Yesterday was a rough day for me. I’m lucky, as I haven’t had too many of these kinds of days lately, but last night I really struggled with some personal issues and keeping my deep desire to emotionally eat in check. The day started well enough, but slowly I just sort of lost the plot on the day and some sadness crept up and settled in for a long stay. I’d like to chat here about how my food issues were involved, as it’s a case-study in emotional eating.
Pretty early on in the day (before lunch) I started thinking about frozen yogurt. I usually try to treat myself to a trip to the local Menchie’s franchise at least once a week to feed my need for treats. It keeps me in check, and keeps my historical cravings for things like banana splits and whole pints of Ben & Jerry’s at bay. Because the day was rather overcast and cool, and the future forecast for the week showed warmer, sunnier weather, I decided to ditch the froyo idea for the day and hold off for a more appropriate day.
I snacked on some kale chips (not really my thing, to be honest) and a half banana to tide me over until dinner. Sometime between the snack and dinnertime things went south QUICKLY with my mood. That old, familiar depressed feeling crept in. I was sad, lonely, craving something I couldn’t put into words. It probably didn’t help that I was watching enormously depressing documentaries on female infanticide and true crime shows on tv. By the time I needed to leave the house to run an errand, I started to think about a Five Guys cheeseburger, and how I could get one in my mouth while attending to that errand.
I managed to stave off the burger, but by the time I returned home I had fully hit that pre-binge food paralysis. Do you know it? It’s that feeling where your mind is ruminating over all the things you might be able to cram down your throat, the things you SHOULD eat (and how none of that sounds good enough right now), and that keeps you in your chair, paralyzed in a dark place. It makes the hunger worse, the feeling worse. In that food paralysis, I even took to what I call “angry chores”. This is a more recent development for me. Historically I’d just let the house wallow in uncleanliness, but now, if I didn’t know what to do about food or my sadness, dammit, those dishes were at least going to get washed!
Finishing up the cleaning, I still was in a rut. I was still talking myself through it – trying to force-feed myself all of the helpful advice I’ve learned in therapy: “You’re uncomfortable emotionally – THAT’S OKAY! Be okay with the feeling!” But the need, the desire to fill the hole in my heart with comfortable food was compelling.
Here I’ll get to the single-most effective strategy I can employ to defeat these urges when they arise: PREPAREDNESS.
Had I not already had pre-cooked chicken breast in the fridge, I might have driven down to the Five Guys. Or I might’ve even ordered myself a pizza. But no, I had food ALREADY MADE in the fridge, and all that stood between me and a satisfactory meal was a minute in the microwave. It wasn’t what I WANTED, but the reality is that food is merely fuel. It’s not my friend, it isn’t someone to talk to when there’s no one else around. I knew that the best thing for me wasn’t to go to bed on an empty stomach, but to fuel myself with a respectable dinner.
I won’t lie – when I finished up the bowl of chicken and beans I LICKED IT DRY AND STILL WANTED MORE. When merely fifteen or twenty minutes had past after finishing and I was already visualizing myself taking the tub of TruWhip Light out of the fridge and going to town on it with a spoon, I decided the best strategy at this point was to just go to bed.
As much as I feel this experience on 20/20 Lifestyles over the last nine months has changed me, it hasn’t changed the fact that I’m still a binge eater. I still am motivated to eat bad things when I feel bad. It’s upsetting, because there are times when you think, “I’ve SO GOT THIS! I’ve beaten this! I have overcome! I’m a winner!” So when the old familiar urges and behaviors arise, you’re faced with a reality that might make you feel not as powerful…
But screw that! I knew, when I was heating up my chicken and weighing out the amount of guacamole and salsa on my digital food scale, that this was A WIN. I knew that when I went to bed instead of curl up with a tub of TruWhip Light, I was the victor in the battle. I knew that because I didn’t cave to a delivery pizza or a cheeseburger in a time of emotional craving, that THAT was a display of power. And this morning I feel a sense of PRIDE. I haven’t won this war – it’s clearly still being waged and may ALWAYS be an issue for me, but I have the tools, the strategies, and the internal power to have a win now and then. And more wins than losses means I come out ahead. And I’m happy with that!