Why Food Can’t Make You Happy

Nothing outside of us actually creates a feeling inside of us. Did you know this? In reality, we create our feelings and the experience of our lives with our thoughts about it.

What about when it comes to weight? Surely you’ll feel confident and joyful when you reach your goal weight, right?

Nope. No matter what you weigh, how you feel about that number will depend on what you think about it. 

You stand on the scale, look down, see a number, and have a thought. Maybe your thought is, “I’ve never been this big.” Maybe your thought is, “I am doing so well.”

Whatever you think will determine how you feel about that number. Your current weight is someone else’s goal weight. The number you hope you never see again is the number they can’t wait to see on their scale.

 

Outside circumstances can’t make you happy

I had two clients recently that stepped on their scales and had each lost a half a pound. But they had totally different feelings about the half pound loss. One felt disappointed. One felt excited. How is this possible? They each lost the exact same amount.

Simple, because one saw the half pound loss and thought, “I worked so hard, it should’ve been more,” and the other saw it and thought, “Yay! I’m a half pound closer to my goal.”

This is contrary to what most of us are taught and therefore believe. We collectively agree that there are some things in this world that create certain feelings. Most of us agree that a brand new baby is a miracle that creates happiness. And we think that someone dying creates sadness, and we think that winning a trip to Hawaii creates excitement, and losing an important game creates disappointment. But just because we collectively agree doesn’t make it a fact.

One of my favorite examples of this in my life is Disneyland. I love Disneyland. It’s one of my favorite places. It is, in fact, commonly referred to as the happiest place on earth. But if you have been there, even if you feel happy, you can look around and see other people who are not feeling that way.

Kids who are whining about how their feet hurt and they want a sixth churro and parents looking annoyed because their kids are whining at the happiest place on earth. Teenagers who are embarrassed to be seen with their mom in her Minnie ears, grandparents who wish they could take a nap on the small patch of grass that says please keep off.

Disneyland doesn’t create the happiness for you, no matter how much money you pay them. You have to do that with your thinking.

 

How will you feel at your goal weight?

We think that when we get to our goal weight, we will feel confident. That when we are living at our natural weight, we will be happy. We also think this smaller body will help us avoid feelings we don’t want to feel, that we won’t be self-conscious or worry about what other people are thinking. That we won’t doubt ourselves and we won’t feel anxious.

But I bet if you think for a few minutes, you can come up with examples in your own life or even celebrities who weigh more than you and are happy, and people who weigh less than you and are miserable.

It isn’t the size of their body creating their feelings. It’s what they are choosing to think about it.

 

It’s not food’s job to make you happy

Everything we do is for a feeling we want to have or to avoid. And for a lot of us, everything we eat is too. We think food creates feelings for us. We look to food to do the job of fixing sadness or creating joy, or even relieving our stress and rewarding our hard work.

And based on our brain’s physiological response, we do feel a little lift, a dopamine reward, which tricks us into thinking the sadness was fixed and the stress temporarily relieved. But we all know that when the dopamine mist clears, the stress and the sadness are still there. Not gone or fixed, just postponed until later. Just muffled for a minute.

 

Food as a reward

Let’s unpack one of these jobs we often assign to food: that of rewarding us for our hard work, or getting through a full day, or “doing well” on our plan. I hear my clients say this all the time, “Food is my reward. How will I reward myself without food?”

I used to feel this way too. At the end of a big project being completed, I would reward myself with a dirty Dr. Pepper. This is a thing you may have not heard of before, but I don’t drink alcohol, so instead of a dirty martini, I would go get a 32 oz Dr. Pepper with coconut syrup and fresh limes over pebble ice. Mmm so much sugar… it tasted amazing. The bubbles and sweetness and the zing of the lime juice made my brain go crazy. So many feel-good neurotransmitters just dumping into my system.

It totally tricked my brain into feeling like this was a reward. But did it actually feel rewarding after the fact? Did my body feel rewarded? Not so much. There is actually so much collateral damage with a reward like this, it’s kind of the opposite of a reward and is instead more of a punishment for our bodies.

What is truly rewarding isn’t just pleasurable in the moment, but contributes to our overall satisfaction and moves us forward. And oftentimes the things we find truly rewarding aren’t necessarily pleasurable in the moment. Sometimes they are even challenging, but ultimately allow us to grow and evolve, which is its own reward.

Some examples of these better rewards are things like giving service, exercise, and learning how to choose what I want most over what I want in the moment when it comes to food and my schedule. With these things, I truly feel rewarded.

 

4 ways to stop rewarding yourself with food

We’ve learned that our weight number can’t create happiness for us. Food can’t create it for us. Our body can’t create it for us. And Disneyland can’t create it for us. Here are four ways you can test this new idea out for yourself and begin training your brain to create positive feelings through your thoughts instead of using food or other circumstances.

1. Find an example of the opposite truth

Think about some of the things you believe create happiness, sadness, outrage, loneliness, joy, excitement, or fear for you. Take each one of them, and see if you can come up with an example of someone on earth who might believe the opposite is true. Imagine how they feel. This gets you out of your idea of “truth” and into the realm of optional thoughts.

2. Imagine your thoughts and feelings at your goal weight

Another question you can explore for yourself is this: When you are the weight you want to be, what will you think of yourself? And how will you feel when you think that? Remember that this thought is what will create the happiness or whatever feeling you are looking for. Not the smaller body or the number on the scale.

3. Question how you use food as a reward

Third, I want you to get really honest with yourself, just for a minute. Think about your definition of rewarding and then think about a food you consider a reward. Is that food actually rewarding you? Most of us want to pretend that peanut M&M’s or a pint of Haagen Daaz is rewarding us. But really question this… is it??

4. Find activities that are truly rewarding

Lastly, begin thinking of activities that are truly rewarding to you. I find meditation and going on thought walks incredibly rewarding. What could you do to reward yourself instead of using food?

 

If you are ready to start your permanent weight loss journey, watch my free video on how to lose the first five pounds — and keep going.

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Natalie brown certified life and weight loss coach

Meet Natalie

I spent over 2 decades battling my weight and hating my body, before I found a solution that worked FOR GOOD. I lost 50 pounds by changing not just what I eat, but WHY. Now I help other women like me get to the root of the issue and find their own realistic, permanent weight loss success. Change is possible and you can do it. I can help you.

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