Recently, a former client, Steve reached out for an appointment. Now married with a child, much had changed since we last met and he confessed that the great habits he’d developed had become casualties of an ever more chaotic life. Although he started every day with best intentions, by dinnertime it all went to hell as he piled on second helpings and paid repeated visits to the freezer for spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs. He wanted a plan to reclaim his motivation for healthy living. I was happy to help.
Upon examining his diet, it was clear he was making an effort. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks were solid. He lived with an imprint of our work together in his mind and reported that his favorite snack was still an apple with almond butter and his most effective breakfast was an omelet with vegetables. Yet, he was befuddled by his inability to stay focused when he got home at night. Something happened when he walked in the door that made him lose all sense and fall down the rabbit hole of overeating.
When I asked about the feelings beneath the behavior he hedged, reluctant to complain about a life he deeply loved. I explained that feeling overwhelmed didn’t mean he was rejecting his life. It was possible to love and feel stressed. So he revealed that while he loved being married and adored his child, he also felt lost in the shuffle, fearing he was being swallowed up by responsibility and commitment. It’d been months since he’d worked on his photography, a lifelong passion, and his workouts were nonexistent. He was terrified of losing himself if he continued this way. Entering his home at the end of day reminded him of all that’d changed and eating became his coping skill.
I helped Steve draw connections between overeating and burying difficult feelings. We explored the probability that he needed to have a talk with his wife to see how they could support each other in carving out solitary time, as he recognized she was struggling too. He didn’t want either of them to feel overburdened. Instead, he wanted them to be happy and fulfilled with their mutual and independent lives. It was clear he didn’t need an eating plan. He needed a strategy to manage emotional eating. If he didn’t, he’d continue stuffing his feelings with food.
Emotions are trail markers letting you know whether you’re on the right path or veering off course. Feelings of depression, anxiety, or uncertainty are signs that something’s out of alignment and you’re not being true to what most resonates for your soul. Examining these feelings and making necessary adjustments allows you to find equilibrium. Burying them with food obscures them, keeping you in a viscous cycle. If it weren’t for emotional eating, it’s doubtful the obesity epidemic would be so out of control.
Next time you feel the tug of emotional eating try sitting in the fire of your discomfort and befriend your feelings instead. Become aware of what’s triggered your overwhelming desire for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Rather than grabbing a spoon, stay with the immediacy of your experience, observing what’s making you want to dive into oblivion with Chunky Monkey. You’ll feel uneasy, but practice staying present and be grateful that you’re uncovering the seeds of clarity.
Then do something really powerful: Choose something different.
Once you’ve identified the emotional impetus, make a cup of tea and sit outside, allowing the space of the sky to inspire clearer thought. Take a walk, call a friend or write in a journal. By staying with how you feel you’ll begin to see solutions, productive and positive ways to restore your sense of peace.
Addressing difficult issues does not equate to blowing your life apart. Just because your husband watches TV while you’re cooking and cleaning doesn’t mean you’ll end up divorced if you speak up, anymore than acknowledging that your job has grown boring and stale mean you’ll be unemployed forever if you leave. But these are the places our minds go when we’re afraid which keeps us in the cycle of ruminating on, then stifling our feelings. Silence and escapism have their consequences though. Perpetuating this cycle won’t change your original problem, and may instead leave you with residual issues like weight gain or out of control debt.
In discussing his feelings, Steve was relieved to hear that his wife had similar concerns. Till then, he subconsciously feared that speaking up would trigger an avalanche of angry emotions, but instead he found camaraderie. In their mutual relief, they devised a plan that allowed them personal time for their own interests. Getting his feelings off his chest helped Steve curtail his nighttime eating, even before the solution was implemented. Feeling heard and validated, he was no longer stuffing his words with food. The bonus? Their honest communication showed him they had the makings for a solid, lifelong marriage, something that would’ve gone unrecognized had he continued to escape into food.
Next time you catch yourself reaching for treats that will throw you off course, stop and notice what’s going on. Did your spouse say or do something to upset you? Are you bored with your work? Did you have a fleeting thought that provoked an uncomfortable feeling? See if you can sit with the discomfort and ask yourself what lies beneath the craving. And then, instead of reaching for the spoon, do something different.
I’d love to hear what you do to manage emotional eating. Do you journal about it? Take a walk or talk to a friend? Go to the gym? Let me know in the comments below. It’s always interesting and wonderful to read about your experiences.
Wishing you a happy and easy week!
Chocolate Banana Discs
This is a super easy recipe to make and keep in the freezer when you need just a little something sweet. Enjoy!
- 1- 3.5 ounce bar of 77% cacao dark chocolate
- 2 medium bananas
- Melt chocolate in a double boiler
- Slice bananas into ¼ inch discs
- Toss the bananas in the chocolate until completely covered.Place on parchment paper and put in the refrigerator to allow them to set. Then place them in the freezer for at least an hour to allow them to freeze. Once frozen, put them in a tightly sealed container and keep stored in freezer. Enjoy when needed 🙂