When I was growing up, one of my brother’s friends had a security blanket that he took everywhere. He was like Linus in the Charlie Brown comics – he just had to have his blanket with him.
I don’t think I ever had a security blanket, but I’ve certainly had security foods.
Sugar was a big one for me when I was younger. I wasn’t too picky about what form the sugar came in, but candy was a favorite. Snickers, Charleston Chews, Twizzlers, M&M’s, Three Musketeers, Milky Ways, and more. If not candy, anything chocolate would do – cookies, cake, brownies, cupcakes, etc.
I also used to have dry Cheerios every morning for breakfast and couldn’t imagine having anything else. And pre-pandemic, I’d gotten into the habit of having vegan cheese and crackers as a daily snack – until I couldn’t get that type of cheese anymore and I had a momentary panic attack.
Maybe you have security foods, too. These are the foods that you feel like you can’t live without. If you don’t have them, you’re convinced you won’t be satisfied. You rely on them to fill some need other than actual hunger or sustenance.
It’s fine to have favorite foods, but when it gets to the security food stage, this can become a problem.
What if you want to go somewhere that doesn’t have the food? What if you can’t get it right now because of the pandemic or some other reason? How much time do you spend thinking about that food or worrying that you won’t have it?
You don’t have to give up those foods, but it’s much better if you can simply enjoy them on occasion rather than rely on them as something you need to get through the day.
How do you do that? Here are three ways you can get started.
What Need Are You Filling?
The first question to ask is, why do you feel like you need that food? What is it doing for you?
For example, when I think about my past breakfast of dry Cheerios, I know that it started because of a dairy allergy and not having any good dairy-free milk options. I had also convinced myself that I didn’t like oatmeal (that’s another story), my family couldn’t have afforded eggs or sausage for breakfast every day, and pancakes or waffles were time-consuming. Cheerios won because they were easy and not too expensive.
In college, I could have tried other things, especially once I had a kitchen, but I didn’t. By that point, my breakfast of Cheerios was such a routine that it was hard to shift, and even more, it now had an emotional component. Cheerios reminded me of home, something that was even more important because I went to college in Boston and missed Maine.
When I did my study abroad in London, I was dismayed to realize that Cheerios weren’t quite the same in England because they were produced by a different company. Instead of taking that as an opportunity to try something else, I stuck with what I could find because I wanted the familiarity of my routine.
My breakfast only changed when I became more mindful about my eating and started examining my habits.
I realized that I didn’t have to eat Cheerios every single day. If I wanted the comfort of familiarity, I could get it in other ways, such as looking at old photos or going for walks in favorite places or other daily routines.
I also started trying other breakfast foods, and now I never have Cheerios.
If you have security foods, see if you can figure out what they’re doing for you. This will help you understand why they appeal so much to you, and even better, you can think about what else will fill that need.
Remember - It’s Not About Hunger
That brings me to the second important point. Remember that this isn’t about hunger.
When you’re physically hungry, what you eat doesn’t matter so much. You still want to eat something you like – unless you’re at the ravenous stage, when you’ll eat anything – but the real goal is simply not to feel hungry anymore.
With security foods, though, it’s much more about head hunger. Your brain convinces you that you want a specific food, and only that food.
For example, with my vegan crackers and cheese, it had taken me quite a while to find a type of fake cheese that I liked. Once I did, I was going to stick with it, and it was nice to know I had a specific type of snack I could rely on.
The problem is, the only place I can get the cheese is Whole Foods. And since the pandemic started, the only times I’ve tried to go there haven’t worked out, either because of crazy long lines or because they were out of the cheese. (I guess other people rely on it too.)
I had to take a step back and remind myself that I didn’t truly need the cheese and crackers to get through my day. I could find other snacks, or I could eat more at meals so I wasn’t as hungry for a snack. My life would go on.
If you find yourself thinking a lot about one type of food, remember that you have other options, and you don’t have to let your head hunger control what you eat.
Try Some Experiments
Finally, this is a great time for some experiments!
A simple one is seeing what happens if you delay having your favorite food. Instead of saying you can’t have it, tell yourself that you want to wait a little while. It could be ten minutes, or longer if you want. The point is to not immediately reach for the food.
If you do that, what happens? Do you still think about it, or does your attention shift to something else?
You could also try having something else in place of your favorite food. It could be something similar or completely different.
Or you could experiment with having less of those foods. That helped me a lot with my sugar cravings. I didn’t want to say I could never have it because I knew that would feel too restrictive. Instead, I tried having smaller amounts of it.
When I combined that with waiting longer for something sugary, I ended up having far fewer sweets. Even better, I no longer felt like sugar had as much of a hold on me. Instead, when I had something sweet, it was my choice, and I enjoyed the foods even more as a result.
Letting Go of Security Foods Puts You in Charge
Security blankets and security foods give you a feeling of comfort and safety, but the downside is that you start to depend on those items for those feelings.
It’s much better to find ways of feeling comforted and safe without relying on something external.
Letting go of security foods is the first step. It’s not always easy, but when you can recognize the need you’re trying to fill, remember that it’s not about hunger, and experiment with other options, it’s also not as hard as it might seem.
And when you can focus on the food for what it is, and not what you’re trying to make it do for you, you’ll likely appreciate it even more.