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.

Roadblocks to Weight Loss

“I have been thinking about the idea of excuses for some time now. They are like menacing demons that creep into our lives without us knowing. They are roadblocks, white lies to ourselves, a reason to set the bar lower, and self-justification for achieving less than our full potential.”

Lorii Myers, No Excuses, The Fit Mind-Fit Body Strategy Book

It’s time! The time has come! It’s time to get real. Gettin’ Real with Jessica. No, that’s awful – I’m not calling it that. Let’s just call it honesty and move on.

I talked in my last post about my weight loss history and about how my pattern is to all-or-nothing, lose a bunch of weight fast for one event, then gain it all back (and sometimes then-some) only to repeat the process over and over again. This may not be the case for you, or for anyone else, but this is mine.

The obvious solution? Make real, lasting changes to my entire lifestyle. Make better choices in food and activity, make healthier dinners, go on walks, exercise. So why don’t I do it? Because it’s freaking terrifying! I love when “fit girls” go “It’s a lifestyle change, not a diet,” because that sounds scary af. Who wants to change the entire way they are living life cold turkey? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Another thing I’m scared of? Hiking. (Please stop laughing.) I get up to the foot of whatever darned thing I’m hiking up and stare up at that stinking summit and just groan. “How am I supposed to get up there? This is a huge task!” I think. The few times I have gone hiking, I’ve had these thoughts and it is only when I stop looking up at the summit that I can just think about one step at a time and only about halfway through do I start to think that I can actually reach the top.

Dog Mountain – Montana 2013

Perhaps this is one and the same fear. I stare at the summit – the summit here being “a Jessica who is free of her anxiety habits (biting nails, chewing cheeks, excessive worrying, OCD habits, spiraling), a Jessica who is at a healthy weight, who exercises regularly, makes amazing healthy dishes, never emotionally eats, gets to enjoy back dimples and maybe a little abs. “That is an insane amount of ground to cover, how on earth am I supposed to do that?”

And my health blueprint says “All or nothing! Jump in with both feet or it’s not worth doing! Do it for three weeks until that big thing coming up so you’ll be able to wear that dress you like!” If we’re going with the hiking analogy, I tell myself I can jump from the bottom to the top in one go and that’s the only way that it’ll be worth it. This analogy is starting to fall apart though, so I am going to let it go.

So instead of doing what I normally do, let’s start by identifying the roadblocks that always get in the way, and maybe by the end of identifying them, I’ll have a few simple steps I can start with. Now, which things stop me from having better health and mental habits?

  • Time
  • Money
  • Emotional Eating (Eating for Comfort)
  • “Eating Events”
  • Motivation

Time

This is the excuse I believe we are all familiar with. Our busy schedules, trips, events, and daily lives can all take away that precious time we need. This is not a topic I feel I should or need to preach on, because my daily schedule is not busy enough to have a good excuse here. I don’t have children to cart about, and my husband and I have regular office jobs. We do little else but work and go home, and the occasional weekend get-together or D&D sesh.

However, I can identify a special time when “Time” itself gets in the way, and it’s holidays. Whenever I am out of town or have family or friends by, I find it hard to stick to things I want to. Who wants to work out when they could hang out with their best friend? Or wants to have a salad when you need to show your family the place with the amazing nachos you’ve been talking about?

Here is a crossroads for me, and for all of us. We have three options.

  • Abandon all healthy habits with family/friends. Eat dessert first, eat as much as you like because events are the only time you can let go.
  • Ease off the gas on holidays and with family/friends. Enjoy the time you have, but in moderation. You can have a piece of cake, but don’t have the second.
  • Stay strict at all times. Be the guy who brings pretend dressing to Thanksgiving or better yet, the guy who sips a protein smoothie at Christmas dinner. (You can see I’m not fond of this option)

I think pure abandon is probably not the best route, but it is the route I am most familiar with (and is the reason I’ve gotten sick at Christmas, twice!). I need to make practical steps towards ordering the smaller ice cream, getting water, and moderation at holidays and with family, but not using it as an excuse. I can also feel free to avoid hour-long workouts when I am on vacation, but it’s not a bad idea to go on an afternoon walk with some family.

There, Jessica, not so hard to take one step up that huge mountain!

Money

*shudder* I have so much money anxiety. I’ll probably get to talking more about it at a later date, but I think just the one anecdote may get the idea across:

Leaving college, my wonderful grandparents sent me some graduation money that I used to deposit on a rental and furnish said-house. After doing all of that, I had some money left over and decided to get an Xbox so I would be able to play with my then-boyfriend. As I left Wal-Mart with the box under my arm, I had a panic attack in the car. I hyperventilated and would have returned it immediately had my boyfriend not started driving me away.

And so, you see, money and I are not usually friends. Particularly ~ spending money ~ and I are not friends.

Last year, I followed a diet plan with FitGirls and budgeting extra money for the expensive healthy meals they wanted had helped a bit, but only for the month that I did it and not for a long-term solution.

A couple of things have already begun to help me: following healthy blogs and other ladies on Instagram for one! They have great recipes that look not only easy to make, but like they are delicious. I also found ALDI, a grocery store which sells overstock goods, as well as off-brand foods (which are just as good), and cheap produce! *ahem* Let me repeat myself. “CHEAP PRODUCE.” The same grocery products I bought at a Wal-Mart when I lived in small town Kansas are 40-80% cheaper at ALDI now that I live in the Kansas City area.

I feel like money is one of those easy arguments, but at-home workouts have always been an option, and especially now, during and after the Stay-At-Home order, I think that is becoming more and more apparent. I do wonder how our gyms around the nation will be affected by this realization.

Emotional Eating

This is so big a topic (especially for me), I believe I will be writing a post about this over the weekend. Stay tuned!

“Eating Events”

By this, I mean dates! Hanging out! Galas, banquets, and events literally built around the food we will eat! I can’t say no to you, crab puff. Nor you, buffet. Nor you, ice cream date.

My husband and I bond over food. We love to eat together and to go to restaurants. Local places, chains, sit-downs, drive-thrus, you name it.

One solution I’m implementing? Our date is now a walk and cooking together. Chop these veggies, I’ll make the pasta. I’d love to Pokemon Go again and do that for a whole Saturday afternoon. Let’s find festivals of food, where we’ll have to walk around in the sun to enjoy the tastes. Let’s try new things and not just new foods!

March 2018, Gun Range in Wichita

Motivation

“I’ll give you something to cry about!” Anyone else hear that one growing up?

You want motivation? I’ll give you motivation.

Working out increases your metabolism, improves your mood, helps to prevent all kinds of health problems like diabetes, poor circulation, poor immune systems, etc.

Having better nutrition helps your skin, your energy levels, your longevity, etc.

Taking better care of your mental health… is self-explanatory.

But all of this is head knowledge that I am sure you and I already have. Motivation comes from within – from wanting to be better.

And I want to be better. I’m done being worse, or being okay. I’m ready to be better. This, my motivation, will drive the rest of those roadblocks out of the way with time. Even if I stumble or fall back, there’s always tomorrow.

Here, by the way, is the summit of the first mountain I really hiked:

February 2013, Dog Mountain Summit, Montana

And here is that same summit again, in the Fall:

October 2013, Dog Mountain Summit, Montana

Thanks for reading!