Thursday, August 13, 2009

reflections on emotional eating

I've been on holidays this week in Byron Bay and under the influence of sea, salt, sand and lots of walking have gradually moved from being anxious, cranky city chick to a more chilled sort of gal.

It certainly didn’t start off very rosy on the first day of proceedings where we all decided to walk along the beach towards “The Pass” . We had to walk along a footpath to get to the beach and DH who was adjusting his cap did not see the boot door of a camper trailer that was lifted up and obscuring half of the footpath. He smacked into it with one hell of a bang and immediately fell to the ground clutching his forehead and writhing in pain. There was copious amounts of blood everywhere and a camper trailer full of foreign backpackers that didn’t know a stitch of English. My first aid skills kicked in pretty smartly and soon I’d managed to pad up his scalp and organize a lift to the local hospital, which was conveniently located across the road from our digs. An hour or so later, we left with three stitches and some Panadol and went to a cafe to have a cup of coffee. I’m usually pretty calm under pressure, but after we left I felt increasingly anxious as I watched my family tuck into second breakfast, anxious about the events that had just unfolded and anxious that because I wasn’t hungry, I’d “miss out” later on when everyone else was full and I had eventually become hungry...and these emotions hammered away at me all day (with old Inner Gollum telling me I’d feel better if I ate something), until I decided to journal these thoughts, rationally negate them and tell myself that it was perfectly natural to feel shaken up by the day’s events and just to feel them, rather than eat them.

I have been doing a lot of reading about emotional, or non hungry eating lately - why do we all engage in non hungry eating as well as eating when we are actually hungry? And how is it that some of us can become so disconnected from ourselves that we no longer can read our hunger signals and we’ve equated the sensation of hunger to something so unpleasant we feel it shouldn’t be experienced?

My first aid experience with my husband highlighted that when I open the door to emotional eating, that much of the time, the driving emotion behind such eating is anxiety. My theory is that eat in response to this (or any emotion) enough and you start to form habits which remain long after the emotion has left the building. And habits can be difficult to break. Eat too “artificially” - that is eating to a set schedule, rather than learning to roll with your hunger, banning certain foods (because you’re not “allowed” to have them - and I don’t mean all the highly processed junk out there that I feel honoured not to have) and perpetually trying to lean out 24/7 just amplifies that ‘hunger switch’ even more.

Emotional eating can happen to any of us, but it’s how you deal with it and understand the underlying motives that really make or break you.

A few things that I have practiced this week in response to feeling like I have wanted to eat out of emotion rather than hunger and that may help you if you’re struggling with this right now is:

  • listen to your body as you eat - savour every mouthful, eat as slowly as possible. Assess your hunger before you start - take a few mouthfuls, how are you feeling now? My example of this - I’ve just been out for lunch and had pizza. I had two smallish slices and stopped. Why? Even though I was ravenous to begin with, I ate very slowly and mindfully and was amazed that I was pleasantly satisfied after, what is for me when I go out for pizza, a relatively small amount.
  • be an observer - just watch what you eat and make some mental notes about what preceded your meal. Did you decide to eat because you were hungry or did you eat for another reason? Be impassive, don’t judge, just watch - soon you will find out the drivers behind what is making you eat for reasons other than hunger.
  • once you’ve pinpointed your driver, feel out that emotion a bit more. eg My example - feeling anxious and wanting to eat something actually translated to feeling anxious about wanting to have a catnap after lunch (traditionally I’ve not been a nap type of girl) ----> solution ----> go and lie down with a book and close eyes if it feels good. Must also note that if you’re tired, leptin production drops which biologically drives appetite upwards - so stay rested!

Some may ask that why as a coach, why I would choose to write that sometimes I have trouble dealing with emotional eating and secondly that as a wellness type I’m writing about my cheese laden pizza lunches(on a gluten free base, lol). I think that it’s very important to keep it real. I had so much going on emotionally after my last comp prep (which eventuated in my photo shoot) that habits that I thought I’d killed off a long time ago came galloping back at full force. However, I’m working on it and choosing to win.

I’m not perfect..

I’m fine, just the way I am.

I’m consistent

and I feel blessed that I have these opportunities to learn and grow with.


Magda said...

What a great post Liz. I'm also working on managing emotional eating better than I have before and have made some nice progress. Nevertheless I get a lot from reading about other people's perspectives and experiences. Thanks for sharing so honestly.



Kek said...

Well thank goodness you DO write about it, because otherwise the rest of us might think we're more than a little crazy....

Me too on the anxiety front. Blah.

I hope the rest of your break is far more relaxing.

KatieP said...

Great post Liz -- I can totally identify with all of your thoughts and insights. It is a tough road to travel but we're worth it ♥

Michelle said...

I love the fact that you write about your experience with emotional eating etc. You have given me a couple of strategies to deal with my own issues. I think I would worry about a coach who is perfect all the time.

I hope Hubs' head is feeling better.

LizN said...

Thanks guys, I think we're all works in progress, some times the beast is quiet and then other times there are life situations that really amp things up. But it's how we bounce back and learn/move on that really counts!