The True Reason You Eat Too Much Junk Food (It’s Not Taste)May 27, 2023
If you've been following me for a while, you know I consider enjoyment vital to get in shape.
Yet, there’s one objection I get all the time:
“If I ate what I enjoyed, I’d only eat chocolate and pizza!”
I (and science) disagree:
You don't enjoy many foods and behaviors you think you do.
Studies show that there are 15 reasons why you‘d eat certain foods!
Taste is just one of them.
Out of these 15, one is especially destructive.
This pattern keeps you binging and feeling regretful afterward.
And until you let go of that, you’ll never be able to truly enjoy food.
Keep reading for a simple guide to healthy enjoyment – even while losing weight!
Enjoyment or shame?
In a previous article, I shared that I used to be a heavy video gamer until my early 20s.
You might think I played for fun, but that’s not true.
I loved video games as a kid, but not in my adulthood.
I'd play online with “friends” and we’d yell at each other for hours if the games didn’t go as planned.
On top of that, I would feel regret and shame afterward:
"Why didn't I use the day to study for my exams?"
"Why am I so stupid to waste my time like that?"
"Why can't I get my shit together?"
And still, I’d repeat this cycle almost daily – for years.
So why would I keep doing it, even though it made me feel horrible?
You're probably not a video game addict.
But if you’re stressed out and struggling to get in shape, I'd bet you have similar patterns.
This is also called “coping”:
Strategies we develop to deal with difficult emotions and stress.
Some common, destructive ways to cope include:
- Binge eating
- Alcohol abuse
- Excessive shopping
- In extreme cases drug addictions
Or, in my case, excessive video gaming:
I didn’t do it for fun – I did it to numb the pain of stress, loneliness, and anxiety.
I could not handle discomfort back then, so I tried to escape.
However, the more I tried to do so, the more pain I got.
This brings us to the essence of this article:
You have to learn to develop healthy coping strategies.
This is crucial because stress and discomfort will always be there.
The remainder of the article will teach you to do just that.
First, you have to recognize the difference between destructive coping and true enjoyment.
There are three factors:
1 - Mindless vs. mindful:
When I played video games I told myself I'd "just go for an hour to chill out", but that never happened.
I was lying to myself and “one hour” would turn into “one day”.
Here's the reality:
Eating chocolate or pizza here and there won't make you overweight.
What will do so, is excess through mindless eating.
On top of that, excess ruins your enjoyment:
Having one or two glasses of wine can be a great pleasure.
Downing two bottles and waking up with a massive hangover is not.
Being mindful is the key to preventing that.
No, I'm not talking about meditating for 2 hours.
Simply be conscious about what - and how much - you put into your body.
You'll be able to enjoy “whatever you want" - in the appropriate amount - without putting on bodyfat.
2 - Impulsive vs. Intentional:
My videogame habit was impulsive:
I'd rush home after my lectures and hop on my laptop.
There was no second thought and no intention of enjoying a game or two.
What behaviors like that occur in your life?
Do you get home and impulsively grab the chocolate bar?
Light the cigarette in your work break?
Grab the beer at the social gathering?
Recognize why and how you’re doing certain behaviors:
Are you acting on autopilot?
Impulsive behaviors like that are often responses toward stress.
They are hard to control and we tend to get carried away.
3 - Regret vs. Revitalizing:
Think about having a delicious dinner with your partner at a nice restaurant:
How do you feel afterward?
Like you had a great time?
Now compare this with stuffing down some fast food while you're in a rush.
How do you feel now?
Engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms leads to regret and shame.
Deep enjoyment on the other side is revitalizing and you won't feel bad about it.
Next, write down what you think you enjoy:
Make a list.
Write everything out.
Rate these behaviors on an “enjoyment scale” from 1-10.
Then, apply the coping criteria:
Take your enjoyment list.
Are these behaviors:
- Mindful or mindless?
- Intentional or impulsive?
- Revitalizing or regretful?
Write down when you engage in these activities.
Which of them do you turn to when you're stressed?
Think about a time when you're relaxed—would you still engage in these activities?
If not, what's different?
After applying the criteria, rate your "enjoyments" on a scale from 1 to 10 again.
How did your perception change?
Write it down.
Next, get aware of the benefit:
Every behavior has an underlying benefit – even if it’s destructive.
Consider this when changing habits.
If you can't get that benefit differently, you won't change the habit.
Understanding the underlying benefit allows you to find healthier alternatives.
Answering these two questions will help you to understand this:
- What does this behavior give me?
- What would I not be able to be, do, or feel without it?
I wrote an entire article about the benefit of destructive behaviors HERE.
Check it out if you want to go deeper into that topic.
Find different ways to get the benefit:
Habit replacement is easier than just trying to quit.
Find a healthier way to get the same benefits of the pattern you want to let go of.
Let's say that eating sugary foods helps to deal with stress:
What other behaviors could you use for that?
Quality time with friends?
Make sure that whatever you come up with gives you the same kind of relief.
Create intentional space for enjoyment:
This is crucial.
Without true enjoyment, you'll be more prone to unhealthy coping.
Create intentional space for activities that bring you deep joy.
These are the ones left on your list with a high rating, even after applying the cope criteria.
If you enjoy pizza, for example, create a date night where you go to a quality pizzeria.
Doing so will cut your desire to engage in excess and give you a better life.
Some personal examples include:
- Movie nights with my partner
- Barbecue with friends
- Long hikes or bicycle rides
In summary, the #1 reason you eat too much junk food is often not about taste or enjoyment.
It's about using it as a coping mechanism to deal with stress and discomfort.
Apply the criteria of mindfulness, intentionality, and revitalization.
Differentiate between unhealthy coping and true enjoyment.
Find healthier alternatives with the same benefits through habit replacement.
Create space for deep enjoyment to avoid falling back into unhealthy coping habits.
Do you want personalized help to integrate these strategies into your life?
Click HERE to schedule a free 30-minute strategy call with me.
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