It’s not new information that food and emotions are connected. Who hasn’t lost their appetite after some bad news? Or eaten more than they should, to heal a broken heart? Or ate a whole tray (or bag) of cookies and only noticed after there was nothing left? It happens.
In my previous posts about how I lost weight (you can read part 1 and part 2 here), I mentioned that what motivated me the most to change my eating habits was the state of emotional exhaustion I was at that point. I’m not a therapist or an expert in human behavior, but I started to observe what caused my lack of self-control. Being able to identify my eating patterns helped me change and control them and have a healthier relationship with food. I believe that the true key to weight management is understanding your emotions and dissociating them from food.
Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat – Socrates
Why can’t I stop eating?
Anxiety has been with me since I was a child. I needed things to happen immediately. The moment they didn’t, the problems began. I had a pattern. First, there would be a feeling that the whole world was falling apart, followed by an oppressive sense of impotence, culminating in eating everything that I could find. This happened time and time again. In my mind, since everything was so horrible in my life, I should have a source of happiness: in this case, food.
My first step was work on my anxiety. I just couldn’t suffer so much because of something that didn’t even happened. My second step was tricking myself. Whenever I knew a food attack was imminent, I would start it by eating some fruit, then some nuts, then whatever else I wanted. This, of course, was not a solution, but it helped me in two ways: first, I would already be pretty full by the time I got to the treats I was planning on binging, and second, it also helped me break the connection between feeling bad and eating tasty food. I’m not saying that fruit doesn’t taste good, but it sure didn’t taste as great as a slice of cake or chocolate chip cookies.
Take a deep breath
The final step is the easiest. Take a deep breath. Whenever I feel that I’m stressed, I take a deep breath, acknowledge that I am anxious, and tell myself that I’m not hungry and that I just want to eat to fill an emotional gap. And as simple as it sounds, it works most of the time.
I eat because I can’t lose weight
This is a vicious cycle and probably the hardest patter to break in the weight loss process. I would be upset, either because I couldn’t lose weight or because I had gained weight, and as a result, I would eat more. Then I would be upset with myself because I ate too much and I would eat even more. I recently spoke to a few friends who are trying to lose some weight and they described the same pattern.
My way to break the cycle was changing the way I ate. The more nutritious food you eat, the fewer cravings you will have. I know this is not what people want to hear, I know I hated when I heard it and ignored it for a long time, but it’s true.
It all comes down to what you eat
Eating nutritious food will keep your body satiated, making it work better and it will help keep your emotions under control. I know change is hard, but once you take that first step, everything else falls into place.
I need chocolate!
As most women, I suffered a lot with PMS over the years. Every month I would crave sugar like there was no tomorrow and I would eat all of it. After all, I was feeling tired, bloated, in pain, so I deserved something nice, right?
I couldn’t be more wrong. Once I reduced the amount of sugar I was ingesting I noticed the difference. The horrible pain in my legs disappeared. I went from feeling like I had been hit by a car to feeling almost normal. The nausea was gone, and even though I still got bloated, it wasn’t nearly as much as it was before.
No doubt I was very resistant to giving up sugar. I loved it, so I tried eating something with sugar right before my period. The result? Excruciating pain, nausea, sluggishness, and much more! So yeah, sugar doesn’t help at all. The best option is stick to sugar-free treats, that will fulfill your sugar cravings, but are nutritious and won’t affect you as much.
Did you notice the pattern?
In every situation I described above there was one common denominator. Food was seen as a reward. Life is messy. Things go wrong all the time. Food can’t be the answer to all your problems.
What makes creating new eating habits so challenging, is that we often have to face issues we would rather forget. It involves a lot of self-knowledge and analysis. Understanding why do we feel a certain way and try to act differently. It’s not an easy process, it doesn’t happen overnight, and there is no end to it. We must evolve constantly to become a better version of ourselves.
By no means, I am a master at this. Right now I am still recovering from an intense two-week long emotional eating episode. The difference is that now I am aware of what I’m doing and I know what to eat so it won’t cause too much damage.
My goal with this post is to show that there is hope, and with persistence, you can control your emotions and what you are eating. Just take one step at a time and slowly things will get better.