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.
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.