Finding the Joy

As I reached for another chocolate covered coconut ball, I think to myself, ‘I shouldn’t be eating this, but it’s so delicious, and I deserve it!’. The story I tell myself goes on, ‘I went on a hike and I worked hard all week. I’ll eat this, then I’ll have energy to do the dishes and the laundry and pack my bags for tomorrow’s busy day, oh and what will I eat tomorrow.. probably shouldn’t eat anything after five chocolate coconut balls…’. The feeling of being overwhelmed by the future enters my mind, and I am no longer focused on the delicious, chocolaty, peanut buttery, coconut pieces in my mouth, which prompts me to grab another.

I have studied and taught mindful awareness, which has a component focused on mindful eating. Attending to the food we eat, the source, the preparation, with senses open and focused would be the ideal way to enjoy each meal. So much of the time our meals are spent reading emails, watching television, or, in the case of the un-thought-about coconut ball, overwhelmed by thoughts of the past or future.

When discussing this with my sister, she said, ‘It’s easier to indulge in food, because it’s something we have to do anyways- eat’. If the addiction is alcohol, a person can stop drinking. If the addiction is tobacco, stop chewing or smoking. If the addiction is food, please don’t stop eating!

It is necessary to have a relationship with food. Food nourishes the body and mind. It allows us to solve problems, hike to new destinations, and sleep well. When we eat certain foods it causes dopamine to be released into the body. This effect can stimulate us to reach for food for other reasons besides nutrition.

Melissa McCreery*, a psychologist and emotional eating coach, describes the five types of hunger; Hunger for rest, hunger for stress relief, hunger for emotional ease, hunger for compassion,  and hunger for self care and me-time.  She focuses on the three o’s: overwhelmed, overloaded, and overeating.

As I picked up my sixth coconut ball, I sense the feeling of being overwhelmed. ‘Will overeating cure this feeling?’ I ask myself, ‘It won’t get the dishes or laundry done, I know that’. I can also name the hunger which correlates with this particular feeling, hunger for self care and me-time. With practice, I have been able to name these feelings and, at times, tend to them by pausing and allowing myself to sit down and relax.

Allowing yourself to take time and tend to your needs is sometimes difficult. In our society it may be seen as selfish or unproductive, but I assure you, when we tend to our needs and take care of ourselves, we can better attend to the needs of others. I have seen this in my own life, and have created better relationships with family and friends because of it. As you begin to notice these states of hunger, digging below the surface, realizing the deeper needs which require attending to, you may notice your relationship with food change.  

While researching ways to tend to the various needs associated with hunger, I have found many helpful suggestions. What follows is a list of ways to ‘celebrate’ without food.

If you have other ways of celebrating which are not listed, please let me know in the ‘comment’ section.



  • Treat yourself to coffee. Take time to sit down and savor every last caffeine-filled drop
  • Go for a bike ride. “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride”John F. Kennedy
  • Plant flowers (indoor or outdoor)
  • Watch stand-up comedy (idea: watch Saturday Night Live clips on YouTube)
  • Phone a friend or catch up with someone you haven’t talked to in a while
  • Get prints of your favorite photos, update the pictures around your house or create a collage
  • Blow bubbles
  • Give someone you love a gift “just-because”.
  • Plant a garden
  • Stretch out on your couch and take an afternoon nap
  • Plan your fantasy vacation. Do online research, cut out pictures from magazines, collect brochures from travel agencies, and plan your vacation to the last detail. Don’t censor yourself by thinking about the cost or when you’ll have the time to go.
  • Start putting together your Christmas list, both what you plan to give others and what you would like to receive. (Thinking about Christmas always lifts my spirits, no matter what month of the year it is.)
  • Sit by the ocean/ lake/ river and listen to the water
  • Go outdoors, take a pad of paper, and sketch what you see
  • Make a donation to an animal shelter, women and children’s foundation, or natural disaster organization
  • Listen to music!
  • Sing in the shower
  • Buy yourself something luxurious- could be a candle, notebook, lotion
  • Join a book club. Sharing your love of literature with others is a great way to celebrate life
  • Watch the sunset
  • Watch the sunrise
  • Get a yo-yo. Learn the “Walk-the-Dog” trick
  • Go outside at night and look at the stars
  • Go to an animal shelter and “ooh” and “aah” at the puppies and kittens
  • Simmer apple cider, cinnamon, and cloves in water on your stove
  • Play a game you loved as a child: play with marbles or jacks; jump rope; play hopscotch; draw with colored chalk on the sidewalk; get some Play-Doh; or go to a park and climb on the swings
  • Whenever you take on a task at work ask yourself: “Is there any way to make this task more fun?”
  • Read poetry
  • Get yourself a big book of sudokus or crossword puzzles and sit back for an afternoon of fun mind stimulation
  • Sit down with a large art book filled with Impressionist paintings by artists such as Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pisarro, Degas . . .
  • Find a shampoo and conditioner that smell like watermelon
  • Walk barefoot in the grass.
  • Go out for a walk in the rain. Deliberately step in puddles
  • Visit antique stores and flea markets until you find the perfect addition to your home
  • Buy the softest terry cloth robe you can find and put it in the drier just before taking a shower, so that it’s nice and warm when you get out of the shower and put it on
  • Go out for a walk and take your camera along
  • Go out and play Frisbee with a friend
  • Go to the gym. Spend 20 minutes walking on the treadmill and 40 reading magazines in the steam room.
  • Take a car ride, music blasting, along pretty roads near your home. Stop somewhere scenic and just sit for a while before heading back.
  • Go to a movie
  • Download ten new songs on iTunes and dance to them for half an hour.
  • Pick up a luxe bottle of nail polish and give yourself a quick mani.
  • Blow off steam. If stress is pressure, you don’t want to be the pressure cooker (with mounting tension building up inside). Acknowledge your stress and find a way to let some of it out. Yell or play loud music in your car; run, walk or dance; knead some bread dough or shred some papers. Scribble on paper or vent.
  • Relax and stretch. Stress builds up in our body and then creates more stress and discomfort. If you can’t change your life (or the next hour), you can still be kind to yourself and stretch out your neck or your back.
  • Escape; Give yourself permission to take a break—even if it’s just a minute or two. If you can’t go for a walk, go to the bathroom. Google images of tropical beaches and put one up where you can see it, take a minute to get a glass of water or brew yourself a cup of tea.
  • Journal. This is an excellent way to untangle your feelings, check in with yourself, and decompress.
  • Sleep
  • Make a list, prioritize, and check off tasks as you complete them
  • Breathe
  • Get a pedicure or manicure or give yourself one.
  • Stop in the middle of the day, put your feet up and read a book or a magazine.
  • Take a day off—really off. Only do things you truly want to do.
  • Subscribe to a magazine you want. You’ll be reminded of your reward at least once a month.
  • Give yourself a free pass to say “no” to something you wouldn’t normally say no to.
  • Keep a list of items you really want and purchase one when you have a win to celebrate.
  • Sleep in
  • Get a massage
  • Take a bubble bath

*Copyright © Melissa McCreery, PhD. Psychologist, Author, and Emotional Eating Expert, Dr. Melissa McCreery focuses on the three O’s that ambush successful, high-achieving women – overeating, overwhelm, and overload. Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz at and get customized steps to end your overeating.

Author: Caitlin Hegwood

I create healthy recipes, share natural self-care tips, provide mindfulness practices, offer private and group yoga classes, and health and wellness coaching to my amazing community of wellness seekers. I hope you'll join me on this journey to wellness by subscribing below!

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