Do you sneak into the pantry after everyone’s in bed? Or maybe you can’t be trusted around a block of chocolate? You’re not alone.
But what you might not realise is that ‘quitting’ your habits is about much more than the food itself. It’s not the chocolate or the chips or the ice-cream that is really the problem. In fact, your ‘bad habits’ around food have almost nothing to do with the food itself.
Common ‘bad food habits’ you might have
Let’s be honest – if you’re reading this, you probably know you have unhealthy habits around food. But just in case, let’s have a look at some of the common habits that might be coming up for you.
- Being unable to control yourself around a particular type of food
- Being unable to control yourself around all types of food
- Eating food in secret
- Eating until you feel ‘stuffed’, rather than just satiated
- Skipping from fad diet to fad diet, with all-out eating sprees whenever you ‘fall off the wagon’
- Using food (or even coffee and alcohol) as a reward after doing something stressful or unpleasant
- Emotional eating
- Eating out of boredom
- Depriving yourself of your favourite food for weeks or months, then caving and binge-eating it
- Eating something that is ‘good for you’, even though you don’t want it, to make up for something that you ate previously that was ‘bad’
Some people will have one of these, and some will have all of them! This doesn’t mean that you’re better or worse around food. All it means is that the deeper issues are expressing themselves as different habits for you than the person next to you.
In fact, I’ll tell you a secret. Almost every single person you’ve ever met will have had one or more of these habits at least once – even the super-inspirational and awesome people. But all of these habits still have nothing to do with the food itself.
All of these habits are a symptom of something deeper going on
Choosing to eat a certain way as a once-off can just be because of a message from your body. You might forget to eat lunch and start craving sweet foods because your body is calling out for an energy source.
But if you continually repeat a behaviour, it’s not the food, and it’s not a message from your body. It’s your mind. Specifically, it’s your unconscious mind – the part of the mind that is responsible for unconscious behaviours including habits.
Now it’s time to dive into why your unconscious mind has you acting this way.
You’re running towards something, or away from something
Your unconscious mind is one of your greatest protectors. Its job is to protect you from pain and move you towards more pleasurable experiences instead. When it comes to habits around food, the goal is exactly that.
So now the real question is – where is your unconscious mind taking you when you slip into these habits?
Is it taking you away from pain? Are there uncomfortable emotions that you don’t want to deal with, or perhaps a lot of stress that you’re not managing?
Or is it taking you towards pleasure? Is pleasure something that just isn’t part of your daily life unless you’re eating something ‘naughty’ or ‘indulgent’?
Why giving up your bad food habits isn’t working
When you’re trying to quit a habit, there’s a good chance you’re telling yourself NOT to do that thing. You tell yourself things like:
‘DON’T eat that chocolate when you’re having a bad day’
‘DON’T eat too much food at dinnertime’
‘I’m NOT allowed to have those chips in the pantry’
But it just doesn’t work! In the end, you cave and do the one thing you’ve been telling yourself NOT to do. What’s with that?
Your unconscious mind is pretty clever. But one thing it can’t do is process negatives. So any time you’re telling yourself not to do something, your unconscious mind just focuses on what you’re thinking about – the chocolate, the chips, whatever it is you’re not ‘supposed’ to have.
Instead, focus on what you DO want – what you want to replace these habits with. Maybe it’s:
‘After a stressful day, I will come home and do some deep breathing for 5 minutes before I do anything else’
‘I eat slowly and mindfully at dinner, so I can savour my food’
‘I choose foods that nourish my body and make me feel good’
Replacing habits with healthier choices is a good step towards a healthy relationship with food. But if your unconscious mind is still protecting you from pain, it will find other ways to escape. This is why people who give up junk food turn to other feel-good escapes such as impulse buying and shopping or even gambling.
If you want to truly understand how to change your mindset around food (and all things in your life!), you’ll want to dive even deeper.