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July 02, 2019 | WEIGHT LOSS

by Dr. Alana Chock, MD, FACS, FASMBS

The way we eat, the when we eat, the how we eat, and the why we eat is motivated by many forces. Most of us will recognize and admit to eating for reasons other than hunger. Maybe you associate TV watching with chips or popcorn. A fight with your partner is soothed by ice cream. Have you ever gone to the state fair feeling full or satisfied and want to eat funnel cakes anyway? Just the smell alone of funnel cakes wafting your way brings back carefree childhood memories of fun at the fair. If you eat one, even though you aren’t hungry, maybe you can feel that way again. The taste, texture, and smell of certain foods can flood your mind with memories.

Regardless of the society, culture, religion or ethnicity, we are taught from a young age to associate pain, suffering, happiness, celebration, depression, and a vast array of other emotions with food. Sometimes it is a formal teaching via our faith where certain foods are eaten to play a part in religious ceremonies. Other times, under less formal circumstances, we are taught from our mothers to treat the pain and humiliation of being stood up at the prom with a milk shake. Celebrating a win from a game? Let’s have a pizza! Is it Christmas? Well then, we must have cookies.

You can start learning about your eating habits by writing down what and when you eat and what you are feeling when you eat it. I’ll bet it isn’t hunger. At some point, to really make progress with your weight loss, you need to uncouple. You need to disassociate doughnuts and disappointment, boredom and beer nuts, suffering and sundaes. You need to uncouple these emotions and experiences with food. Food is many things, but it is not therapy. It is not a tonic. It is not a coping mechanism. After all, if you are disappointed before you start eating, think how disappointed you will feel after eating those doughnuts. What will follow is another wave of emotions, usually self-doubt, defeat, self-deficiency and failing. Now how did that doughnut serve you? Sounds to me like you just rode a roller coaster of self-destructive behavior that brought you back to the same place that you started. Wanna go for another ride?

Uncouple. The next time you are sad. Stop. Think. Maybe you should be sad. It is okay to feel sad at some point in your life. Why are you sad? It is okay to feel. It may be uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant, but that’s okay. Sadness is natural. Spend your time wondering why you are sad and how you can feel better without food. You can talk it over with a friend, family member or counselor. Share your sadness. Often just talking about it and expressing your emotion verbally is enough release you from its grip.

Uncouple emotion from the food. Food is not the cure. Smell the funnel cakes, remember your feelings of youth and happiness. Tell the story in your head to a friend or your spouse. Eating the funnel cake will not return you to a happier time. You cannot step into a funnel cake and slide down a magical hole to a happier place. You will more likely wind up in a pool of tears like Alice did.

Feelings are part of the human experience. Stop being afraid to experience. When we admit we have feelings and emotions, we are vulnerable. Vulnerability is a dangerous place. It will take time to sort through the doughnuts and cookies in your life, but until you allow yourself this indulgence you will continue to medicate and manage with food. By exposing yourself to your feelings you will find a new beginning and a new emotion. Success!

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