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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I Give Up! – Cultivating Peace with Food & My Body

As 2017 came to a close, I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in 2018 and beyond. Cultivate more inner peace and not be swayed with every wind that crosses my path. In conjunction with that particular goal, I started thinking about my forever struggle with food and weight. I was considering returning to my food journal app as I had lost 20 pounds using it but then I delved deeper. When I used it my idea was that after six months, I would relearn and retrain myself to eat healthier. It takes three months to form a new habit so wouldn’t six months help ingrain it into my thick skull?

Well it must have not worked because I gained the weight back. On the food journal, I felt hungry a lot, I felt restricted and while I didn’t plan on it, I returned to my eating habits to an extent. I cut out my restaurant and fast food eating quite a bit though and started cooking more so it wasn’t all for naught. So it had partially the effect and result I wanted but my weight went right back to where it was. So as I considered if I wanted to just do the food journal for the rest of my life, I felt in my gut that no, I don’t want to be tied to an app. If I couldn’t learn how to eat better that way, then what was the point?

So I know what foods are good for me and what are not or so they say. I know what portion sizes look like. I exercise fairly regularly, that thank god, is not an issue for me as long as it is something I enjoy. So what is the issue? The issue started when I was 10 or 11 years old living in Lone Elm, Missouri, in a small two bedroom house next to the cemetery. My father was full out an alcoholic who didn’t work and my mother was struggling to keep the family together and the bills paid. My elementary school was literally a two-room Lutheran School and there was a whopping seven people in my class so my options for friends was pretty limited. Plus, I carried the stigma of being ‘Larry’s daughter’ and everyone knew when Larry would drive his car into a tree on one of the back roads. There are not many secrets in a small farming community.

I was having trouble sleeping then, I would sleep with the King James Bible under my pillow after reading Psalms to soothe myself. On particularly hard nights, I would tuck in my few stuffed animals around me as a fully wall of protection. Even though I shared a bedroom with my younger sister, I felt so alone. I would lie in my bed and stare out the window at the stars praying, praying and praying some more that we could be a normal family and my father would be healed from his disease. Then I would pray to God to help me sleep, I was growing more and more exhausted as my insomnia held fast. I was just a kid, I had no idea how to fix this issue. There was no one to talk to, no one to confide in as everyone just excused my dad’s behavior and behest my mom to honor her marriage vows so she would not leave.

But one night, I crept down the wooden stairs and shut the door behind me as quiet as I could. My dad was snoring loudly, probably sleeping off another drunk. I stepped off the last step and turned right into the kitchen flipping on the switch. I stood there for a moment to make sure my parents hadn’t heard me and would come down to shoo me back to bed. Nothing. I breathed a sigh of relief and walked past the kitchen table into the alcove that was the actual kitchen area. Gently I opened the cupboard doors until I found something to eat. I can’t remember if I was actually hungry or not but I grabbed a box of sweetened cereal so common in the late 1970’s. Since my cooking skills weren’t much yet, cereal appealed to me because I could actually ‘fix’ my own breakfast. I took the box of cereal, a bowl and spoon to the table. Pulling the milk out of the refrigerator, I sat down and remember feeling very independent. Plus no one even knew I was awake moving around. I believe this gave me a sense of control in a life that felt so out of control.

The swell of freedom intoxicated me as I poured my first night bowl of cereal. I sat down and ate slowly, looking out the window at the dark night, seeing my reflection which seemed so grown up at the time. Once I finished the bowl of cereal, I wondered what I should do so I didn’t get in trouble. I would have to wash the dish and spoon then put everything back. Except I wasn’t sleepy. I didn’t want to go back upstairs and to just lie there for hours so I poured a second bowl of cereal even though I wasn’t the least bit hungry but the action of feeding myself in secrecy felt too good. Eventually, with a full belly, I crept back up the steps and fell asleep, feeling comforted for the first time in forever. And so this started my career in emotional eating and my mom wondering why we were going through cereal so fast.

Remembering this helped me pick a goal for this year and beyond. I can diet, use food journals and ride hundreds of miles on my bike but until I conquer my emotional/stress/comfort/bored eating habit, I’ll never shake this. There’s also the guilt of eating certain things, the long held diet mentality instilled in me from a young age after spending the summer with my grandmother who loved to feed me until I was ready to burst, weigh me and then chide me for gaining weight. My entire maternal side of my family was overly concerned about their weight and being thin. I’ve suffered abuse as well, which means when I do lose weight, there are times when I draw attention of men that freaks me out internally. My subconscious wants to keep me in a fat suit to protect me from the world. So I have multiple issues to deal with not just one.

This year (and beyond), I want to attack and conquer my eating when I’m not hungry. My diet mentality about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods needs to go as well. This year, I want to discover the freedom of eating and not having to think so much about the act at all. I don’t want to feel guilty or ashamed. I don’t want to weigh myself every day. I want to trust my body to tell me what I need, when I’m hungry, when I’m satiated and what I am hungry for even if it is chocolate cake. No foods will be off limits. I will not sit and force myself to stay hungry until noon or whatever time I’ve deemed appropriate to eat. No more starving myself. No more forcing myself to eat things that I don’t really want because they are ‘healthy’.

I’ll admit, I’ve been down this road before when I got thick into books like Intuitive Eating and such. I just wanted to trust my body but something would always derail me. The last time was the Weight Watchers program at work. I thought it would help me but in the long run, I ended up heavier. Restriction makes me eat more. I rebel against the tight constraints. How many people do you know or maybe even yourself where they had short term success with diets and then gained it all back? (I’m raising both my hands because this is me, me, me!)

So back into the books and resources I can find on emotional eating and finding peace with food. I’ve been reading a book by Linda Bacon entitled Body Respect which is refreshing me on the principles I already know from the last time I delved into the whole intuitive eating, no dieting and making peace with food foray. The one thing that stands out so far in her book is that your body has a normal set point and by dieting, we push this set point higher (starvation effect). To return to your normal set point, you have to quit dieting and eat normally. Do I even know what normally is at this point? Time to relearn.

Today, I listed to multiple episodes of a podcast called Love, Food by a registered dietitian who claims you shouldn’t try to lose weight. People write letters to ‘food’ which entails their struggles with eating, weight gain and so on. The letters are read on the air and the dietitian, Julie Dillion, gives suggestions to help with the issue as well as brings in other experts. Though she grates on my nerves with her super cheeriness sometimes, Julie seems to really want to help people overcome her food issues. It is her passion and all her podcasts are extremely supportive, kind and do not recommend diets or weight loss to anyone. Again, it is simply listening to your body and your hunger cues while addressing your issues head on.

I haven’t thrown out my scale, but I did tuck it away. My food journal app has been deleted. The health tracker that keeps my steps has been tucked away in a less accessible place because it contains my health data on it such as my allergies and so on that can be accessed by first responders. Starting yesterday, I started focusing on my cues. Am I hungry? Do I want to eat this? Does this taste good to me? Am I full? You know what? I found I eat a lot of things just because they are handy or already prepared but not what I wanted. So mid-afternoon, I had my Instant Pot out making steel cut oatmeal because it was what I was craving. I had that for a late lunch because I didn’t eat much due to nothing suiting my taste. Later I had a salad from the Mexican place in town.

Today, at work, I found that I need to stock my desk with more food I find appealing. My tendency to starve myself is very evident in my eating habits at work. I literally try to eat a small bowl of instant oatmeal and make it stretch for as long as I can until I’m starving. Then I may grab a piece of fruit or a protein bar I keep in my desk. My unwritten rule of not eating lunch until after 12:00 to make the day seem shorter can leaving me starving again. Basically, I try to eat as little as possible at work which means I’m probably overeating once home. Why am I doing this? No clue. But I bet I am forcing my body to hold onto fat even more by not satiating my true hunger.

So today, I ate when I was hungry. I even ate lunch before noon and I ate what I wanted which was steel cut oatmeal and an orange. Then mid afternoon, I was hungry again and I delved into the carrots and dip with part of the piece of jalapeño cornbread I brought. I tossed half of the cornbread because I was full. For dinner, I ate a nice bowl of jambalaya with apple slices I coated with peanut butter. Oh and a small bowl of chocolate ice cream with whipped cream on top.

The result of two days of eating intuitively? Have I lost weight and am going down to my natural size? I don’t know. I don’t care anymore. Today I felt giddy with the fact I could eat what I wanted. Not forcing myself to suffer made me happy. There is a very distinct feeling of freedom. Like you just got a monkey off your back. I know I will have a lot of work ahead of me in the coming months and I may even get fatter. If I do, I will buy clothes to fit me and I will get nice clothes. I promise not to punish myself and to always be kind as if I were my best friend. If I lose weight, I will buy smaller clothes and I won’t post selfies saying, look I lost weight! Because it doesn’t matter. I no longer give my weight or size the power to run my life. Whether I’m a size 14 or 24, I am the same person with just a differently-sized body. No longer will I feel inadequate or ashamed because I am bigger nor will I feel smug if I end up smaller. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is I enjoy food, eat when I’m hungry and eat what I want as well as trust my body. That I break this 38-year battle with emotional eating. That I stop trying to hide in a ‘fat suit’. I’m already healthy at the size I am which befuddles my doctors but I am an active woman who generally eats well 80% of the time. I will stop starving myself. I will exercise doing the things I love without having to worry about steps (though I am going to count cycling miles for my year’s cycling goal but that’s not diet-related). I refuse to be a slave to my coping methods, to diet mentality, to learned behaviors that make me miserable.

I am simply going to trust my body to tell me exactly what it needs.

Food Journal: No Cheating!

I’m just a few days shy of using my food journal app, My Plate, for three weeks.  I’ve lost 9 pounds just logging in my food and keeping within an 1800-2000 calorie range.  No food is restricted and I eat what I want as long as I stay within my calorie range.  I’ve been learning more about portion sizes, trading off and eating healthier in general.  It’s been a good tool to learn the best way to order when eating out.   We tend to eat out a lot but I don’t want to restrict myself from doing something we both really enjoy (not cooking!).  

Things I’ve learned: Portion sizes are a big contributor to keeping me heavy.  It’s easy to overestimate.  I have days that I am not very hungry and others where I feel I can’t get enough to eat.  On my hungry days, I turn more to protein to get me satisfied.  Cooking at home is the easiest way to keep calories under control even though we love to eat out.  We are working at balancing our eating out by cooking a bit more.  This is the best way to eat healthy.  I have been focusing on packing my lunch for work more often as well.  Putting more fruit in my lunch bag to keep snacking to a minimum as well as I purchased snack size bags of microwave popcorn for the days at work that I am extra hungry or stress eating.  And sometimes at home or at work, I will eat more when I am bored.  

I noticed when I get close to my calorie count for the day, I want to flub entries to give me more room to chow down on more food.  I caught myself doing that and realized if I cheat on this, I am actually cheating myself.  I need to be brutally real on this food journal or I’m not doing myself any favors.  I’m sabotaging myself in learning to eat better and healthier.  This is a lifestyle change and if I don’t go all in, then I am going to fail to correct the behaviors and habits that make me feel so crappy inside and out.  I’m not doing myself any favor by flubbing my food journal.  If I want to eat a bit more, I can move a bit more with exercise to give myself a bit of a buffer. 

My clothes are getting much looser, I have more energy and I feel better about myself in general (I sound like a commercial).  It won’t be long until I am going to have to go shopping for a few new pairs of pants to wear to work because the ones I have are getting too big and threatening to fall down.  No one at work wants to see me standing there in my undies and since they don’t have a place for a belt, I’m going to be buying new clothes.  Don’t worry, I’ll survive having to get new things! Ha… I hate shopping for new clothes but I love having them.  

My husband bought us a rowing machine, the kind with a water tank on it for resistance like in the show House of Cards.  He decided to go with this because of the fact it works 80%+ of your core muscle groups and it’s a great cardio/calorie burning exercise.  I can torch up to 1000 calories an hour on that machine or so depending on how vigorous and long the work out I do.  Either way, it gives us an excellent snowy or rainy day option.  Right now it’s dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home so walking really isn’t an option for me and as much as I love cycling, putting on all that gear to ride 5 miles and get frozen isn’t my thing.  We are just waiting for our older two daughters to move into their new house right before Christmas to set it up in the finished basement.   Though I can attest as much as I exercise during the warmer months, it really comes down to what you eat.  I can ride miles and miles and never lose a pound until I change my eating habits.  Exercise though is key for me to feel good and be strong so I don’t want to give that up either.  Especially at 46.  

I have a Christmas party to attend tonight so I’m eating judiciously to allow myself a little more calorie budget for the fancy food and adult beverages that will be on hand.  A little planning ahead helps.  I may go over my calorie limit but this is a special occassion and I’ve been spot on or under the last almost three weeks.  A little splurge now and again isn’t going to kill me.  But I definitely do not want to set back all my hard work either. I am looking forward to trying on my dress tonight.  I haven’t worn it in a year and I’ve lost weight since this time last year.  That is always a good feeling when your clothes are a bit looser.  🙂

Remember to treat yourself with kindness this holiday and every day.  You’re worth it!  More updates soon!