Car Eating Syndrome



This is a topic I am all too familiar with.  Just to be clear, ‘Car Eating Syndrome’ is NOT a medical term or diagnosis.  It is simply a phrase I use to broadly describe what so many people do and for a number of reasons.   I’ll focus this article on the emotional part of eating and its relationship to eating in the car, but MANY people eat in the cars.  Some people eat in their cars occasionally & others do this regularly.   It is a something that can easily become a habit and a habit that is not so good for maintaining weight loss as you will read in this article.

One obvious reason why people it in their car is that they are traveling a long distance and get hungry.  It seems simple, right, you get hungry, you swing through a fast food drive through and grab a bite.  And off you go.  I have done this more times than I can count (not recently😊)  But I never gave it a second thought, how dangerous driving and eating was to me, my passengers and those drivers around me.   If you are driving you are using a specific part of your brain, and the faster you drive the more stimulated your brain is – as it is doing 100s of things per second, and more the faster you drive – if you are eating at the same time, you’ll actually eat faster and faster to keep up with the stimulation of your brain.  (This is one of the tricks restaurants do – they play music while you eat- this stimulates your brain & makes you eat faster!)   It is also important to understand that eating while driving doesn’t allow you to focus on the food you are eating.  It is impossible to be mindfully eating while driving & therefore impossible to know when you are full and should stop eating.  Not to mention that it is nearly impossible to find healthy fast foods or drive throughs.  To avoid being in this position, plan ahead, bring healthy snacks, plan your stops at restaurants where you can stop and sit at a table and enjoy something on plan and be conscious of what you are putting in your mouth.

Strangely enough there is a phenomenon of people posting themselves binge eating on YouTube.  I won’t go into it but it is disheartening to witness.  Knowing what these people are going through and now they are parading themselves in front of millions of people; it’s a sad thing.  At IHC we have tried for years to help people overcome their emotional eating patterns and now watching these young 20 somethings exploiting themselves on YouTube it makes us horribly sad.

It’s no question that the number of restaurants has grown over the years, specifically fast-food places, now referred to as QSRs, Quick Service Restaurants.  The easy access to QSRs makes it more difficult to avoid those patterns and triggers.  Maybe you were like me?  You had a long stressful day at work, and you are heading home.  You know there’s nothing prepared at the house, so you decide you have to stop somewhere on the way home, or even better, order it ahead of time and pick it up.  Pizza, Chinese take-out, a burger joint all were frequent stops of mine after work.  Which is why I got up to 320 lbs in 2018.  Is this something you can relate to?  Too busy, running from place to place and its simply out of necessity you have to stop somewhere quick, right?  Overtime it becomes the norm instead of the exception.  This sort of diet breeds more cravings for the same kinds of foods and after awhile it’s all your eating.

Sometimes it as simple as you have been on the road a while – maybe it’s part of your job, sales or a territory you have to cover, and you’re falling asleep, you’re tired. I’ve talked to many clients and people will use food just to get some energy & they would eat certain foods in order to get energized like chocolate or other candies to get the sugar rush.  Yes, you can get a quick fix on the sugar ( or caffeine) but you have to know with every spike there is always a valley.  You know it, you’ve experienced it.  You got the sugar rush – it may have lasted 20-30 minutes but then the aftereffects are even worse.  You crash harder and look for more quick energy fixes.  Step back a minute and read that again slower.  It sounds just like a drug addicts’ story…getting their fix in!!  That’s because sugar and fast foods are created to be addictive.  The have near zero nutritional benefit.  They have zero fiber and therefore the satisfaction is short lived and you are left feeling hungry and mad at yourself for eating it ‘’again’’.    The first thing that needs to happen is an awareness.  Know that you are using these specific types of foods improperly.   PREP – you have to know in advance that situations arise when you travel that might leave you without good options, pack on-plan snacks: hard boiled eggs, celery, & nut butter, apples, oranges, nuts, seeds things that won’t spoil.

Sometimes our clients explain that they eat in their car to avoid going home, maybe there’s something super stressful they were trying to avoid at home OR maybe it was they just left an abusive workplace and they use food to numb out.  If these things are true for you, we can help you at our office follow-ups or Wendi can help you out on the LIVE Monday calls at 5:00pm.  In order for us to help you, we need your transparency.  We are here to help.

There are things you can do to help shift this pattern promptly & pretty quickly.  The first thing you can do, if you’re car eater, is to clean out your car😊.  I mean really clean it like go and spend a little bit extra money to get your car detailed and get the smell of fast food out of your car.  You might need to have the carpets steamed even.  But the smell and appearance of food could be a simple trigger you are not aware of.  Second put things you love in your car, a steering wheel cover, a picture hung from her rear-view mirror, something that you think looks cute or cool like LED lights is the new thing now.  It makes your car feel dressed it up.  You can actually buy a diffuser sprayer car now and put natural oils in it so it can diffuse some beautiful scents so when you step in your car you’re not smelling fast food.  Something to block or avoid the temptation the next time you get in your car

Fourth, if there’s a certain place that you stop all the time, go a different route home change the pattern, don’t go the same way past the same fast-food restaurant Also, have a snack right before you leave work instead of waiting till you get home AND prep – it is critical to do this ahead of time, but so easy.  Do a crock pot meal, it can simmer all day. Or most crock pots have timers that you can set.  This way it’s ready for you when you walk through the door! It’s there; it smells great and you’re ready to eat.  It’s also something you can look forward to

Fifth, one of the greatest things you can do if you’ve gotten into a habit of car eating or you can’t eat to quell your emotions around the car eating syndrome is to journal your thoughts when you are driving.  I know you’re thinking, How?  If you have a smart phone, download one of a dozen voice journaling apps.  I use “My Diary” but there are several to choose from.  It is a great way to give yourself a voice, vent, talk out your thoughts as you are driving.  I even use it to remind me of things to do, get stuff off my chest before I get home.  It is a great way to break patterns of car eating.  And it is also a great way to become aware of the triggers and emotions around the food.

Finally, If you are in your car and you are truly hungry please don’t go through the drive through.  Be safe, Stop, sit a spell, take the time, make the best choice you can for your food & enjoy it.

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3510 Remson Suite 101-A
Charlottesville, VA 22901
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