I haven’t written in a journal since Princess Jasmine from Aladdin was on the cover and it had a lock and key.
This is my first day of journaling as part of a 21-day program for recovery from emotional eating. The program is in the form of a book called Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating by Meryl Hershey Beck.
As many of you know, I love self-help books. I’m constantly reading one, and I always have about 10 others queued up on my iPad to read next. Well, I just put one down that’s helping me to harness my skills as an empath so I could pick up another that addresses what I feel is an urgent issue of mine.
I know – a health blogger who has experienced profound success with weight loss and maintenance through healthy eating but who realizes that she isn’t totally “cured” of her issues with food.
*strokes imaginary beard*
It’s that irony and my fear of irrelevance and judgment that has kept me from sharing about this for a while.
In keeping with my theme word for 2017, ACCEPTANCE – just like I’ve had to ACCEPT my tibial stress injury and need to press “pause” on my current half marathon training schedule for the past three weeks – I’m choosing to ACCEPT where I am with my relationship with food so I can make it better. And, with age 30 on the horizon, I’m finding myself growing more and more sick and tired of being wrapped up in what others think about me.
Back to acceptance… Here’s where I am: I’ve continued to maintain my 50-pound weight loss from 2012. I realize that, while I developed a lot of healthy attitudes, beliefs and behaviors about food and tools to navigate it, some counterproductive ones remain that are only making the day-to-day harder than it needs to be. And I’m ready to rid my life of them.
These counterproductive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, the primary one being that I’m scared to death of getting heavy again, are all based in fear – a common thread in the areas of my life that I’m working to improve or change. Fear only holds us back, so I’m working on silencing it by realizing what it is I want and just going for it. So I impulse purchased a book, and here I am.
Why I’m an emotional eater
I believe that my issues with food stem from three eating practices/food situations that were present during my childhood.
- When I was a kid, we ate three square meals and two small snacks, and there was no eating in between allowed – the kitchen was closed. My biological parents were simply instilling structure and ensuring that we didn’t overeat; I’d never blame them for that. Intuitive eating – being aware of one’s hunger signals and eating based on them in order to maintain a healthy weight – just wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I believe that this nutrition philosophy fosters a healthy relationship with food, so I’m trying to train this 29-year-old mind and body to do what it should’ve been doing all along.
- Meal times felt very uncomfortable, likely due to my biological parents’ strained marriage, which ultimately (and thankfully) ended. In my household, they weren’t a time for pleasant conversation. Instead, we were told, “Less talk, more eat.” That eating pattern has certainly stuck with me, as I don’t really savor my food. I eat it, put my fork down and that’s it.
- During my biological parents’ separation (I lived with my mother), food was a little scarce, so I learned to eat when there was some. “Like a kid in a candy store,” I binged.
Food was restricted…
Food was unhappy…
Food was security…
A trifecta for an unhealthy relationship with food.
Addressing my feelings
This week, I started keeping a food mood journal, where, each time I put something in my mouth, I log the time, what I ate, how I felt and the precipitating event (what elicited those feelings). It reminded me of the early stages of therapy in my adult life.
I started seeing a therapist routinely in March 2010. My husband didn’t know it at the time, but he was the main motivator for me to face the childhood trauma I had experienced so I could bring the healthiest me to our relationship. Just a few months before, we met and started dating, and I knew relatively quickly that he and our relationship were special.
During an appointment, my therapist asked me how something I told her made me feel, and I responded with something to the effect of, “It makes me feel like it’s just not right.” She gently informed me that’s not a feeling and presented me with a feelings chart. Since then, I’ve become very astute with recognizing and acknowledging my feelings.
This has come in handy as I’ve set out to make a truce with food, as identifying the feelings I’m experiencing that trigger emotional eating is critical to recovery.
The power of a support system
One can seek support in a number of ways. For me, in addition to the therapy I mentioned, I’ve also worked to build a life that supports what I want it to be like – from the people I hang out with, to activities in which I engage, all the way to my line of work.
When I think about why I started this blog, in addition to helping others, it comes down to accountability. It actually starts there, because, when I’m accountable to all of you wonderful readers who support me, then I’m probably living out the “helping others” part of my mission.
Last night’s reading included information about various support systems, one of which was 12-step meetings that incorporate the original 12 steps set by Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
These words hit me hard.
I immediately thought of an estranged family member of mine who has struggled with alcoholism for more than 10 years. I remember when he was working on this step and watching him go through the incredibly painful process of seeing himself for who he was and acknowledging the pain his behavior caused our family, all in hope of healing. But I never saw him make a full recovery.
Is this what he was trying to do when he sent an apology letter to me more than a year ago? By choosing not to respond to protect myself, did I impede his recovery?
The answer is “no,” and that’s where step 9 comes in:
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so could injure them or others.”
You see, responding to this letter would’ve opened the door to unwanted communication and compromised what I’m always working toward – a happy, healthy life. That’s called “boundaries,” and they’re healthy.
While facing the words on the page and applying them to myself this time, I couldn’t help but wonder how my emotional eating has harmed others.
Isn’t that word a little strong?
Even though I can’t say that emotional eating has caused turmoil in my relationships or other issues in my life, I realize that it ultimately hurts me – plus, addiction is addiction. Food addiction is tricky to me, because we need food to survive. Not to reduce an alcoholic’s or nicotine or drug addict’s struggle, but we don’t need those things the way we need food. In fact, they kill us.
As I go through this program, I’m hoping to find answers to two questions that have been on my mind for a long time:
- What’s the difference between finding enjoyment in food as we do in our culture and being addicted? Is food meant to be enjoyed, or is it solely fuel?
- Am I being too hard on myself, and am just a runner who has to eat accordingly?
But I know the struggle…the internal dialogue playing in my head…the constant nagging – when I’m at my desk at work, at a restaurant or just sitting on my couch at home.
All the time.
And I’m sick, tired and over it.