How I’m working on my ‘Live to Eat’ tendencies

Every now and then I think about the difference between people who “eat to live” and those who “live to eat.” Regardless of how much food either group consumes over the course of the day, I think the true difference lies in how much time the second group – myself included – spends thinking about food.

Banishing M&Ms from my food universe has freed up a lot of brain space. I am not joking. It's kind of scary how much time I probably spent agonizing over this nonessential food.

Banishing M&Ms from my food universe has freed up a lot of brain space. I am not joking. It’s kind of scary how much time I probably spent agonizing over this nonessential food.

As a food addict, I know I’ve spent big chunks of days thinking about eating, whether consciously, in terms of a great meal I’d had or was anticipating having,  or unconsciously – the background noise of food-related stress that kicks in whenever there’s guilt to be processed or if there’s any uncertainty about what or when I’m going to eat.

I read once in an article about handling stress that it helps to designate one part of a day for thinking about things that are making you tense. Compartmentalize your worries, put them in a box in a mental closet until it’s time to take them out and decide what to do about them.

Is it possible to do the same thing about eating-related stress and anxiety?  I’d love to try. But how would you go about implementing such a strategy?

One way that occurs to me is developing more days that have preset meal templates. Right now Monday is really the only day that I have my meals planned out in advance, and I have to say I really don’t think about food too much on those days. If I get hungry, I think, “Oh, it’s not all that long until I have my big bag of cashews, and that will be really satisfying.” And then I go back to thinking about whatever else I was thinking about.

Another thing that’s helped, but that I could continue to work on, is reducing the size of my food universe. A couple of years ago I started consciously “editing” certain foods out of my diet, and it’s been a big help. By deciding I was only really interested in one or two types of candy bars, for instance, that eliminates a bunch of temptation in the checkout lane. Same with sandwich cookies and donuts. I still eat one or two varieties from each group, but if I have a Snickers bar or a Nutter Butter every couple of months that usually does the trick.

Editing out M&Ms was huge, because there is often a bowl of those guys sitting around at family get-togethers. Every great once in a while I might succumb – it’s only happened once in the past year – but for the most part, I don’t even really notice them anymore. That’s an enormous reduction in M&Ms-related stress. I’m totally serious. It would be interesting to see a graph on how much time I burned up agonizing over eating M&Ms over the years.

But the biggest thing, I think, would just be a matter of noticing when I’m thinking about food at an inappropriate time, and then consciously shifting my attention to something else. Like building other specific types of willpower, it might be tough at first but it would get easier the more I practiced doing it.

I don’t know if I could ever cross over to the “Eat to Live” category of humans. I’m not convinced that they hate to eat or have no appreciation of food. I suspect most of them are quite capable of enjoying a delicious meal or treat. I just think they don’t think about eating much until it’s time to do so.

Could I ever be like that? Hard to say. But I bet I’d be happier if I continued to reduce the amount of time my brain was hijacked with thoughts about food.

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7 Responses to How I’m working on my ‘Live to Eat’ tendencies

  1. bgddyjim says:

    I am one of those eat to liver’s and I really don’t ever think about eating till my stomach says, “Hey bucko, send some freaking grub down here, we’re hungry!” However, when I do eat, I eat really fun stuff (just not for breakfast, that’s a banana and an apple… Or two apples – I love those apples!). I don’t shy away from burgers or pasta, or any of the other good tasty stuff. I do, however, limit how much I’ll eat. When I’m full, I’m done. I don’t care if there are leftovers. They either get pitched or saved for lunch. Take pizza, most people can fire down 3/4’s to a full large pizza… I’m done at three pieces. Just can’t eat any more than that without feeling “blah” and bloated. I HATE feeling like that.

    Throw in 200 miles a week and that’s how I stay thin. I eat well, just not a lot.

    Thanks for writing about your experience with food… I’ve always wondered what it must be like and you paint a vivid picture!

    • tischcaylor says:

      Yep, be very glad you don’t have this problem. One of my many food issues is that I DO care about leftovers — another thing I’m working on. I envy your ability to maintain portion control and not get overly full/bogged down. Getting better at this, but still a struggle at times. Lotta work still lies ahead still but writing about it helps.

  2. bgddyjim says:

    Reblogged this on Fit Recovery and commented:
    This is truly an excellent piece that describes vividly how some grapple with food. I am what Tanya calls a person who eats to live. She used to live to eat. An incredibly insightful post.

  3. You know, you a very brave in admitting how big a role food plays in your life. Years and years ago I was diagnosed as an emotional eater. People like this exist because food has something comforting and deply satisfying. We all fall for it some of us fall more (hence the constant thought of food). I have a sister who can eat anything and everything and I only (as I saw it) had to look at chocolate and I would gain weight. But there was a hidden truth. My sister had different eating patterns. So a counsellor helped me identify the HALT pattern of emotional eaters. It is rather simplified as there are many more reasons for eating. But basically we eat because we are Hungry Angry Lonely Tired. So for a while, I tried Julia Cameron’s The Writing Diet and wrote morning pages before I went to work to destress. Then I kept a journal on what I ate and why I ate. I also journaled after meals, especially when they did not feel filling until that feeling of fullness kicked in. Because the 10 to 20 minute delay is one of the main reasons we overindulge. It was quite an effort at the time but I realized during that time how many times I was obsessing about food simply because there was nothing else to do or because I did not like myself very much that day or because I needed to silence worries. Today, I eat when I am hungry and I am still helpless against the tired hunger. I eat wholesome, non-processed foods. Most of them cooked and warm because they literally warm my heart. And with my Yoga and meditation practice I have learned to listen to my body’s needs. Not saying I am master just yet. The pitfalls are many. Yoga is not necessarily a practice that burns enough calories to lose weight but many people do because they finally learn to accept who they are and stop craving foods. They eat when hungry, they stop when full. Not saying: Do Yoga. But maybe find a way to learn to love and accept your body and yourself as you are. Extra pounds and all. Your eating patterns will slowly change. And maybe some day, the odd M&M will be okay again. You’re training hard enough to treat yourself every so often. 😊

    • tischcaylor says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful coments, and , thanks for reminding me: Journaling has been a huge help. Maybe the single biggest thing. I need to see what’s in my mind written out on a page somewhere before I can process it fully, it seems. I can get along without M&Ms but I often wonder how much longer I can get along without yoga. Thanks for the inspiration. Here’s hoping I do something with it!

      • It’s a tough fight. My counsellor back then told me that emotional eating and obsessing about food is an addiction. But unlike drug addicts and alcoholic who can cut out the addictive substance to be okay (if they want to, of course), food addicts cannot cut out food. So bascially it is a continuous fight and every day that you win, is a good day and every day that you lose… oh well, as long as you don’t make losing a habit, you can forgive yourself for the odd lost day. 🙂 Enjoy the journaling. 🙂

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