You don’t just wake up weighing 315 pounds. It is really a slow and unconscious process of living in a state of numbness. This shutting off starts with disconnecting from your own body and losing touch with the signals that should be telling you that you are overeating and undermoving, and in my case, I became so numb to my own body that I almost died as a result of ignoring an ongoing issue that I stuffed aside for months. Step 1 in my comeback story was figuring out how to reconnect with what my body was telling me about food, and I found 1 simple question that never steered me wrong and laid the foundation for every food choice I made from that point on.
Everyone knows what comfort food is and all of us can appreciate the warm soup that calms us when we feel sick or swoon over the memories of hot chocolate and cookies on a cold wintery day. But when I talk about food for comfort I am not referring to those special occasion foods that everyone should be able to happily indulge in and enjoy from time to time. Comfort food for me was characterized by a compulsive drive to eat in response to feelings or situations that were hard for me to face, and my biggest problem with comfort food was that I had no idea what a stronghold it had in my life until I decided that I needed to clean up the type of food that I was eating.
You can read more HERE about how I learned I had a problem with turning to food for comfort.
When I promised myself that I would switch from all the garbage I was consuming to eating only whole foods, I found myself completely overwhelmed by cravings whenever life felt stressful or hard! I wanted to eat all the time, but the foods that I usually turned to, like candy bars and french fries, were not part of my new plan. For about a month I was able to stick to my promise to eat only healthy foods, and I was proud of myself, but I also felt the crushing pressure of cravings and emotions that were not being soothed by my comfort foods and I was miserable! Something had to give! After all, at 315 pounds I knew that this journey of weight loss was going to be a very long one! A long journey is hard enough, but a long MISERABLE journey would be unbearable!
I decided I needed to find a way to be proactive against the drive to eat that was threatening to derail me, and the most powerful weapon that I discovered to fight for myself was information!
Step 1. Learning the difference between cravings & hunger
I didn’t realize that I had so many cravings until I took away the foods that I craved. When I started my health journey, I did not track calories or worry about portion sizes. My first goal was simply to switch from junk food to whole food. This was a HUGE change for me and it took 100% of my focus and dedication just to buy and prepare the foods that I had committed to eating. I was not ready for any other “diet” commitments on top of that. So with unlimited access to whole foods, I should not have been dealing with hunger because I was not restricting my calories. I knew this to be true in my head, and yet I was still drowning under a constant desire to eat.
Step one for me had to be as basic as learning to read my body’s cues to determine if what I was feeling was hunger or just a craving, and I found a test that never failed me in providing a clear answer. I call it The Broccoli Test.
Broccoli is edible. That is the depth of my passion for broccoli, and so it served as the perfect food to test myself with when I felt the drive to eat. I learned very quickly that I was only going to eat broccoli if the thing that I was feeling was actual hunger.
When a craving for a candy bar pops up and you reach for broccoli, the substitute is offensive, anger inducing even! I know that when broccoli isn’t worth eating, then I am just dealing with a craving. On the other hand, if I find myself heading to the fridge to satisfy real hunger, the broccoli will do! It doesn’t piss me off, it might not set my soul on fire with joy, but it will satisfy the hunger and I will eat it.
This very simple question, “Am I willing to eat broccoli?” gave me a way to process what my body was feeling and what an appropriate response should be for the first time in my life! It also made me realize that at least 80% of the time it was a craving and not hunger that was taking me to the fridge throughout the day.
Armed with that knowledge, I was ready to move on to step 2 which I will detail next time!