How many times have you been knee-deep in chocolate cake, already planning your workout for tomorrow to "make up for it?" The guilt and shame that you feel ruins any pleasure the cake might have given you, but you continue to eat it since you've already gone off the deep end and you swear that, after this, you'll never eat another piece of cake again. That was my reality for years.
I fell into the "diet mentality" in high school, when I first started counting calories and avoiding "bad food." Because my routine was often the same, I didn't have a problem sticking to my diet and eating what I considered to be healthy.
However, by the time I was in college, I was a slave to my shame; spending hours in the gym on an elliptical trying to burn off what I had eaten and drank the night before. Whether it was a night at the bar, a house party, or just a quiet night watching movies with my roommates, I found myself completely unable to step away from food, regardless of whether or not I was hungry. If my friends were eating donuts, I was eating donuts. If my friends were drinking frozen margaritas and eating chips and guacamole, so was I. If everyone was snacking on chocolate covered pretzels, I was joining them.
The only difference was that I couldn't just have a few bites.
While my friends (most of whom did not gain any significant weight during that time) were able to stop eating when they were full, I simply could not. I would be stuffed and experiencing a full-blown stomach ache and still not be able to walk away or say no.
At one time or another, I think we've all been in situations like this. Call it emotional eating, food addiction or stress eating, it can be emotionally taxing and extremely detrimental to our bodies and our body image.
When I started to notice that my clothes weren't fitting me anymore, I started to truly panic. I was absolutely obsessed with what I looked like, comparing photos of my current self to photos just six months earlier. I couldn't sleep at night because I was debilitated with shame for what I had eaten that day. I tried everything: skipping meals, eating nothing but grapes, eating nothing but carrots, eating nothing but cereal, staying on the elliptical for hours at a time... I was truly a woman possessed.
As with most stories like this, things got better, then worse, then better again, then even worse than before, until I finished so many cycles of gaining and losing weight that I was ready for a real, lasting change.
Eventually, I learned how to eat intuitively.
I know what you're thinking:
I know intuitively what I am supposed to be eating, but it's just so hard to say no to the junk food!
Trust me, intuitive eating is so much more than using your intellect to determine what is healthy and what is unhealthy.
Eating intuitively is listening to your body, knowing yourself and making responsible decisions based on your intuition and not your emotions.
I became a healthy, balanced individual as soon as I started treating myself as if I were someone I was responsible for (and guess what? I am).
When you're responsible for someone else, a child, for example, you don't just feed them ice cream because they ask for it, right? You'd instead say to them "Ice cream isn't healthy. Why don't you have a piece of fruit instead?"
That's now how I care for myself, and it's been the difference between being overweight & ashamed and happy & healthy.
Whenever I walk through the kitchen of my house, I'm tempted to grab something sweet: a handful of chocolate chips, a few dates, a chocolate mint Larabar, or even an Oreo on the rare occasion that we have them. While it might seem like an innocent treat, I know myself enough to know that, under the wrong circumstances, this "treat" could end in an all-out shame-inducing rampage, so I ask myself the following questions in order to gauge whether or not I actually need to eat.
1. Is this hunger or boredom?
Am I feeling the rumbles of an empty stomach, or do I just not have anything better to do? If I'm not showing any physical signs of hunger, I distract myself with something else and, nine times out of ten, the desire for food passes.
2. Is this hunger or emotions?
Did I just deal with something stressful? Am I currently upset or unhappy? Is something wonderful making me feel like a rockstar? If any of these are occurring, there's a good chance that the emotions flooding my brain are causing the desire to eat, not any real physical hunger. If there's no sign of an empty stomach, I find other ways to cope or celebrate.
3. Will this food reduce my hunger?
It took me many years to realize that granola bars did not make me feel full. If I was hungry and I ate one, I'd be just as hungry ten minutes later, so I stopped eating them. Empty calorie foods don't provide any real sustenance to our bodies, so before I give into my cravings, I determine whether or not the food I am reaching for is going to satisfy me, or if I'll be jumping down the rabbit hole of overeating. If the food won't fill me up, I find something that will and allow myself a taste of it after I've eaten a real meal.
4. Will eating this make me feel guilt or shame?
Sometimes I really, really, really want a pint of ice cream, but I know that the guilt and shame I'll feel from eating it will overpower any pleasure it provides me, so I abstain. No good taste is worth dealing with those negative emotions, so instead of ice cream, I make myself some banana "nice cream," which is a much healthier alternative.
5. Will eating this create a pattern that will be difficult to break?
"What you eat today, you crave tomorrow." I remind myself of that each and every time I reach for something unhealthy. When I go days without stealing a handful of chocolate chips from the pantry, I eventually forget that they're there and don't crave them; but as soon as I remember and have some, you can bet that I'll be fighting the urge for more for the next few days, and that every time I give in, my cravings will get stronger. Usually, it's best just to stay away so that I won't have to deal with the cycle of cravings again. Instead, I'll reach for something else that won't be a problem later, like grapes or powdered chocolate peanut butter.