Archive for the ‘Emotional Eating’ Category

The owner of the gym my trainer uses (where I train with her) is a muscle bound man – the kind who used to do muscle building competitions. He is intimidating, although he has always been kind to me. He doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention to us, but apparently he is because he mentioned me to my trainer the other day, saying how incredibly hard I worked out. He said I was so fit and I worked out so hard that I should have the best body in the whole gym. So he wanted to ask my trainer, what was going on?

Indeed. What is going on? I am sliding into the fourth month of the second year of oscillating in the same five-pound range without losing any actual weight. Why?

Well, for one thing, because I eat what I feel like a lot more than I used to. And while what I feel like eating is very different than it used to be, it is still not as clean as it could be, as it needs to be. For example, while I no longer eat cupcakes or similar sweets, I feel free to eat treats made without sugar, flour or butter (aka with maple syrup, coconut flour and coconut butter). It’s better for me, yes. But it’s still a treat. So when I have say, five muffins, because I’ve made them for a party so I tested one and then I got to the party and just lost all semblance of reasonableness, it’s no longer good for me. In fact, it’s a return to my old habits of compulsive eating. And clearly, that does not help with weight loss.

So why do I do this? I am acting like I don’t think I can lose the weight or like I don’t want to. And there is truth in both of these statements. Because I really can’t lose the weight if I don’t want to – I’ll just keep sabotaging myself – and some part of me must not – does not want to.

Truthfully, I can’t imagine being truly, like, flat-stomach thin. I don’t know what it would be like to move in the world that way, how I would feel. I have a long history of being afraid of change and the unknown. Often, I avoid them both (even though I am also drawn to them both). So it makes sense that I would get to a point of losing weight and then not feel comfortable losing more.

I am not content to stay as I am though. There are still lessons for me to learn about my relationship with food. If it were truly healthy, I would not eat five muffins at a party. I would be better able to recognize when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And then there’s the health element: it’s not healthy for me to carry this weight around my middle, and I don’t want to. Also, I don’t want to stop here. I started this thing, and I want to see it through. To prove to myself I can.

So now I just have to take a hard look at what it will take and what I’m willing to do to get there. Knowing that someone else – especially someone I’m not close to – has noticed this too is motivating. I think because it gives me fresh eyes on something I know but have been pretending not to see.


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I am reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God – re-reading actually. I first read it a little over three years ago, and I think, at the time, it both set the groundwork for me to start really believing I could change my relationship with food and was not something I was fully ready for. Because reading it now, I feel like every line is spoken to me, about me, for me.

In a recent chapter, she talked about the two kinds of eaters: Permitters and Restrictors, and I recognized myself in every detail she gives about Permitters:

“Permitters prefer going through life in a daze. That way, they don’t need to feel pain – theirs or anyone else’s. If I’m not aware of it, there’s nothing to fix. If I go through life asleep, I don’t need to be concerned about the future because I won’t be aware of it. If I give up trying, I won’t be disappointed when I fail… Permitters operate on the need to be safe in what they consider hostile or dangerous situations… They see no point in trying to control the uncontrollable and have decided that it’s best to be blurry and numb and join the party.”

This was me, for well over a decade. A writer I don’t know was able to distill the essence of my behavior and motivations in about a paragraph. And recognizing myself in her words has been such a gift in helping me understand my own process of transformation and why it is so valuable.

I really was blurry and numb for years – using food and alcohol to deaden my senses. It’s strange to think now that I routinely spent both weekend nights drunk (and sometimes a week night too), that the point of the night was finding a fun and social way to get drunk. Of course, the true point of all of it for me was just to get to more food. I always knew I didn’t have a drinking problem, even when I drank a lot, because I knew what it was to have an addictive and unhealthy relationship with a substance; it’s just that, for me, it was food. The nights of partying were always opportunities to eat with abandon. Late night diner meals, bar snacks, drunk snacking at home in the wee hours of the morning. In my early 20s, one of my favorite 3am activities was to bake cookies drunk and then eat them. I often made horrible cookies, forgetting ingredients, messing up the baking time; I always ate them.

And the reason behind this behavior that Roth speaks to was absolutely the truth for me: it was a way not to feel pain, not to be present, not to be disappointed. It was all a way to hide.

The process of coming out of hiding for me is both a slow and a fast one. It only takes a moment, a single action to live differently. In an instance, I can come forward and be my true self. But the practice of being present, of acting on my own behalf is a constant one that I repeat daily, in moment after moment, and it is a long transformation into being in the world in a new way. Discovering a new relationship with food and with my health has been the path that has led me back to myself though. It’s a path I’m still on, and it’s not always easy or successful. But the more I understand that I will always be on this journey, the more i can appreciate it. Because it’s the journey of my true self.

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Here’s the evidence.
I found it in the bottom of my purse, already forgotten and buried. This packaging once contained three choco-orange macaroons – vegan, raw, gluten-free, sugar free, and 50 calories each. I ate all three of them one after another on Saturday because they tasted good with the feelings I was eating.

As far as “treats” go, these are fairly reasonable: calorie count is pretty low and they’re basically a mixture of coconut, coconut by-products, cacao, and orange essence. Still… I was not eating them because I was hungry or because I was at a place or event where having a small treat was occasioned. Rather, I was sitting in my car.

And I knew what I was doing. I had just spent a couple of stressful hours rushing to get ready for a weekend trip. The hurry resulted in part from having spent a long time on the phone with my dad, who had called to give me the news on his most recent heart episode.
Or episodes rather. It seems the rapid heartbeat from last week was the fourth incident of tachycardia (rapid, irregular heartbeat) in the past two months. He didn’t notice the others because his pacemaker controlled it. My father has had a lot of health problems (5 heart attacks, 2 forms of cancer), so I have practice with digesting this kind of news calmly. It doesn’t mean I don’t worry though. He’s going to need a stress test at least and surgery at most. It doesn’t feel as dire as it could because if he has another episode, his pacemaker will whomp his heart back into rhythm. But still, this shouldn’t be happening. And of course, of course, I want him to be healthy, well, and always okay.
So when I stopped for road trip supplies, I got this treat for myself and then I ate it in quick order. And I knew I was eating it because I was stressed and worried about my dad. And I didn’t care.
So then the question for myself is: did it work? Did it make me feel better?

Well… kind of? In the moment, it did. It sent those pleasure signals to my brain and distracted me from my other worries. That moment did not last long though, and it had no long-term impact. Eating the (healthy-ish) treat didn’t make me feel better for any longer than the time I spent eating it. Once it was gone, I was right back with all the feelings I was using it to try to deaden.

So what did make me feel better? Actually feeling my feelings. Being present in the moment. On this occasion by going to the desert with my husband and my dear friend and spending the night outside, observing the stars, taking part in a fundraiser, enjoying nature, the night sky and good company. Activities that truly nurture me, that ground me in the present, and help me focus on the blessings of what’s here, now.

The Open Road and Sky

The Open Road and Sky


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Here’s what I think when I have a treat:

I should probably eat more of this. Yes. I will eat it all. I will eat it all, and it will be good!

The thoughts underlying that feeling:
Make the pain go away, make the pain go away. I’m anxious. I’m sad. I don’t understand why the world is full of pain. What do I do? I don’t know what to do with myself. Maybe I should just tear my skin off. Oh – a treat? Ah! That’s nice.

Oh yes, that’s very nice. That’s stimulating some happy receptors in my brain somewhere. I don’t feel as sad or scared anymore. I don’t mind my skin being attached so much. I feel pretty fucking great while I’m chewing this actually. Clearly what needs to happen is that I just need to keep chewing this deliciousness so the hard feelings and the anxiety don’t come back. Yes. That’s the ticket. Keep eating.

Of course, the eating can’t go on endlessly. It’s just not physically possible, and also, I run out of food. Once the food is gone, I’m often so stuffed that I feel only numbness, which while no longer an amazing feeling, it is also still not sadness and fear. And thus, it seems like food has done the job of making me “better.”

For years, I truly did not get that food was not the answer. I was pretty sure it was the answer, in fact. I only had to bite into a black and white cookie or take a sip of a milkshake to know what happiness felt like. And yes, that rush of endorphins, the feelings of bliss they created, were fleeting, but also I could recreate them again and again and again. With that euphoria – and then the numbness – food sent the anxiety and the sadness away when it seemed like nothing else could. So… it had to be the answer, right?

It is not the answer. Weight gain is the most outward and obvious indicator of this, but because that was also wrapped up in issues of desirability and social commodity, I could convince myself that food meant more than looking good. Over the long haul, though, the overeating made my anxiety, my sadness, my pain, and my fear all worse. It did this by eroding my self-confidence, by weakening my physical and emotional strength, and, most significantly, by burying my actual feelings so that I never addressed them.

Kind of the same way alcohol and drugs do that for other people. The food was just a band-aid, a salve. And not a very effective one.

So what is the answer? Something a lot harder than eating a pint of ice cream, of course. The answer is to acknowledge my feelings and actually feel them. To make space for them – and me – in my life by taking care of myself. To seek support and guidance. To talk it through. To get help. And then to do the daily, un-sexy hard work of caring for myself. Physically by exercising and eating well, mentally by meditating, writing and breathing, and emotionally by doing these activities to help process my feelings, to honor them and let them be real so that I can then move through them. Instead of stuffing them down with All Of The Cake.

There’s not enough cake in the world to keep the feelings down forever. And the quest to see if there might be turned out to be way too miserable to continue.

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I’m in a big phase of not wanting to do anything. Or not anything super productive anyway. Oh sure, I’ll spend the weekend being helpful and fully immersed in my dear friend’s wedding, and I’ll be engaged and involved with what’s going on. But when it’s over, I most certainly do NOT want to return to my normal routine of productivity. It’s one thing to be actively engaged in an event that is fun and special, but it’s another thing entirely to be get going again on the same routine of self-discipline and good choices.

When the big event is over, what I want to do is lie on my couch with my dog and watch TV while eating sugar-free, wheat-free snacks that are technically healthy but much less so in large quantities (I’m looking at you, apples and peanut butter). I want to lollygag around, and I do not want to be bothered.

By the gym, or food logs, or a writing schedule, or thoughts about the damn future.

Somewhere, it all just started to feel like too much. Somewhere, I lost my focus. And as a result, I’ve started skipping days of exercise, half-assing other days, and only getting a couple of truly good workouts in a week. Why am I behaving this way? Because I can.

I’ve also started eating unconsciously again – not cupcakes or french fries or anything truly scandalous. But I’ve stopped tracking my food, and I am well aware of that choice. Because I do not want to be accountable for all the peanut butter and plantain chips, for the extra servings of yogurt with fruit and the more frequent occasions of healthy carbs. I want to be left alone with my emotional eating of brown rice bread, thank you very much. I want to do whatever I want – without anyone else, including my own voice in my head – saying a damn thing to me about it. Because I can.

And it is true. I really can do whatever I want. But to what end?

I know well and good that I am not interested in the effects of eating poorly and not exercising. I like being strong with defined muscles. So why do I avoid doing planks and squats and the other exercises I know keep me strong? I like being fit, able to hike at the front of a group, capable of making it through a dance class without getting too winded. So why do I do less-intensive workouts? Why do I let myself get away with it?

And it really matters to me A LOT that I am a healthier size than I used to be. I do not want to go back to what I used to weigh, and not just because – not even mostly because – of how I used to look. It’s how I used to feel that matters so much to me. I felt listless and psychically heavy. I was depressed more. Sitting was uncomfortable. Walking took more effort than I wanted to admit. I have no intention of going back to that. So why am I behaving in ways – eating foods – that keep me from losing the weight I gained over the wedding and honeymoon? Why do I let myself stay at this plateau, in danger of gaining more weight, instead of working it off and losing more?

I’m asking because I really want to know. Why am I behaving like this? What’s in it for me? Because no one does anything they don’t really want to do, so I must be getting something out of this behavior that I know doesn’t really serve me.

I’m digging my heels in and acting pointlessly stubborn, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I had to do something I wasn’t excited about (further commit to my day job instead of moving away from it) and felt wrong to me, even though all outward signs showed it to be the obvious right choice. Perhaps it’s because I feel myself in unfamiliar waters now that I’m married – despite the fact that I already lived with my now husband. But marriage is different – it’s another level, and I feel that. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of the future. Already people are asking me when we’re going to have kids, and despite being old enough to have legitimate concern about the shriveling of my eggs, I’m just not ready for it. There’s a lot I want to do, that I haven’t done. There’s a lot of time I was unfocused, time I wasted. And I get scared now that I won’t be able to have it, the life I want, and then that fear begins to shut me down and I just want to hide.

I want to hide like I did for so many years from the life I felt I was expected to live, the kind of person a nice, well brought up girl like myself was supposed to be. Those expectations didn’t feel right for me; they felt oppressive. So I hid from them – I built a wall between myself and what I imagined I had to be as an adult, and I built that wall with food. And fear. And stubbornness. I built it by refusing to engage, by interacting only vaguely in the world.

It has felt good to stop those habits, to be more present with who I truly am and what I want. This is the behavior I want to cultivate. I’ve chosen a productive routine because it gets me closer to who I really am. It helps me realize the life I want to have. That’s what I need to remember. That’s where I need to look for my next step.

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The truth is that I’m in a bad mood and I don’t feel like doing much of anything unless it’s being emotional and frustrated.

Except when I feel fine and can just truck along like normal.

I’d say that’s about 60% of the time. Slightly over half of any given day, I’m like, “Yes, I’ll listen to a song I like while driving up three levels in this parking garage. Sure, I will go into my office and check my email between copy-editing documents. Hey, I’m cool setting up those plans. And yeah, let’s talk for a bit on g-chat. I’m happy to pick up that phone call and interact with you, my friend or family member. Why yes, I would love to go grab something from the food trucks here at the lunch hour. No, I do not mind running that errand on the way home.” I bop along in this neutral zone… until I don’t.

Until the speed of the word processing program I’m using can’t keep up with my typing and times out and that – just that – is enough to make me go all Hulkster in my head. Sometimes it will fade away again right after the spinning rainbow wheel of program loading death subsides. But sometimes it will dig in and I will just be filled with rage and despair.

Because why do anything? Our society is a shambles. Have you seen the way our politicians behave? Have you seen the prejudice people show towards gay people, minorities, and/or women on any given day? How about the poverty? The shitty schools? The way the middle class is shrinking and oh the super wealthy, they just keep getting more and more wealthy? And do people care? Some do, but all their thoughtful editorials and group protests still don’t keep draconian laws that hurt disenfranchised, lower-income individuals and eventually society as a whole from getting signed into law (I’m looking at you, Texas). Because most people would rather watch TV. Sometimes good TV, but also… just a parade of people being assholes and being rewarded for it with attention and money. Also, the planet is warming up. And our food supply is getting poisoned. And most people refuse to believe it or just don’t want to hear it because it’s not affecting them this minute. And it’s hard being engaged. And it’s annoying to listen to that earnest shit. And anyway the Real Housewives of some disturbingly rich subdivision are on.

And worse, I don’t have the brain to hold in the facts and details to support my viewpoints in a way that will make people, even people I love, listen to me and believe me. So I think, why even talk about it? If I can’t even explain, without 10 minutes of research to remind me, why exactly it is that artificial sweeteners are poison, and if whomever I’m talking to won’t believe me without a string of supporting facts befitting a chemist or at least someone with better attention to detail, because they like Diet Coke dammit, then why bother?

And why bother trying myself? bother eating well? Okay, I know why. I know very, very well. But it’s harder some days to remember when so many others don’t care, and when the efforts I make – currently anyway – lead to maintaining the status quo. I wanted to know if I could eat sort of like other people as long as I was reasonable about it, and the answer, which I have insisted on getting over and over again is: Not if you want to lose weight.

It’s a pity party thing to say because… too fucking bad, right? So my body can’t digest processed food or sugar? So I have to eat very carefully forever to maintain a healthy weight (which… I’m not even maintaining yet – I’m still overweight on all the doctor charts; I’m just less overweight). Other people have it much worse than I do. At least I have access to healthy food. At least I can choose what I do with myself. I’m not persecuted for my gender or my beliefs. I’m not in obvious, constant danger. So, I can maybe suck it up and just put the loaf of bread down and get on with it? Maybe?

Well, sure, except for all this futility-fueled rage I feel. At our world, but more at myself for not living as my best self in it. I compromise too much of who I am; I have spent so much time trying to fulfill the expectation of what I believe is the right way to be that I don’t even know what it would look like to just be as I want. I am really not clear on what that would involve.

It wouldn’t have involved doubling down on a job I’m not excited about though. And it does not appear to involve eagerness to rush and start a family. As it turns out, that makes me very nervous and reticent. Which is news to me. News that makes me wonder, Who am I? Who am I really?

And why can I not answer that question by stuffing down chocolate? WHY NOT? It’s always worked before. Can’t I just get rid of the uncomfortable questions with food still? No? Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do then?

Yes, this is a rant. And no, I don’t know that it’s very productive.

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My husband has pointed out on multiple occasions that my trainer has a special gift that no one else seems to have: when she tells me to do something, I do it.

I am known – particularly to my husband – for being rebellious. Often, I will answer “no” to a question and then change my answer to what I really mean. I start with “no” because it’s my knee-jerk reaction. This is the result of growing up the obedient child of a strict (military trained) parent. All my childhood, and through my teenage years as well, I was very good at doing exactly what I was supposed to. I was also skilled at accurately guessing what that might be.

Most kids from strict backgrounds rebel at some point. Everyone thought I would go crazy in college, when I was away from my parents for the first time. But I really didn’t. I was a people-pleaser because that was how I could make sure I kept my parents’ favor. So even in college, where I did, in fact, drink under age and procrastinate my assignments, I was still essentially well-behaved. Because I wanted to keep favor.

So the rebellion, when it came (and it always comes), showed itself in off-kilter ways. The biggest, most consistent, and most obvious way I rebelled was by overeating. And by being overweight. This was not part of the paradigm; it was not what was expected of me. I should have been svelte and lovely just like my mother and my grandmothers before her. Instead, I had the notorious “pretty face.” My face was pretty, but the rest of me fell far outside the standard beauty ideal. The eating was my big fuck you to the world. To my parents for controlling how and what I ate for so many years, to everyone else for valuing my outsides over what was internal and more true.

The saying “no” as a reflex was more of a funny tick in comparison with the aggressive overeating.

The fact that my trainer could so easily get passed the immediate no, could burn down the wall of “no one’s going to tell me what the fuck I can and can’t eat” and, essentially, order me around, while I willingly responded was kind of a miracle. She said, “Do not eat that” and I did not eat it. She said, “Exercise like this” and I did.

It helped that it was my idea, and it helped that I was paying her to tell me what to do. Mostly, though, she was helping me and that’s what made it work. I needed a guide out of that dark woods of unhealthiness, and I needed one that was much more present, real and consistent than a diet book or even a weight-loss plan. That she had no emotional attachment to my overweight self – that she had no personal stake in how pretty or socially “right” looking I was also made an enormous difference. Her stake was – and still is – in my health. And for the first time, I felt someone’s desire to help me for me and my well-being without it being muddied in the waters of acceptability and desirability. She does not care if I look hot in that outfit or if nice men will notice me; she cares about my cholesterol level, my balance, my strength, and how healthy my heart is.

So I did what she said. Even though it was extreme. Even though I would have flipped off any other person, no matter how close or beloved, who asked the same things of me. And it worked. For a long time.

Until it didn’t. I’m about to hit my second year anniversary of working with my trainer, and the stark truth that anniversary illuminates is that I am the same weight I was a year ago – exactly, if not a couple pounds more. If I had lost all the weight I wanted, this would have been an excellent year of maintenance. It has been that, actually. But I still have more weight to lose.

And my trainer has lost her magic power. I do not do whatever she tells me anymore. Often, I ignore her. Not because I don’t trust her, believe her, and adore her, but because dammit, I can do what I want! I have reached my rebellious stage with her as well.

That first year was the infancy of my healthy self, and she was my guide, the one who raised me in this new way of living. But now I have grown, and time has passed. I think sometimes I am in the teenager years of my healthy self. And I need to rebel because, much like with one’s actual teenage years, it’s time to start finding my own path. Not rebelling as a true teenager didn’t serve me well. Of course, going to the other extreme would be harmful too. But I think there is a middle ground – one in which I assert myself and my own choices so I can learn how to do this thing on my own. If I’m going to be healthy – in good shape and conscious of my eating – for the rest of my life, I have to find my own way. Because I’m the only one who can own this.

The question now is, what’s the best way to go about my healthy health rebellion?

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