Down With Diets

Ten days ago, I started doing a few of the practices in a book that promises to increase emotional intelligence, especially around eating. I’ve known for years I’m an emotional eater, but I’d never really figured out what to do about that, how to change it. Eat Q showed me how. There are many more practices than I can list here, but the two that did me the most good were “Pause” and good old journaling.

“Pause” is just that. Whenever I wanted to eat anything for any reason, I paused a few seconds to figure out what kind of hunger I was feeling. At first, it was hardly ever actual hunger. Mostly it was cravings. I followed the cravings back to how I was feeling in that moment. That was the tricky part because I tend to avoid feeling my feelings when I eat. I just eat. So journaling helped me explore the feelings thing.

Frequent food emotions were a vague anxiety, or sadness, just a little bit, lonely, too, or bored, even happy, and often feeling like I wanted to treat myself. Because I deserved it. Over the course of ten days I tuned into and recorded all these feelings and more every single time I wanted to eat. I figured out very quickly that my emotions were really running the show and I determined I’d put them in their place, deal with them in healthier ways than with chocolate, potato chips, or cookies.

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I learned that “healthy eating” consists of a plate of food that is half high health, like fruit, vegetables and protein. Then a quarter of the plate can be medium healthy, like whole grains or good dark chocolate. The final quarter of the plate can be any number of less healthy foods like crackers or a hamburger bun or even a handful of potato chips.

I decided I wanted to eat healthy more than I wanted to soothe my emotions with food. With that decision, I took the last step in the “Pause” sequence. I thought about the consequences of emotional eating, I gauged my actual hunger level, and I made the healthy choice. I got it right 28 out of 30 times. And the few times I did eat less healthy, it was only a little bit, and I didn’t feel guilty, I didn’t binge, and I got right back on track.

Losing weight was not part of my plan–I just wanted to be in control of my emotions instead of mindlessly letting them rule my diet and my life. It was surprising how very easy it was to do most of the time. The first few days I had cravings, but soon enough, as I gave myself time to figure things out, the cravings stopped. I found myself going from three hours between meals to four and even five hours. I never felt deprived. Instead, I feel proud of myself for sticking with that sometimes tedious “Pause” and journaling process. And even though it wasn’t planned, I lost weight while eating lasagne.

Slow Food

Gone are the days when I could tuck two toddlers under my arms and head off to the grocery store, then shop for the week without list or having looked through a cookbook. Oh and then come home to feed them lunch, bathe them, and whip up a lasagne for dinner. However did I have the energy? And didn’t all that pasta pack on the pounds?

My secret was cigarettes. Yes I know, seems scandalous now, doesn’t it? Back then, nobody minded. We smoked in cars, houses, and restaurants with wild abandon. Ah for the good old days. Because the minute I quit smoking I (of course) gained weight. And I’ve been struggling with it and writing about that struggle ever since.

Recently I decided to stop struggling and get more mindful about the whole eating and weight issue, and just not judge myself so much. If I want lasagna for dinner, I’ll have lasagne. I’ll just do it mindfully: Day 1: Shop. Day 2: Simmer sauce. Day 3: Make casserole.

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Walking the winding mindfulness path, I remember something I learned about myself and food in Weight Watchers. I’m an emotional eater.

When I had cigarettes to soothe my frantic, sad, angry, lonely overwhelmed self, I was fine. After I quit, the feelings got shoved down with food. If I gained too much weight, and I did, often, I went on a mindless diet. I cut calories or fat or meat or carbs or sugar.  I didn’t have to think about it, I only had to be brutally strict with myself until I lost the weight and the cycle started again. Most of the diets I’ve been on worked very well for a year or two, which is when the emotional eater would burst from the confines of the latest diet and wail Why can’t I have lasagna? 

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The thing about knowing you’re an emotional eater is it doesn’t help you lose weight. In Eat.Q Susan Albers says dealing with emotional eating means upping your emotional intelligence. Huh. I always thought I had a pretty high EQ. I read other people really well. I’m tuned in and sensitive, mostly. I know myself. Turns out just not as well as I thought. For example, for most of my life I have been willfully clueless about how to effectively guide my emotions around food. That’s changing. I’ll keep you posted.