I remember a time when the moment I realized the kids would be getting off the bus in 20 minutes, I would get up, go to the pantry, and get some chips. I wasn’t hungry. Hadn’t even really been wanting anything, much less chips, but did it anyway. It got me to thinking about WHEN I am most prone to non-hunger related snacking, and it pretty consistently lined up with times when my kids will arrive soon or when they’ve just gone to bed.
When I finally looked at it, I found it really interesting. I’m not particularly hungry at those times, especially after they’ve gone to bed. The snacking doesn’t seem tied to hunger at all. It’s something else. I thought and I thought. I also thought about what I was eating, not from a nutrition standpoint, but just to see if there was anything interesting there. Often the things I would snack on as a first or last act of freedom (yes, that’s a clue) were things I wouldn’t necessarily want the kids to have much of (or, dare I admit it, for them to even know about so they wouldn’t eat it all or hound me until the item was no longer even appealing – yep, I’m that Mom). So sneaky snacking Mom makes a desperate and delicious claim in order to have something that is just hers. Hunger is irrelevant. Foods are secret.
To my wise mind, and with the gift of retrospect, I would have to ask two questions: 1) what feeling was Mom trying to avoid, and/or 2) what did sneaky snacking Mom need more of in her life that is hers and hers alone, that she need not share and that she need not rush to consume? Food isn’t just more than fuel in these situations. Food becomes the stand-in for other things, and it can work for a really long time for several reasons.
First of all, food is obtainable; it is concrete (well hopefully not really concrete, but you get me). When we want something, we can just get food and maybe that will take care of it. Secondly food is very distracting with all of its big flavors and dopamine hits. We don’t have to pay attention to the fact that we’re not hungry or that what we really are is bored/sad/angry. We can just avoid the whole thing with some chips and guacamole. Finally, food is socially acceptable. Heck, it’s not just socially acceptable, it’s socially promoted. That’s not quite enough either. It’s socially pushed.
We are a bunch of food pushers. We introduce food into every activity that we do as a matter of course and see offering food as necessary at every turn. Snacking is fun and exciting. You can even be creative with it and make an edible stadium for your Super Bowl party! We love us some food. And hey, there are lots of great reasons to love food. Believe me, I know this. But sometimes we’re not eating for the food. We’re turning the food into something else: a comfort, a distraction, a buffer, a habit, an activity, all kinds of things that it was never intended to be.
One of the things that clients in the BARE program discover is that when they start to address some of those other things, they don’t want to eat so much. When they face some of their feelings; when they add things to their lives that they deeply desire; when they admit to boredom, loneliness, and longing they stop craving the food substitutes, buffers, distractions. Eating too much and carrying extra weight does not come from a lack of math skills in calorie counting. It starts with the things that we think and the actions we take when we feel how we feel. I have been astonished by how going through BARE has changed my perspective on myself, on my needs and goals, and on what I need and don’t need to feel great in my day. My thoughts have changed and my day is now full of goals, ambition, hard work, and pleasure rather than self-doubt and chips (which would make a great album title).
If you’d like to change the way that you think so that you can change the way your body feels, I’d love to help you. I’m preparing to lead a group through the BARE process in a 7 week phone class. I promise you it will challenge you; it will bring up your stuff; and, if you let it, it just might set you free from body shame, dieting, and using food as a weapon against yourself forever.