Working around food all day is part of my job. I’m a catering chef and I’m constantly either considering food, buying food, prepping food, cooking food, or serving food. And grazing food has been the inch-by-inch battle with my weight which is one reason I am where I am today.
Working around food all day doesn’t make me hungry
I don’t get hungry. That is to say I do not experience the pangs of hunger that compel me to seek out food. Some years ago I conditioned myself not to feel hungry. As a result I mentally changed my body’s ability to compel me to eat by the normal ways.
People who claimed physical discomfort, stomachaches, headaches, weakness and faintness because they hadn’t eaten always surprised me. These were not people who had not eaten in days, these were people who had not eaten since lunch! It was amazing to me the grip hunger had people. It was likewise frustrating for anyone who had to wait on me to decide when to eat.
The downside for me is that I am an impulse eater. I don’t get hungry to eat, I get hungry to eat something specific. An impulse fixes in my mind and I cannot shake it. Then I often fall no matter how easy my diet is to stick to. Where my willpower to avoid the pains of hunger succeed, my willpower to curb my food impulse fails.
Why working around food can make chefs overweight
Anyone who works in a professional kitchen can tell you that you’ll end up eating like toddlers; you’ll put just about anything and everything in your mouth to taste.
Tasting, judging, and okaying the dishes a chef prepares is part of the job. And it is not the tasting that really gets to you in terms of calorie control. Little bits of calorie rich foods it don’t have that much of an impact on your waistline.
But it is the ease with which a chef will eat almost anything that gets us into trouble. It might be a spoonful of a cream-rich soup or a half of a pepperoni pizza. We are often not satisfying our need to eat. We are satisfying our need to taste.
There is also a social factor to food. We as humans like to eat meals together, be it as a family, as co-workers, or as friends. Sharing the dinner experience is rewarding beyond the intake of food, it’s emotionally bonding as well. So it is common for chefs to join in food-based social situations where calories can pile up.
What it is like to work around food all day as an impulse eater
The hard part for me is not the tasting, it is impulse to taste more, to taste everything. As as images of food come unbidden into my mind, I have a hard time pushing them down.
While sitting here writing this post, I’ve had at least six food impulses. I have felt compelled to consume foods even though I’m not physically hungry. I don’t have stomach pains nor am I light-headed. But I feel a raw desire for these foods.
Worse, the tastes can set off cravings for other foods that lead to bingeing. Then I end up devouring highly processed, salty, sugary, or carb-rich foods. Usually, I choose things like a bag of chips or cookies or drive-thru fast food.
How working around food everyday affects my diet strategy
Naturally, working around food every day has a complex affect on any diet strategy I try to employ. And committing to eating once a day, and only eating a specific dish, flies counter to all my impulses.
When I’m in front of a table full of food I feel the compulsion to taste even more strongly. I can succumb to overeating by spoonfuls because of the breadth of high calorie tastes, bites, and sip that I indulge in.
Once I go off my diet strategy, it can take days or weeks to get back on. I don’t generally fail small. Once I fall off, I tend to go down in flames.
Knowing that it is not hunger, but rather compulsion, that drives my bad choices does give me some options. I need to be strong enough to take them.
Ways I can combat my eating compulsions
I have read several books about willpower, how to harness it, how to build it like a muscle, and how much willpower can influenced by unconscious factors. Some of the things I have learned that can help me work around food compulsions include:
- Avoiding things that trigger compulsions. This can include throwing out leftovers, then keeping the pantry tidy with only program-safe food. Watch out for external triggers like commercials and advertising for bad foods. Finding alternative social situations that don’t revolve around sharing meals.
- Make it harder to satisfy a compulsion. Try taking a route home from work or events that doesn’t take me past supermarkets or fast food joints. Don’t carry cash and toss my wallet in the back seat. That way it is harder to get to if I wanted to just pull in someplace and grab something.
- Understand where the compulsion is coming from. Science agrees that the gut is full of micro organisms that have the capability to create cravings for foods they prefer. Knowing this I can rationalize that my gut, which is currently full of sugar and carb-craving bacteria, are putting out chemical influencers that tell my brain I need something that I actually don’t. There may be emotional reasons to eat compulsively, too. I should check in with myself to see if the compulsion is rising out of boredom, sadness, or frustration. These states of mind can also trigger a desire for certain foods that satisfy us physically. Who hasn’t felt like they needed a drink after a stressful situation? Who hasn’t consoled their bruised emotions with a bowl of ice cream? Recognizing the compulsion as a desire and not a need can help reinforce the commitment to stay on my diet.
- Ride the wave of desire. I picked this up from Kelly McGonigal’s book “The Willpower Instinct”. She says that one technique to overcome a compulsion is to just ride it out. Let it flow through you without satisfying it. Feel it, let it crest, and let it ebb. Wait it out with a conscious awareness of how it feels. In a detached manner, notice your feeling and sense of desire or anxiety. See it in you mind. Even visualize indulging in the compulsion. Imagine giving in and eating a piece of cake or a pint of ice cream, them imagine the taste, sensation, and emotional fulfillment eating the food brings. Kelly says cravings don’t last very long, and as we learn to recognize and ride them, rather than resist them, our willpower over them will increase.
- Change my mind. The methods above can help win the daily battles, but I think that to win the war I have to get back into my brain and retrain it, the way that I did when I conquered hunger. By will, focus, and practice I shut down my body’s method for telling me it was hungry. I did it so effectively that the very idea of hunger became strange to me. I think I can reset my mind to avoid having compulsions for unhealthy foods and instead force a compulsion for healthy foods. Through regular meditation, visualization, and affirmation, I believe I can train my brain to find some foods unappetizing or even abhorrent, and replace them with healthy foods that evoke a strong mental response of satisfaction and pleasure. I think I can train my mind to crave kimchi, kale, mushrooms, fish, and olives with the same intensity it currently craves chips, cookies, sugar, red meat, and fried foods.
It won’t be an easy task to battle down my habit of impulse eating. I am certain it will take weeks to retrain my thoughts to respond differently to my compulsions. It may possibly take years to fully reset the habit of eating on impulse and overeating as a consequence. I do think that there is a point where if I can get at least halfway, the major struggle will be over, and the rest of the fight will be as a police action, just keeping the peace.
Where I am at today
My weight today was 240.2 pounds. I missed the week’s goal (again) by about 2.5 pounds. For reasons I haven’t yet figured out, my weight seems to spike on the weekends. It may be that on the weekend I drink more water. I tried tapering off to just 64 oz at the end of last week. Over the weekend I was back up to 96 oz a day.
I’m still drinking my Turmeric tea and eating the tuna, avocado, and tomato plate once a day. It actually hasn’t been that hard and I’m not feeling the impulse to binge eat.
I admit I didn’t exercise at full intesity this past week. I need to stay caught up with my morning sun salutations. Right now I’m not improving.
This week I have 4 of 5 days of going in to work at 2 am, working until about 8 am. This is throwing off my sleep schedule in addition to all my other schedules. This week may be hard to meet my goals. But I will stay at it.
Hey, the good news is I am out of the 250s, never to return. I’m going to work hard so I can leave the 240s behind this week. Step by step, ever downward.