If I had a dime for every time I hear that one… clients and friends who start each day fresh, with new resolve to eat better and take better care of themselves, only to find themselves at the bottom of a cookie bag by bedtime.
I know the drill: you just want a little something sweet. One cookie turns to 3…plus a square of chocolate. Maybe a handful of chips, …may as well get a bowl…
Raise your hand if you’ve caught yourself in front of the fridge looking for something to do.
My mind also likes another type of rationale when I’ve eaten one of my no-nos (dairy & gluten), because that’s what was on offer or because there was a particularly fabulous version I didn’t want to pass up. Since I’ve already “cheated”, I may as well keep going.
I know perfectly well that one croissant or grilled cheese sandwich, once in a blue moon, won’t do me much harm, but, I definitely suffer when I overdo it.
Sure, there’s the 80/20 rule and cutting yourself some slack, and being forgiving rather than beating yourself up. What’s going on when things shift to 20/80 or the premenstrual grazing becomes a daily habit?
When the exception becomes the rule, it’s a sign there’s something more going on.
It may be a physical addiction to sugar or to an allergen. Yes, you can get addicted to things you’re mildly allergic to because it sets you up for a cascade of adrenaline and other stimulating biochemicals which give you a certain satisfaction beyond the taste of the food. Anything that tickles the ol’ brain chemistry is going to have your body calling out for more.
Certain aspects of addiction are about associations, so, we also start looking for the psychological need for a certain food.
Yes, it means digging around in the stories of your past yet again to discover the source of the issue. Once you shed light on it, though, you can more easily dust out the corners and then let its significance fade into the background.
A single woman came to me with headaches and other discomforts. Going through her eating habits, she admitted that she often ate a large bag of chips for supper. As we sifted through that fact, she remembered her alcoholic father, cruel and abusive most of the time, would occasionally come home on a bender, lavishing joyful attention on the kids, and declare it a party, complete with pop and chips. In her childhood mind, chips became indelibly linked with love. What more obvious food choice to make when the adult arrives home, stressed and lonely at the end of the day?
The fact is, under all of your grazing there’s an emotional need for something more.
A divorced man needed my help him with weight loss; a mother of a difficult teenager wanted my support to stick to her anti-inflammatory diet. Both were the epitome of the mindful eater who loses it after supper. One struggled with anger management and feared he’d never have someone in his life again; the other couldn’t get over the way her husband walked out the year before and left her to deal with the child alone. Both were clearly using the snacks as a way of burying the huge and overwhelming feelings that were never far from the surface – rage, grief and self-hatred and a basic desire to be loved. Scary stuff – the kind that you fear will take over and never leave if you let them in.
Without the junk-food as a crutch and a hiding place, they were each forced to come face-to-face with what they were feeling, experience it and move through it.
Maybe you don’t have any overt drama in your past and you’re not suppressing any big emotions, thank you very much. Maybe it’s just a few snacks in front of the TV.
Nothing wrong with that on occasion. If, however, that’s the norm; if you can’t face the evening without numbing out with TV & snacks, then it’s time to address what’s going on underneath.
- Compensating for a lack of love,
- Hiding from grief or anger or loneliness;
- Craving something in your life but can’t put your finger on it;
- Knowing what you want, but can’t sort out how to get it.
Until you sit with those thoughts & feelings, say hello to them, let them expand so you can explore what they need from you, you will stay stuck in that vicious cycle of grazing.
Offer yourself the white space for your thoughts and feelings to emerge.
It might will get messy and uncomfortable; let it be so.
Take some flower essences.
Call on your support system when you need them.
The peace you find on the other side with be well worth it.
What happens to you, inside, when you choose to stay away from the evening snacks? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.
Send this post to a friend who’s stuck on this wheel, and let her know that you’ve got her back while she works through whatever comes up.
Totally on point. Me and food have a long relationship. And usually we manage ok… and all is good in moderation … one or two or even three cookies… totally fine… but if I’m in a mood, or not dealing .. then three becomes 4 and well.. I get reminded by my beautiful body… that it’s time, to dig deep and uncover the juicy layers that live beneath the surface. That 4th cookie, becomes the gift. I’m looking at that 4th cookie … right now actually .. so this post is very timely for me. You are a beautiful writer Cathy. Thank you for your wisdom … xxx
That sounds like the title of the next big self-help book: The Gift of the 4th Cookie. 🙂
These are great tips. Emotional eating is something moms struggle all the time. And it’s important to address it. Thanks for sharing this wise advice.
You’re most welcome, Barbara.