• On Replacing French Fries With Books

    I’ve been thinking a lot about habits, especially about the bad habits I’ve developed over the years building an emotional dependency on binge-eating. I accidentally discovered it was easier to do things differently on the days I’m in Knoxville because everything is new and so nothing triggers typical bad behavior responses. It’s easier to just not drink in Knoxville, without my favorite local beers in all of the grocery stores. It’s easier to not binge before bed without my pantry full of binge-eating ingredients. It’s easier not to hit the drive-thru when I’m anxious because I haven’t found a convenient source of Krispy Kremes and I don’t know where the Zaxby’s are in Knoxville. (Those were/are my major panic moves when I’m really on a bad spiral.) None of the bad habits are established there so the feelings that usually trigger those habits fall into an abyss. 

    It’s like when I worked above a place that sold pastries. When work was stressing me out I could walk downstairs, buy desserts, bring them up to my desk and eat them without ever really stopping to think about what I was doing. It became such a habitual response that my brain just automatically connected: stress >>> pastries. 

    When I lost my job, I vividly remember craving pastries when I would get stressed. I even tried a few pastries at the grocery store nearby, to satiate the urge. But they didn’t appease me because it’s never only about the food. I can (and have) binged on anything and everything. It’s about these relationships I build between certain food/experiences and my emotions.

    Just like beer at night to help me sleep. Trying to give that up has been ROUGH. But I know I do not need it, it’s just some sort of habit I’ve developed that I’ve convinced myself is mandatory. But it was/is so easy not to drink in Knoxville, so obviously there’s no physical requirement for me to have beer before bed. It’s just a habit…an association that I’ve developed that I have convinced myself will solve my insomnia. 

    Just like I had convinced myself I needed pastries from Edgar’s when I was stressed.

    As I take a good look at these habits, and spend some time thinking about how the pulls are not as strong when I’m in Knoxville, I’ve been trying to reprogram my brain for new habits. Lately, I’ve been filling in books for food in a lot of my habitual responses. When I suddenly find that I’m upset or stressed and that drive to stuff food in my face is SO STRONG, and my brain is telling me: AN OVERLY FULL BELLY REDUCES FEELINGS OF ANXIETY, I know I need a reset. My brain is depending on old habitual responses to anxiety and so I go somewhere and read. Reading has been really great lately at pulling me OUT of my spirals before I descend into madness and putting me INTO a new setting (of the book) and when I finally put it down, it’s like I got a do-over. It’s gotten to be such a successful response that I just carry a book with me everywhere now so I can stop in a parking lot and read instead of hitting a drive-thru.

    It would probably be better if I could build new habits with something healthy like, taking a walk, but reading is not a chicken tenders plate from Zaxby’s which means I don’t A) Feel gross from eating meat as a vegetarian and B) It doesn’t cost any money. So for now, I call it a win.

    It helps that I’ve had a really great streak of reading great books lately. I haven’t had a bad read in several weeks, so stopping and thinking, I should read instead of buying donuts is easy because the books I’m reading are so good. If I pick up a dud, this new habit may not live much longer.