Are You Looking at the Problem the Wrong Way?
A few weeks ago, I discovered a fascinating podcast called Lost Women of Science, and since it’s already had a few seasons, I’m playing catch-up. Most recently, I listened to season 3, about Yvonne Y. Clark, who was nicknamed “The First Lady of Engineering” because of all her firsts as a Black woman mechanical engineer.
Her whole story is fascinating, but one part in particular struck me. It was her genius as a troubleshooter.
One example was when she was working on rockets for NASA, and they were having some trouble with hot spots on F1 rockets. Clark was asked to figure out why this was happening, and she looked at the problem in a way no one else had. Namely, she had someone look at the actual rocket, not just the designs, and sure enough, she found the problem. (As an aside, the problem was with how the temperature sensor was installed, not a problem with the rocket itself.)
That got me thinking about how, all too often, it’s easy to get stuck in a certain way of looking at something, and that includes our eating habits.
Diet view of eating habits
Most of us have learned to think of eating habits we don’t like as a problem of the food itself.
With this way of looking at your habits, the reason you eat more than you need, eat when you’re not hungry, and choose certain foods is that you’re not in control of the foods or yourself. Food is in control of you.
If that’s how you think about it, then it makes sense to think that you need to control what, when, and how much you eat. That’s the only way to fix the problem.
Except, as anyone who’s tried diets knows, it doesn’t fix the problem. You don’t have a better relationship with food by trying to control what you eat, and you’re not necessarily going to see miraculous changes in your health or weight.
Given that, perhaps instead of another diet, it would be better to change how you’re looking at the problem.
Mindful eating view of eating habits
When you consider your eating habits from a mindful eating perspective, you start to realize how little any of your eating challenges are about food at all.
If you often eat more than you need, you might start to notice that it’s because you’re eating mindlessly, perhaps in front of a screen (TV, computer, phone, etc.). That makes it harder to recognize when you’re getting full, so you end up overeating.
Or it might be that you have a hard time noticing when you’re hungry until you’re starving, and then you’re so hungry that you eat a lot of food as fast as you can. That doesn’t give you time to notice when you’re not hungry anymore, so you overeat.
On the flip side, if you start eating when you’re not hungry, after paying attention for a while, you might discover patterns here as well. You may find that you consistently eat after stressful meetings at work or on quiet days when you’re bored and at loose ends.
As far as what you’re eating, you can find patterns there, too. It might be chocolate when you’re stressed or chips when you’re bored.
After a long day, you might go for easy comfort foods. Or you might have simply gotten into a habit of eating the same few things without thinking about what you actually need or want.
When you start to look at your habits this way, you can see that the problem isn’t about a lack of control over food or yourself. It’s about your relationship to food, and how you might be using food as a coping mechanism.
And when you start to understand that, you can make changes that will be much longer-lasting, and more satisfying, than a diet.
Finding solutions to the right problem
If you have the wrong view of a problem, you can’t fix it. Anything you try won’t work because it won’t be addressing the real, underlying issue. That goes for mechanical problems as well as eating habits.
But if you approach the problem with an open mind and pay attention, you’ll learn what’s really going on. Once you know that, then you can think about how to address the underlying issue – stress, boredom, lack of time – and work on a solution for that.
And if you focus on fixing the real issue, not just the symptoms, you’ll get much better results.