What happens when food is more than food? What if food is your medicine or what helps you cope with life? Tantalizing meals and treats can take us on refreshing trips down memory lane or just away from reality. This can feel like a blessing or a curse. While food may comfort us in the moment, be it because of boredom, depression, excitement, or loneliness, we are often just distracted from the larger issue at hand. Some people lose all sense of control when it comes to the intoxicating aromas and tastes creeping around kitchen corners or out of fast food bags. In reality, there are fine lines between the occasional cheat meal, emotional eating or an eating disorder. You may be concerned about the possibility of having a serious issue that could affect your health via overeating, the effects of being overweight or binge eating and purging. Let me give you some information to start you on your journey to self control.
Why Do You Eat?
Remember back in school, teachers always taught students to identify the root of the issue before beginning to work on it. The same is true for matters of the subconscious. You know you like food, who doesn’t? But- what’s going on under the surface? If you took an honest assessment of your past, can you pinpoint the moment when overindulging and self medicating with food first started to “make sense”?
Identifying the “Big Why” may come easily to some. Others may have to do a bit more soul searching to reveal their dark obstacles. Keeping a journal about your eating or speaking with a nutritionist can really help you determine what is normal eating and where you are eating for a non-hunger reason. Sexual abuse, past relationships, violence you’ve experienced, rejection, depression and mental illness are all serious issues that can contribute to eating habits. Therapy (group or one on one) is a successful treatment option that allows patients to unlock the emotional blocks we develop as a means of protecting ourselves from unfavorable memories of the past. You can talk to your pastor or religious leader as well. Relaxed and unguarded, you and a trained professional can reveal what’s been clinging to you and help you work through it. You could just be eating because it makes you feel better or takes the boredom away. Your “WHY” doesn’t have to be tragic for it to be significant. It’s just important that you know what the issue is before you try to stop having these habits.
New Coping Skills and Habits
After identifying the cause of your overeating, it’s time to discover your “triggers”. Does a certain topic make you uncomfortable every time it’s discussed? What situation makes you so anxious you can’t rest until you find food? Could you be your own trigger? Sometimes our own thoughts and feelings stress us more than the outside world. Whatever sets you off, the next step to taking back control is to create distractions. Maybe you have to much free time. Joining programs and groups in your community will help keep your mind busy. Finding a hobby or exploring your passions can also help. The key is to create new actions that you take instead of seeking out food. You also want to be proactive to keep yourself busy mentally so that there is something to counter your natural leaning toward food for comfort.
As you become more active, thoughts of overindulging will soon be in your past. You’ll feel better about yourself, and you’ll create an emotional outlet for that suppressed energy. Do something that makes you feel like you’ve made a difference. Mentor, volunteer, or create a program of your own. Take yourself out on a couple of dates or do something you’ve always wanted to do. Just remember, your new distraction has to feel good, so good that you won’t need to comfort yourself with food.
Delayed gratification is a concept that can improve every aspect of your life. In essence, it is the art of bypassing an immediate reward for a bigger and better reward in the long term. For instance, when you’re ready to purchase your first home, downpayment funds in your savings account can be tempting. A trip to the Caribbean or a quick shopping spree may sound good for the moment, but what do you want more? Delayed gratification means bypassing momentary indulgences for the huge benefits of your ultimate goal.
In health, delayed gratification applies to the choices you make throughout the day. Second and third-helpings of food sound good for the moment, but what do you want more? What’s more important- being happy right now or enjoy a long, healthy life? Having the cupcake today or losing 15 pounds over the next 3 months? You must learn to transfer from a mode of self-indulgence to a life of self-discipline with your dreams and goals in mind.
Find Yourself Amidst Confusion
Sometimes, the best thing we can do to heal ourselves is nothing. Well, not in the literal sense, but it can appear so externally. By the time a problem, issue, or means of discomfort reaches the surface, the internal damage is already done. When things become overwhelming, many times we’re taught to look to someone else for help. At times, our loved ones can give great advice but, especially with issues such as over eating, they may not be able to relate.
Don’t be mistaken, over 27% of girls age 12-18 display prominent signs of having some sort of eating disorder. Doctors are also reporting more cases of women 30+ who are dealing with deep rooted disorders. It’s almost impossible to give an accurate statistic because most women (and men) keep their feelings towards food a secret. Even less take action to deal with it. Even people who aren’t battling a clinical eating disorder, but feel that they can’t talk about the overeating or unhealthy eating that they love to do and that helps them cope.
Rather than adding well-intended, but potentially misguided opinions into your already overworked brain, take some time to sort things out at your own pace. Many have turned to a personalized prayer/meditation/deep breathing routine to achieve inner peace. When life’s pressures or a particular “trigger” starts affecting your ability to focus, take some time for yourself and regain your control. In addition to the therapy and professional help I mentioned earlier, you have to learn how to calm yourself and deal with life on your own after you’ve received good advice.
When you make the conscious decision to live positively and change your eating, the onset of even the smallest negative influence can seem suffocating. Panicking or succumbing to your anxiety will only make the battle more difficult. Instead, don’t resist and don’t engage, rather find peace in the present moment. Stop and count to 10. Leave the room and go outside. Do what you have to do to get to a peaceful place. It is the inability to forgive ourselves for past mistakes, and the piercing apprehension over the outcome of the future that steals the gift of the present from under our feet. If you haven’t been able to control your eating in the past and have failed at diets over and over…forgive yourself. Live through the experience and don’t focus on being perfect with your eating. Just focus on doing the best you can and having your ultimate goals in mind.
Meditation can also help. Don’t let the idea of meditation intimidate you. There are countless videos, tutorials, and guided audios available that can help you get the most out of each session. In fact, meditation, deep breathing, prayer and positive affirmations can aid you in overcoming the emotional damage from your “Big Why” and change your entire outlook on life.
Journal Your Thoughts
There’s an unspoken power that comes from putting pen to paper. It’s probably the reason so many people find relief from keeping a journal or diary. Noting your thoughts, realizations, and revelations along the way is a great way for tracking your progress. I suggest creating a journal as your first step to recovery. You can use it to identify your “Big Why” and your triggers. You can also use it to write out your positive affirmations, prayers and the things you learn from your meditations. As time goes on, you can gauge your progress by going back and reading some of your entries. Imagine the feeling of gratification that comes with that “a ha” moment or seeing how far you’ve come. When you finally have your, “I remember when I used to think like that.” moment you will see how you’ve grown. When you say, “I remember when I was held hostage by my own subconscious…but look how far I’ve come.”, it’ll all be worth it.
Reference: http://www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org/EDFFAQ.htm (eating disorder statistics)