How many times have you laid in bed and been unable to get to sleep because your mind was racing and wouldn’t quiet down? I had that experience this week. I’d had a great meeting with a publicist that afternoon and as I settled down into bed that night, my mind started buzzing with possibilities for our future work together. I was quite tired and wanted to go to sleep but my brain insisted on behaving like a six-year-old on Christmas Eve.
We don’t always control our thoughts! It seems strange to realize at first but it is true. We can become saddened by upsetting thoughts. We can become fearful by worrisome thoughts. We can be distracted by excited thoughts. We can be kept awake by noisy thoughts. We can endlessly process something that’s bothering us. You try to shake off unwanted thoughts but you really can’t tell yourself to stop thinking about something! It is possible to experience thoughts we do not want to have. This is why we can become overwhelmed by thoughts of food cravings.
Most “willpower” based strategies will have you focusing on the food, like trying to associate it with a negative image or imagining yourself being happy to eat broccoli, something stupid like that. But the only way to get your mind on something else…IS TO GET YOUR MIND ON SOMETHING ELSE!! Actively engaging yourself in an activity is more likely to get your mind to shift gears than any attempt to play a “mind trick” on yourself.
Going into “diversion mode” is the best defense for when an unwanted food craving takes up residence in your noggin. To start reducing the waves of unwanted food thoughts you may experience overall, there are a few strategies that can help.
Develop new daily rituals. A new set of habits will eventually have to replace the old food-focused habits but only you will know best what will work for you. When I worked in downtown Chicago, I developed a habit of looking forward to talking a walk around the block about noon to get some fresh air and see what might be going on. I’d go out in any weather because I developed an internal “switch” that made me feel boxed in my office until I could take a break. Many people love journaling, especially nowadays as a departure from social media. I knew a woman who added a mini manicure to her grooming routines and enjoyed having nicer-looking hands. Take a half hour a day to read something that’s not on a screen. And of course, there’s always exercise but it doesn’t have to mean a full-blown workout just to have a reason to get moving. Just get something new in your day that you look forward to.
Learn to meditate. I know I don’t seem like the type to recommend this but I am talking about the kind of relaxation techniques that can seriously clear your head when you learn the skill. It’s not easy to do; it definitely takes practice. I am NOT ascribing any far-reaching benefits other than taking a little time in your day to be quiet and still and work at turning that internal volume knob down to 1. Sometimes, I do a power nap instead. Same general idea. Just wind down for a few minutes and then restart from a more calm place.
Find a passion. This is HUGE. I honestly feel that for many people, this can be the make or break. Finding something to throw yourself into can have a dramatic impact on your life. Long-term happiness has been linked to finding the kind of activity and engagement that causes you to lose track of time. That’s how you know you’re deeply connected to whatever you’re doing. For some people, it may be a renewed involvement in something you’re already doing; kick it up a notch or ten! Take a class, buy a Rosetta Stone package, start a long-term project. Just go big with it and be sure it’s something you’ll be able to work with regularly, throughout the week.
Turning around a lifetime weight issue means turning around your life into something else. A couple of years out, you should be a very different person in many ways. Many rituals and routines will have to fade into the past and be replaced. It is not possible to be the very same person, doing the very same things, just in a smaller package. The dieting paradigm puts so much emphasis on food in your life that we don’t look at everything else you could be doing and how new routines and pursuits can re-assign food to a lower level of importance in your life without you even realizing it’s happening.
Stop looking for the meaning of food in your life and start finding meaning in your life.