As I posted yesterday, I really needed more physical energy to even start thinking about accomplishing all my goals, including those for my home. But there is another big piece to that health puzzle I also needed.
Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am an emotional eater. When I get stressed, anxious, tired, irritable, drained or blue, I have some kind of compulsive mechanism in me that takes me straight to the kitchen, to an ice cream tub, to chocolate, pastries, organic “health food” cereal, or whatever I can find in my house that is sweet and or salty, fatty and loaded with carbs.
Using food to manage my emotions does help in the short-term, but the long-term effects always worry me. I once read an article that listed possible origins or drivers for binge-eating behavior. One was, “Maybe you saw your mother go to the cupboard when she was stressed.” My mom is a very healthy, disciplined eater, so this wasn’t my problem. What hit home to me about that statement is that it made me think about the example I’m setting for my daughter. If she sees me heading for the kitchen when I’m stressed out, what am I teaching her about how to process emotions? Since I’ve experienced the heartache and struggles of bingeing and emotional eating, my hope is that she would not have to go through the same when she is older. While this may not be completely in my control, the last thing I want to do is model emotional eating as a coping mechanism.
I would rather my children see me get upset and use some healthy tools to work through it, rather than for them to see a brave front and then for me to disappear into the kitchen.
Secondly, my dependence on food to help me feel better emotionally is a tide that always comes to wash away my healthy eating habits. I’ve eaten super healthfully at times – juicing every day, eating only clean, whole foods, and then, I’ve thrown everything absolutely out the window and eaten an entire slab of peppermint bark in a matter of days, or a tub of ice cream, or multiple pastries from a local bakery. My diet at times has turned into a conveyer belt of nothing but sugar and carbs to my mouth. To say this way of eating has devastating effects on my emotions (continuing the emotional-eating cycle), my energy, and my self–esteem is an understatement.
Once again, I cannot achieve my goals, including those to make a haven for my children, when I’m trapped in an addictive eating cycle. It leaks over into all kinds of areas, including me bringing unhealthy foods into the house; it contributes to a more distracted and unhappy mama.
One of the biggest gifts of doing the Whole 30 plan is that it has given me the structure, guidelines, and support to eat healthfully. This plan not only fuels my body and brain with foods that will help lower anxiety and stabilize moods, it also gives me a track to run down. As I’ve been doing the Whole 30 plan, I have been tempted many times especially in late afternoons when I’m tired and my kids are tired and their behavior is challenging, to derail off my plan and put my face into the first comfort food I can find.
But when I was doing my Whole 30, I didn’t want to ruin my long streak of days – I wanted to make it 100% to the 30 days. Now on my maintenance plan, I remind myself of everything I’m trying to accomplish and how committed I am to taking care of myself. My healthy eating plan keeps me on track. It pushes me to do the thing I must do: find healthy, healing ways to deal with stress and process emotions.
Processing emotions in healthy ways is a somewhat complex subject and a story for another day. For now I’ll just say a few things I’ve done and continue to do is to watch my caffeine intake (which contributes to increased anxiety for me), get counseling as necessary, exercise and get outside, to stop and take some deep breaths and pray in the heat of the moment, talk with friends, to journal and write. Sometimes all I really need is a good night’s sleep.
In those moments when I feel like I can’t live without a certain food (which is becoming less frequent), one thing that is helping me psychologically is to plan a few exception days to my Whole 30 plan. For example, I plan two date nights a month with my husband (which usually means popcorn and a craft beer or glass of wine), major holidays and close family events. Now, when I REALLY want something that’s not on my plan, I tell myself I can have that thing, I just have to wait. For me, it works. It gives my brain a place to go, rather than obsessing about what I can’t have. When the day comes, I may not have that thing or even use my exception day in reality, but my brain knows it’s an option in the moment.
When I do have something off- plan on my designated days, I truly enjoy it without guilt, much more than I would have in the past when it was open for grabs at any time of the day. Or, I find that I simply don’t enjoy it as much, and meh – I can take it or leave it, and would rather leave it. The allure and magic of that thing I couldn’t resist before is simply gone now, because my tastes have changed and it’s just not worth it to me.
When you come from having days of feeling blah, anxious, low energy, barely functioning, and you journey to a place where you can function with energy and joy and vitality, you think twice about how much eating something is worth it to you.
This is my journey to freedom from food. Ironically, it’s the structure that gives me the freedom to say no when I need to, and the freedom to say yes when I’ve planned to. I’ve come from nearly single-handedly polishing off a Costco-sized bag of Chicago mix (caramel and cheese) popcorn over a matter of days, to instead, finishing off nearly two Costco-sized bags of kale and spinach. Guess which one I miss when I don’t have it now? The kale and spinach.
This is the power of the Whole 30 plan.
In making my home a haven, both physically and emotionally, the Whole 30 plan has been essential for me. Tomorrow I will talk more about the practical ways I stay on the plan (hint: planning ahead is a big key!). Stay tuned.