So, Easter has arrived and Lent has come to an end. And I have largely given up cake and chocolate for 47 days. I say largely because there were some special occasions when I did have cake:
- A friend came to visit me in Albufeira and we always celebrate with a visit to the fabulous Riviera cake shop.
- Another friend came to visit and we also met up for a walking tour around Faro followed with a coffee and a Portuguese tart
- We went fo a couple of nice meals which came with dessert included
- My sister came for a visit. I’ve not seen her in person yet this year and we went for a walk with a cake stop.
What has gone by the wayside is the following:
- a daily biscuit, chocolate bar or piece of cake at around 11.00 am
- a nightly bit of chocolate watching TV
- having a cake every time I go to a coffee shop to meet a friendIt meant that I was usually having chocolate and / or cake at least once a day. That was what I wanted to stop. And I have.
- Sneaking a bit of chocolate out of the fridge
What I am learning about giving things up is it comes with a raft of questions surrounding the behaviour in the first place, which I do find quite fascinating. Why do I drink wine when I know it will make me feel awful? Why I feel the need to eat chocolate and cake every day? What need was it fulfilling? What factors are affecting the choices that I make? Thinking about my childhood I can’t really identify any connection with comfort eating, or chocolate as a reward. We did always get a finger of fudge and another bar of chocolate on Tuesday and Thursday when our Grandparents came to visit. But beyond that, I can’t really say that there was ever any emotional attachment to cake or chocolate that I was aware of. I just liked it. Better than anything else – or so I thought!
I also can’t really say that anything ever triggered a real desire or need to eat chocolate or cake once I’d left home. I suspect that more than anything there have just been ‘things’ that came up over time that created habits that then became ingrained.
I do know that there was an association between break time and eating a snack when I was teaching. I do quite genuinely struggle to get timings of food right sometimes. This has always been a feature of my life. I remember sometimes at school as a child I’d ask to go to the toilet during lessons, when in actual fact, I was going to get a biscuit off my mum in the office because I was having the shakes through hunger. When I went in to teaching I became conscious of the fact I could only eat at specific times of the day and if I didn’t eat then, there was potential for it to go wrong later in the day. The only problem was I got caught up in a habit of eating something with a cup of tea at 11:00am. That something was usually a chocolate bar. Everyone in my last school knew I had a latte and twin during morning break – to the extent that sometimes a kind student would buy them and deliver them just as be bell for break was sounding. Unfortunately, when I was working in a school where I was unhappy, I did start the habit of a sneaky bag of Haribo Tangfastics in the car on my way home.
Then, I do also know that our nightly habit of eating chocolate in front of the TV was a consequence of lockdown. We lived very close to an M&S food hall and they had some seriously cheap chocolates during the first lock down. We had the mother of a chocolate stash! Unfortunately, once lockdown was over we carried on the habit of eating chocolate every night.
So. Back to Lent. I have managed to break these two habits and can see now that they were primarily habits. There is no real emotional attachment, just habit. I make a cup of tea at 11:00 (ish) and reach for a chocolate biscuit or three. I sit down to watch TV after dinner, and my brain equates that with chocolate time. During lent husband has also cut down on his chocolate consumption. Not because I asked him to join me in lent, but because he’s realised he too is bored of chocolate every night. It’s no longer a treat. Eating chocolate and cake to this degree cannot be good for you.
I have, however, discovered that there is a emotional element to my eating habits – even though I hadn’t thought there was one. At the beginning of lent it was really hard. At those habitual times I struggled not to eat chocolate or cake. But the emotional eating was hard too. I realised just how much I did turn to chocolate, cake and biscuits for every emotion. If I was happy, sad, irritated, cross, tired, bored, if my hormones were raging – every time my first instinct was to reach for a sweet treat. But there wasn’t one to be had. There was no sneaky pieces of chocolate, no sneaky jelly babies. The options available were few and unappetising! I found that most often I reverted to:
- A walk
- Sitting and meditating for a while
- Sitting and watching the feelings and letting them subside
- Having a cup of tea
- Doing another activity I do enjoy, like writing or knitting.
- The occasional meltdown!
All of which worked. All of which made me realise how much of an emotional eater I was. Never did I eat something else instead. You see, I wasn’t really hungry, I just wanted the emotion to go away. I wanted to feel better and I was forced to find alternative ways to achieve that. I realised that the chocolate and cake was never making things better, it was just putting them off for another day.
Sadly, I have not lost one pound in weight as a consequence of giving up chocolate and cake, on top of the wine I had already given up. Husband says that I have been eating far more than I usually do at meal time – which I hadn’t realised – and which provided another opportunity for pondering and reflection.
With each passing thing that I’m giving up, it brings other behaviours and habits into the spotlight that I hadn’t appreciated were there. I realised I don’t enjoy wine and prefer being able to do other activities instead of drinking and that I don’t need the wine to enjoy socialising. I have also realised that I don’t need cake or chocolate. When we have been out for dinner during Lent I’ve not actually wanted desserts that have been offered and it’s made me consider why it was I always ordered one. I’ve registered that I am full. Previously, I would always have managed three courses. It turns out I don’t have a pudding stomach after all. This has gone a bit further when I realised that I am never hungry. I rarely wake up hungry, I rarely eat a meal because I’m hungry. I certainly don’t eat snacks because I’m hungry. Most of the time I eat because a meal has been placed in front of me. Because it’s time to eat.
I realised I no longer recognise hunger signals. I am so used to just eating that I don’t know what a hunger signal feels like. Sometimes I skip straight from not hungry to too hungry and so then have to eat something relatively quickly. Between the two is a point at which I must be hungry and I need to recognise that. I realise that I rarely stop eating when I am full, I eat the plate of food in front of me – not because I have to – not even because I want to much of the time, but because it’s there. I went out with my husband for our wedding anniversary earlier this week, and it’s the first time in a long time that I registered that I was too full – and that I wasn’t actually happy with the amount of food I had eaten. The food was beautiful and we’d go back to the same restaurant again, but the portions were just too big and I really didn’t enjoy the over full feeling I came home with. In the past I would have carried on regardless and eaten dessert as well, and repented at leisure the following day!
So. Over the last 3 months or so I have cut out wine, cut out chocolate and cake – to the extent that I don’t actually want to rush out and eat cake and now I am starting to recognise that I over eat and am starting to be more mindful of portion sizes and when I am actually full. I have become aware of the emotions and habits that lead to me choosing to eat chocolate and cake – it’s habits that have been formed over the years that I hadn’t realised were happening. I can understand more fully how it is that people can turn down cake, or how my sister can just eat a few squares from a chocolate bar. It’s just chocolate.
For the foreseeable future I will continue as I am, and pay closer attention to what I’m eating, why and when. Am I hungry? What does that feel like? It’s actually quite exciting to learn to understand my habits and find ways to improve them, or in some cases get rid of them completely. This is a very welcome side effect of Lent that I had really not anticipated and I look forward to finding out more about myself and enjoying food again.