The Best “Breakup Strategy” You’ll Ever Use: The Push and Pull Principle! | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 5

Why is Breaking Up with Food so Hard to Do? (Part One)

I confess. I love the series, The Office. In the past, Rommie (my wife) and I would start watching it on December 21, the first day of winter and try to stretch it out throughout the winter until March 21. We hated the dark winter and I’m sure experience, SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. The office was the Sun that we needed to survive the dark evenings.

Jim and Pam. That’s the series in a nutshell. But before there was Jim and Pam, there was Pam and Roy. For the first three seasons, Pam and Roy were on again, off again. Pam and Jim finally kissed in season 2 episode 22. I’m sure that the whole country was cheering on February 9, 2005 when they kissed, but it takes another complete season for Pam to break up with Roy.

The Push and Pull Principle

I want to introduce you to a concept that I learned 40+ years ago from a wizened professor at the college I attended, which is now Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. I was having a difficult time leaving a church that I was attending. I was a pastoral student and the church I was attending just wasn’t nurturing me. My Professor’s advice: seek out new opportunities to serve throughout the city. He said you’ve experienced a push, but you don’t have a pull. I sought out new opportunities and found a church that was more suited to my spiritual needs.

Push and Pull with Pam and Roy. 

What were the things that pushed and pulled Pam into finally breaking up with Roy:

The Push: Roy’s mockery of her desire to go to art school. His failure to encourage her to have other relationships. And ultimately his aggression.
The Pulls: Living her dream, being independent, and being free to pursue healthy relationships.

Breaking up with people, places, and things is difficult because it takes time, energy, self-awareness, and experience to recognize the pushes in the pulls, the dysfunction versus the well-being.

I want to focus on the push of breaking up with food in this blog. Why is it so difficult to break up and change your relationships with food? It’s because our relationship with food is at times, dysfunctional and difficult to change and sometimes it’s difficult to see that dysfunction.

When we have a clear picture of the push, then we are able to respond to the pulls of a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some of my thoughts about why it’s so difficult to break up with food and recognize that dysfunction.

1. Food is everywhere. It’s everywhere and it’s abundant. For most people reading this, food is on the feast side of the feast/famine, continuum. And it’s cheap. Especially food that is full of sugar because sugar is cheap to raise.

Food is at most social functions. We are having a 10th anniversary of our company, Sage Support Services, and guess what? There will be food at the reception. Food is at weddings, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, family, reunions, company trainings, wakes, baptisms, baby showers, and I can go on and on. It’s like you break up with your partner and see them everywhere you go, every day. That’s why it’s so hard to break up with food.

2. It’s hard to break up with food because food is engineered to taste so damn good. Sugar, salt, fat. If you add one or all of these three ingredients to food, it is irresistible. The food industry knows this. Maybe you’re one of those people that doesn’t like fast food. I don’t eat it because I know it’s a trap. I love eating out but limit how often I eat out because I would weigh a ton after six months. I love restaurant food. I love Panera breakfast sandwiches. I love McDonald’s sausage biscuit with egg. I love microwave popcorn. I love chocolate candy bars. Which one? All of them! The reason that food is hard to break up with is because it taste so damn good. Maybe there was that boyfriend or girlfriend that you had a really big crush on when you were young. Being with them was an adrenaline rush . But you broke up and you were tempted to call them and get back together 1000 times. Food is that person.

3. Why is it so hard to break up with food? Partly because it requires willpower and believe it or not, you have a limited supply willpower. I wrote about it in a blog in October 2019, entitled, Seduced by Sugar. Read it here.

I share a couple of books on willpower in that blog, and here are my takeaways.

Willpower is more affective if you’re not tempted by the presence of sugar. This is the Out of sight Out of mind principle.

Willpower is less effective when working on more than one task. Willpower over food is weakened because you have a life. Duh!

There is a reservoir of willpower, but it usually it’s exhausted by the end of the day when you need it the most.

Dieting can affect your blood sugar levels which lower your willpower. How ironic. Trying to display willpower over food will make it more difficult to break up with food.

4. It’s hard to break up with food because of our emotional connections with food. Food is a mood stabilizer. Food comforts us. That’s why we call some food, comfort food. Food makes us happy. We eat when we are bored, when we are anxious, when we are lonely. And it makes us feel better. It’s hard to break up with food because food is like our BFF. No one breaks up easily with their BFF.

5. The fifth reason why it’s difficult to break up with food is because of the delayed negative results of being in a toxic relationship with the thing we eat. In other words, just like with cigarettes, there is no immediate punishment for our over consumption of food. It takes months and years to develop a weight issue. My son and I were out hiking in the Jefferson Memorial Forest this past week and we both think we could put on 10 pounds in a week if we weren’t careful. I’m going to have a separate blog on this topic based on the book, “Nature Wants Us to be Fat.”

But that’s still a week delay in the consequence of overeating. If you consume 500 extra calories during on a given day, guess what? No punishment. Nada. Nothing. We probably won’t even feel guilty, which would be a form of punishment. 

I’m guessing that if you felt pretty bad, I mean “Covid Bad” or death-of-a-pet-bad every time you over consumed food, or ate sugar, you would, or might cut back, or eliminate sugar all together.

 Because the negative consequences are delayed, 2 to 3 pounds a turns into 20 or 30 in a decade, and because the positive consequences are immediate, as in it taste so damn good, it makes breaking up with the food very difficult.

So what’s one to do? Being overweight is very prevalent in our North American culture, but not everyone is overweight, in fact, many people have escaped their dysfunctional or toxic relationship with food and maintained a healthy weight.

I’ll be sharing eight or 10 strategies in an upcoming blog.

But first, there is a part two to this blog entitled: Keep it Simple Stupid

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.