Not Every Day is the Same

Sometimes… I am KILLING it. Two weeks ago, I had my Thursday 5k, I ate about 1350 calories – some of it in the delicious pasta recipe I had seen. I didn’t go back for seconds, and I crocheted and watched This is Us instead of late-night snacking.

Delicious Pasta Recipe I got from @conditionedbykaty on Instagram.

Some days, I do great – even on the weekend. I do everything I am supposed to – I work out! I go to bed at a good time! I even clean! …And there have been a lot of days where this doesn’t happen. I wake up late, I grab a sugary granola bar for a snack, I dump some creamer in my coffee, I make a peanut butter cheesecake and have a second piece.

I made an Insta post this week with the caption: “Anxiety, you don’t go away overnight – but I am trying to pack your bags.” I don’t know how to go about making everything better all at once, and it drives me crazy. I’m still trying to climb that mountain in one, single, Superman-esque bound.

My therapist says I do not forgive myself easily, and I see it. I tend to always find a way to put the blame on myself, no matter what the circumstance was. I should have tried harder, I should have gritted my teeth – it is within me to make the change or to fix the relationship… even when I know that not everything can be controlled or fixed with such determination.

In fact, just today, I realized (in a session with the glorious Michelle of course) that a lot of my fear stems from this idea that when I fail or mess up, it causes people to leave. I fear that those who love me or care about me are pretending or that I tricked them somehow – so the idea of messing up? That’s terrifying. Messing up breaks the spell I put on them, or is the straw that makes someone not care enough to pretend to like me. I think somewhere along the line I decided that I was only beneficial/loveable to people if I did my very best.

One of my professors in college used to sit me down and say “Jessica is enough,” and the words never sunk in. I thought “Well, I am not enough if I don’t do what is right, if I don’t do the right things to keep people around.” These thoughts are hard to get rid of, because in some ways, they are true. We have to be good people, we should be helpful, but worth doesn’t come from our actions.

I struggled this past week with getting the nerve to write another post because I was afraid I would come off like a hypocrite who was trying to teach the world to be better when I had nothing together. I also didn’t want an emotional post that gave no one any benefit. Here’s my concession for both: I don’t have anything together. I am fighting all of the time against my anxiety and my fears. I am constantly reminding myself of reality. Here is what I am doing to get through the valleys and the days I don’t do what I am supposed to do… and maybe it helps someone else.

Grounding

I am learning to ground myself – not to my room, but to the environment and reality around me. It reminds me of a book (that I am afraid to spoil the ending of) where the main character, after trauma unfolds in her life over and over again, learns to be okay by reciting every good thing she had ever seen someone do.

I am married to a husband who loves me and chose me. I am working at a company that chose me to work for them. I have friends who choose to hang out with me and talk to me about their lives. I remind myself of these things over and over again. This keeps me from sinking into my mind with uncontrollable thoughts of not deserving the things I have, or this weird impostor syndrome I seem to have developed.

Concessions

I cannot fix all of me at once. This I must remember. I have so many anxiety-ridden habits and poor health habits.

I love to eat, as referenced in my Emotional Eating post. I bite my nails and the inside of my mouth. I pick at scabs. A lot of my favorite hobbies involve sitting still. I love carbs, and I love late night eating… and every time I feel like I am cracking the whip on one bad habit, the others swing to the forefront again.

I have to focus on one thing at a time and let the others lay where they lay for the moment. If I have to get a manicure to cover my nails, that’s okay. If I have some pasta dishes more often than not, but I am not binging at 11pm anymore, that’s okay. If the only workout I do for the day is a short walk, that is okay.

It may be possible as well that we can re-frame those days where we’re not as productive, and even do them on purpose. A friend of mine, Jess, describes these days as “Expand Days.” These days are for when you need to refresh or reset. The point is to allow your mind to expand to new ideas, avenues of thought or ways of doing things. You achieve it by just chilling out and “being,” not actively doing anything but enjoying the present moment. Having “Expand Days” or even just good-old rest days on purpose may help me feel like I am not slipping up, but being intentional.

Personal Progress

In 7th grade, I dreaded gym class. I was your average gym student – not the slowest or the fastest – but mannnn I hated it. I heard we were going to have the 20-minute run in the Spring and I would have sworn to you that my stomach turned to lead. The day of came and the gym teacher said a phrase that sounded like heaven: “Even if you granny-shuffle the whole thing, I will be happy and you’ll still pass.”

You best believe I did just above a granny-shuffle. And I even found a way to pass the time as we ran around the football track: I pretended I was on the field and dodging other players. I found out what the minimum was, and because I am that kind of person, made sure I did better than at least that. I knew I couldn’t be the best, but as soon as I found out I didn’t have to, I felt so much better.

I am not your skinny Instagram fitgirl and blogger. I am focusing on small successes and personal progress. I am becoming more full with smaller meals. I am making better choices on dinners. I am feeling better in my clothes, even if the scale hasn’t changed much yet. Personal Bests are all I can get right now, and it still feels pretty good.

Personal Progress

Thanks for reading y’all. Let me know what solutions you use for ignoring that voice in your head. What do you do when your progress doesn’t feel like it’s enough?

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Emotional Eating

I have only recently received the official diagnosis from a medical professional, but I have always known that I have persisting anxiety (GAD being the proper name). A lot of this is related to the circumstances I grew up in. I had divorced parents, drug use in the family, I moved all of the time, lived under shaky financial situations, was homeless for a year, had a parent die in my formative years, had a mixed family, and so on. I learned early on, for better or for worse, truth or otherwise, that I cannot trust the people or world around me to take care of me, so I obsessively plan and blame myself when things go wrong (even when they are not my fault) because “I should have known better.”

All of this to say that when I try to pinpoint a time that “stress eating” in my life was not in effect… I can’t. A very early memory is stealing extra Flintstones gummies. Another is our constant influx of Taco Bell and Blue Bell (darn those bells). My cereal binges where I would fill a large salad bowl with cereal and milk, then taking the cereal box with me so I could refill until the box was gone. I took tens upon tens of granola bars from the pantry and hid them in my desk, or took gallon baggies of cereal to my room (Sorry, mom). The second I had autonomy I bought full jars – jars with an S! – of Nutella to eat with a spoon.

Not only that, but food was reward and love and community. I remember getting ice cream after a performance, or going out to eat with family being a huge treat. Getting to pick the place or our own pints (or half-gallons) of ice cream when we got A’s. Sneaking candy into the theater, making cookies, eating gallons of pasta, getting thirds – all of this was all mixed together with family and with love and with quality time.

October 2009, Probably at CiCi’s, with Abram (brother)

On and on I could list moments where I turned to food over the last seven years being out of my parents’ house. Food does this special thing to me: it makes me stop thinking.

See, normally my mind spins and spins with all of the what-if’s. My life and I have trained my brain to feel constantly on-alert and to anticipate the worst case scenarios, which would be helpful if I was on safari or hiding from the law which my brain assumes I must be doing. I feel at least somewhat anxious or worried at all times. I wish I could say that this is an exaggeration, but truly, when my world is 95% good and 5% something going on, I will worry and worry at that 5% until it bleeds – it’s a habit that runs over into my other bad habits like nail-biting.

But, oh, when I eat…. it’s quiet. Blissfully quiet. My worries seem less important, my chores can sit on the back burner, this food is the thing captivating my attention. The world quite nearly blurs around me while the food is in sharp definition. However, the second I am out of food, or so full that I am in pain… everything returns, and with it – guilt and shame from eating in a red haze.

April 2015, iHop pancakes

I know, from some of the research I’ve done preparing for this post, that stress is a huge factor. Short-term stress can shut down appetite in order to allow you to focus on the task at hand. However, long-term stress pumps in the hormone cortisol.

“Cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat.”

Harvard Health Publishing, source

Emotional eating can quickly turn to binge eating. MEDA (Multi-Source Eating Disorders Association) says that this slippery slope is more of a continuum (source). Emotional eating can start as a snack or some comfort food that settles your nerves or fills your actual hunger, but it can quickly devolve into your only coping strategy, or something you do until it hurts you, either with physical pain and the need to purge or with shame and guilt.

While I’ve never purged, I do binge-eat when I eat my emotions, and just these realizations have begun to push me in a better direction. I am now more aware when I am slipping into my haze-eating, and I try to push the food away when it brings me to that state. However, in order for me to truly master this thing there are a few crucial things I need to address:

  • My anxiety and stress need to go down.
  • I need to find a new outlet that lets my mind quiet.
  • I need to associate food as fuel not food as love.

These are some tall orders. I have found a few hypotheses, if not quite solutions.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Something I have never had a lot of success with is meditation. In all honesty, I’ve never really tried. I get bored quickly, or my mind runs away before I muster the patience to corral it back. The idea of sitting in the quiet and meditating has always seemed so foreign to me. I grew up in a house with noise and with music constantly. There was no respite unless to sleep, and even then – we slept with radios in our rooms.

Mindfulness is another practice that has seemed strange. How do I pay attention to the food I am eating more? Is it the simple act of knowing what I am eating? Am I supposed to focus on the sensation? Upon reflection, I can see how the mindless stuffing of food into one’s mouth can be a stumbling block, but again, I’ve never tried mindful eating.

This upcoming week, I am going to try meditating at least three times for at least 20 minutes each time. I will also try eating mindfully on a meal or two, and maybe I’ll report back some results on Instagram.

New Hobbies

We are all taking up new hobbies while locked in our homes for our quarantine 2020. At Walmart the other day I noticed that all of the sewing kits were gone and it gave me a bit of a chuckle. Heck, I am currently blogging for the first time so I might be a hypocrite for laughing. I have been thinking about returning to some of my old hobbies, and seeing how they fare, since I’m ditching food as my best friend.

I have been crocheting on and off since 2018, and I have owned a guitar since 2011 or so. I also love playing video games with my husband, so I am going to prioritize doing some hobbies of mine through the week and seeing what sticks again.

Associations

Here is the hardest one. How does one break an association? Is this a Pavlov situation that I need to reprogram? Is this a gradual process that will happen as I avoid using food as my comfort? I’m going to pose this question to any followers here or on Instagram, and hopefully we can start some dialogue. I’d love to have a post about this in the future.

This post has been a little heavy. I realized the truth of it as I was writing. I actually spoke up while writing and mentioned it to my husband – how far back this goes for me. I’ve been an emotional eater for a long time. There is some hope that as I address my anxiety and continue seeing my therapist (bless you Michelle), that I’ll continue to make strides.

What sorts of habits have you broken? How have you changed a negative association to a good one?

Thanks for reading, y’all.

Some cookies I made today… so sue me.