My Struggle With Intuitive Eating & Emotional Overeating

Toward the end of 2018, I decided to make some pledges (not resolutions) to myself and my own well-being. They are:

  1. My Health & Fitness – Conquering my overeating & shed the extra “person” I carry from the result of not dealing with my emotions, boredom, etc.
  2. My Peace – I can’t control other people/situations but I can control how I react.
  3. My Self-Care – Putting this first, I deserve it at all times.
  4. My Joys – Once my responsibilities are taken care of, I deserve to spend my time in ways that make me happy and joyous.

So No. 1 is what I’m going to focus on though they all sort of tie in together. First off, #1 is not a diet. I’m not counting calories or forcing myself to work out to burn calories. Sometimes I log my food to pick up on trouble spots, make myself more mindful when I’m eating at points that I’m not hungry and maybe need to address some underlying emotions or issues. When I started Intuitive Eating, I didn’t address the core reason I struggle with overeating to start with. Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic household, food became my drug of choice since when you’re 9-10 years old you usually don’t have access to drugs and alcohol. Though watching my father, I knew I didn’t want to abuse alcohol. Food was my friend, my comfort and still is today except now I want to go a step further and shed my frequent need for comforting with food. This feels like one of the final steps I need to take in my journey to overcoming my past abuses and traumas. Frankly, I don’t want what happened to me in the past to win.

Long story short, I didn’t truly follow Intuitive Eating (IE) as it is intended. I used it as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted when I wanted, but I wasn’t eating to true hunger, I was shoveling junk into my big mouth to buffer the pain and anxiety from my past. Then I blamed IE for failing me. Nope, I failed me. I was eating when I wasn’t truly hungry. I wasn’t listening to my body but to my emotions, my fears, my anxiety, my stress, my boredom, etc. IE didn’t fail me, I failed IE. I failed myself but it’s okay. It’s all in a learning and recovery process.

People who have suffered abuse, sexual trauma/rape etc. especially women, tend to be overweight as a coping mechanism.  Wearing a “fat suit” makes you feel safer from unwanted attention. Start to lose weight, get smaller and the moment you start garnering more uncomfortable attention, you’ll unconsciously start overeating to pad up your protective fat suit.  In a way, it feels like your superpower to be invisible to other people.  You can fade into the background considering you’re not being targeted for fat-shaming. 

In my life, I have experienced verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse so I struggle in many different ways but I’m determined to overcome these coping mechanisms. It’s time I break free of my past and live a freer life. I know I will always be haunted by my past but I don’t want it to win. I will falter but I will pick myself up, brush off and keep going. Eventually, the falls will become infrequent and I will also learn to catch myself before hitting the ground sometimes. But I have to be patient and kind with my trips. I just want to overcome and drop this baggage. I want to stop suffering, stop overeating and take care of my body. It feels like this extra “person” of fat/weight that I carry around weighs me down and serves as a constant reminder that I’m still letting my past win.

The principles of IE are simple:  Eat when hungry – eat what you want until just satisfied.  Incorporate gentle nutrition and joyful movement.  Well this is my take on it, the book is more involved but this is the overall view.  When you are struggling with emotional/stress overeating, it throws in an additional challenge.  I’m not going to diet any more.  I’m not going to weigh or measure myself.  It has never once helped in the long run.  I’m not going to berate myself for what I eat but I’m also going to stop ignoring my emotional overeating and fool myself to believe oh, it’s just intuitive eating.  Um, yeah, Laura, nope, nice try.  Stop excusing your overeating as IE.  Just stop it already.

The other night, hubby and I went to Walmart to get some groceries but it had started pouring down rain while we were inside.  Our car was halfway up the parking lot so I grabbed ahold of the cart, bracing some of my weight on the handle and started running toward it.  Because some of my weight was being carried by the cart, I felt this incredible lightness.  I couldn’t tell you how many pounds the cart way holding but it doesn’t really matter.  The experience made me think of how much better I would feel if I was not carrying an extra ‘person’ of weight.  How much lighter and stronger I would feel.  How much more I could do.  Of course this triggered the whole dieting thing in my head, but I pushed it out of my mind.  I can’t live my life dieting.  But I can live my life honoring what my body wants and needs.  I can honor my life by dealing with the hard emotions, loneliness, sadness, grief, anger, frustration, etc. by facing those uncomfortable feelings.  My body is padded with all my overeating.  

Another recent experience is I deleted all my fitness tracking apps off of my phone.  Since my late teens, movement has been mandated exercise to lose weight.  I must walk, ride, run, hike – X amount of time at Y intensity to burn Z calories.  It was never about joy or enjoyment.  Diet mentality sucks.  One day I walked four miles with my daughter on the bike path.  Several times I caught myself thinking – ‘you better walk faster you’re not burning enough calories’, ‘quit stopping, your heart rate will drop’ and ‘push, push, push’.  Each time, I would push those thoughts out of my mind and go back to enjoying what I was doing.  If I wanted to stop and poke under the leaf litter hoping to find an early wildflower, then so be it.  If I wanted to stop and take a few photos of an area, no problem.  If I just wanted to stop, close my eyes and breathe in the fresh air, go for it.  Somewhere along the way, I had completely given up my enjoyment of being outside moving.   Without realizing it, we had walked four miles (my phone auto tracks steps and I checked out of habit).  

The next day, it was warmer and the sun was in and out.  Being in west-central Ohio, the winters can be brutal and I wanted to get back outside.  This time I drove to a park fairly close to my house that has a lot of off pavement trails as walking on pavement makes my knees and hips hurt if I do it too much.  Even though it was muddy, I brought an extra pair of hiking shoes and set off.  This time the exercise Nazi in my head was quieter.  A few times, she popped up but I ignored her commands.  I wasn’t on a set schedule and had several hours to myself.  Before, I would have my exercise tracking app on and be compulsively checking it for my average walking speed, calories burned and time elapsed.  I’d be hiking briskly, not stopping to admire much of anything.  

Three different times, I had scared up a giant blue heron who was fishing in the creek and nearby small lake in the park.  The last time I saw him, he was standing on a slowly shrinking ice patch at one end of the lake.  He cocked his head to one side so he could see me better as I slowly approached.  I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures with my camera.  I crept along the trail excited that he hadn’t flown away this time.  He watched me cautiously and I watched him.  As I gently took soft steps, I was able to get closer photos until I had walked right by him (or her – I have no idea how to tell them apart).  I stood there staring back at him, taking in the quiet of the day, the sun coming in and out from behind the traveling clouds.  Maybe, I thought, if I were to have a spirit animal, maybe it’s a blue heron.  

Eventually, I moved on and he stayed on his ice perch to fish.  As I finished my hike, I reflected on my heron encounter.  A month ago, I would have been so focused on burning calories that I would have barreled down the trail scaring the heron a fourth time.  I wouldn’t have given myself permission to just go gently, slowly and enjoy the encounter with reverence and awe of such a beautiful bird.  My mom used to say ‘like a bull in a china shop’.  Well that’s been me going through my life breaking things and missing the delicate cues of the world around me.  Missing the beauty of the ‘china’.  I don’t want to be the bull anymore.  I don’t want to charge through my life.  

When I got back to my car, I was surprised to find I had walked five miles based on my phone’s step counter.  This time I checked out of sheer curiosity and not a goal.  If I had set my goal to hike five miles, I would have charged through just wanting to get it over with and on to the next thing.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed the hike like I did that day.  I’d been impatient and making up reasons in my head why I couldn’t possibly hike five miles.  But this time, I took my time, I took many photos with my phone (prompting me to order a recharageable portable power source since I almost ran the phone battery down).  I spent time just being present, being mindful.  I didn’t even notice I had hiked so far because distance wasn’t my goal.  Left to my own devices and enjoyment, I obviously will hike further than I would expect.  

Between the grocery cart experience and that day’s joyful hike, I realized I am on the right track.  I want to be lighter, more joyful, less encumbered and simply mindful.  When I ordered the power source, I also ordered a small sling day pack to carry a water bottle, maybe a sketch book, some charcoals and possibly my Nikon camera.  I also ordered a bracelet with a butterfly charm as a reminder to focus on the beautiful, to fly above the world’s expectations and BS, as a promise to myself to enjoy life, to honor what my body needs, to conquer the emotional/stress eating, to live the very best way I can.  I also ordered a pack of my fave Pilot V5 roller ball pens in a bunch of colors just because I wanted them and the bright chartreuse green is my fave.  

I don’t know if I will get smaller or lose weight.  The only way I will know is by how my clothes fit because I just can’t weigh or measure my self any more.   I don’t have an ideal size in mind, I figure this is up to my body to let me know what my size should be.  I believe that if I can for the most part eliminate emotional/stress overeating and that I listen to my body giving it gentle nutrition, that I may end up smaller/lighter.  Or not.  Either way it doesn’t matter.   The goal is to overcome old, poor habits and trust myself and my body.  That’s it.  To learn how to deal with my stress and emotions.  Instead of grabbing something sweet that I am not truly hungry for, I sit down and journal my feelings or go for a long walk to ease anxiety.  It’s all about self-care which I have ignored for years.  

It’s time to be brutally honest with myself each moment of every day and ask myself ‘what do you need right now?’.  There is truly no better time than right now to be my own best friend.  

 

 

Intuitive Eating Didn’t Work (Completely) for Me – Battling Emotional (etc.) Eating

Last year, I went on this whole intuitive eating bit.  I read books and listened to podcasts, I did parts of a workbook, I wholly wanted to incorporate this into my life.  And to be clear before I continue, I still believe diets don’t work nor do I feel weight or BMI should be a measurement of your worth or health.  You are GORGEOUS and AMAZING no matter what that stupid scale says.  We have to quit judging each other whether we are fat, thin, tall, short, black, white, brown, red, male, female, neutral or trans gender, sexual orientation, rich, poor, average, whatever.  Just stop it.  Just fucking stop judging.  If you’re a kind person and you can deal with my nasty sense of humor, chances are we’ll be friends.  Or I’ll at least tolerate you with returned kindness.

Also, I still believe intuitive eating should be part of my life, eating when I’m hungry and really thinking about what I want to eat.  However, I gained 30 lbs over the course of this new intuitive eating.  Why?  Because my body craves shit.  It craves sweets and junk and frankly, I’m still have not completely conquered my tendency to eat when I’m upset, stressed, bored or its evening.  For some reason, evenings are the worst for me.  And my body isn’t craving celery, it’s screaming SUGAR!!!!! FAT!!!!!! SALT!!!!!!  I read in a book that your gut biome, if it’s out of whack can cause these kind of cravings.  Regardless of the reason, I have a lot working against me (though probiotics, fermented food and yogurt tend to make me sick).  It could be that and/or it could be past abuses, trauma, coping mechanisms, etc.

I really don’t know why my body doesn’t say ‘apple’ which would be good for me but rather ‘milk chocolate covered caramels’.  I’m not making this shit up, if my body (and/or mind-emotions-psyche-gut biome) had its way, I’d eat nothing but sugar day in and day out.  Which makes me feel awful.  This summer, 9/28/2018 to be exact, I was road riding on my country roads.  It wasn’t particularly hot or windy, actually the conditions were pretty nice for cycling.   Except I was struggling and frustrated, even on a flat section of my route.  When I got home, sweaty and exhausted, I dug out the scale hidden away in my garage where I had put it so I wouldn’t use it, and weighed myself.  I had gained over thirty pounds.  It doesn’t take a physics genius to figure out that the heavier and larger you are, the harder it is to propel your fat ass around with two wheels, a chain and crank.  I had literally added a bag of kitty litter to myself.  Strapped on a bag and just took off again.  Of course I was struggling!

So I took the scale back up to my bathroom and stuck it in the closet.  Again, I use this as a marker as my weight can jump up 5 lbs just from a heavy work out.  Using my phone, I took multiple full-length ‘before’ pictures of my body and emailed them to myself to keep as reference.  I dug out the tape measure, opened my long standing Excel spreadsheet with measurements clear back to 2004, and started a new section.  Then I recorded my current measurements.  I’ve found even if my weight doesn’t move, my measurements can drop significantly.   If you want a less potentially triggering way to track your progress, skip all that I’m doing and pay attention to how your clothes fit.  Do what works for you.

I started to sort of watch what I ate.  Though late November, 11/28/2018, to be exact (what is with the 28th of the month and epiphanies lately?), I found myself pissed off about how I ate the night prior.  Actually, I’d been building up to this point.  My life is pretty good except for the stress and crap at my job and this stupid overeating.  I will be 50 in February of 2020.  I do not want to be struggling with the same crap for the next decades of my life.  I want to be fit and healthy.  Not necessarily thin but I want to conquer my tendency to choose crappy foods and stuff crap in my hole when I’m feeling anything but completely serene.  I want to overcome this coping mechanisms so I whipped out my cell phone and reinstalled the app, My Plate, and started back in my food journal.

I’ll admit, food journaling tends to piss me off.  I SHOULD know how to eat.  I know what’s healthy (for the most part) and what’s not.  But I also love to lie to myself and conveniently ‘forget’ I ate a big old candy bar after lunch because I had been slammed with meetings and people asking me a bunch of questions that they already know the answer to at work that day.  I also know though that food journaling works for me.  As much as it’s annoying, it forces me to be accountable to me.  They say oh find someone to be accountable to, a friend or loved one.  This may work for some people but I would totally eat more in rebellion.  Maybe it’s the Irish in me.  Screw you friend that cares, I’m going to eat this family sized candy bar just to show you!  Show them what?  I have no idea.  But basically it comes back to our five-year old selves – ‘You’re not the boss of me!’.  Except it’s self-destructive.

The hardest person for me to be accountable to is me.  I’m going to kick my own ass all over the place more than any other person on the planet.  I am my toughest audience, friend and well, sometimes, enemy.  Plus, food journaling helps me get back into healthy eating.  As much as I hate to admit it, when I eat more fruits and veggies and less crap, I feel amazing.  I am being rewarded for taking care of my body, but my rebellious stubborn side still wants to punish myself for whatever dysfunction that still lives on inside me.  Taking care of myself whether it’s food, exercise, sleep, rest or disconnecting, is the way I overcome this tendency to disregard my needs.  Putting my needs first is sticking it to the man.  Whatever the ‘man’ from my past really is.  I’ve read 100’s of self-help books, journaled until my hand hurts, been in 100’s of therapy sessions and still old habits hold on.

Overcoming my emotional (etc) overeating is my goal for this next year and beyond.  While they preach you just have to accept yourself as heavy if this is where you end up when you utilize intuitive eating, I don’t want to keep struggling the rest of my life with carrying basically the equivalent of a thin, petite woman on my frame.  I’ve named her Agatha (no clue why) and imagine her as this old crabby lady trying to slow me down.  I’m carrying her piggy back and she keeps kicking me in the fat rolls with her sensible SAS shoes, the chunky heels leaving bruises while berating me for this and that with a harsh, nasally voice.  I really want to get Agatha the F off my back.  And her weight off my body, my joints and free myself.  Each time I choose healthy, each time I exercise (I bought a basic exercise bike for my living room cuz I know I will use it over a gym membership) and each time I chose to care for myself, more and more of Agatha starts disappearing.  It’s as if she slowly turning to dust, particles being swept up into the breeze and leaving me just a little more lighter.

Granted, I have an active imagination but I find this to be great motivation.  The food journal app, the scale and the measuring tape are all tools in this journey.  They aren’t something I need to rebel again (though I still catch myself).  Will I one day be able to truly intuitive eat?  I don’t know.  Maybe I will need to use a food journal the rest of my life.  Except maybe I go down to 2-3 days a week to keep me honest or if I’m having a bad day where I know I will revert to bad habits, I can use it to keep Agatha from returning, kicking my sides like I’m her pudgy horse she’s got to ride to a bridge tournament except she’s late and she hates being late.

I haven’t eliminated any foods from my diet though I did switch up to dark chocolate from milk chocolate.  I tend to binge on milk where the dark I don’t.  These are the changes, I am making.  Dark has more antioxidants so it’s good for me and I still get to really enjoy  chocolate, just not in huge quantities which are not so good for my body.  I’ve eliminated sugar from my hot and iced tea.  I still use half and half in my hot tea but I haven’t increased the amount to make up for the sugar.  Weird thing is, the cream tastes sweet to me now.  My iced tea, I put in an herbal fruit flavor bag with my regular family sized decaf ice tea bags.  Sometimes I cut up oranges or lemons or whatever to put in my iced tea so I enjoy it more.  I really don’t want the sugar back into it.

Another change I made several months back is cutting caffeine out of my life.  Going into menopause, your body suddenly gets super sensitive to everything (as if you weren’t being punished enough with mood swings and hot flashes).  I gave all my caffeinated tea except for some oolong to my youngest daughter.  I don’t recommend starting this during the work week though.  The first day I went decaf, I was at work and all I wanted to do was sleep.  I didn’t even drink that much caffeine to be honest.  A few cups of tea a day.   If I missed my morning tea, I would get irritable and would most likely garner a migraine.  It had started to feel like a chain around my neck.  I HAD to have caffeine.

You know what though?  After a few weeks of limiting caffeine (I’m not a Nazi about it, if I get a little caffeine here and there it’s ok), but my migraines disappeared.  Oolong tea had helped that previously but probably because it’s so caffeinated.  The other thing I struggled with was if I skipped a meal or didn’t eat ‘enough’, I’d get a migraine.  Now, I don’t drive my husband nuts when we are traveling or doing something that he has to keep me on a consistent eating schedule or I’d get a migraine.  That was annoying for both of us.  Whatever sensitivity I had regarding meal timing and migraines, went out the window which helps me eat only when hungry a key component in intuitive eating that I truly agree with.

Taking care of myself has been paying off with better overall health, I’m down roughly 18 lbs and 10.25 inches overall.  I just feel better in general.  Giving up caffeine has been an added bonus and each day, I try to find new or better ways to eat, sleep, exercise and take care of myself.  Small changes can add up to huge results in the end.  Not that I don’t still struggle with my emotional eating.  But at least now, using the food journal app, I catch myself when I’m doing it where I would completely ignore this before.  When I catch myself, I have to do the hard work of figuring out what is really the problem.  THen when I determine the issue, I must determine how to address it.  What can I do to help myself feel better?  Soothe myself with something besides food.  It’s frustrating after all these years I still haven’t conquered this but I’m  back at it.

The bottom line – do what works for you.  That’s what it all comes down to in the end.  Experts, well-meaning friends, diet gurus, etc. all want to tell us how to ‘fix’ ourselves but it’s never just so simple as oh, I need to educate myself.  We know an orange is better than a Snickers bar.  We have to dig deeper than just eating 1800 calories a day.  We have to figure out why we are using food to comfort ourselves, etc.  We all have our own reasons.  Women who were sexually assaulted have a high probability of being obese which is really the shit since we have been through enough already.  But we wear our ‘fat suit’ as protection or it seems like protection.  Whatever the reason, don’t get angry at yourself.  Be kind to yourself as you would your best friend or child.  Say, it’s okay you do this but let’s find a better way to cope so we don’t feel worse later.  You deserve this kindness.

Love yourself, take care of yourself and know that right now, no matter what you weigh, you’re amazing and deserve love and respect.  I love you all and I’m right there with you.  xoxoxox