I’ve never been someone who ever gets so busy or focused that I forget to eat lunch. That’s happened exactly once in my life – during childbirth.
And I recently traveled 5,486 miles for this slice of lasagna Bolognese:
My husband and I chose Bologna for the second leg of Italy trip because it’s known as a major food capitol. (I hear there are some incredible museums but we never made it to one.)
Come to think of it, food is a major part of most of my trips. During our honeymoon a few years ago, my idea of a good time was eating my way through a 3-hour food truck bike tour.
So I’m always intrigued when I hear clients say, “My problem is that I love food too much.”
If you’re constantly preoccupied with food thoughts, it’s understandable how you’d arrive at the same conclusion.
- when you arrive at a party, you want to make a beeline for the crostinis and prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe. Again and again despite your best intentions to “focus on the people.”
- you love/dread it when your coworker brings Mighty-O doughnuts into the office. You can’t eat just one. Or three.
- it drives you nuts when your dining partner doesn’t immediately start digging into his meal when it arrives at the table. You can’t help but think, “Dude, why are you still talking? Your pad see ew is getting cold!”
- the first thought that pops in your mind when you take a trip anywhere is not, “I can’t wait to visit this historical site or hike those mountain trails” but rather, “I can’t wait to try the pasta in Italy. Is the gnocchi really going to be better than what I’m eating now?” (Okay, maybe I’m projecting.)
But I don’t think loving food too much is the problem. Rarely is too much love ever the problem.
Sometimes love comes with baggage. And I’ll focus on a really common issue I see in my practice: the lack of food habituation. Let me explain.
Habituation research reveals that the more exposed we are to a certain food, the less exciting it becomes over time. Case in point: researchers gave college students free pizza for several days. The first day of the study, most students were like, “Woohoo! FREE PIZZA!!!” Fast forward several days and the reaction was more like, “Ugh. Not pizza again. Anything but pizza.”
Through the process of sensory specific satiety, exposure to the same flavor over time becomes less exciting.
But here’s the catch: diet mentality interferes with the habituation process.
So if you’re thinking, “I shouldn’t be eating this. This is so bad,” as you’re eating, those thoughts interfere with the habituation process. So the food stays extra exciting.
Indeed, research involving brain scans reveals that the reward pleasure center in the brain lights up more when people eat a food they deem “forbidden.” In other words, telling yourself you can’t have a certain food is a great way to stay obsessed with it and feel out of control when you finally do have it. There’s an exciting charge to feeling naughty!
Making peace with forbidden foods through the habituation process is an essential part of trusting yourself with food. There are a number of studies showing that when binge eaters eat their forbidden foods as a part of their treatment process, bingeing decreases.
When I support clients through this process (and it needs to be experienced, not just learned logically), we always take into account vulnerability factors like stress, ravenous hunger and fatigue, in order to increase the chances of a positive experience with that food. We may even eat the feared food together in our session. Explicit permission to truly allow for the food is key.
The purpose of habituation isn’t to burn out on the food so that you’ll never want it again. Rather, it’s to neutralize that extra charge that comes with the forbidden fruit syndrome. Love without the baggage.
If not every cell in your body and mind trusts that you can have cookies tomorrow if you want, why the heck would you leave any on the plate today? (“I’ll eat these now until I come to my senses. I’ll start clean tomorrow.”)
The good news is that when you start to strip away the unnecessary baggage, what you have left is love. A love of steamed dumplings at Jade Garden. A love of Paseo’s #1 Carribean roast sandwich. A love of the perfect summer tomato. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Does that help? I hope so. I’ve gotta run – time for lunch.