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.  

 

 

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Food Peace Journal – Week 10 – For the Love of a Zebra Cake

Holy Swiss rolls, I’m 2.5 months into this bad boy of Intuitive Eating. Am I thinner? Nope. That’s not the point and honestly, I’ve been overeating a bit so my jeans are a little tighter. Intuitive eating is something I am definitely still learning. I don’t believe it’s something you automatically pick up if you haven’t been eating this way most of your life. There are so many ‘rules’ that have been embedded into your mind and psyche, that it take time to retrain yourself and how you eat.

Coming out of a dieting mindset and realizing that you can eat whatever you want is much like being a kid locked in a candy store overnight. There is a bonanza of foods that you can suddenly eat again or maybe for the first time. Starting Intuitive Eating is scary, and it feels like walking out of a dark, dank prison cell and into the sunlight of freedom. Don’t be surprised if you go through a period where you actually grow a little bigger (get off that scale!) because you’re indulging in all the deliciousness you had been forbidden for years. Then you remember, hmm, I’m only supposed to eat until I’m just satisfied but but lately, I have been eating past that point, quite a bit. Your first instinct will be to start restricting your food intake and what you eat. STOP! Do not do this.

I’m at this point right now and I know the panic you might just be feeling. I’m getting fat (or fatter)! I have to stop, control and restrict before I blow up into a Macy’s parade balloon. Take a breath, a deep and calming breath and remember you’re okay (I just did this yesterday). Think about why you are eating more than you want (or whatever is going on). It’s not about what you are eating but why you are eating. This is a hard thing to decipher at times especially if it is something you’ve done for years. Be kind with yourself, remember that this takes baby steps and it’s a learning experience. You’re undoing years of dieting behavior. Years of emotional eating, though you’ll always have times that you emotionally eat, as much as we want, it’s impossible to be perfect and it’s okay that food provides comfort at times. Deep breath, calming thoughts, its all okay. It’s even okay if you get bigger, we are more than our bodies – I am using this mantra a lot lately.

Being patient with yourself is so hard especially when you have a fear of being ‘too fat’. I know my odd is a little bigger right now than a few weeks ago and since I pursue athletic pastimes like hiking and cycling, I am freaking out inside that I will not be able to do activities I love because I am getting bigger. I don’t want my size to limit my life. So I had to stop my momentary freak out and remind myself that I’m fine just as I am, I just need to look at the fact that I’m eating a lot of times when I am not hungry and figure out why. Maybe it is because I’m stressed at work, maybe it’s because the four-year anniversary of my mom’s passing is close or maybe I feel lonely or bored. Therein is where the hard work comes up, the reason(s) behind the ‘why’ when I emotionally eat. My body is telling me one important thing, I”m feeding it more than it wants, so I need to figure out why I am ignoring my hunger cues. It is a simple theory but not always so simple to figure out. It gives me something to work toward though.

That aside, I have a little story of a hike that I took over a week ago. I took my dog and drove to one of my favorite, closer parks. The sun was out though it was still cold but the wind was calm. I needed some gas so I stopped at a gas station about a mile from the park entrance. While I was pumping gas, I realized, I’m hungry so I went inside for a drink and a snack. I’m asking myself what I might want. What sounds good to me, I pick up a pack of trail mix, nah, on to the next idea. Out of habit I walk by the endcap full of Little Debbie snacks. Little Debbie’s have been forbidden fruit for a long time. I rarely eat one or even buy them. I stop halfway up the next aisle of snacks and realize I want a Zebra cake. White icing with brown stripes over some kind of white cake with cream filling. When was the last time that I actually ate one? No clue. I bought the cake and a tea.

The park is closed to auto traffic right now which is a big bonus to me, the lover of solitude. I packed up my coat with my key lanyard, my cell phone, my tiny notebook and pencil in case I wanted to write or sketch and the Zebra cake. Bundling up and grabbing the dog’s leash, I took to the wooded trails rather than the paved ones today as the mud was minimal. I did one trail, cross the paved road for the nature trail which partially runs along the river. Out of habit I had started a route with my Map My Walk app. Standing a few feet into the woods, I realized I had been walking fast and not paying a bit of attention to my surroundings. I pulled out my phone and deleted all my fitness apps. I can always put them back on if I want but I continued without thinking about speed or steps or calories burned.

Do you know what happens when you aren’t trying to walk to fast and burn calories? The world comes back to you. When you get out of the ‘training’ mode and just enjoy your surroundings, it’s a completely different experience. I would have walked right by the path down to the river because I had to go fast. I would have missed the fact that across the river where the bank was higher, where the trees’ roots anchored the soil and my oldest daughter had recreated in her first college art print, the trees had fallen after all the rain and crashed down right beside where I stood on the trail. A bit of melancholy for a special place to my daughters and I. Looking around, I found several sycamore branches that I picked up to take home. When it warms up, I will clean up the jagged ends and clear coat them for decorations. I would have missed the way the sun felt on my face when I just stopped, closed my eyes and turned my face to the sun, the sounds of the rushing river soothing my soul.

On the way back to the car, I traipsed the same trail I had quickly walked through before I had deleted my fitness apps. I passed the covered bridge and settled into the woods again until I came to a bench in the sun. My stomach was growling a little so I thought it was a great moment to eat my snack. I tied the dog’s leash to the bench as he is so impatient and pulled out the slightly mushed cake. Opening the cellophane, I broke off a piece of cake and tasted it. Granted, this is not the mecca of baked goods but it brings back happy memories of my childhood. In a way, it felt like I was a bit of a kid again, especially when I realized I was swinging my leg like kids do when they are happy. I slipped out my notebook and sketched the woods and covered bridge. Sketch, take a bite, pause, just be. It was the perfect afternoon. Quiet, simple, unrushed, like the summers of my youth. Why do we get so busy doing, achieving, improving and so on? I had forgotten to slow down. Well I’ve told myself I had slowed down but I was still walking too fast to enjoy what was right around me.

We wonder where the joy and fun of childhood escapes as we age but we push it away with all our responsibilities, to-do lists and constant need to be achieving something. We can’t eat a snack cake because it’s unhealthy and will make you fat. But I wasn’t fat as a kid. I ate plenty of them. I just ate when I was hungry normally. I finished my sketch, adding the date to the bottom. I stuck the wrapper in my pocket to discard in a trash can and set back to my car. I don’t know how far I walked or how fast I walked nor do I know how many steps I took. Tracking all that stuff never made me thin anyway and I’m not training for any events. I just felt that I should do that kind of metrics. Why? What is the point? To suck all the joy out of the little things in my life? Oh track your exercise and it will force you to burn more calories. Maybe it does but again, I’m not thin still. I may never be thin and it”s hard to accept that possibility and live with it but I am working on it.

When I went home, I didn’t stop and buy a box of Zebra cakes to binge on. I was happy and contented with one. The knowledge that I can have one whenever I wanted keeps me from wanting to binge on them. It is only when they are forbidden do I feel the need to scarf them down like I may never have another meal. It’s simple psychology when you think about it.

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little down, I pull out my notebook with the sketch and look at it. The memory makes me happy, makes me smile. For the love of a Zebra cake and letting go of achieving every moment of every day.

Food Peace Journal – Joyful Movement & Panic Mode

I got out my calendar to look up how many weeks it’s been that I’ve been on this new journey, six weeks! It feels like six months! Truly I was surprised when it was only six weeks though I honestly can’t tell you why it seems longer. Maybe because so much has happened in a short time for me. No, I haven’t lost weight during this six weeks. I don’t know what what I weigh. It doesn’t matter what I weigh as my quality of life does not hinge on this number. Am I bigger or smaller? I don’t know. I feel a little bigger but not enough my clothes aren’t fitting. But enough I’m edging into panic mode. My fear of getting fatter is edging more to the forefront as I give up more and more control over my body by not dieting or weighing myself.

Panic mode means I am not trusting my body to do it’s job and I’m letting the diet culture and mentality take back over. Also, when you think about how long term off and on dieting affects your metabolism, when you suddenly start eating when you are hungry again, I think you will get a little more rounder for a bit. First of all, suddenly you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. This is a bit like being a kid locked into a candy store overnight, you’re going to overindulge for awhile until you and your body figure out that you are no longer starving it. I feel my moods have improved somewhat, I feel more level. Maybe because I’m not experiencing blood sugar fluctuations so badly? My jeans feel a bit more tight. Not enough that I will need a larger size but in the back of my mind red flashing lights and warning sirens are going off. ‘Stop! Stop! Stop what you are doing! You’re going to get fatter!’. This is so hard to deal with at times. These thoughts put me in panic mode and suddenly I want to go dig out the scale, reload the food journal app and throw out anything not ‘healthy’ or ‘fattening’.

Then I stop myself and look at my body. All that diet culture paraphernalia did not make me thin, it probably made me heavier than what is natural for me by fighting my body’s own natural instincts and defense mechanisms. I am living proof diets only work temporarily and you just get bigger. The more I dieted, the bigger I got. Deep breath, Laura. I am ok, if I have to go to a size 20, so be it. I must be kind and gentle in this process, love myself and my body and the wonderful machine it is. I’ve fucked with my body’s natural processes for years, six weeks is not enough to undo literally 37 years of dieting and restricting and exercising until I drop. This is where patience (something I lack) is my friend. I have to let my body do what it needs to do to heal and get back into a natural rhythm. Plus I am also still learning about listening to the cues when I’m hungry and when I’m full. I find in the evening, I tend to overeat feeling anxious as if I may never get to eat again. I am not sure what this is about as I have a fully stocked kitchen, a grocery store within ten miles and plenty of money to buy food. There is no shortage. Maybe evenings are just an anxious time for me.

Also, being able to eat whatever you want, you’re going to indulge in all those foods you restricted. So I probably am getting a tad bit bigger as I reprogram my mind to not freak out when these formally ‘forbidden’ foods are in my grasp. Case in point is chocolate. I’ve eating a f*ck ton of chocolate in the last six weeks. I’ve received and bought 3 candy hearts over the last few weeks due to Valentine’s Day. The first candy heart, I literally plowed through, the second one was small – only three pieces – devoured in one sitting. The last one was from my husband and it’s the same as the first except 3x’s the size. By now, I will eat one or two pieces and be like wow, that’s sweet and two pieces are plenty. My husband asked me if there was something wrong with the candy he bought me because I wasn’t shoveling it in like normal. Nope, it was fine, it’s just I’ve eaten so much candy lately, I’m a bit overwhelmed by it. When you can have it and have as much as you want of it, suddenly you find that you will not want it so much. Also you’re focusing on your hunger and satiety cues at the same time. You start noticing at one point that you aren’t hungry when you pull out the box of delicious chocolates so you may only eat one or even none, waiting until you are hungry again.

This journey is a bit of a roller coaster. I love jalapeno kettle-style potato chips. So last night at the grocery I bought a bag. I even opened them and ate a few in the car tough they recommend you eat sitting at a table, focusing on your food so you don’t mindlessly shove half a bag of potato chips in your gullet. I spent the evening grazing on them. I’d put them away, get them out, put them away get them out. I even ate them with the nice roast dinner I made. I ate half the bag and still am suffering from their effects this morning. My stomach is burning, my acid reflux is kicked up. So in this case, I am thinking maybe if I get the craving for these chips, I go and buy the small bag even if it means going to a gas station. Or do I just buy the big bag and eat until I realize I can have these whenever I want? This is one of those ‘forbidden foods’ so naturally since it’s the first time I’ve bought them this year, I’m going to overindulge. I think I should just buy the big bag because if I buy the small bag at the gas station, I am in a way restricting myself. Which means I may overeat them a few times and suffer horribly a few times until my brain figures out these chips are no longer ‘forbidden’ and therefore I do not need to eat a half a bag of them in an evening.

Being aware of why and when I overeat is key for me to reverse this behavior. Deep breath, I will be okay. If I get bigger for awhile, then I get bigger. The key remains, eat when I am hungry and just until I’m satisfied, not feeling stuffed and sick. This seems so simple but after not listening to your body for almost 80% of your life, it isn’t going to happen in a few weeks.

Raise your hand if you only exercised to lose weight? ME! ME! Well I like to exercise but my focus has always been calorie burning. Intervals for more calorie burn, longer rides to burn more calories, pedaling until you’re ready to puke to burn off that big lunch. ‘Joyful movement’ is a term I hear frequently on the podcasts and in the books I’ve been immersing myself in this year. Joyful movement is simply doing physical activity you love without any consideration to burning calories or losing weight. It means cancelling the gym membership if you hate going to the gym. Or keeping it if you love going but changing the activities you do and your mindset. You love Zumba class and now you just go to this class because you love the movement and camaraderie of your class mates. Or you put on music and dance around the house. Take your dog for a walk where you actually enjoy the process rather than trying to walk as fast as you can for thirty minutes. You stop worrying about the number of calories burned and you start focusing on the simple joy of moving your body.

Case in point – I am going to list my cycling rollers today for sale. I’ve tried and tried to do stationary riding in the winter on my road bike. I hate it. I get bored in the first few minutes and just want to stop. I’ve tried different methods to no avail. Yes it is a way to add miles to your yearly cycling goal but I can’t stand it. I might as well sell them to someone who will actually use them. I love to dance way back from the school dances and clubs. I’m not very good at it, I’m a typical white girl when it comes to dancing. I’ve never taken a dance lesson in my life but I like more the non-choreographed kind of thing anyway. We have an old Wii and a few Just Dance games. Nothing is more awkward than a fat girl prancing around in her basement, that is until she turns the full length mirror resting on the wall around and forgets about how she may look.

The other night, no one was home and I went down in the basement in a sports bra, shorts and socks and fired up the game. At first I’m a little self-conscious but it’s only the cat and dog watching. Without thinking about calorie burn or time elapsed, I just enjoyed the different dances and trying to do them. Before I know it, I’m covered in sweat and over an hour has passed. Without even thinking about it, I got in an hour of exercise without staring at a clock because I was doing something fun, something I enjoyed. I was wearing my phone to count steps (I do this just for fun) and I amassed about 3000 steps just prancing around in my basement. My bike and rollers just sat there across the way, leaning against the wall. I would have had to force myself to finish 20 minutes of riding on that set up. I would have had 0 fun. The whole dance experience put me in a great mood as well. Joyful movement, those words suddenly made perfect sense.

I love to ride my bike but not inside. Time to sell the rollers. I’ve been holding onto them for several years just convinced this was the year I’d really make use of them. The bottom line is I hate riding in place. So it’s time to honor the idea of joyful movement and bring back fun rather than torture myself to burn calories. No wonder people hate exercise so much. We don’t do it the right way or for the right reasons. I love, love riding my bike on the bike path or my mountain bike on the trails. I will be smiling ear to ear while doing so. But put me on my bike in the basement on training rollers and I’m no longer enjoying the ride. I’m annoyed, frustrated and impatient to get the time over with. If you dread the exercise, it feels like torture.

Pick something you love, make it spontaneous, don’t time yourself or worry about calories burned. There are so many things you can do to move. The majority of us aren’t training for athletic events anyway. I imagine once you start doing things you love for the sheer pleasure of moving, you’ll find yourself much more active in general. I’m going to see if I can buy some used Just Dance games just to have new dances to try because it’s fun!

Until next time, happy eating and joyful moving!