What if your number one resolution was to love yourself? My emotional journey from dieting to loving.
It’s that time of year when I resolve to do one of two things:
1. I attempt to diet so I will fit into that black dress on New Year’s Eve (yes, black because black is the “thin”colour, and though I look great in other colours, thin always wins out). Of course, this diet lasts just as long as it takes to be confronted with yet another holiday buffet table when I am stressed and ravenous at the end of the work day.
2. I attempt to squash all the difficult emotions that arise from the holidays by eating myself into a stressed out stupor throughout December resolving to go on yet another diet and heavy workout schedule come January.
The amazing thing is that neither of these strategies has ever ever worked and I usually spend at least three months post-holiday feeling horribly guilty and repenting. I go into punishment mode and workout for hours in the gym: the harder the better – no pain…no gain.
The trouble is my body can’t take this punishment anymore and has told me in several ways that if I workout like a maniac I will injure myself and be unable to walk let alone workout! I’m now 46 years young and I can’t beat myself up at the gym anymore. So now what? Well, I will go on a strict diet (we all know how this works).
Okay, diets may be relatively easy for the non-emotional eaters out there but for me I eat to calm down, and I eat to soothe, and I eat to avoid my feelings. So now I’m faced with the holiday season, and I recently lost my wonderful father, making this year that much more difficult. What now?
Have I learned anything from the years of this incredibly disheartening absolutely self-loathing cycle of overeating followed by punishment? Well, what I know for sure is this:
- Self-punishment does not work, in fact it makes things worse and perpetuates the cycle by creating even more negative self-talk.
- Sharing with others, asking for help, or reaching out to others who experience the same thing, does help.
- Nothing changes if nothing changes. Permanent change is gentle and proceeded by small yet amazing shifts in consciousness and “ah ha” moments.
- Putting the same amount of time into nurturing myself versus hating myself does help.
- Telling the truth is absolutely necessary in order to heal my pain. Hiding from the truth keeps me in a state of denial which leads to the stuff myself or starve myself cycle.
- My mind will tell me anything to keep me in emotional pain. It whispers, “Self-care is nonsense. Don’t tell anyone how you feel! You can do this alone, just stick to that new diet! You don’t deserve to be thin.” This is how my mind punishes me.
My resolutions this holiday season are I WILL STOP DIETING AND START LOVING. I will keep my expectations low. I will accept and appreciate situations the way they are. I can hear you saying, “Yes, I can relate to that, in fact, I rather enjoy pigging out at Christmastime”. But here’s the hitch. There seems to be an invisible line between enjoying foods mindfully and allowing the season to completely run our health into the ground. Too much sugar, too much caffeine, too much alcohol – we’re messes by the time it’s over.
The difficulty is, what drives our Holiday overeating isn’t just the external reality of readily available treats and goodies but also the internal emotions cued by the holidays. Everyone has emotional ties to annual celebrations; some emotions are based on good memories and some are based on not-so-good memories. Add to the memories the unrealistic expectations of a perfect holiday feast with the perfect family or the perfect romantic partner and I am set for an emotional melt down. For those of us who are extra-sensitive this is the time of year when we overeat and not just for one day but for the entire month of December.
So, is there a solution? Here’s what I’ve come to learn about myself since running a support group for emotional eaters. Emotional eating is not about food. Emotional eating is not about dieting. Emotional eating is not about food not about food not about food!
Emotional eating is a tool I use to feel better. So the question is, what else can I do to feel better? You will read articles that tell you to replace eating mindlessly with taking a shower, going for a walk, anything to take your mind off food. These things may work for non-emotional eaters but in my experience every time I read these pop-psychology articles I just know these suggestions do not work for me. So here are my facts:
- Negative emotions cause overeating and overeating causes more negative emotions which lead to further overeating – you know it, a vicious cycle.
- Eating is a tool to stuff my uncomfortable emotions.
- Eating is a tool to calm myself when I’m stressed.
- My thoughts feed my beliefs, which remain unchallenged, and lead to painful emotions, which lead to overeating.
Here are the methods I’ve tried to control my emotional eating: eating an apple, eating celery, not having cookies in the house, not buying popcorn, working out 10 days a week, restricting for 3 days, taking a walk, taking a shower, taking a bath. No, there isn’t a quick fix. But there are things that I can do right here and right now to begin to make the change. Remember I don’t have to change everything – but nothing changes if nothing changes.
Here are my 10 vows to help me break the Holiday stuff/starve cycle:
- Find a buddy who I can share with, in a non-judgemental manner, to help me when I do overeat. (By help I mean help me reframe the situation so that I don’t beat myself up about it.)
- Join a support group to help me through the emotionally tough stuff (eg. grief, 12 step, book club, women’s support group, etc.) and commit to going with the main goal being I at least show up and sit in a seat!
- Understand that if I’m in the middle of an overeating episode I can make the choice to stop mid-way and call a friend.
- Since negative thinking leads to uncomfortable emotions I will be on the alert for what is aptly called, “stinking thinking”.
- Continue to work on mindful eating practices.
- Encourage movement and stretching of my muscles (I attempted rock climbing on the weekend, which I loved, and have started swimming again. Both of these activities I am doing for enjoyment rather than for the goal of losing weight.)
- Choose treats to which I would award 5 gold stars, and savour each mouthful.
- Check in with myself prior to attending a gathering. Scan myself to see if I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Knowing how I feel before I hit the buffet helps me treat myself with kindness.
- Refuse to weigh myself because I seem to do it only to judge myself and make myself feel bad. I know exactly what my mind is going to do with that information.
- Be present when I’m in a group of people; focus on asking them questions and actively listen to their responses. Take an interest in people rather than worrying about what they think of me. Leave early if I’m in a group of people whom I deem unhealthy or toxic.
So there you have it. This year I refuse to buy into the commercially driven engine of purging after the holidays. I will not do the January workout to kill myself. I will not starve myself. I will not hate myself. I will nurture me, I will ask for help, I will accept situations, I will give thanks, I will stop dieting and start loving! Oh and one more thing – I will add colour to my wardrobe!
I wish you peace and love throughout the holidays. And if you are wondering if I’m offering a support group to help end this harrowing holiday cycle the answer is, yes! I’m running two groups in January one on Sunday mornings and one on Thursday evenings – I hope you will join me.