This is not a new post. In fact, it’s an update on a post I wrote a little over a year ago. One thing I try to do here is keep it real. I hope you know it’s more “what you see is what you get” than “I’ve got this thing all figured out” and everything is as perfect as a highlight reel on social media. I have come to the age that I know everyone has their own stuff. I believe we all have this great big wonderful life, but the blessing of living this life means living with the challenges that come.
Today I’m re-sharing one of my confessions. I’m getting out of my comfort zone. This confession basically goes against what I’ve tried to create and build as far as health and wellness coaching and encouraging. But, I have to think that if this is one of my struggles, then maybe it will resonate with at least one of you reading. So, here goes . . .
You probably guess it from the title: I am an emotional eater.
Food is one of the largest components of our health journey. However, it’s not always about just the food. It is about our relationship with food. Food fuels us, nurtures us, keeps us strong, energized and healthy, serves as medicine for our bodies and also tastes darn good. It can satisfy all the physical needs of our bodies but can also satisfy other needs. Sometimes that can be in a healthy way and other times not so much.
Growing up in the South, in my home, food was always a big thing. During the summers we spent hours gathering all sorts of vegetables to enjoy and put up for later in the year. We made wonderful, nutritious meals and ate together as a family at 7:30 pm on the dot on weekdays. We celebrated with food. My mother, aunt and grandmother swapped recipes, collected cookbooks like library books and talked about meals, ingredients and best methods in a very serious manner. Until my mother passed away our conversations always touched on what either of us was cooking, how to cook it and some new recipe we were trying. Food was a big component of connection.
That was healthy.
However, somewhere along the way food also became a source of something else for me and a relationship began that was not so healthy. I went through some years of disordered eating and being afraid of food. Thankfully, that was tackled but the fall back of emotional eating still lingers in the crevices and can sneak back in at times. I know it when it starts creeping in and I hate it. It’s like that pesky nagging gnat buzzing all around your face as you try to swat it away or blow it away out of the corners of your mouth. (If you are from the South you know exactly what I am talking about).
Unfortunately for me, the habit is deep and no matter the amount of education, analysis, knowledge or certifications I have, it can still be a struggle. I am sharing this here because I know I am not alone in this and that so many others have that same nagging gnat pestering them. Just google “emotional eating” and a gazillion headings pop up. I always say I am not perfect. I have to confess that I deal with the same issues that so many others do on a regular basis.
I have learned my triggers and have also learned some ways to manage that mindless emotional eating, but just know that gnat still comes around. Some folks can’t eat when they are anxious or in a stressful time. I do that at times and, in fact, have recently been on that side. However, typically, I am the opposite. That is when I find myself reaching for something just “because”. When I was spending time with my parents during their hospital stays and health crises, a big bowl of mac and cheese would be what I thought might soothe me. Or maybe it would be chips and salsa. Anything to not deal with what was really going on. We know the stress our children can cause. Those times might send me to the pantry for a handful of something. A confrontational conversation with a family member, a son, or even the cable company might trigger a pesky “need” for just a couple of crackers. Recently, I’ve found myself back in this cycle. I cannot tell you one exact thing that brings it on right now, as I think it’s a lot of little things, or maybe it’s coming out of some big things, that leave me a little anxious and overwhelmed. You get the picture. Usually, I can handle these situations but I have to confess that I am not always one hundred percent.
I have worked hard on learning to eat intuitively. It has freed me in so many ways and helped me regain that healthy balanced relationship with food. If the gnat comes buzzing around I do have some tricks. If I ignore my tricks I also know that, as I often say, “every day is a Monday” and I will not stoop and wallow in a slip-up, but make the next choice healthy and move on. If you are with me on this, here are a few things that work for me and for others.
1. STOP AND THINK
If you know you aren’t really physically hungry do something about it before you do grab those cookies or chips. If you know this is just a reaction to an argument, to stress, to a conversation gone wrong or even something more serious you are dealing with in your life, then the first thing to do is get out of the kitchen. The longer you stay in the kitchen or in front of the vending machine at work, or staring at the shelves of the bakery, the stronger that hold will be.
2. FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO
This is important. You know something drove you to wanting to satisfy that darn gnat buzzing around. Instead of eating, find something else to occupy your body and mind. If you are at work, take a walk around the office or block. If you are at home, do the same thing. Find a book or magazine (preferably not a cookbook or food magazine!) to read to engage your mind. Kick off your shoes and go through some yoga poses or meditation. Phone a friend. Many advise journaling here, even writing down how you are feeling and why so you can track your emotions with your food triggers. I say do whatever will occupy your mind and body in a healthy way so that you are engaged. I personally love to walk our dog and listen to a podcast or book on Audible.
Sometimes the eating is simply because you are bored. In this case, please find something else to do.
Sometimes you may be hungry but also have the gnat buzzing in your ear. In that case, you have a choice to make. If you actually need something to satisfy that real hunger until your next meal, or if it is mealtime, you have a choice to eat something nutritious. However, if it is more than just physical hunger and there is some emotion going on, it can be hard to turn that off. Ignoring it does not always work. While it is not a good idea to give in and inhale an entire pint of ice cream or whatever it is you are craving, there are alternatives.
Let’s be real here. Sometimes a food craving just won’t go away until it’s been satisfied. Sometimes it’s better to have a bit of what you are craving so you can move on. Otherwise, you may be eating all around your craving, never satisfying it, consuming unnecessary calories because you still wind up eating the very thing you were trying to avoid! Sometimes it’s better to satisfy the craving and prevent a full on binge.
Another way I get caught is by not eating a real meal. This can be just as bad. I can eat this and that – even healthy things – picking throughout the day – but never feel as if I’ve actually eaten anything real. Sometimes I’ll trick myself into thinking I’m doing a good thing by putting “this and that” on a plate. It might be hummus, vegetables, nuts, olives, sweet gherkin pickles, which are all pretty good choices, but end up as a meal being what a friend of mine calls a “smorgasbord of nothing”.
When any of these happen, and I’m confessing here, they are happening lately, I do the only really good thing I have found to do . . . I just move on to another day. Try to take some time to settle all the areas that are unsettled and move on.
There you have it. These are some of the best ways I have found to deal with emotional eating when it decides to make an appearance. Once you decide how you are going to handle it and how you are going to respond then you’ve made a great first step. You have made the decision and you have remained in charge.
And remember, if none of these work for you this time, there’s always next time. There’s no point in wallowing in guilt or beating yourself up. That’s wasted energy you could use doing something much more fun. Move on and make the next meal or snack something your body will appreciate.