Do you feel any of these feelings when you think about food?
However, outside of it being a solution for physical hunger, it doesn’t really authentically create any of those things.
And yet, we are pinning a lot of our joy on food and eating and meals.
The consequences of food joy
I have clients say things like, “I’m a foodie,” or, “This is what my husband and I love to do on date nights. We go find new restaurants.”
They tell me, “I love to cook for my family, or mealtimes are a huge deal in my family.” “What’s the point of a vacation if it’s not for the food?” “What will I have to look forward to, and how will I reward myself?”
We’re using food to fulfill all of these roles. When we think of our sources of joy, our favorite foods are typically in the top few.
If we want to lose weight, it’s important to consider what we do with that. If food is one of the top sources of joy in our lives, and then we start to recognize that maybe there are some backend consequences to that, we’re probably going to want to diversify that joy.
Ultimately, that means we have to give up something that we believe creates our joy.
That feels scary, empty, and pointless for a lot of us.
Notice and consider feelings
Now, just to be clear, having food be a source of joy is not a problem in and of itself.
But for a lot of us, when we are relying on food to create the feeling of joy or attributing joy to food, and it’s creating this backend health or physical consequences for us, I think it’s something to consider.
If you fall into the category of someone who believes or notices that food is a lot of your joy and you don’t want it to be that way, how do you feel about that?
What do you notice coming up for you when you think about giving up food as a significant source of joy or looking for other sources of joy?
Accepting and acknowledging what feelings that brings up for us is really important.
For some of us, it brings up a lot of sadness. For some of us, it brings up the feeling of hopelessness or despair. Consider that first.
And then I think it’s really important to ask, why are you feeling that way?
Why is that the feeling that comes up?
For a lot of us, we feel really sad because we think we can’t feel joy if we don’t have food to create it for us. That’s the only thing we know that does it.
For some of us, we have judgment of the fact that food is creating so much joy for us. Or maybe we’re frustrated or in despair about it. Notice that too.
If you’re thinking something along the lines of, “That’s pathetic that food is my only source of joy, it’s just food after all,” notice all those thoughts you’re having about it.
It’s really important just to be where we are, notice it, and acknowledge it first and foremost because we can’t really get to the bottom of it until we do that.
It’s interesting because what feels joyful about food is the anticipation.
It’s the sort of dangling carrot at the end of whatever, getting us to do something because we get to have food joy at the end of it.
For example, I can get through this workday because at least I get chocolate cake at the end. I can get through this work week, the beginning of school, or the end of school, this paper, this project, whatever, because at the end of it, I get ______.
We have both the anticipation of the reward and the reward itself that are almost two different experiences. So part of the struggle we face looking for joy outside of food is that we feel like we’re missing out on that looking forward to something feeling.
Let it go or love the process
If you are engaged in activities where the only good part is it being over and the food reward that you’re going to provide yourself at the end of it, that may indicate that you need to consider if it’s something you want to continue doing.
If we’re not finding any joy in the process, that’s a gap you want to question.
I used to say yes to a lot of things. In my pre-coach life, I was very involved in planning school events and hosting things at my house. There was a lot of people-pleasing and doing things out of obligation back then.
And I clearly remember thinking to myself, “My favorite part of this is when it’s over.”
However, all the things that felt like a problem during the process were also created by me. I always had the option to say no or go through something, enjoy it, love its different parts, and feel differently about the process.
It’s possible to change how we feel about the process by changing how we think about the process.
When we think about setting aside the joy and reward of food, it’s difficult to conjure other things that bring that intensity of a reward. This is one thing we have to come to terms with when we want to set aside or expand our sources of joy from food to other things.
The experience of joy is going to be a little bit different. It’s not going to be as intense in the moment when we look outside of food for that joy.
To me, it’s the difference between fireworks and a candle. Fireworks are magnificent and intense. You don’t typically see fireworks every single day. It’s usually at a specific time of celebration that we get to experience fireworks.
Multiple senses are involved because you will see and hear it, sometimes even feel it, depending on how close you are to it. But they explode, and there’s this intense show, then there’s an even bigger finale, and then it’s over. It’s a blaze of glory, and then it’s gone.
Compare that with a candle. It’s not as bright, not as magnificent, more every day, but consistent. It’s a source of light that is different, but it’s still light, and it can be beautiful in its own right.
The difference between non-food sources of joy and food sources of joy is the intensity and duration of the feeling.
Choosing your consequences
That’s not to say eating needs to become totally joyless in general. We are designed to experience pleasure from the act of eating to encourage us to keep doing it. I still get plenty of pleasure from a delicious, fresh salad, or roast chicken and vegetables, or a slow-cooked pot roast.
But saying I’m no longer going to rely on that or utilize that as a source of joy and that I’m going to look elsewhere means I’m giving up that intense pleasure.
But at the same time, I’m also giving up the aftermath of that.
So for me, if I were to keep rewarding myself with and looking for joy in chocolate cake or sugar cookies or Dr. Pepper or Cheetos or whatever, then I was also continuing to create a body that wasn’t able to move around in the world the way I wanted to.
I couldn’t bend over very comfortably and touch my toes. Running was much more difficult on my joints. In addition, I was having other health consequences like reflux that created nodules on my vocal cords. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was tired all of the time as a result.
Choosing to eat that way, using food as my source of joy, and experiencing intense pleasure day in and day out meant I was also choosing to experience these consequences.
When we start to look outside of food to non-food joy, it’s less intense pleasure, but it also doesn’t come along with many backend consequences that intense food pleasure does.
We’re trading in the intense pleasure for the lack of consequences. We’re choosing a little bit less intense momentary pleasure for a more peaceful, long-lasting joy.
It’s a tradeoff. There are always tradeoffs.
Examples of finding joy
I wanted to share some examples of this in my life.
We commonly use the phrase find joy, and I would just offer that you have to actively look for something to find it. When I use the phrase find joy, I’m not referring to things I just stumbled upon. Instead, I make it a point to look for, to seek out the feeling of joy in my life outside of food.
I find a lot of joy in my children. Any time my children are doing things that bring them joy and make them happy, oh my gosh, I feel such a sense of vicarious joy as well. When my kids are getting along and enjoying each other, I find joy in that.
I find joy in walking outside and feeling the sun on my face, just warm sun any time, really.
I find joy in the flowers, blossoms on the trees, the leaves changing in the fall, sunsets, sunrises, clouds, mountains, the ocean. There is so much joy for me in nature.
I experience joy from a new lip color I’ve never tried, reading a novel just for fun, or sleeping in once in a while.
I could keep going for days.
The lasting experience of joy
Notice a lot of these things that bring me joy are also things that, even when I’m not experiencing them directly, even when I’m just thinking about those things after the fact, bring me joy.
It’s interesting because there are no backend consequences, but there are some of those lasting effects because even the memory of the experience brings me joy.
Whereas with food, there was a lot of shame and guilt there because I was fully aware of the backend consequences of eating the chocolate cake all the time. It wasn’t clean joy.
These other sources of joy, even though they don’t provide that intense pleasure, provide me joy along the way as well, which is such a beautiful thing.
Joy in all places
You can see the joy is not necessarily giant, life-changing things. We don’t have to find a whole bunch of new hobbies and things to do that bring us joy. Instead, we can find that peaceful, calm joy — a joy that is light and bright like a candle in all sorts of tiny little places.
What would you be able to find joy in if you were to set aside food and all the unintended consequences of food joy?