We are closing out the second week of my current group of Fueled+Fit, and my peeps are diving in DEEP. They are doing the hard and messy work. They are putting themselves out there on our private Facebook group. They are sharing successes and asking for support. They are seeking out progress, not perfection. They are GETTING IT.
I am loving every second of it. Every round of this program I take people through, I grow a little bit - as a nutritionist, as a coach, as an eater, as a human being. I learn a LOT. I realize how lucky I am to be sharing this experience with these women and men.
This week a participant shared a victory in the group, and what she said sparked something inside me. She mentioned being "aware of what is going in my mouth and why"...and I thought, YES. This is it. Awareness is EVERYTHING.
If I had to pick one thing I wanted to tell people about food, it's this: STAY AWARE. Your body will change, your energy levels will change, your sleep will change, your moods will change...it all changes! Your food might change, too! That's cool. Stay aware and be present in the process.
I was a vegetarian for 20 years and after having my baby almost 2 years ago, I had to start eating animal protein. It was HARD on many levels, but it's what I needed. And I never would have known that had I not been present and aware of how I was feeling and how food was impacting me.
Keep in mind that being and staying aware does not mean you'll never again eat "unhealthy" foods. It means you continue to make conscious decisions that serve you best. Sometimes (not often, but sometimes) carrot cake or a margarita might serve you best! But you're the only one that can determine that. And how do you determine that? By staying aware.
Tuesday I had a long, exhaustive day. I was more hungry than normal, and I knew it was because I didn't get enough sleep (hashtag parenthood/momlife/sleepwhenyoudie). That's okay. I rolled with it. I took in more calories than my body really needed. Totally fine. I knew what was going on and I didn't freak out. I just tried to stay present. For starters, leptin (an appetite regulating hormone) gets really mucked up with lack of sleep. I knew that there was also some emotional drive behind my eating and snacking that day - I was feeling a little down.
I allowed myself that emotional snacking. The big thing here is that I WAS AWARE IT WAS EMOTIONAL EATING.
I used to be a big time emotional eater. I would run to the kitchen as a way to check out of my life. If something was going on I couldn't handle, if something felt too hectic, I would use food to quiet down the noise. If something was happening that felt scary or out of my control, I would control my food intake as a way to try and bring back control in my life. Now, years out from my disordered eating patterns, I am still aware of the tendency to want to use food as a way to handle my life. It is very infrequent, but when it happens, I listen. I use my eating stuff as a TOOL in my life. If I get the urge to overeat or eat foods I don't normally eat, I know something is going on in my life that requires my attention. I use this emotional eating pull as a way to check IN instead of checking OUT.
These days when my emotions drive my eating, it is a conscious choice. And I dive in deep to the real work that needs to happen. I don't use a jar of almond butter as white noise to drown out the crazies inside my head. I say "something is making me want to take a spoon to this almond butter. Today, I'm going to give myself permission to dive in - into the almond butter, but also into whatever it is that's making me feel this way in the first place."
When you stay aware of your cravings and eating tendencies, it doesn't mean you will never, ever, ever emotionally eat again. We are emotional beings and eating is an everyday activity, therefore it stands to reason that we eat with emotion involved, and that's okay...that's what makes us human. You can give yourself permission to eat emotionally from time to time. But do it with one caveat: Choose to stay aware.
Stay aware of how food makes you feel on a physical level (energy, sleep, digestion, etc.). Stay aware of the emotions you might experience around food (fear, anxiety, comfort). Stay aware of any ways you might use food beyond physical hunger (coping mechanism, avoidance of emotions like anger, overwhelm, loneliness). The first step is the willingness to stay aware and stay present. It is so much easier to check out. I'm suggesting that you check in. You've got to be willing to do the work - you've got to be wiling to recognize what's going on. Once you notice your patterns, then you can begin to shift and shape them. You can replace habits that are no longer serving you with habits that do.
Let "roll with it" be your mantra. Your body sends you messages (even yours, I promise). Follow the trail. We've become really good at tuning out those messages over the years. Start to tune back in. Listen to your cravings. If you're rooting around the cupboard for snacks, ask yourself why.
Did you eat enough at your last meal? (If you deprive your body of calories, you'll always be hungry, so don't do that. It's a lose-lose situation.)
Did you eat enough of the right foods?
Is there an emotion or situation you are trying to escape or avoid?
Is there a feeling you are trying to recreate with food?
One activity that really helps me get to the bottom of cravings and emotional eating is journaling. Using a notebook or even a laptop, write down the following words:
Friendships & Social life
Love & Intimacy
Spirituality & Mindfulness
Career & Education
Then, begin to free write. Simply write whatever comes up for you in each category. Do it in a stream of consciousness type fashion. This is just for you; no one needs to see this. You can even destroy it after you write. Write for as long as you can and see what comes up for you in each category. I have found the process of journaling hugely eye opening. This process shines some light on areas of my life that need a little extra love and attention, or downright tweaking and change. 100% of the time I emotionally eat because something (or a many things) are off kilter on this list. This works with emotional eating, as well as other types of stress coping mechanisms.
If you'd like to dive in deep and figure out which foods make you tick and which might make you sick, if you're ready to do the work and learn some things about food (and even more about yourself), then join me for my next 21 day nutrition and wellness program.