Why Do We Eat What We Eat?
We've all heard about the antioxidant health benefits of red wine. The same benefit applies to dark chocolate, in case you haven't heard. Also, saturated fat is necessary (according to some) for proper hormone production, and the simple sugars in Gummi Bears are good for muscular recovery. Additionally, coffee has been shown to assist in appetite suppression, while coconut oil has been shown to assist in weight loss.
Why am I mentioning all of these supposedly unrelated things? To make this point: when it comes to ingesting foods that pose health hazards in order to derive a specific benefit, it's possible to lose sight of why you're eating them in the first place.
For example, do you consume wine in order to derive a health benefit from it? Or chocolate? Or bacon? Or Gummi Bears? Or drink five coffees before noon? Or put coconut oil on or in literally everything?
Or do you eat them for another reason: enjoyment? Stress relief? Energy? Fun? Flavor?
The question comes down to choice. Obviously, if you don't live in a "food desert," everything you eat is a choice. Are you choosing to consume wine, chocolate, et cetera for their health benefits, based on research regarding serving size, best type or brand, ideal time of day, and other variables to optimize benefits?
Or are you "gravitating" towards them in order to derive the other things I mentioned?
There's a point at which we are no longer choosing to consume food and drink for their nutritional qualities, or even because we are hungry or thirsty. We eat and drink these things because we are dependent on them for some other effect.
At that point, we are no longer really choosing. These foods and their constituent parts---sugar, salt, fat, and alcohol---have become part of our routine and a source of comfort. They give us a sense of control by providing a pleasant, reward-like feeling after or amid all of the stresses of the day or the week.
Is there anything wrong with that? No. If you've decided that all you want out of life is to eat chocolate cake, then do it. Your life is your own!
The problem arises when you try to tell me you're eating the chocolate cake for its antioxidant benefit. The problem is when we try to fool ourselves. We try to tell ourselves that we are consuming these foods for some supposed benefit like the ones I mentioned in the first paragraph.
Like eating an entire bag of potato chips and saying, "well, potatoes are high in potassium, so I should be good." Or polishing off that jar of peanut butter and thinking to yourself, "well, those are GOOD fats!" Or pointing to the protein in fried chicken, the calcium in heavy cream, or the vitamin-enriched flour in cheap white bread.
Or the benefit could be more abstract, like saying, "I drink alcohol to relieve stress." Well, if the stress comes back every day, how much have you relieved it? What is the source of the stress? Lack of alcohol did not cause the stress, I can tell you that. So whatever the source is, it is not being addressed through drinking.
Dealing with and overcoming stressors in life is not always easy. In fact, sometimes it is very hard. A lot of the time, they have to do with our self-esteem, our families, our jobs, our histories, and other things that can feel largely out of our control.
But it is impossible to ever overcome them and move forward if you don't even recognize their true cause. Now I am not a psychologist, but it seems to me that the more dependencies a person has, the less he or she feels in control of his or her life.
There are a few things we 100% need: food, sleep, shelter, and clothing. We have no control over that. But if you keep adding to that list---"I need chocolate," "I need a cheeseburger," "I need beer," "I need coffee," "I need to lie on the couch and watch Netflix for two hours"---the less and less control, the less freedom, we have.
In your quiet moments, think about why you consume the things you enjoy. Do you derive enjoyment from them? Do they add joy to your life? Maybe the answer is yes, but ask yourself, "could I give them up?"
If the answer is no, think about why that is. What is that food or drink is helping you deal with? Is it stress at work? Social anxiety? Exhaustion? Low self-esteem?
Now, believe it or not, this is the hard part. As though the last two steps weren't hard enough! Try to find ways of productively and positively dealing with the actual cause of the problem. What causes the stress? What are you afraid of in social situations? Why don't you get enough sleep at night? What don't you like about yourself?
Talk to someone whom you trust and who has your best interests at heart to help you work through these feelings and ideas: a friend, relative, spouse, therapist, or medical professional. Then, you can start improving on them.
Life is no walk in the park sometimes, and we are all imperfect human beings. And in the grand scheme of things, having a little help here and there is no big deal. But the key is finding help that actually helps you, not holds you back.
Just like it's okay to be imperfect, it's also okay to slowly improve. In fact, it's better than okay. It's amazing. And you deserve to feel amazing. Just about every problem has a solution and you have the power to find it and implement it. Even if it takes a long time and a few failures along the way, getting free is worth it.