Posts Tagged ‘Emotional eating’

The new eating plan I’m following is not something I would have imagined myself doing six months ago because it’s very regimented. And personally, I have found that diets fail. What has worked for me is to approach changing my eating as a lifestyle change in which I make the choice to eat only healthy, whole foods because that is the life I am choosing for myself, and not because I’m confined to a diet, like a punishment for being overweight.

However, as this blog has evidenced, I lost some focus on choosing healthy, nourishing foods. I actually think this is a pretty normal thing to do. Looking around the society I live in, I don’t see much encouragement to choose real food, to eat in moderation, or to be thoughtful. I do see fat shaming, and I see diets that come in with even more processed food to profit off of that fat shaming. What I I see most clearly is a cycle of consumerism: a huge marketing push to buy food that has been formulated specifically to encourage more consumption, an industry of fast food restaurants, convenience foods, chain dining establishments, and freezer sections all developed to not just appeal to the consumer but to target their bliss point of taste so accurately that the food becomes like an addiction; and then on the other side, an industry of diet and weight-loss programs, also heavily marketed, even to people who don’t really need them (see my 13-year-old, 110-pound self as a prime example), meant to continue making money off the same people by keeping them in a cycle they can’t break because their habits and tastes are not truly changing.

All of which is to say that it’s hard to go through life in contemporary America without succumbing to the constant, carefully target siren song of unhealthy eating. It takes complete focus and a lot of drive because there is more working against the healthy eater than working with her. I’ve been experiencing a lot of that recently, particularly in the social realm. I find myself wanting to go out with family and friends and just “be normal” – which is to say, eat what everyone else is eating, which is not always the healthiest choice.

By the start of this year, I realize I badly needed a reset. So I accepted a very kind offer from the owner of the gym my trainer works at – Tom – to have him create a meal plan for me. I knew it would be intense, but I also realized that it would take away the space I had created for justifying less healthy food choices. I saw following Tom’s strict trainer-formulated food plan as a way to remove all the noise, all the grey space, all the ways I make compromises with myself, and instead create a strong but plain scaffolding of healthy eating. I knew that my issues with food, the ways I use it emotionally would break against this new structure, but I also understood that it was an opportunity to really look at the negative ways I use food and consider them.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, except on the seventh day, which is the free day. I have been learning the most from this day because I pretty quickly focused all my issues with food into that space and that opportunity to do whatever I want. As I have mentioned previously, it has not been pretty. I’m working on it though. This is a long process but it’s one I’m willing to stick with because it’s for me, for my life, and I want to be healthy for my lifetime.


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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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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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I am still clawing my way back onto the wagon.

We’ve been home for a little over two weeks now, and I have struggled to get back to my good habits. As I mentioned before, it’s hard when special time ends. I experienced a singular moment in my life, and I did so in the company of all the people I love best, with much celebrating, in many beautiful places. The return to work and daily routines is a real come down in excitement. I didn’t want all that specialness to end, and even though Stephen told me that special times would be all the time, as long as we were together (I know!) and even though I agree with him, I still felt the post-wedding blues people talk about. And food felt like one part of the celebration that I could keep going.

Or rather, I knew as soon as we got back that I needed to return to my healthy habits, but knowing did not translate to doing. I intended to eat well, and then I ate treats anyway. Over the course of our first week back, I found myself behaving in ways I hadn’t in almost two years. Work had several needless food extravaganzas, and instead of my usual habit of saying, “I don’t eat that” and moving on, I actually ate a cake pop. A cake pop! Because it was there and it was delicious. Just like the Chinese noodles, the cookies, the cheese, and the chocolate I found to eat.

It turns out, I can’t jump on and off the wagon as easily as I might like to think I can. The jumping off part is easy enough, but it is not such a simple task to climb back on. It should be. After all, it is only choices, and I know how to make good ones. But I am a food addict. My vacation from healthy eating reminded me of this. I struggle with moderation. It like the saying regarding alcoholism goes: “One drink is too many, and a thousand is never enough. Substitute drink for cookie, and that’s basically me.

Or it can be me. I actually have managed moderation for all the months of my plateau, I suppose. In this time, I’ve had treats here or there, but just little bits and bites. But the goal in this time was always to be absolutely healthy. Once I allowed myself to “just not worry about it” for a week and do what I wanted, I really went crazy. I didn’t know how to just enjoy a piece of cake and then let it go. Because once the sugar was in my system, and the idea of cake was in my heart, I bent my thoughts and efforts toward it. I thought about it; I sought it out. I felt myself sliding back into my old ways of always thinking about the next opportunity for treats, the next fix.

It is not how I want to live. And so, with help from some dear friends and my new husband(!), I took sugar off the menu again. I had to put money on it to keep myself from eating it. But whatever it takes to get this monkey back off my back – one step at a time – they’re steps worth taking.

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I will offer you nothing but misery and regret.

I will offer you nothing but misery and regret.

That’s half of a coconut scone. And it’s caption is what I had to tell myself to keep from eating it.

I’m like a dry drunk right now. The halcyon days of extreme focus have slipped away (temporarily), and everything is a decision again. I don’t eat sugar, so a lush coconut scone offered by a lovely inn at its complimentary breakfast should be NO PROBLEM ME, right? It’s not even on my radar – right?! Except there I was, sitting in the thoughtfully appointed main living room, at a cute table eating breakfast to the soothing sounds of classical music, and I thought, “Well, why not have just a bite?”

The fuck is that about?! Here’s why I shouldn’t have a bite: sugar. Also, butter and processed white flour. My body takes those ingredients and holds on to them like a long-lost lover returned. No good comes of me eating a scone. And yet… when we walked in to the eating area, and I saw the nicely arranged plate of bakery-made breakfast pastries, I wanted them. I got myself plain yogurt and a grapefruit a hard-boiled egg, but my heart was not in it. My heart was busy composing sonnets to scones.

I thought I could resist when my fiance brought one back to the table. But then he took a bite and said with disappointment, “Aw, it’s coconut.” Whaat? What’s that you say? Did you say coconut?! I LOVE COCONUT!!! GIVE ME THE COCONUT!

That’s not what I said out loud, but I did reach out immediately, break off a bite and pop it in my mouth. Oh sweet delicious coconut and sugar and butter and flour. Stephen said, “I hate how chewy coconut is.” I said, “Om nom nom nom nom!!!”

And I was about to eat more. I was ready to do it. I had the excuses lined up: We’re out of town! It’s a special occasion! I already ate a huge meal full of questionable ingredients last night (the tasting menu for our wedding reception)! Why not just make a weekend of it?!

I looked at the scone and thought about how good it would taste. And then I thought about the rush of happy feelings it would bring me and how, at least for a moment, those would overwhelm the stress of wedding planning. But then I remembered what would come after: the regret. The sense of disappointment with myself. The eroding of my confidence in my ability to choose what I truly want for myself. So I took a picture instead and tagged it with what truly defines that scone for me.

And you know I was glad I didn’t eat it. Of course. Always.

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It constantly surprises me how quickly things can spiral out of control. At first, it’s just Kind bars when I need a portable snack, and then it’s Kind bars once a day because they taste like candy bars to me now. And then one day it’s three Kind bars in a day because they are there and easier to get to than real food.

It’s dark chocolate because one square of 85% dark chocolate is not a big deal, and really does – psychosomatically or not – make me feel more stabilized and sane sometime. But then one square becomes four squares because they’re little and only add up to 75 calories. And then once I’m eating chocolate anyway, it’s easy to eat more, so it turns into a couple – maybe three – rows of squares. And eventually, I am having dark chocolate every day, at least 100 calories worth, and sometimes much more.

It’s the belief that I can just take a bite of something, to have the taste of it, to just appreciate it and let it go. I do believe that having one bite is a good way to engage with food, to enjoy rich foods appropriately. The key though, is remembering that it’s just one bite, and not of every single thing. It’s very easy for that one bite to turn into three bites. Or to convince myself that, because I had one bite of my friend’s dessert, I can have one bite of every dessert, and of the cheese too, and also maybe drink a sip of that champagne, and then it’s a pretty easy jump from there to just having my own portion of a thing, which however small, is still an actual portion of a food I’ve chosen not to eat for my own self, which I am nevertheless, eating anyway.

It’s making exception for special occasions and then turning everything into a special occasion. My mom was visiting and my friend was leaving our mutual job, and we were all at a party; so I decided that it was a good occasion for a glass of wine. This is how I will be making choices for the rest of my life, and I have no quarrel with it. My trainer disagrees, but I believe that a celebratory glass, the very occasional (I’m talking once, maybe twice a month) drink is a good way to make a change a manageable life-long behavior. The problem is when I then decide that I might as well have that bread with my dinner while we’re here, and also those sweet potato fries are mostly sweet potato, so we can just ignore the fry part. Even these small dalliances are not the true spiral. The true spiral occurs when the whole weekend becomes an opportunity for richer meals full of foods I don’t normally eat, and it becomes that opportunity not because I’ve planned it in advance, but because I am looking for a reason. I am looking for excuses.

Because spirals are really about losing focus. About looking around for something else besides the intentions, the actions I have chosen for myself and my own best interest. They are about loosening my hold, not to move more easily, but more recklessly, so that I can stop watching where I’m going. So that I can let go. But what I’m letting go of is myself.

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