Dealing with Food Brain & Food Cravings: Holiday Edition

My food brain is so sneaky. It knows Thanksgiving is approaching and it’s conjuring up all kinds of thoughts about food cravings! What creeps into my mind the most recently are thoughts of going off on a binge because Thanksgiving is going to be a lost cause, a super indulgent day. I am easily suppressing the thoughts at this point but I wonder if they will grow more intense as the day gets closer.

I know this is a vestige of patterns that used to be a major part of my life. I accept that these tendencies may never leave me completely. It’s just the way I am wired and attempting to deny it is not the right course of action. I accept this is the way I am and I learn how to deal with it.

A food brain thinks in terms of bargaining. How often have you thought like this:

  • You’ve already blown it so go ahead and indulge in eating whatever you want.
  • It’s the last few days of the month so go ahead and eat whatever you want because you’ll start fresh on the first.
  • A holiday/eating event is coming up and you’ll eat whatever you want so go ahead and start now because it’s the holiday season and you can’t miss out. You’ll be back “on” a diet afterward.

The approach of Thanksgiving has my brain recalling these old patterns! The truth is, I WILL eat whatever I want on Thanksgiving Day but there’s no reason why there should be anything different about this week.

In my book, I introduce basic concepts of the Morita lifeway, a form of therapy developed in Japan by Shoma Morita in the early 20th century. It remains largely unknown in the US but I believe it is extremely well-suited for dealing with a lifelong weight issue.

Shoma Morita

Dr. Shoma Morita(1874-1938)
I love how genuinely warm and friendly he looks in this photo.

In our Western culture, negative and non-productive thoughts are generally feared. The paradigm is to assume that everything “means” something. We believe we should analyze ourselves to find out WHY and then fix what’s wrong. But thoughts and feelings simply happen to us naturally. It doesn’t mean we’re broken or hurting. We can all experience thoughts, feelings, and drives that we might prefer we didn’t have. Shoma Morita was heavily influenced by Buddhist teachings. Consider this brief passage from Vitakkasanthana Sutta: The Relaxation of Thoughts:

“There is the case where evil, unskillful thoughts — imbued with desire, aversion, or delusion — arise in a monk while he is referring to and attending to a particular theme. He should attend to another theme, apart from that one, connected with what is skillful. When he is attending to this other theme, apart from that one, connected with what is skillful, then those evil, unskillful thoughts — imbued with desire, aversion, or delusion — are abandoned and subside. With their abandoning, he steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it, and concentrates it.”

This passage is advising acceptance of our thoughts and responding with action in the moment if those thoughts are “unskillful”—negative or non-productive. Notice that there is no criticism for experiencing these thoughts.

We might have blue eyes or brown. We might have curly hair or straight. We might have long willowy limbs or short, thick ankles. We might care very little about what we eat or we might have a brain that loves to think about food and brings food cravings into our minds. It’s who we are. We are not broken or wounded or weak and we don’t need to be fixed. We can’t always choose some of our thoughts but we can choose how we respond to them.

What needs to be done now?