Using food as entertainment

I have spoken about eating disorders in the past and I have also spoken about emotional eating in general because we all (in the “food in the fridge” kind of world) eat in a very emotional way.

But today I want to take a new perspective on eating and that is the highly addictive reward value it has in terms of entertainment. 

What makes me say this? As soon as we are limited in what and how much we can eat in a day, we become very uncomfortable. 

Take the Ayurvedic fast of mono-dieting as an example. It is made to not be extreme or strenuous for our body so that we can rejuvenate without aggravating already existing imbalances of our system. Yet, when you present the procedure of this to people, they get apprehensive. Eating the same thing for every meal for several days? 

Even easier missions such as a specific diet for a few days (even though it’s varied) has us cringe. I know people who sign up for a week of keto diet for instance and have all the meals for the day delivered to their door in the morning. Three meals a day with even a snack sometimes. But all very “keto”, which means very low on carbs. It is a restricted type of diet of course and they are doing it for some reason or another. So there was a clear intention from the start. Yet, many give up a couple of days in. 

And the reason is that we need to feel that we are free in what we choose to eat. So we don’t eat for the sake of nourishing ourselves but to feel good. And when I say feel good, I mean to feel entertained.

We feel reassured if we know that anything we might crave is at an arm’s length from us. Through our mini computer connecting us to the world we can press order on anything and it will be with us that same day. It goes for food orders, here in Indonesia we would simply say “just gojek it” and that goes for ANYTHING you might want, at any time of the day or night. There are companies like Uber and GoFresh and so many others that I don’t know the name of, offering more and more specialised services of consumption. And some are absolutely ethical and can be great ways for those of us who are finding it hard to eat the right thing, to actually do so. You can get the ingredients for an exact recipe sent home to you. But there are still new ways to consume, to entertain our minds. 

I remember going to the US many years ago and being shocked by the number of fast food chains you would find on every corner of the street. It’s as if there was this collective anxiety that there would not be food around in case you got hungry. Nowadays it’s not just in the US, it’s in many parts of the world and Asia is a huge market for fast food stores lined up next to each other. 

Basically if you are somewhere in the street and you feel a growl from your stomach, you just need to look in each direction and within the next 50 metres you will see a shop that promises you burgers, chicken wings, tacos and so on. 

Actually, when we start to look at different habits we have, we realise that most of them are ways to keep ourselves afloat. If we would start eliminating them, we would feel rather naked and as if something was missing. It can actually be really detrimental for our mental and emotional wellbeing. For some of the issues we have in life, keeping the habits can be very important. I have spoken about the brain and it’s function of survival and familiarity in the past which means that we often use this to bring ourselves into balance or health. For this reason, what I am about to argue for you is not black or white. It’s not “this is right and that way is wrong”. It very much depends on how stable we are but also what the intention behind our actions is. 

For instance, I know that stripping myself off the rituals I have for sleep will not necessarily create more clarity of mind for me. Like many in the modern world, sleep is not obvious to me so I have prioritised the best sleep hygiene possible to support this. 

But when it comes to what I eat, I learned a very important lesson some years ago. And that is what I want to share with you today. 

It is therefore important for me to mention that those of us with either current or past eating disorders need to take this into account when they create a more dispassionate relationship with food. If my need is to control what I eat because my disorder is to restrict myself so much that I have lost all joy of eating, then I don’t want to feed that tendency by restricting myself even more. However, the way I can use the following information in this case is the teaching of how the different foods support my health. Because when we have had an eating disorder, we have often disconnected ourselves so much from the original reason we eat that we might need to learn the art of eating all over again. 

And ironically, for those of us who use food as entertainment instead of restriction, it is actually the same thing. The original intention of feeding our body with vitamins and minerals has been lost and we need to learn the art of eating again too. 

Once upon a time I was very controlled by my desire to eat. If it went into my head that I wanted something, my mind would not shut up until I had it. Just like the stereotypical pregnant woman craving strawberries at midnight, I could not get over the obsession when I had a craving. Its an addiction like any other, actually.  

But here’s the thing : cravings are the same thing as any other obsessive thinking. A way to escape the present moment. The midnight snacking for instance, a need to escape either that we cannot sleep or that we really should go to bed. We eat more when we feel lonely to escape the emptiness but we also indulge more when with others in order to feel connected to each other. It’s very hard to not do this since our whole society is very much based on these kinds of behaviours. 

The fact that we socialise with food, that we celebrate with it or that we also comfort ourselves by putting something into our mouths. 

In no way are these behaviours focused on the nutritious value of the things we eat. And as you can imagine, these behaviours are not helping our microbiome, our digestive system and our body image. 

In Ayurvedic lifestyle practices, especially two practices help us see clearly that we are entertaining ourselves when eating : learning the Ayurvedic mindfulness practice of eating and experiencing the mono-diet way of fasting. 

Firstly, we have lost touch with the feeling of hunger so we don’t know when we actually need to eat and when we want to be entertained. A great example of this was one of the participants in the Nourish-balance-Thrive program who asked me if they were to use the evaluation of hunger for snacks as well since she did not necessarily feel hungry when she snacked…. So I asked her, well why did you get the thought of having a snack in that case?

Secondly, we realise how uneventful the meal can seem when eating rice and lentils for all meals. We often discover, by the way, after a day or two that we naturally reduce our portions because we are not eating for pleasure. 

In both situations, a certain agitation happens that in the beginning leads to leaning into our habits. But after some time with this new awareness, we start perceiving a pause between the agitation and the reaction to lean into the habit. And in that pause you begin to investigate what the discomfort actually is telling you. 

It’s like Victor Frankle’s famous quote : “Between the stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space lies our freedom and power to choose our responses. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

When we begin to strip things off from our daily habits, we become aware of the void they are filling. We are confronted with our discomfort, the rawness of our pain. We get the opportunity to sit with it, to not try to make it go away but to learn what it is trying to tell us. About who we are, about the fear behind them. Anyone who has had a regular yoga practice might recognise this state. The subtle but clearly noticeable peeling off of the layers of decorations we carry around. 

We enter an actual meditation. Because this is what meditation does. 

It’s becoming so still that all the past impressions can surface and we can become friends with them. Like the story of Buddha inviting the personified evil that is Mara in for tea, we get the chance to invite our demons in for tea. 

Only what we fear will have power over us and when we learn to sit with it, that power becomes our own.

The place to start is in your own kitchen. It’s transforming that relationship we have to eating into what it truly is. Now this applies to all, whether we have had an eating disorder of restriction or filling a void by overeating and often the wrong things. Because we need to change the toxic relationship we have with the process of nourishment. When we learn that certain foods create certain effects as they are transformed inside of us, we look at those foods differently. 

 Learning to appreciate the taste of real, whole food. The textures and how they evolve depending on the way we prepare them. 

Understanding what it does for our bodies, getting in touch with the healing properties of it. When you eat, what goes in becomes you. 

Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞