I’ve been a little stressed lately. Career decisions are clamoring to be made, my dog needs surgery but is too sick to get it right now, taxes need to be done, and hubby and I are trying to figure out something as basic as where to live for the next few years.
So I’ve got a bit on my plate right now, as no doubt you do too. I don’t know your situation—maybe your job is sucking the life out of you? You’re facing a frightening health challenge? Or maybe you’re just completely wiped out from your day-to-day rat race.
Whatever you’re dealing with, I do know one thing: When the going gets tough, even the toughest among us often turn to our drug of choice to cope:
Case in point: This past Thursday, I made an experimental batch of carrot cake muffins. I actually wanted to make them for a brunch over the weekend, but since I was making a lot of changes to the recipe, I decided to give them a trial run first.
Unfortunately, they were quite good. When they came out of the oven, I was feeling tired and down, and proceeded to eat four of them immediately. I then ate three (okay, three and a half) more before the day was through. Yep—seven and a half muffins in one day. (!) Yes, they were “healthy.” No refined sugar, or oil, or salt; made with whole grains and whole foods. But I ended up with a stomachache all the same, and I was feeling regret, not virtue, when I finished.
|At least the test batch didn’t have icing…|
Worst of all, I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t hungry past muffin number two. I was feeling overwhelmed and wiped out, pure and simple, and instead of addressing that I went on a muffin rampage. So I decided it was high time to review some of the strategies that had helped me deal with emotional overeating in the past and scout some new ones from the web. Here are the ones that resonated with me the most.
1. When tired, sleep. When hungry, eat.
I have a tendency to medicate exhaustion with food, especially now that I’ve quit caffeine. Unfortunately, once the food buzz wears off, I feel even more wiped out than when I started. So when I feel like I have to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks, the correct response is not to scarf almond butter or muffins or slow-baked sweet potatoes. The correct response is to go to bed earlier or take a power nap. Or, if napping’s not possible, to take a walk, talk to someone, or even just put on my iPod and crank some tunes for a minute. Anything but overwhelming my body with food it can’t use.
2. When full, walk away.
If I push past the point of feeling full at the end of a meal or snack—which I do almost as a rule when I’m eating for solace—I become a nearly bottomless pit. If I can catch myself, though—if I can recognize that I’m feeling especially vulnerable—walking away from food helps. Sometimes this means leaving my dirty dishes on the table and washing them later (or having hubby help if he’s home), because walking back into the kitchen at that moment could be the beginning of a serious snack attack.
3. Cravings are not hunger.
In my experience, real hunger doesn’t discriminate. Even a salad or simple steamed veggies will look good to me when I’m really hungry. If I’ve already had a meal or hearty snack, though, I can be sure those cravings for starchy, sugary, fatty foods that my brain wants to label “hunger” simply aren’t. In fact, they’re a red flag for emotional eating.
4. Get trigger foods out of the house—and know that they can change over time.
I thought by switching to a (mostly) whole-food, plant-based diet, I would have eliminated my trigger foods by default. Gone was the brownie mix (so easy to microwave individual brownies!); the string cheese; and the trashy, tasty processed cereal and moo juice. However, after reading this great post on trigger foods by Wendy over at Healthy Girl’s Kitchen, I realized that I had simply ended up with new trigger foods. (See carrot cake muffins and almond butter above). So I need to relegate them to special occasions and move on. I also need to remember that one of today’s staples could become tomorrow’s trigger food, so to be mindful of what sets me off.
5. Turn off the TV.
I don’t know about you, but if I start eating in front of the TV—even if I’m eating with my husband—I’ll just keep on eating until the show is over. (And then some.) I lose all track of whether I’m hungry or full. However, if I set the table, turn on a little soft music (thank you Pandora), and pretend I’m at a fancy restaurant, I have a much better chance of eating mindfully and recognizing when I’m happily satisfied.
6. Watch out for the witching hour.
Since I wake up around 5 am, any time after noon can be problematic for me, but after dinner is by far the worst. Exhaustion creeps up on me and my problems loom large. Just a little snack before bed, I tell myself, but then one bite leads to another and BLAMMO! I’ve eaten way more than my body wanted, and I’m in for a restless night’s sleep. That leads to more exhaustion, and the cycle continues. So far the only thing I’ve found to short-circuit this is to implement #5 and add in pure willpower, which is in short supply when I’m tired. What do you do at night? I’d love to hear it!
7. If you must eat for comfort, do it mindfully.
When I first read Michelle’s post on emotional eating on her blog, The Fat Nutritionist, I thought it was a little loopy. Intentionally engaging in emotional eating? Shouldn’t we be dealing with our problems head on, and not by fork? But then I realized she was on to something: Sometimes, eating for comfort is okay. It might even help me identify the real issue du jour, or, as she says, “…what is actually going on that food can’t fix.” The key here is to recognize the emotions roiling around and then eat slowly, deliberately, and mindfully, words that typically do not describe my state of mind when I’m medicating with food. But if the act of eating can actually center you, as eating beautiful food with gratitude and awareness can, then perhaps the act of eating mindfully—of savoring, of checking in with body and mind, of fully entering the present moment—can also short-circuit emotional eating.
I’ll certainly be giving it a try.
In fact, this next week, I’m going to challenge myself to reread this post every day and actually do what it says. (The horrors!) I’m challenging myself to go one whole week without emotional eating, or if I do give in, to do it mindfully. I’ll let you know how it goes; wish me luck!
Now I want to hear from you. Do you struggle with emotional (or exhausted) eating?
What are your trigger foods?
What strategies do you use to stop emotional eating in its tracks—or at the very least, slow it down?