Are certain foods holding you hostage?

What we eat has a lot to do with how we feel. Martina Gallivan explains how to break out of this vicious cycle.

Our clinics predominantly involve one on one sessions with clients, providing consultation around weight management, food intake, triggering events that lead to overeating, and health coaching in general.

With over 10 years’ experience in this field, I find there is always something new to learn. The human mind is as intricate as it is fascinating, and we are all unique in our thoughts, decisions and actions.

“It’s almost as if we’re being held hostage by food. It controls us in a vice-like grip and won’t let us leave. This leads to negative feelings of guilt, shame, depression and ultimately failure”

To give an example, how is it some people can control their food intake whilst others struggle? Why are those of us content to consume small portions without devouring a lot? And can we begin to recognise our own weaknesses around food and demonstrate the strength to say no when confronted with food situations?

It is all in the mind

We’re human and therefore not perfect. Yet around food people frequently see themselves as being weak, out of control, experience feelings of anxiety and torment and generally beat themselves into a frenzy of despair.

The other day I was speaking with a client about being able to say no to the foods that he really liked. He was on our medical weight loss program in order to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and generally found that sticking to our plan was easy enough during the daytime. However, in the evening he struggled to fend off his old habits of snacking whilst watching TV.

To begin with he would allow himself one cracker and cheese but then binge on several, and once started found it difficult to stop. Subsequent feelings of guilt would lead to self-justification. “I’ve messed up now so I might as well continue.” “I’ve ruined things so I’ll just enjoy tonight and start again tomorrow”. This negative pattern frequently became overpowering, leaving him feeling deflated and out of control.

I discussed the difference between hunger and desire. Thankfully hunger is a rarity for many of us. More often than not we have a desire to eat. Therefore, my first question to this client was “is the longing to continuously eat coming from your stomach or is it in your head?”. By eating just enough, we should feel physically satiated but quite often tend to ignore these messages and tune into our brain’s signal which compels us to eat more.

I then went on to explain to my client the differences between being physically satisfied and emotionally satisfied. Quite often we continuously eat to fulfil an emotional gap and feel compelled to eat due to a variety of reasons. It’s almost as if we’re being held hostage by food. It controls us in a vice like grip and won’t let us leave. This leads to negative feelings of guilt, shame, depression and ultimately failure. The only antidote appears to be to eat more. “eating more will make me feel better.” It’s a vicious cycle but it can be broken.

My philosophy has always been “we control our food intake and not the other way around”. However, it takes a little practice to change what has on some occasions seemed like a lifetime habit.

Curb cravings

In previous articles I have spoken about the importance of balancing blood sugar levels by eating well and eating regularly. This will at least keep you satisfied and may curb your food cravings.

But on another level, there should be a separation between what your body needs and what it desires. I’ll give you an example. I’ve just eaten dinner. I enjoyed it and I’m quite satisfied. I’m flicking through channels on TV and come across a baking program with some really delicious looking desserts. What’s my first reaction? It will probably be to go to the kitchen and look for some chocolate or something sweet. I don’t need it, but I’m probably not thinking straight at that moment in time. I want it so I’ll have it. I desire to eat it and feel I deserve it for having worked hard all day.

This is a typical reaction and indicative of the general thought process we all go through because our habit is to use food as a reward mechanism. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Problems arise when we fail to think of the consequences of overeating and the potential hold that food can have over us.

Therefore, the first step is to start asking questions of yourself when you next feel vulnerable. At the very least, you should be tuning in to your thought process and asking “why am I feeling like eating when I know I don’t need to.” Then you should further ask “is this hunger? Or a desire to eat?”.

You’ll quickly discover that this is most likely a desire led by a trigger and nothing at all to do with hunger. Following that, you need to change this thought process by thinking of the potential negative consequences of your actions and recalling past feelings of general weakness and low self-esteem which may apply to you.

The bottom line is many people blame themselves for succumbing to foods which they believe cannot be resisted. They feel trapped by the hold that food has over them. But through self-analysis, rethinking your strategy and by being firm rather than giving in can eventually break this hostage cycle.

Martina Gallivan is a nutritionist and director of RK Cardiology Healthy Living LtdIf you are interested in learning more about health and lifestyle medicine for you or your family contact her at or follow @drrobertkelly