What do you do when food calls your name and you just don’t have the strength to say “No?” It’s entirely up to you, but I’ve learned that trying to control my eating without confronting what I’m feeling during a crisis, is a promise of pain. When facing an uphill struggle, it’s like being at the top of a roller coaster. There’s nowhere to go but down. Personal experience has taught me that when I’m in that vulnerable place, I will eat and question the reasons why, later. As I tell my clients, “there is no shame in overeating. Sometimes it’s the best that you can do.
How forgiveness and self-compassion help me return back to healthy eating
Covid has definitely caught me by the cravings. And I can feel the extra bit of softness around my middle proving the weight gain. But I refuse to freak out about it. Because I know that getting myself crazy over a few pounds won’t do anything for my motivation to get healthier and live a longer, happier life.
I look at my goal of reclaiming my health and releasing my excess weight as running a marathon, not a sprint. I go through waves and periods where I notice myself overeating. As soon as I pinpoint the reasons why I go right back to enjoying my regular lighter foods. Here’s an example of what that cycle looks like for me.
Eating a lot of junky food to the point of feeling ill
Earlier this week I ate way too many of the milk and dark chocolate Dove candies that have been sitting in the refrigerator. And one day along with having a past its prime chocolate frosted donut which I didn’t even enjoy, I also ate several Hershey’s kisses that didn’t appeal to me. And later that same night after I finished a very long day at the office dealing with computer issues, I just wanted something sweet to eat.
My office is right down the hallway from our family’s TV room. Since my door was ajar, I was able to hear my husband, Angel and our son, PT laughing. I went back to work for a few minutes until I got distracted again. I could hear Angel’s footsteps coming down the stairs and the the sound of clanging spoons as he walked down the hallway to watch the movie.
I had visions of ice cream dancing in my head as I closed down my office for the night. I walked away knowing full well that I wanted to eat. When I sat down to watch TV I just wanted to feel included. I just wanted to be together with my husband son. I enjoy being in their company. So I just wanted to sit and eat and laugh at the movie we were watching.
A quick glance at the clock told me it was 12:30 a.m early Saturday morning. I knew that eating at that late hour would surely upset my stomach, but I was willing to do it anyway. It actually surprised me when Angel offered me the pint of non-dairy ice cream he bought awhile back. He must have read my thoughts about wanting something cold and sweet.
So as he passed it my way and asked if I wanted some, I almost grabbed it out of his hands like a baby grasping for a pacifier. As I ate the first spoonful of the Haagen Dazs Non-dairy Chocolate Salted Fudge Truffle ice cream that was now about 6 weeks in the freezer, I knew I didn’t want anymore. As it hit my stomach, I could feel a swirling in my belly and the discomfort of the heaviness overtake me. Despite that awareness, I ate another spoonful and that was the one that screamed at me that I had better stop or I would get really sick. So then I stopped because it got really uncomfortable in my body. Even though it was non-dairy, I still spent the rest of the movie feeling a little nauseous and sick.
Since Covid began I’ve been doing a lot more emotional eating which as the last example shows includes eating foods that I don’t even like and others which make me feel uncomfortable. Can you relate?
I have noticed myself eating foods with a complete and total awareness that something is going to make me feel sick and still I’ll continue to eat it. There’s some kind of magic in having a full stomach when you’re in crisis. And I’ve learned that if you can’t eat what you want, you’ll eat whatever is in front of you.
Being a discriminating eater
Normally having chocolate, chips and ice cream so accessible in my home wouldn’t make me flinch an inch. That’s why they go uneaten for a long period of time. I’d usually have a bite or two or maybe even a serving and feel so satisfied that I’d walk away without a second thought.
This behavior of being able to eat any food I want without eating it until it’s gone, is a radical departure from my old ways of bingeing to the bottom of every bag, container or plate in front of me.
I could never have eaten moderate portions of any food during the years when I was dieting, because I would have felt too deprived which would have triggered the urge to eat every bite until it was gone.
But I don’t feel that way. There is no shortage of foods in my home. I have long ago welcomed back my old forbidden foods, and no longer fear them. As I teach my clients in my Losing Weight without Dieting Program, having the foods around you, makes them lose their forbidden fruit allure so you won’t want them with the same desperation as you would crave them if they were off limits and not within reach.
The pride that I feel when I walk away and close a bag, or put leftovers in the fridge and leave food more times than not, swells my heart. Excess food rarely tempts me anymore because I don’t try to control what I eat.
I don’t control what I eat, but I do control my stress levels
Rather I put my efforts into managing the stress in my life. When I do overeat, I frame the episode with compassion because I see the reasons for the overeating from a broader perspective. Seeing the bigger picture makes it easier to treat myself with more kindness and love enabling me to break the guilt and gorge cycle of needing food to feel better. Over the course of the past year I’ve released nearly 20 pounds of excess weight by switching my focus from self-hatred and fearing food to more self-love and facing my feelings.
I won’t lie. I have done my best to avoid watching the news, reading updates about Covid and filling my thoughts with fear about the virus. But it’s really hard trying to stay positive without going into my old default setting of being a workaholic. I work too much.
Working in my office is my happy space. It gives me focus and keeps me calm and centered. I’ve become really sensitive to sounds and lots of chattering, so I don’t spend a lot of time in spaces where it’s very noisy.
To give myself the peace of quiet I need, I retreat to my office where I can do what I love. Whether I am writing, creating videos or editing in pursuit of building my coaching business, “The Juicy Woman” or designing graphics or building websites for clients, work is my passion.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a serious lack of balance in my life. I work too much. Period. And I often work long hours into the night, because I have found that sometimes the evening is a more productive time for me as opposed to the daytime when I am focused on learning and building my skills.
Through it all, I’ve championed my way forward, a single baby step at a time. I get stressed out and lose my cool and need to calm myself down. I use a wide variety of energy coaching and stress-relief techniques to consistently take the edge off of my anxiety. I’ve learned that it’s a waste of time to try to change, manipulate and control people. When something is not going the way I want, I’ve got to always work on changing myself. I focus on changing what I can and letting go of the rest. Forgiveness of myself and others is a big part of that.
So after going to bed with a mild stomach ache early last Saturday morning, and noticing that I ate a lot of junk food that day that wasn’t even pleasing to me I had to get to grips with what I was feeling. I asked myself, “What is going on that is so upsetting to me?”
I’m a vegetarian and I’ve been meat-free for over 2 years. And as I learn more about the consequences of eating meat and animal products, I am more encouraged to go deeper into veganism. Whenever I cook for myself, I cook vegan food. I do still really love a cheesy pizza, and chocolate.
But that day I had to admit that I was eating more junk than usual. When I thought about what could be upsetting me, I realized that lately whenever I opened the refrigerator, so much of my fruit and veggies and vegan products had to be thrown away because they had spoiled and gone rotten.
As I stood looking at the top shelf of our shared refrigerator, I saw the 2 enormous gallons of milk that Angel had recently purchased. I realized that he had definitely been doing some panic buying by getting 2 instead of 1 gallon of milk and placing both gallons on the top shelf of the small refrigerator.
A quick glance of the shelves below covered with Chinese take out containers and 7 pints of uneaten white rice was further evidence that something needed to change. It suddenly hit me that my vegan food was all rotting and I was eating so much junk because I couldn’t even find my food because it was being covered by so many of the guy’s animal products that I don’t even eat. That’s when I got really angry.
The anger felt overwhelming to me. But I thought to myself, “They don’t deserve that. Neither Angel nor PT have done anything to hurt me. I have just been silent and not wanted to say what I needed, so they have just done whatever was most convenient.
As I thought more about how I felt, I realized I didn’t want to go off like an exploding bomb. I wanted to approach Angel and speak softly so that I could be understood. I wanted them to see what was inside my heart. I knew I was hurting because I felt that they were taking advantage of me, by crowding their food into the space that I wanted for myself. I also realized that we teach people how to treat us. I saw that I was taking this far too personally and needed some inspiration that would help me to find a solution. I needed to sleep. A nap always helps me to put things into perspective.
When I woke up I had a plan and knew exactly what I wanted and how to make it happen. I had to do some re-arranging and risk rocking the family boat a little bit, but it was worth it.
A Too Small Refrigerator
In addition to having our main small refrigerator, we also have 3 other smaller dorm size refrigerators. They were all in need of being defrosted and cleaned. One of them is for the guys, another is for random sauces and condiments. And the third is an undesignated fridge in the kitchen.
I pulled out my steamer and defrosted the small refrigerator in the kitchen. Then I took 2 gallons of milk and put them on the bottom of the tiny fridge. I also moved several more bags of chocolate and other things and placed them in the smaller fridge.
Immediately I got a sudden rush, and felt a sense of lightness come over me. The idea of being able to see my food without having to go behind containers, or scrounge through drawers was beyond thrilling.
When I first took out my steamer and started to viciously clean the refrigerator, after aggressively lifting it up and walking it out to the deck, I know I overwhelmed my son and husband. I was talking a million miles an hour and moving around like a crazy person.
My son headed for the shower and Angel ran out to get something from the store. As I worked to clean all the shelves and doors, I could feel a greater sense of peace coming over me filling me with the words to express how I felt.
After Angel returned and PT came out of the shower, I was crystal clear knowing what I wanted to say. The anger I had felt earlier was gone. Now it was just a sense of taking care of myself by putting my needs into words.
Saying what was on my mind
I said, “Guys, I’ve thought long and hard about this. And I realized that I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the refrigerator situation in our house. By not saying anything and not letting you know how frustrated I was I realized that I have been creating a really crazy situation for all of us. But the fact is that all my food is going bad and I never seem to have anything to eat because all your food is front and center.
When I go into the refrigerator, I’m faced with containers of old Chinese food, bags of chocolate, and gallons of milk. I am eating more junk and it’s been making me more tired lately. To get healthy, I need to take better care of myself and the best way that I can do that is to buy more fruit and vegetables and store them in a place where I can see them easily so I’ll want to eat them.”
My husband looked at me with his big brown beautiful eyes and I could tell that he really got it. He understood what I was saying. He gestured for me to look over at the table to see all the beautiful fruits he bought me from the store. With a big smile on his face, he suggested that I take the kitchen refrigerator and he and PT would use the other fridges. We were still a little short on space, so I compromised by letting them keep the cold cuts in the bottom of my fridge and ice cream in my freezer, but the rest of the space is mine.
A happier me
I can’t even tell you how happy it has made me to open my refrigerator and see vegetables and fruits and foods that I enjoy and prepare for myself. It’s almost like they smile back at me when I open the door. It’s crazy. And it’s not the food that’s important. What was most important to me was being heard.
As soon as I realized what I needed and what I had to do to get it, and I took action by cleaning the refrigerators and having the uncomfortable discussion, the cravings for the junk completely disappeared.
Now that I’ve made more space for my foods and made my needs a bigger priority, I’ve been back to eating my salads, lentils and veggies and I’m happy as a clam. Tonight I finally got to try out my fried vegan buffalo cauliflower chicken wings. It feels really good knowing that I can use my voice to ask for what I want and need.
I’m not ashamed to admit my weakness and I’m okay with being vulnerable. Sometimes I just want to eat my way through a crisis and not have to face it head on. I know that by being self-compassionate and looking at my binge and realizing that this is a signal that I’m at my breaking point, the pendulum will swing back in the self-care direction.
My best advice to you is when you catch yourself going for the food, realize that there are really good reasons why you’re overeating. Then when you get your second wind and you’re feeling strong enough, face the fire and do whatever you need to pull yourself through it.
How ’bout you? If you’ve been bingeing on junk, what is the message that the food has been trying to tell you?
Have you ever felt like you were in a food ditch? Here are some tips that have helped me short circuit my binges. See what may work for you.
Prioritize self-care. Compulsive overeating is your body’s way of attempting to satisfy your unfulfilled emotional needs. Put yourself first by doing something that you can look forward to each day. Spend a few minutes curled up reading that book you want or cuddling with your kittie. When you’re facing a crisis, you will be stronger if you work to increase your endurance. Get as much rest as you can. Eat to fuel your body, and manage your stress often. I spend time grounding myself with meditation and use several different energy coaching methods to handle my stress before it gets out of hand. I am particularly fond of using Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, Ho’oponopono and The Z Point Process. I use and rely on these techniques in my own life and I share them with all my clients because they work like magic.
Be prepared. With so much to juggle, it’s easy to lose track of time. Do yourself a special kindness by setting aside time each week to shop, do some food prep, pre-cook and package or freeze meals or snacks in individual servings. As often as you can, have foods you love on hand. As my story showed, if your fridge and life is packed with clutter, and things you don’t enjoy, you’ll gravitate towards whatever food will give you instant gratification.
Have Hummers on Hand to Avoid Bingeing on junkier beckoners. A hummer is a food that you often enjoy eating, pretty much anytime, something that makes you feel good from the inside-out. I’m a vegetarian so my favorite hummers are homemade soups like lentil and pea soup, homemade pizza, roasted veggies, bagels with butter, peppermint tea with almond milk and sugar, oatmeal, rice pudding, cream of wheat, fruit and yogurt, cereals, applesauce, honeydew, watermelon, and bananas. A beckoner is a food that you may consider a passing fancy, something that you want in the moment, but you don’t want to eat it all the time. For me a beckoner is chocolate. On occasion I also like different types of chips.
Stop punishing yourself. Do you beat yourself up after a binge? I used to do that too. All the time. Here’s what I learned from 34 years of dieting. If you shame yourself for overeating, you’ll continue to trigger your body’s stress response which will only make you feel more desperate to eat. The next time you overeat, at any point when it feels right to you, talk to yourself in a gentle and soft voice and treat yourself respectfully with tenderness and love. By creating a calmer and quieter space during this very stressful time, it reinforces a message to your brain that you are supporting yourself and you’re safe. It’s like taking the air out of a balloon. The binge quickly falls flat and the pressure to overeat dissolves.
Look beyond the food. Prioritizing weight loss as a goal when you’re facing an emotional crisis is a total waste of your time. To get your equilibrium back you have to relieve yourself of the emotional load that’s bearing down on you. When you notice that you are overeating, take an attitude of curiosity and kindness to dig beneath the surface and uncover what is bugging you. Realize that the old habit of beating up on yourself and getting obsessed about what you are eating is a familiar distraction which threatens to keep you ignorant and unwilling to recognize what’s really at the root of your stress.
Know that your food craving is a temporary substitute for what you really need. It’s not about the food. Sometimes it’s love. Maybe you need to grieve and your biggest crave is to release the weight of your tears. Other times it’s needing more courage. Maybe it’s your soul’s yearning begging you to give voice to your feelings or to confront those uncomfortable situations, stand up for what you believe in, and allowing yourself to be more loving and vulnerable so you won’t automatically rush to put up walls around your heart. Maybe those vulnerable times are about being terrified of taking a risk, moving past the fear of rejection or any other number of scary things that we all face.
Forgive yourself There will always come a point in your life when the stress of whatever you’re facing is more than you feel you can handle. In those tough times the only thing that you can do to start over is to forgive yourself for not being perfect.
Take responsibility for what you can and let the rest go When you get caught up in chaos, be mindful of the fact that your vulnerability will have the upper hand. Whatever negative and overwhelmiing emotion you feel will seem more intense because your increased cortisol levels make it impossible to think and see clearly. If you notice yourself in a space of blaming and resentment, thinking that everybody has to change, it’s a signal to you to work on changing yourself. When you change your perceptions and take responsibility for whatever you can, people and circumstances will seem to shift. Do what you can to stay grounded and work on taking responsibility to change what you can. Don’t try to control or change others, just do you.
Accept where you are. Sometimes all you can do is be okay with yourself in the moment and to acknowledge how far you’ve come and that’s more than enough. A new way of thinking about the role of food in your life especially during a crisis is as a pacifier. In the same way that you may not have thought twice about giving your child a pacifier and putting in their mouth when they were upset, eating extra food may be the pacifier you need to face that battle that’s in front of you. Compulsive eating is just the messenger letting you know that you’re facing a challenge that feels overwhelming. Don’t compound the pain by putting yourself under more pressure to stop the eating. I urge you to go deeper and explore what’s really behind your FAT talk. Look at the Feelings, Actions and Thoughts that are prevalent in your life and explore how those might be causing you to feel upset and reach for food when you’re not hungry.
Can’t seem to pick yourself up out of depression or pull your head out of the fridge? Let me help you to break the cycle of self-hatred and shame that comes with blues and bingeing. You don’t need a new diet, just a shift in perspective. Join a community of women dedicated to supporting you on the road to making peace with food and friends with your body. Click the link below to become a member of my new FB group: