You might realize that you have a relationship with food that’s not quite healthy. You might know that you overeat and that you use food to soothe emotions. What you might not know is that eating can be used as an avoidance coping skill.
Eating is more fun than doing many other tasks – and it satisfies you emotionally, while having to tackle things you’d rather not deal with stresses you out. It’s not a hard choice to make.
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How Eating Becomes Avoidance Coping
Eating becomes avoidance coping when you use it to procrastinate. You might scoff at that thinking that eating only takes up your time when you have meals or snacks.
But there’s more to eating that the physical act of ingesting the food that leads to avoidance. Before you can get the food, you have to decide what it is that you’re going to eat.
So you spend time deciding on menus, pouring over cookbooks, scouring the web for new recipes to try out and don’t recognize that you could be using this to escape from doing what you don’t want to do.
Plus, you could also be using going to get the food items as an avoidance technique. It takes time to get to the grocery store and actually pick up the ingredients for the meals you’ve planned.
You might even convince yourself that you have to go to three or four different stores to get the “right” label or the perfect item. Then once you get the food, you spend time getting it ready to make.
Some food dishes call for more detailed steps than others so you could end up spending hours on food prep. Once you’ve prepared it, then it’s time to cook the food.
After it’s all ready, then you spend time eating the food. Since you can’t leave the kitchen a mess after preparing a meal, you’ll want to clean up the kitchen. You might decide that the pantry needs to be cleaned out as you put items away.
The stove needs to self-clean so you should handle it. Then while you’re at it, you check the refrigerator and see the food that you really should go ahead and throw out.
So you clean out the pantry, you clean the stove, you clear out the refrigerator. Then you decide that you need to sweep and after that, since you swept, why not go ahead and clean the floors so the kitchen will be completely clean.
By the time you get all those things done, the dishwasher cycle has finished and since you hate leaving the dishes in there, you might as well stay in the kitchen long enough to put them away.
By this time, you’ve turned the simple act of getting the food and making it into a full time job. After you’re done, you’re too tired to really concentrate so it’s time for a little relaxing television and then off to bed.
Keeping busy dealing with food related stuff has enabled you to push aside what you should deal with. Some people go through this same cycle every day. The only thing that changes are the chores that they use to keep themselves busy with.
Using Food Allows You to Avoid Decisions
Life is full of decisions and some of these decisions are difficult ones. They can make you feel torn up inside and that hurts. No one enjoys pain – whether it’s physical or emotional.
So if you can put it off, then that’s what you’re going to do and grabbing something to eat will occupy your hands and your mind. You won’t have to think about the decisions you need to make then.
People often avoid making hard decisions because they feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. You might recognize that making the decision you have to make will cause someone else to become upset and rather than deal with the drama, you’ll turn to food to help make yourself feel better.
You might be using food to avoid making a decision because you’re afraid of making the wrong decision. This can be especially true if the decision is going to change your life drastically.
Some examples of decisions like that could be ending a relationship. Quitting a job to take a new one. Or making the choice to uproot your life to move to another state and leave family and friends behind.
Fear of making the wrong decision can lead you to food and you’ll end up putting off making the decision. Some people use food to procrastinate themselves right out of making any decisions until the time to make the decision has passed and it’s too late to change anything.
Some people use food to avoid making a decision that could actually be a successful one. It’s common that people avoid decision making out of fear of making the wrong one but it’s equally as common to do the same out of fear of success.
Most people use eating to avoid making decisions that might lead to success because they fear change. It doesn’t matter if that change could be positive and give them a better life.
It’s going through having to leave their comfort zone, having to break out of their routine that trips people up. Eating doesn’t cause that same turmoil. So if you can just eat something, then all the turmoil will go away.
If you have to make a hard decision in your life and you find yourself wanting to eat to self-soothe what you’re feeling, that’s a good sign that you’re using food as an avoidance coping technique.
Eating Lets You Avoid Dealing with Work
There is a downside to every single career you can think of because there’s no such thing as the perfect job. Even if you’re in a job that you love and you’re good at your job, there can be issues that crop up that have you turning to food so that you don’t have to deal with whatever is going on.
Usually these issues can be found in three categories. Responsibilities, colleagues and promotions. You might be able to handle all the responsibilities that you have.
But the fact that you need to get them done within a certain time frame can cause the pressure to mount. So you turn to eating so that you don’t have to deal with the feelings of being overwhelmed.
When responsibilities pile up to the point that you can’t possibly get everything done without putting in overtime or having to stay late, this can cause people to turn to eating.
They use food to avoid dealing with the load of work and with the resentment that they feel from having to work so hard. Colleagues who are lazy and put the lion’s share of work on your shoulder for a project can cause you to feel angry.
But since you want to keep a good working relationship, you might not want to speak up. So you just do the work of two people and then you eat to avoid having to deal with the situation with your coworker.
The eating works as a way to de-stress you from the coworker’s actions. It puts a temporary fix on a situation that needs a solution. And as long as you don’t deal with the situation, you’ll continue to use food to avoid it.
You would think that being in line for a promotion would be so exciting it wouldn’t want to be something you would avoid dealing with. But the stress of worrying what will happen if you don’t get it can be taxing.
So can the stress of worrying what will happen if you do get it. A promotion often means you end up with added responsibilities and longer hours. You might end up getting the promotion without realizing what you were getting yourself into.
Because it’s something you really wanted and you could use the extra money that came along with the promotion, you don’t say anything if you feel overwhelmed by it.
Instead, you turn to food. When you eat, you don’t have to think about all the what-ifs. What if you can’t get everything done? What if you can’t motivate the people you’re now in charge of?
The stress of what could be as well as the stress of what is when it comes to work can make you seek food. When you eat, those brain chemicals are released that make you feel better.
Once you’re soothed, you feel okay about the promotion or whatever is going on at work until the feeling wears away and you’re back at square one.
Eating So You Don’t Have to Exercise or Clean
If there are two things in the world that most people would rather not do, it’s exercise or clean. Neither one of those are particularly fun even if they are a necessary part of life.
There are hundreds of other things that are more fun you could choose to do. Getting ready to exercise takes the time to get into workout clothes, to head out of the house to walk or run or get to the gym.
If you exercise in the house, it takes to workout with the equipment or set up the exercise video. Then you have to take a shower and finish up the rest of the day. Sometimes, people can subconsciously resent the time it takes to exercise.
Knowing they should exercise, especially if they have any health problems can often drive people to eat. This way, they can not only avoid the activity of exercise but can soothe the feelings such as guilt that come along with not doing what you feel you should be doing.
One way that you can change eating so you don’t have to exercise is to change how you look at exercise. If you hate doing it, if exercising is something you absolutely dread even the thought of, then it’s time to change what kind of exercise you’ve been doing in the past.
You replace exercise with eating because it taps into the reward center in the brain. You eat and get a release of the feel good chemicals so you feel better. By changing the kind of exercise you do and make it something you really enjoy, you can gain the release of the same chemicals and reach that same endorphin high you get from eating.
This same method will work when it comes to cleaning. If you hate cleaning, it’s easier to grab some food and turn on the television to catch up on your favorite show.
You feel satisfied when you do that. But the problem is that when you look around afterward the cleaning still has to be done, so you didn’t accomplish anything.
Avoiding things like cleaning and turning to eating instead can keep you trapped in a cycle of avoidance coping. Because once you’ve procrastinated with the food, you’ll go about your day and try to ignore what you didn’t get done.
The uncompleted cleaning chores, however, will be at the back of your mind, nagging you. Unfinished business has a way of causing stress to build up until it’s taken care of. You’re better off just getting whatever you hate to do over with first thing.
Eating to Avoid Dealing with Relationships
Relationships are tricky because emotions are involved. Interacting with people leaves room for misunderstandings, for hurt feelings and for the build up of stress.
But they also can bring plenty of happiness. Regardless of the emotion associated with your relationships, they can be triggers that push you to eat. Eating allows you to avoid having to deal with whatever is going on in a relationship.
You’re using food to try and drown out the hurt, the stress when a relationship is having difficulties. The act of eating offers you comfort and because you feel better, you see the food as a friend you can turn to when you can’t resolve or make sense of a relationship problem.
When you use food to cope with relationships, it never helps. All is does is give you a temporary feel good delay before the same emotions are going to rise up within you.
When you eat to avoid dealing with relationships what’s really going on inside of you is that you’re seeking help to deal with the stress that the emotions brought on.
It’s often much easier to reach for food than it is to deal with a relationship that makes you feel inside out. Discussing difficult issues in a relationships and often being called on to make a hard decision about it is the way to stop running to food.
You might even know the solution and how to solve what’s going on in the relationship that’s stressing you out. But the problem is that other people are the variable.
You don’t know how they’re going to react. That’s what keeps people from dealing with relationship issues. They’re not afraid of the truth or of speaking the truth.
They’re afraid of the other person’s reaction – of their anger, their hurt, or their silent treatment. Eating will temporarily solve whatever is going on but it never solves anything.
Using food to tamp down emotions only teaches you not to feel – to numb yourself – and this can open the door for the development of food related issues like binge eating.
Instead of turning to food, it’s always better to give any relationship and the issue with it a breather. When you have yourself under control and you have calm, then approach the issue to deal with it.