Of course, knowing what to eat is different from enjoying it.
Eating is among the major pleasures for most of us. We don’t like to tinker with it especially if it involves deprivation. I’ve had to severely constrict my eating options, yet I didn’t realize how restricted or deprived I felt until one fateful evening.
Throwing out a comment in passing to Paul, who was watching a program on the TV, I peripherally caught a glimpse of the image shown on the screen. Stopping mid sentence and blurting out in response to the image my brain registered, I exclaimed “Oh…garlic bread…I really miss that hot, crispy baguette… buttery garlicky…” my voice trailing off lost in the memory of and fantasy about a now forbidden old favorite triggered by the onscreen image.
Virtually drooling, transfixed by the portrayal of what I could no longer eat, sadness welled up inside.
Paul looked confusedly from the TV, to me, then back to the TV screen. After a minute scrutinizing the image, he finally voiced “Josie, that’s an image of viruses under a microscope!”.
In a state of deprivation, my brain mistook the image of swimming, “baguette-shaped” viruses for garlic bread.
No, I didn’t make this up, it really happened — 5 or 6 months after I found out I had Type 2 diabetes, and changed the way I ate.
From attempted diets over the years, I anticipated craving certain foods after undertaking such a shift in what I eat. No surprise, I rarely craved brussels sprouts, although I enjoy them. Personally, my cravings converge around breads, scones and cakes. Most other foods on the forbidden list might be passing fancies, a lower level of desire than craving.
Craving refers to a compulsive desire to substitute an action or substance rather than feeling an uncomfortable emotion.
Anticipating and accepting the reality of cravings in a non-personal way allowed me to be able to choose to sidestep them. I know this is how the brain works. It’s not indicative of my being a weak person, or that I’ve failed in some way.
I recognize a craving because it pops into my mind when I’m not physically hungry. Once it’s made its presence known, it can be persistent even through attempted distractions, not easily dislodged.
I thought I knew how to deal with cravings, that is until my body protested and had the audacity to develop Type 2! Given that my fail-safe foods now have failed me, a new strategy is needed.
So how to respond? Bringing all the mindfulness I can muster, I remember that this is emotional hunger, not physical, although I do check in with my stomach, just to be sure.
I scan through my emotions if I’m not sure what’s going on that I want to avoid. Having done this for some time now, it’s not usually hidden from me. Tiredness, out of stamina, bored, uncertain how to do something challenging to me, these are my usual suspects. Rather than allow those disquieting feelings to be present, traditionally I used food (and always the dangerous but delicious type of food) to distract myself.
Mindfulness allows me to see clearly that this is a craving, and that if I sit with it, not push it away or cling to it, but watch it in a spacious way, it soon dissipates. For a few uncomfortable moments that won’t linger, I don’t have to give in to the urge to satiate it. I’ll just “watch” it, observing what’s happening in each moment objectively, and the craving that arose fades back into oblivion.
Sure, it’s not permanent, and I accept the fact it’ll come up again, but this chain of craving indicating emotional hunger, mindfully observing but not acting on the urge, noticing the craving fade, land all without eating dangerous foods! What’s not to like?
And the unpleasant feelings all this came up in response to? The same process of watching those feelings, noticing they crest, then begin to dissipate is highly predictable.
Before long, I’m back to neutral, content and usually peaceful. I wish this for you too!