Over the last two weeks we have talked about two mental blocks that impede our success with weight: learned helplessness and a short-term mentality with food. But I have saved the best for last. Uncovering this mental block has been the single most helpful piece to the weight puzzle for me.
Today, I want to look at the fuel vs entertainment dilemma with food. There is nothing wrong with deriving enjoyment from food; however, problems arise when I expect my food to entertain me. Inevitably, this expectation sends me running for food every time I get bored. It also causes me to consistently gravitate toward foods that appeal to the pleasure centers of my brain.
Obviously, food is an essential human need that cannot be separated from our life equation. So, when did we start expecting our food to entertain us and stimulate us in addition to satisfying our hunger?
The idea of attaching entertainment to food is likely linked to the practice of eating out. Historically, dining out was a privilege reserved for only the richest and most elite levels of society. However, over the years, eating out has become quite commonplace in our lives.
Here is an anthropologist’s take on this shift:
If the rituals of eating out have become less grand for the mass of people, it still retains its aura as an “event.”…We spend not so much for the food as for the entertainment value and the naughty thrill of being (we hope) treated like royalty in an otherwise drab democratic environment. Even lesser expeditions still have the air of an event. The family outing to the local burger joint still has an air of preparation and difference; it can still be used to coax youngsters to eat, and provide a mild enough air of difference from routine to be “restorative.” Even the necessary lunch for workers who cannot eat at home has been made into a ritual event by the relatively affluent among them.” http://www.sirc.org/publik/food_and_eating_9.html
Couple this with the statistic from the United States Healthful Food Council that claims that the average American adult buys a meal or snack from a restaurant almost six times per week.This helps shed some light on how we have grown accustomed to viewing eating as an event. Now, add to this expectation the overwhelming variety of foods that can be purchased at any grocery store and it’s not surprising to see why we have grown to expect a certain wow-factor from our food.
I can easily see where I fell into the trap of expecting my food to entertain me. For instance, if I ate a sandwich then I, of course, needed to add some chips to make the meal more interesting. When I went out to eat, I couldn’t conceive of ordering a salad when I could have a burger and fries instead.
Now, I have developed a new thought process with my eating. Before a meal, I ask myself, “Is this for fuel or entertainment? ” If the answer is fuel, then I stick to the basics, which means making food choices that will satisfy my hunger without adding a lot of excess fat or calories.
However, if I am out with family or friends and the answer is entertainment, then I allow myself extended grace to eat richer options (still keeping portion size in mind) and enjoy the event. This mindset puts me in the driver’s seat with my food choices. More importantly, it keeps me from labeling foods as good and bad. Instead, particular foods are either well-suited or not well-suited for a particular situation.
Fuel vs. Entertainment Mental Checklist
1. Am I alone? (Meals eaten alone should typically be viewed as fueling times.)
2. Is the meal part of my normal routine? (Nightly family meals are a part of your normal routine, so they are fueling times.)
3. Am I engaging in an event that is out of the ordinary? (Events by nature are for entertainment)
4. Am I eating with people I do not interact with on a daily basis? (Sharing a meal with friends is definitely for entertainment. )
5. Am I being offered a food item as part of a celebration? (This addresses food passed around the office. If there is no special occasion, then pass. If it is to celebrate some event, enjoy a few bites.)
6. Have I eaten for fuel all day, but feel like I could use a little spark to finish the day? (If you have eaten sensibly all day, then you have a little room for something out of the ordinary. This is your opportunity for a planned indulgence; like a square of dark chocolate.)
This new way of looking at food helps me to put food in the proper perspective. By asking myself these few questions, I can adjust my expectations to suit the situation. Moreover, I have more leeway in my weekly intake to occasionally eat richer foods as long as I have eaten sensibly the majority of the time.
I believe that these tips can help you break through the mental blocks to success with weight. Have you struggled with expecting your food to entertain you? Let me know your thoughts.
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