Diets are rooted in the idea that is us vs. our body or us vs. food. If you have been cycling on and off diets or struggling with emotional eating, this can feel 100% true. It can feel like your body is sabotaging you or your brain is out to get you and wants you to only eat French fries and chocolate covered anything.
The solution can appear to be black and white rules. Things like, I won’t allow myself to eat any carbs or I won’t allow myself to eat after 7pm. The trouble with these rules, is if you break them you can feel like a failure and it reinforces the idea that your body is out to get you.
At this point you try something stricter to really protect yourself, or you can say “screw it” because you are never going to get this food thing figured out. Either way it again reinforces the idea that you can’t be trusted around certain food. Sound familiar?
Perhaps the most damaging part of this mentality (besides just feeling broken) is that it takes away the most powerful tool that you have when making any sort of change. That is finding the root cause of your behavior.
You see, the vast majority of the time, even our most shameful behaviors are rooted in a positive intention and linked to something that we did/didn’t do hours or days before.
(I know you may not believe this, but stick with me)
If you think that your body is out to get you, you will jump past this idea keep attacking the symptoms and never discover the actual cause.
The first step is to follow the chain back to the root cause of the behavior.
A very common thing that I see in my practice and on-line course, the Hunger Solution, is nighttime snacking. Clients feeling like they did so “good” during the day and then snacking a bunch while they are making dinner or raiding the pantry late at night. This can feel so shameful and out of control that they want to focus on that. However, this is the symptom, not the cause.
When we step back throughout the day and see that they are skipping breakfast and having a light lunch so when it comes to the evening, they are simply just hungry. The root of the nighttime eating is actually breakfast. So, we brainstorm ways where they can prep on the weekend so they can grab something quick and easy in the morning.
For a lot of people, this is it – problem solved! However, for others they come back in a week or two and say:
“I know that I was supposed to make breakfast on the weekend, but I just didn’t do it. This always happens. I know what to do but I just don’t do it.”
This still does not mean that they are broken! It just means we didn’t follow the chain back far enough. After asking some questions we find out that getting to the grocery store and then prepping takes too long and is taking away from spending time with their family. So that is the positive benefit – they are choosing family over frittata and that is not a bad thing!
Now that we know the root cause we can brainstorm ideas. Perhaps, they get their groceries delivered, or come up with pre-made option, or batch cook a month at a time and freeze, or even pick up breakfast on the way to work. There are a lot of different solutions, but none of them would have been possible if we kept attacking the symptom not the cause.
What Do You Do with This Information?
So next time you find yourself falling off track or doing something you are ashamed or frustrated by, I want you to pause and follow the chain. Resist the idea to jump to the conclusion that you are broken, or food is the enemy, but instead be curious to figure out where the behavior started.
This is the most powerful thing you can do to really make long term changes and finally stop worrying about food all the time!