Step away from the refrigerator!
My battle with cravings and emotional eating sans 200+ pounds
Last night I was standing in front of the refrigerator at midnight combing for something to eat. This is not a new occurrence. It happens frequently lately and almost always late at night. My last meal of the day is between 7 and 8 p.m. And my new lifestyle with Lori in the equation warrants a daily schedule that has me up early working out and often writing or working at the computer late at night wrought with food cravings.
Sometimes, like last night, I succumb to these cravings. Most of the time I do not. The good news is that my refrigerator is stocked with only healthy, on-plan food. So when I do falter and give in to the cravings, I end up eating an extra meal consisting of mostly protein and fruit.
This compulsion to stand at the refrigerator and eat late at night is a fairly new phenomenon. Surprisingly, I didn’t really have this struggle during the past year and a half when I was in diet mode and working the nutritional plan laid out for me by Leif Anderson.
However, for the past two months, since reaching my lowest weight and celebrating my success with family and friends, life has been in transition. I am moving from a diet mentality to a transitional phase and preparing for maintenance where the goal is living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining my weight long-term. During this transition, I am learning to live in my new body sans 200+ pounds, with my new outlook on life and tons of opportunity. There is joy, newness, adventure, and all of the pressure that comes with it. And, there are food cravings.
Part psychological and part physiological. But, all good!
It makes perfect sense that after reaching a goal you have worked to attain your entire adult life there would be a period of adjustment. I expected that. What I didn’t necessarily see coming was the roller coaster of emotion and resulting food-related challenges that have popped up for me as I learn to live my new life, in my new body sans 200+ pounds. More specifically, I didn’t expect the return of old voices and habits in the form of emotional or compulsive eating. Or, the physical food cravings themselves.
Eating for psychological reasons, rather than from physical hunger, is not a new phenomenon to many of you reading this blog. There are libraries filled with books and hundreds of thousands of expert websites and blogs on compulsive eating, emotional eating, binge eating, food addiction, eating disorders, stress eating and more. (I have enough of these books to form my own library at home if you are in need!)
As a life-long food addict or compulsive overeater – whichever term you prefer – I have spent a fair amount of time analyzing why I couldn’t stop eating. And, why most diets failed me. Why then was I so successful at losing the weight this time around? And, why now are the cravings and psychological battles becoming more of a challenge?
Well, if I had all the answers, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog. For me, this writing is not so much about answers as the questions themselves and exploring the process of coping. I call this phase two of Lori in the equation. And in this process, I am learning to identify those cravings (sometimes while standing at the refrigerator having a conversation with myself) and replace them with something else – much healthier, such as exercise. I am acknowledging that I am not done. We are never really “done.” This is something I will likely struggle with for the rest of my life.
That said, it will NOT win and I will NOT gain the weight back. There is no question.
What I’ve learned…
In the past two months, I have re-read a bunch of the self-help books on emotional and compulsive eating that line my library shelves, as well as some of the science behind food addiction and compulsive behavior. I have talked to experts – including my new friend/trainer Sean Faris who has studied neuroscience and, in particular, brain chemistry and obesity. And, I have noted my own behaviors and food cravings – such as new-found refined sugar addiction – countered in large part by my new-found passion for exercise.
I have learned a lot. Not the least of which is that I will:
1) Likely battle some version of this addiction for the rest of my life;
2) Win the battle by working to change how I respond to food and by replacing my desire to binge on food with healthier alternatives that produce the same (or better) result in my brain;
3) I simply LOVE to workout, walk, climb, race, and feel strong and active. And I love this way more than I love to eat.
My goal is to better understand and to change permanently how I respond to food. I am not someone who will hide behind an addiction label. Nor will I sue it as an excuse, but rather as empowerment to be successful in my new healthy life at keeping the weight off. And, I hope I will inspire others by being authentic and open about the ongoing struggle. It is real. It is not easy. We must be knowledgeable, mindful and authentic. I am here to tell and show you that you too can overcome it. You can live a healthy and extremely happy and opportunity filled life.
Admittedly, I am a strategy girl and need to understand how things work and why. But my appetite for deep understanding of the science behind it all is limited and so is the time I have to devote to reading and figuring it out. So, I feel fortunate to have friends and support in my life from those who thrive on understanding the science of it all and can share their expertise. Just as I tackled my weight loss transformation, I have decided to trust the experts and ask for help.
So, thank you Sean, my counselor Denise, and the authors and experts who have guided me with their expertise – namely Todd Becker, Gene Roth, Sunny Sea Gold, Susan Albers and Brene Brown.
Strategies for coping
- Understand your patterns and becoming mindful – simply noticing them is important. Keeping a craving log might help at first;
- Create a toolbox of strategies for avoiding a binge so you can replace old behaviors with new;
- Spirituality. For me, this means exploring, connecting and mindfully reflecting on my relationship with my higher power. It’s about doing things that are good for my soul. But, spirituality should be defined by you – whatever it means to you.
My current toolkit includes:
- Physical activity/exercise (walking, hiking, mountain climbing, biking, pilates or kettlebell),
- Calling a friend/colleague in that moment
- Reading a book for pleasure
- Going out for coffee with a friend or enjoying a glass of wine on the outdoor patio with a friend,
- Reading other inspirational blogs
- Mindful meditation (practicing/learning)
- Going to the spa (not usually possible in the moment)
- Chewing gum
- Drinking water or decaf coffee
And, so life continues with Lori in the equation phase two and a new mindfulness about my personal relationship with food, my new body, and the ongoing struggle with emotional eating. All completely trumped by my desire to be fit, active and healthy for a long time to come.
Do you struggle with food addiction or emotional eating? What strategies have helped you overcome food cravings? Who and what have you found to be inspirational? Please share your comments here. I would love to hear from you and continue the learning and the dialogue.
Here is a list of the books and blogs I have been reading on this topic in case you want to check them out.
- Getting Stronger by Todd Becker
- Food: The Good Girls Drug by Sunny Sea Gold
- 50 ways to soothe yourself without food by Susan Albers
- When Food is Love, Why Weight?, When you eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair by Geneen Roth