Possible Pitfalls

There are as many reasons youíve given yourself to eat as there are minutes in a day. Storm clouds do it for me. They trigger a memory from when I lived in Florida and went deep-sea fishing in Key West. When a squall was imminent, weíd pull our boat into a nearby atoll and wait out the storm while eating fresh fish sandwiches and drinking cold beer. Sandwiches are finger foods, which I now steer clear of, and I don't drink beer anymore, but the smell of a rainstorm can be a powerful pitfall for me. I donít act on it, but the memory is a tantalizing trigger, nevertheless.

A splash of red wine on white pants may not trigger an overeating episode nor will the car not starting, a flat tire, and your cell phone losing a signal at 4:58 p.m. when you must reach someone before 5:00 p.m. But these things have a cumulative effect, and all the mini-annoyances have the potential of becoming maxi-eating responses by the end of the day.

You might stumble because you saw your favorite dessert on a restaurant menu. Or a celebration may convert a tentative no to an emphatic yes as soon as you hear a champagne cork pop from a bottle.

"I could resist anything but temptation," said Oscar Wilde.

Consider the reasons youíre tempted to eat. Highlight or circle the ones to which you respond. There are many and they are varied.

Do you eat because youíre hungry? Do you even know what hunger is? Or are you eating because youíre lonely, tired, angry, or bored?

Think of all the reasons you eat that have nothing to do with hunger.

Perhaps you eat because youíre up: itís your birthday, my birthday, our anniversary, or Groundhogís Day; or because youíre down: sad, or grieving. You might eat because itís there, or someone else is eating so why not you? Is food easily available in your office, your home? Do you eat in your car?

Are you eating because of good news? Bad news? No news? One man said he eats during the news.

You might find yourself eating some foods because they came with a restaurant dinner or others because they came free with your airplane ticket or hotel room. Thereís bread on the table in a restaurant, peanuts on the plane, chocolates on your pillow, and you think: Iíll never pass this way again.

To some, food is seen as a reward: Iíve been so good all day. I didnít have breakfast. I didnít have lunch. Iíll just have this side of beef for dinner. Of course, if youíre feeling stuffed, bloated, and not so good about yourself, then overeating is not a reward. It is a punishment.

When a young woman used the excuse that she overate prior to going to the ballet, I asked, did you dance? Unless she was dancing on that stage, she ate too much for dinner. She ate more than she was able to burn.

For many, food has become a socially acceptable drug. It seems to numb the tensions and stresses of your life. Perhaps you use food to stuff down feelings and thoughts you donít want to feel or think or to escape.

Do you eat when youíre frustrated, disappointed, or angry? One fellow told me he knocked off a box of cookies and a pint of ice cream when the courts awarded his ex-wife a big divorce settlement. I wanted to know if she had returned the alimony check when she realized he was hurting himself.

Although eating doesnít change the outcome of anything but your waistline and self-esteem, you might still be eating to cheer yourself up when youíre down. Or not to feel so alone when youíre without company. Or to socialize: you donít want to be left out. You might continue eating even though your clothes are too tight and youíre huffing and puffing when you walk. That is part of addiction: you continue doing what you do even though there are negative consequences.

Perhaps you eat because youíre bored or have to fill unstructured time, such as evenings and weekends, or because you experience family, business, money, or peer-group pressure: ("Come on. Weíre all going for pizza and we want you to come.") You donít want to be left out. You might use food to avoid intimacy or sex. Perhaps you use food to avoid nurturing or being nurtured. You are procrastinating: ("Iíll have lunch first and then work on that report.") You might eat during food preparation and put-away. Perhaps because once you start you canít stop. You might think, what the hell, I blew it anyway. Maybe food is used as a reward because you did something wonderful, or a punishment because you already overate and figure What the hell, it wonít make a difference. When you smell the coffee in your office or the popcorn in a movie, or fresh donuts in a bakery, do you queue up? Do you use food as a meal extender? Youíre having such a nice time and donít want the evening to end so you order another cup of coffee, a cocktail, a dessert. Youíre entertaining guests. There is an abundance of extra food and all those leftovers.

Going home to family is tricky for some. You may feel guilty that your family and friends have been cooking since last Thursday, and you have to taste (and comment on) everything that is offered. Does the cook get offended if you donít have seconds and thirds?

We eat differently when we are in the company of two people, three people, four people, more people. A recent study said that people who eat with six or more other people consume a whopping 78% more than they would if they ate alone. The more people there are, the more food is offered.

The longer food remains on the table, the longer youíre tempted to eat.

Are you too tired to cook so you pick pick pick and convince yourself you didnít eat anything?

A point to remember:

If itís not water, itís food.

And this, too:

If you swallowed it, you ate it. It all adds up.

Whether you overeat because of genetics, ethnicity, religion, circumstance, or emotion doesnít matter. Perhaps you eat for some of these reasons or all of these reasons. Each person gets into the habit of using food inappropriately by eating for reasons you tell yourself itís okay to eat, even if youíre not hungry. Having followed these habits for such a long time Ė sometimes decades Ė theyíve become involuntary conditioned responses. Just as Pavlovís dogs, when a stimulus appears, can a yes, thank you, be far behind? The intelligent you, thinks you shouldnít be doing what youíre doing, but you canít stop. Thatís the sneaky part of the addiction Ė as if making up your mind will do the trick when it never has before. This might be the moment to make a list of the reasons you eat. Put down the breadstick and get a pencil.

After seeing my list, a middle-aged woman said to me, "According to your program, I havenít been hungry since 1963." She was correct. She and you may have misidentified these situations, circumstances, and emotions as hunger for such a long time, youíve lost your innate ability to identify this most basic of feelings.

If youíre trying to satisfy a physical hunger, your body doesnít require a great deal of food. If youíre trying to fill an emotional hunger, you could back up a truck full of food to your home or office, and it would never, ever, contain enough food. "Okay guys, put the Mallomars in the cabinet, the Hšagen-Dazs in the freezer. The Twinkerdoodles go on the bed."

If you become so overwhelmed, confused and paralyzed with not knowing what to do about this multi-faceted, many-layered topic of weight control that you canít stop eating once you start, chances are you do nothing.

If hungry, you need to nourish the body. If, along the way, it also tastes good, looks good, and smells good, youíve got a bonus. But you shouldnít be eating because it looks, smells, and tastes good. Almost everything fits that criteria.

If youíre thirsty, drink water.

If youíre responding to one of the above stimuli, change habits by creating new and constructive responses to replace your old and destructive ones. This is called repatterning.

I might have missed one of your Possible Pitfalls, but you get the idea. Add yours if itís not here. Observe how you eat when youíre up or down, alone or with friends. We even eat differently with men, differently with women, and another way with children. These pitfalls might be because of emotions, circumstances, or just because itís there or youíre there, in the neighborhood where your favorite something is prepared as nowhere else in the world! Pitfalls can be any of these things or all of these things. None of the Pitfalls Iíve described above are hunger. And if itís not hunger, itís not a reason to eat.

What are your Possible Pitfalls?

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About The Author / Credits: This article is an excerpt from the book Conquer Your Food Addiction authored by Caryl Ehrlich. Caryl also teaches The Caryl Ehrlich Program, a one-on-one behavioral approach to weight loss in New York City. Visit her at http://www.ConquerFood.com to know more about weight loss and keep it off without diet, deprivation, props, or pills. Caryl welcomes questions or comments about this article and the behavioral methods she incorporates into her weight loss program. Contact her at Caryl@ConquerFood.com or call 212-986-7155.

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