DAILY NEWS CONTRIBUTOR
Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 6:00 PM
Have you ever found yourself staring down at an empty bowl of ice cream wondering what just happened?
Or holding an empty bag of M&Ms?
Let’s face it — no one consciously decides to sabotage their diet. So how is it that your best intentions can be so blindsided by…by what?
According to stimulus-response theory, we’re often derailed by a kind of knee-jerk way of thinking: You see a TV commercial for a juicy bacon double cheeseburger (stimulus) and next thing you know you’re driving to McDonald’s (response).
In order to minimize this kind of mindless eating, you need to become aware of the circumstances that leave you most susceptible to falling off the healthy food wagon.
You are particularly susceptible to knee-jerk sabotage when:
1. You’re stressed. Whether it’s caused by life challenges, illness, or fatigue, stress depletes you emotionally as well as physically.
When you become depleted, food — especially the salty, sweet, fatty, high calorie kind — beckons you with promises of escape, sedation, and comfort. Ah!
And these promises aren’t exaggerations. Food does offer the relief you seek — well, at least until you swallow!
2. You’re bored. Boredom is an emotion that leaves you feeling fidgety and somewhat out of control. Your go-to comfort food not only promises the distracting pleasure of something to do, but will flood your brain with feel-good chemicals. Your restlessness is swept away by the blissful tranquility of escape.
3. You’re watching TV (or otherwise distracted). We are creatures of habit as well as creatures of comfort. And what’s more comforting — or mindless — than zoning out binge-watching your favorite TV series while digging into that bag of chips?
Mindless distraction and snacking become ritualistic habits, just like a tub of popcorn becomes a must at the movie theater.
4. You’re depressed or anxious. Emotional struggle and stress are inseparable, leaving you feeling desperate and out of control. Destructive eating is an anesthetic to your emotional pain and discomfort.
The feel-good chemical dopamine is released in the brain and — at least while you’re eating — your emotional pain is numbed.
5. You’re in a restaurant or planning to go out to eat. This is where your mind begins to “graze:” “Hmm, what am I in the mood for tonight?”
I call this “mind-tasting.” Once you begin to mind-taste, you’re already putting in motion the physiological changes associated with actually eating those delicious foods. Mind-tasting is a surefire way to open the door to destructive eating.
6. You feel your stomach growl. You haven’t eaten in a few hours, it’s almost lunch time, and your stomach growls. For many people, this sets off a small panic: “I’m starving! I need to eat something right now.”
In typical knee-jerk fashion, you’re conditioned to jump when your stomach beckons. More often than not, it’s your mind, not your body, that needs to be fed.
7. You’re alone or lonely. Loneliness is a stressful state, which at times is unavoidable. We try to reduce the stress of loneliness by using food to fill the emptiness in our lives.
Food, quite literally, “fills” us. And when you’re feeling empty and alone, being full can be quite comforting.
8. You see or smell a nostalgic comfort food. The sight or aroma of a childhood comfort food can release in the brain the same chemicals involved in tasting these foods (mind-tasting again).
It’s why fast food restaurants have pictures on their menus. You stand there mind-tasting each possibility until you settle on the one choice that seems to offer the most satisfaction.
9. You’ve had an alcoholic beverage — or three. Alcohol distorts both your physical and psychological perceptions of hunger. You probably already know that alcohol adds calories, weakens self-discipline, and stimulates hunger.
Having a drink before or during your meal will lower your inhibitions and diminish your willpower. Save the wine for dessert.
10. You’re tired, you have access to junk food and it’s late at night. Fatigue reduces your capacity for tolerating stress. Nighttime is when things begin to wind down, you’ve had a hard day, and you’re hoping to reward yourself for having survived the day’s demands.
Or perhaps it’s your knee-jerk, ritualistic need for a “night cap” before retiring. It’s easy to fall prey to “tomorrow is another day” thinking and go for the brownies and glass of milk.
Dr. Joe Luciani has been a practicing clinical psychologist for more than 35 years. He’s the internationally best-selling author of the “Self-Coaching” series of books, published in ten languages. His latest book, “Thin From Within” (AMACOM) is a self-coaching, mind-over-mouth approach to achieving lifelong weight mastery. He appears frequently on national TV, radio and the Internet and has also been featured in numerous national magazines and newspapers. Visit selfcoaching.net for more information.
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