First and foremost, I need to wish my Mommy a Happy 21st Birthday! Love you! 🙂
And now, onto the serious business:
Q: How did you deal with your emotional issues on your journey? I struggle w/emotional eating.
At first, I didn’t realize what was happening.
Let me explain.
Once I realized that eating healthier – leaning more toward fruits and veggies – was the path to weight loss for me, it didn’t matter what was going on in my life because I had finally figured out my achilles heel. So I bought up all the veggies that I knew I liked, first and foremost, and just ate those (or those in some big dish) to satisfy myself.
What ended up happening, for me, was that I couldn’t emotionally eat because I didn’t have access to the foods I used to emotionally eat anymore. It wasn’t until after I had started researching emotional eating that I realized what had happened. In fact, I remember the moment my then-boyfriend and I broke up – my daughter and I were baking muffins, and once everything was said and done, I took the muffins out of the oven, stared at them for a very long time… handed my daughter a muffin (what can I say? The baby likes her muffins.) and put the rest in the fridge, where they remained for a week. Untouched. They eventually went in the trash.
For me, emotional eating was a result of my inability to cope with my surroundings. I retreated into food because it allowed me to do so, free of judgment, free of fear, free of obligation… it felt like a free fall. It was like being able to close my eyes, take a bite and feel like whatever problem I was facing would fade away. It was my own self-induced cloud nine. The problem with this, as I’m sure you can see, is that food doesn’t – in real life – make problems go away. When the sugary haze is faded and you’re left with reality to contend with, your problems are still staring you in the face. And since you still didn’t cope with them, you’re still left with the choice to either deal with the problem or retreat into the ice cream again.
I remember being 21 and pregnant with Mini-me, and being so afraid. It wasn’t like I knew that I was an emotional eater – I don’t think many people are aware that they are, but I’ll come back to this – I just knew that emotionally, I was stunted. Like, something was holding me back. I spoke with my sorority sister then, who was a psychiatrist. She just told me flat out – you just need to start dealing and learning how to cope. I was like “How do I do that?” I mean, I barely knew what she was talking about, so she was gonna have to give me more than that.
Nah, I got no love. “Google. Amazon. Something. Do some research.”
I know that seems cold, but people around me know I love a reason to go do some research. Besides, information that I find on my own just seems to feel more valuable to me. So… off I went. Searching for information on developing better coping skills, and how to develop a routine that works best for me. How to learn how to protect myself and my emotions, because if I let anyone or anything linger for too long… I’m going to be bruised to that point where I’ll emotionally eat, and be perpetually angry. Two things I really don’t want in my life.
From there, I developed a plan that allows me to deal with issues head on, relieve my stresses and maintain positive energy that resonates in who I am and everything I do. It’s made me a more blunt person, yes, but it makes me effective. It makes me quick-witted. It keeps me on my feet. It also forces me to address issues as they arise, and quickly squash them. I do mean… quickly.
I’ve been forced to develop a stress management plan. When I have an issue, I write down the immediate problem, and I backtrack – in ink – to the cause of the problem, then I address that first. (I no longer have to write it down, but the plan is still the same.) If it is something I can address immediately, I do. If I have to wait, I accept that and I move on to the next pressing matter. The serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, the wisdom to know the difference. Say it, but live it, too.
The stress issue is also an important part of weight loss in and of itself because stress plays a direct part in your body’s ability to function properly:
Once upon a time, in a land not very far from your home… lived mankind. No fast cars, no shiny structures, no skyscrapers, nothing. Just man.. rock… and animals.
See, this worked for man because his only task was to hunt wildlife, and gather his kill for his family. That was his responsibility. His purpose was to bring the salt and fat from the animal to the family. Not work, not bills… just hunt. Because life was much simpler then, this was man’s sole source of stress.
One day, man could not hunt. Every time he threw his spear, he’d miss his prey. He just couldn’t catch SQUAT! His family was to go hungry and he just… he couldn’t take it. The stress started to build up inside of him.
Because stress about the inability to eat is the only source of stress for man, his body became used to the eventual chain of events. His body knows: Lots of stress = lack of food coming in. How did his body react? His body decided to hold on to what it had – by way of diminishing the amount of energy his body could exert all at one time, by way of making sure his body took a very long time to lose weight, by way of making sure it held onto every pound and fat cell it could. This bodily reaction would only further compel man to step up his hunting skills… why? Because he didn’t want to feel that way! He didn’t want his family to feel that way! He had to get his caveman hustle on! When man was finally able to tackle that antelope or whatever-what-have-you, the fats and salts in the meat were sooooo satisfying that they would cure man of the bodily reaction to stress.
Compare this to emotional eating.
It really is a dangerous cycle.. and it multiplies if you embrace and accept additional stresses because of your weight. In other words, if you are feeling intense outside pressure to lose weight, it compels you even further into emotional eating. This is why shaming doesn’t work. This is also why I don’t listen to society’s pleas about what my body should look like. It’s my body. I do what I want with it.
This is also why 95% of all weight loss success stories eventually turn into failures, because we over-simplify and minimize the psychological aspects of weight loss and wellness altogether – you have to be conscious and aware in order to successfully slay the dragon. It’s not just “lose the weight and it’s gone.” It’s “lose the weight, ditch the habits that brought it in the first place, get your head together and devote time to yourself to ensure that you keep it off.” If that involves getting therapy, then by all means. Do it. Not like having a therapist is anyone’s business but your own, anyway.
That being said, I don’t think emotional eating is something you can ever be “done with” if you’ve ever been in the throes of it. I do believe it operates like an addiction and, when faced with a situation that formerly would incite an episode of emotional eating, I may encounter the decision to “emotionally eat” or “deal with it.” The only difference between then and now is that I know the benefits of “dealing with it” far outweigh any benefits of “emotional eating,” and I know that “dealing with it” allows me to win. Every time.