so I can garnish my meals with gratitude, compassion and self-care.
If you’d like to talk about how we could work together to explore your relationship with food, give me a shout to schedule a free conversation.
 Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, talks about this hard wiring in his book Nourishing Wisdom.