Food Emotions And Happy Places

For the past three weeks or so, I have been on a very strict diet, mainly as a test of my willpower and the social consequences of eating healthy no matter what. It has been rather easy so far. Breaking my Friday beer and chicken liver habit was slightly difficult, sticking to club soda at a recent birthday party wasn’t too hard, and politely dodging the sweets distributed at my office was easy too. Things however came to a head at a recent Freemasons meeting a few days ago.

After our meetings finish, we usually have a couple of drinks followed by a hearty dinner, with lots of jokes, and leg-pulling. I stuck to my club soda routine – not too difficult, because I’d done it before, and steered clear of all the eats, except for the green salad. The bretheren were quite supportive, as many of them have seen the drastic change in my physique over the past 12 months or so. Some even picked my brain on diet and exercise ideas.

Slowly though, I started feeling uneasy. I found myself craving a whiskey and soda. As dinner drew near and the fragrance of the rice and spices wafted through the air, I found myself craving the food that I had been easily avoiding for quite some time. While it would have been easy for me to say to myself ‘screw it’ and get a drink, I tried to follow the craving back to the emotion behind it.

I came to Hyderabad by myself in March 2009. For the first few months there, my evenings at the Freemasons hall were the highlight of my social calendar and being an outsider in a new city, this was one place I was comfortable, accepted, and at home. The smell of whiskey within the warm Edwardian building, and the aroma of Hyderabadi cooking wafting through the air were linked in my mind to a happy place. My diet plans almost got derailed after over a week of being firmly on the wagon!

This is a major challenge that lots of people face in eating clean. With meals being such a social event in all cultures, joyous events are linked to excessive meals everywhere. As one matures into an adult, years and years of this conditioning links that food to a ‘happy place’, and makes this pattern of eating harder to break.
The way out of course, is to de-link the emotion from the food. This is not easy at all, since humans tie in data from all our senses to form memories of our experiences. At the events like the one that evening, it is very unlikely that someone will coax or force you to eat or drink something that you don’t want to, but things might get more difficult at family gatherings or other social events.

My clean eating spree continues largely intact, except for a dinner at a friend’s place where I had to join in at a large social meal.