Ice Cream Dreams
I attended a talk by a behavior analyst the other evening, trying to learn more about what makes people tick when it comes to food. So many of my clients despair of not having enough “willpower” to change unhealthy eating habits or to start incorporating physical activity into their weight-loss plans, and I sometimes wish I had a degree in psychology as well as in nutrition.
The behavior analyst admitted her own conflicted relationship with food, stemming from behaviors she learned – or didn’t learn – as a child. For example, as a kid, her dessert intake was strictly monitored and limited by her parents, and when she went off to college and could choose her own foods, she began bingeing on sweets.
I found this a really compelling story. What habits learned in childhood trip up our well-intentioned efforts as adults to follow a healthy diet? What emotions are stirred up when we think of a particular food?
For example, I’ve talked here about my own guilty pleasure – ice cream. My memories of this treat when I was little are very happy – they’re all about hopping in the car with my family and driving hither and yon to find just the kind of ice cream we wanted that night. For cones, it was Pittsburgh’s iconic Isaly’s, home of the skyscraper cone – I still remember everyone’s favorite flavor; mine was butter pecan. For sundaes, our place was Bishop’s, and the memory of butterscotch melting vanilla soft serve still lingers.
Sure, the ice cream was great. But when I really stop and think about it, what I’m remembering was the social, family time of these jaunts. Everybody in the car was happy; I was on summer vacation; it was the evening, and my dad wasn’t working late at his second job. These were purely joyful moments. Then again, I have similar great memories of playing card games with my family.
So, hypothetically, what if when I start craving ice cream, I could pull together a family game instead? What if I could do something else that would engender similar happy feelings?
You see what I’m getting at. When you start craving a certain food, could you stop and look at what your emotions are at that moment? Are you really hungry, or are you lonely, sad or bored? If you’re lonely, could you call a friend or sibling instead? If you’re sad, could you take a brisk walk and get your dopamine levels up? If you’re bored, could you occupy yourself with a favorite activity, like reading or gardening, or maybe even planning a future trip? Could you remember a technique that worked for you in the past to pull you out of your funk?
Your memories are powerful things. Use them to your advantage.