Sometimes there are foods that we find hard to resist, things that when we start eating, we can’t stop. It’s different for each of us. It might be white bread, or sugar, or chips or ice cream. Occasionally it’s breakfast cereal, even the so called healthy ones like Sultana Bran. It doesn’t matter what it is. When a food has a hold over us it can be terrifying.
We can both crave the food, and then feel as though we have no control once we start eating.
When I was struggling with food, I would test myself with the very things I found hardest to stop eating. And then, when had eaten beyond the point of comfort, almost beyond consciousness, as though I was an alcoholic drugging myself with my chosen poison until I was sedated and bloated and numb.
Many of the women who I coach, or who come to my classes struggle similarly. When I tell them that there are no rules and they can eat what they like, some of them go straight out and buy the foods that they haven’t allowed themselves for years, and then are distraught and horrified when they can’t stop eating them.
There are several things that come together to create this compelling urge to eat and eat. The first can be a physical one. Some foods, especially those high in sugar (or carbohydrates like bread and cereals) can trigger the pleasure centre in our brain that releases dopamine. Our brains love this sensation, as do we, and we want to keep getting more and more of this feeling, which means we want to keep eating.
Also physical, our insulin rises as we eat carbohydrates, and if we produce more than we need, we may feel driven to continue to eat so that we ingest enough glucose to mop up the insulin.
Psychological triggers also occur. Timmerman’s excellent research into deprivation shows that deprivation doesn’t have to be ‘physical or real’ (i.e. we don’t have to be starved) in order for it to be compelling. Just denying or forbidding ourselves something over a long period can be enough deprivation to trigger overconsumption once we are again within reach of it.
We also lose touch with our bodies, and what ‘enough’ feels like, especially if it’s a food that we don’t often permit ourselves to eat.
If there are foods you’re struggling with, don’t ‘test yourself’ when you’re lonely and hungry. We don’t want to set ourselves up to fail. You might try it in company, when you can enjoy it, and have a social surrounding that might help you stop eating. Or you might want to get stronger first, and by this I mean, have stopped dieting for a while, have fed yourself regularly, and begun to believe in the very depths of your soul that you won’t deprive yourself ever again.
Then, when you really know, in the very core of your being, that you could have this food whenever you wanted, if you really truly want it, you may find that its hold over you diminishes.