Most of us are really really familiar with “drunk dialing,” hopefully not from personal experience! This is when you’ve had a few drinks and your alcohol-infused brain thinks it’s a good idea to contact that guy/ girl who dumped you or whom you dumped months or years ago. We all know how that ends: BADLY! How many ways can we say humiliated?! Ugh! That’s one of the duties of a ‘wingman’ these days: make sure there is no drunk-dialing, no matter how wasted you get!
What we don’t realize is that we do the same thing with food. Monday’s episode of the Primal Potential podcast (7/9/2018 # 498 Baby Steps to Massive Change) brought home this idea in a way I hadn’t thought of before. I was familiar with the idea that when we’re tired, hungry, grumpy, etc., we don’t make good decisions no matter what it’s about, and we’ve all heard the cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry, but Elizabeth Benton’s analogy puts it in a succinct and easy-to-remember phrase: “don’t text your ex!” Eating when we’re tired or because we’re bored or lonely is the food equivalent of drunk dialing or texting your ex when you’re wasted: nothing good comes from that! Are you going to have a serious conversation with him/ her about why you two broke up or why he/she/you cheated? Is anything going to be resolved in a calm and adult manner, or are you going to leave a slurred/ typo-filled unintelligible message that will end up being the butt of future jokes and humiliation? I’m guessing the embarrassing answer is the correct one in 99.99% of the situations!
When we’re tired or bored or looking for something to fill time, we’re doing the same thing: we’re falling back into behavior we know isn’t good for us! There’s a reason we ‘broke up’ with Cheez-its or Doritos or the leftovers from last night! Unless our body is telling us that it needs fuel, there is no reason to go prowling through the kitchen. We know better, just like when we’re sober, we know that contacting our ex is a really bad idea, but when our judgment is impaired by alcohol (or boredom or loneliness), we start considering things our rational brain would never entertain.
We’ve all been in that situation: dinner is over and we aren’t really hungry but we’re a little bored. Maybe we’re flipping through the channels or scrolling through the phone and we want something to entertain us, so we wander into the kitchen and without really thinking about it, there we are looking in the fridge or the pantry: “anything good?” We know we aren’t hungry, because if we were, we’d be considering things like scrambled eggs, making a salad or even sauteing some Brussels sprouts. Even if we have those things in the fridge, we aren’t looking at them, because what we’re hungry for has nothing to do with food! We’re looking to fill a void: either boredom, loneliness, comfort, or some other kind of distraction. Maybe we’re stressed because our hours at work have been cut or we’ve had a fight with someone we care about and we’re looking for something to distract us from the stress or just make us feel better emotionally. The need we are trying to fill has nothing to do with hunger, but eating is how we have traditionally filled that void so that’s the habit we find ourselves going back to.
It really is like texting your ex. Think about the last time you chose to end a relationship: there was a reason. Maybe she was always on Instagram or Facebook or texting when you were together, or maybe he only responded to your calls and texts when he felt like it. Maybe he/ she was just emotionally distant or- worse- too needy! Whatever the reason, there was a reason you chose to end the relationship! But when you’re drunk or otherwise impaired, your rational judgment is literally Out of Order. Alcohol (and other intoxicants) lower your inhibitions and things that normally seem really really stupid suddenly seem like a great idea! Those bad ideas haven’t suddenly become great ideas: the only thing that’s changed is your perception of them!
The same thing happens with food. How many times have you told someone “I don’t buy Doritos (or whatever) because once I start eating them, I finish the whole bag!” or “I only buy single cookies at the bakery because if I bought a box of them, I’d eat them all at once!” (Raising my hand here!) This is why we’ve heard so many cautionary tales about grocery shopping when we’re hungry: our judgment is out of whack as we cruise through the chip/ cookie/ cracker aisle and this is how we end up with the Doritos/ Oreos/ Cheez-its in our pantries at home. When we’re thinking clearly, we don’t put them in our basket because we know what will happen when we get bored, feel lonely or ‘want something salty/ crunchy/ sweet. Without thinking about it, we will wander into the kitchen and before we realize what’s happening, we’re bingeing Season 2 of Goliath and cramming down Oreos! We weren’t hungry but we were feeling really anxious about the project you’re working on and all the delays so you wanted something to distract you (Goliath) but you also went looking for something to comfort and reassure you (Oreos). The obvious- and rational- solution is not bringing them into the house so we take the precaution of not shopping when hungry.
But eating to fill a void/ mindless eating can still happen even if it’s something ‘healthy.’ It doesn’t have to be junk food to the equivalent of texting your ex: if you aren’t hungry, you just sent that text! There are no Cheez-its, Doritos, Oreos or other junk food in my house, but I have been known to devour Greek yogurt, peaches, macadamia nuts, beef jerky, etc. Things that I would normally consider ‘healthy’ (and things I had planned to take for lunch!) suddenly become a ‘text to my ex’ when I get stressed or feel anxious or whatever other feeling or void I am trying to expunge! I fall back into that bad habit and go back to the Mindless Eating Ex because I stop paying attention! My normal rational brain is Out of Order either because of the emotions I’m dealing with or because I just decided to check out mentally and not deal with whatever. I know there is no legitimate reason I need to eat the entire bag of beef jerky or four containers of Greek yogurt, but ‘I’m not feeling well’ (that will not make me feel better!), or ‘I’m worried about someone’ (overeating won’t help them or me!) I turn off the rational brain to avoid dealing with reality. This is not unlike why we get drunk: we want to feel good or forget to feel bad. Food accomplishes the same thing for us: while we’re eating we’re enjoying the food or at least are distracted enough to forget what we’re trying to forget.
But there’s a reason we don’t normally eat a whole bag of beef jerky or Doritos or finish off all the Greek yogurt in the fridge. When we’re done, we have that same awful feeling we do when we look at our phones the next day and find the text or the phone call to our ex: “Please tell me I didn’t hit Send on this text to that jerk/ witch!” Oh, yes you did! Looking at the empty containers, bags and wrappers, we suddenly feel like the stupidest person on the planet: “What the hell was I thinking?!” You weren’t thinking! That’s the problem! Your brain was in the Off position, either due to the emotion/ situation (or in the case of the drunken text, alcohol.) Overeating, even if it’s not junk food, is never a reasonable rational thing to do.
When it comes to drunk dialing or drunken texts to our ex, this is why we bring a wingman with us to parties and clubs: the good ones won’t let you hit Send. But when it comes to prowling through the kitchen, LG and Samsung haven’t yet developed the fridge that will automatically ask you “are you really hungry?” when you open it up after 8:00 p.m. We have to learn to do it for ourselves. We have to find a way to ‘sober up’ enough to ask ourselves why we are eating when we’re not hungry. It can be something as simple as not eating in front of the tv, or not eating after dinner. It can be something like only eating on plate or a bowl or at the kitchen table. When you are pouring out bowl after bowl of Doritos, believe me, you will ‘sober up’ enough to realize “Yikes! This is bowl #3!” In my case, I keep an old photo of myself on the fridge door: there I am in all my 440 lb ‘glory’! The feeling’s not quite the same as finding the text to my ex on phone, but it’s close enough for me!