Eating With Intentionality: Ask the Hard Questions

The July Project: Day 13

I’m an emotional eater. I’ve learned this about myself over and over again, but sometimes the realization doesn’t set in until 10 or 15 minutes after the food goes down. Here’s the process:

  1. Experience mildly negative emotion—frustration, boredom, anxiety, irritation.
  2. Seek comfort in food.
  3. Later, realize that I ate for the wrong reason.
  4. Feel disappointed in myself.
  5. Repeat process starting at step 2, ad infinitum.

I’m trying to train myself to anticipate step 3 before I act on step 2. This is the heart of my philosophy of “eating with intentionality.” I try to evaluate every single impulse to eat by asking the question, “Am I really hungry?” Sometimes my awareness that the answer is no is enough to give me a push in another direction.

But sometimes the answer is “no, but…,” and then it’s important to consider the follow-up question, “Then why do I want to eat?” When I have the strength and the presence of mind to ponder this question, I’m often surprised by the answer:

  • I want to eat because I don’t relish the next thing on my to-do list.
  • I want to eat because I had a bad day yesterday.
  • I want to eat because I didn’t get the phone call I was waiting for.
  • I want to eat because I don’t know what else to do next.

And so on. (See more Bad Reasons to Eat.)

If you’re an emotional eater like I am, try to cultivate the habit of asking, “Am I really hungry?” And don’t beat yourself up when an act of impulsive eating gets past your vigilance. One snack isn’t going to ruin the progress you’ve made, and wasting your energy on guilt or shame will only reinforce the cycle you’re trying to break. Recognize the emotion that’s troubling you, give yourself a pat on the back for paying attention, and renew your commitment to the changes you want to make in your life.

2 comments to Eating With Intentionality: Ask the Hard Questions

  • Donna

    I tend to eat when I need a break from whatever it is I am doing, especially if it is either physically exhausting and I need to rest or I am having to make a lot of decisions. I also eat (and drink) because the people around me are eating.

    • The pressure to eat and drink when you’re part of a group is surprisingly compelling, isn’t it? I experience it as a kind of compulsion to conform—I don’t want to draw attention to myself by not doing what everyone else is doing. Lately, I’ve been trying to keep in mind the “contagiousness” factor of social behavior (see this previous blog post) to stick to doing what I need to do, and hope that maybe a little good behavior will rub off on my companions. (Am I trying to resist the current by swimming upstream?)

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