No Lasting Changes Ever Happen Quickly Or Easily

The Napoleon Cake my husband spent FOUR HOURS making from scratch. Why should this be looked at as anything bad?
The Napoleon Cake my husband spent FOUR HOURS making from scratch. Why should this be looked at as anything bad?

The Seminar

I went to an emotional eating seminar last weekend organized by my bootcamp and taught by Holly Porter Wright. And as dork as that sounds (Really? And Emotional Eating Seminar, Kim?) I was really excited about it. I went in knowing that I probably wouldn’t be shocked by anything, but that hopefully I could be better prepared to cope with my own issues of emotional eating. I wasn’t expecting any magic formulas to guarantee success (I mean – I hoped for them…) but I was just looking for some sort of advice or outlook that would help me conquer the beast I’ve been fighting since I quit smoking in 2003.

Before I talk about what I learned, let’s give some fun examples of my finer Emotional Eating Moments. I work out so much that many people hear me talk about emotional eating and figure it’s a cookie after dinner when I’m stressed. I need to make sure that you realize I’m the textbook example of emotional eating as an addictive or dependent behavior. IT IS NOT PRETTY, PEOPLE.

I’m Serious About The Emotional Eating, People.

  • I bought a 6-count of Krispy Kreme donuts at Publix, ate them all in my car in the parking lot, and then threw the box away before I got home so no one would know I had done it.
  • I ate all of the ice cream/gelato left by E’s friends one night after everyone was asleep. IT WASN’T EVEN MINE.
  • I’ve gone to Sonic and ordered a full-sized hot dog meal, a milkshake, and some Pickle-Os…and eaten every bite. BETWEEN LUNCH AND DINNER. As in, I snuck that meal in running errands but then came home and ate dinner with the family afterwards.
  • I’ve eaten an entire back of chocolate chips sitting at my desk in the wee hours of the night because I woke up stressing out about something.

Those are just some recent concrete examples of times I’ve gone crazy with food due to exhaustion/stress/anxiety. And these are just concrete moments, there are countless days of just zombie-like eating where I spend all day emptying boxes of crap and sneaking purchases just because I can not get out of a funk. I just want to make sure you understand…my emotional eating doesn’t consist a late-night bowl of ice cream once a week. No – it’s a 2000 calorie binge on top of a full-calorie day. And it can happen 5-10 days in a row. IN A ROW. Now I can see how some people get to the point where they need help from weight loss surgery. I don’t need it but I know that some of my larger friends have considered it. It can be a serious decision to make though so reading stuff like this article here could help some people weigh up the pros and cons. If I keep eating like this I might need weight loss surgery before long. This is why I decided it was time to take action and tackle the issues that are causing me to emotionally eat.

That’s why I went to the seminar!

What I Learned

One of the key things I walked away thinking about was this concept that you can’t make lasting changes in your life by beating yourself up. If we shame ourselves for our “bad days” by simply calling them “bad days” then we are trying to punish ourselves into good behavior. This is method does not contribute to building lifelong habit changes. I mean – I say that it and it seems SO OBVIOUS, but it has never occurred to me that I’m trying to punish myself into good behavior.

As a matter of fact, the more we feel guilt for moments of weakness with food, we build food up more as a place to turn when we are weak. She taught us that by having the deprivation mentality – I can’t have that because [insert reason here] – we set ourselves up for secret binges behind the cabinet doors in our kitchen. After discussing this idea, and how to reset the way I look at food, this is basically going to be my new approach for awhile. To see if I can “reset” things in my head.

But first I had to let go of what I keep saying over and over again, “I’m just trying to lose that last 10lbs.”

For me, this is NOT a method to lose weight. At least that’s not the primary directive. I have come to the conclusion that I’ll never make lasting weight changes to my body without first breaking my emotional dependency on food. I’m just going to keep with the cycle of Losing Weight…Gaining It Back…Losing Weight…Gaining It Back. So…for right now? I’m shifting my focus. My goal is not weight loss. My goal is to learn to cope with stress/anxiety/sadness/exhaustion in my life with something other than secret binges in my car. Then, if I have weight I want to lose after that? Then hopefully I can lose it, and it will stay off permanently, and not just until my next stressful week.

Changes I’ve Made

I stopped counting calories on everything. Food, exercise, daily meals, snacks…everything. I have enough basic knowledge to make healthy decisions just based on what I think my body wants, not based on how many calories it has.

I stopped logging my food in any way. Therefore, I don’t reach a point in the day where I say, “Oh! Today I went over! Might as well stress-eat that pizza in the fridge.”

I stopped shaming myself for emotional cravings. Holly taught us to embrace those things. That we’re not going stop wanting the donuts when we’re sad until we stop seeing it as a forbidden food that has the magical powers to make us happy. She said if we want a cupcake, not to hide in the kitchen and eat it when no one is looking. No, instead put it on a plate, get out the nice napkins and silverware and ENJOY that cupcake. Then we won’t spend all night eating everything else in the house just to avoid eating that cupcake. So, I did that! I’ve let myself have plenty of “treats” this week and simply enjoyed them. Not hidden in my car so no one sees me eat them.

I started listening to my body more. Don’t wait until I’m starving to eat, and then try to eat what my body wants. Turns out my body likes cottage cheese! And some snacks/meals I’ve eaten solid protein. Others, solid fruit. I’m trying to eat what I think I need, not what fits into some diet schedule or caloric mandate.

I recognize that emotional hunger is a real thing. If I am stressed or tired and heading to the pantry, I need to see what it is I really want. Do I want food? Or do I need a bitch session? Or a hug? Or a nap? And try to NOT use food to fill a different need.

Results After The First Week

Y’all…it’s been a really good week. Like I said, I haven’t lost any of the weight I gained back after my last successful “diet”, but OH MY GOD I feel like I’m in such a better place about food. It’s really hard to explain but I just feel so free. Letting myself eat cookies periodically has made them less appealing as comfort food. I was craving something sweet the other night when I was sad and I went for a bowl of low-sugar oatmeal. Not because the cookie was bad, but because the oatmeal sounded good. It’s also freeing to just eat when I’m hungry and think about what my body wants instead of doing the math on the calories and the time of the day. I ate pork tenderloin at 10am the other day because I was hungry and that’s what I wanted. I also had a cupcake at Nikki’s softball party because I wanted it but then thought, Eh…not that great… and only ate one. Normally I would have eaten four because ONE would have been more than I should have had so might as well eat three more. It turns out? I don’t really like cupcakes that much. Now that I’ve stopped shaming myself for “good” foods and “bad” foods I’m finding that the “bad” foods aren’t as appealing.

I know it’s only been a week, but it’s nice to just feel different. Especially letting go of the shame. Stopping beating myself up when I eat that cupcake makes me not care about that cupcakes as much as I used to. I go to the grocery store almost every day, and typically I sneak one “bad” thing in the buggy and eat it in the car so no one knows. This week? Not at all. And when I’ve had those emotional urges to eat, I think about them and give them their attention. Maybe I just need to go to bed. Maybe I need to eat some ice cream. I’ve made both decisions this week and the bowl of ice cream was normal sized and I didn’t allow myself to feel guilty about it. I honored that craving. And then I didn’t eat any more. I didn’t finish off the carton. Or follow it up with some french fries. I just left it at the one small bowl of ice cream. And then moved on with my life.

I’ll keep updating you guys because I know we’ve bonded a lot over this stuff. I’m not going to actively try to lose that 10lbs again any time soon. I’m going to try to really focus on changing my relationship with food. See if any of the weight falls off naturally as I stop depending on food to meet my emotional needs. As long as I’m not still gaining the weight back (No weight gain this week!) then I’m fine. And it really does feel good to not go to bed at night either A) Hungry or B) Ashamed…which is the repetitive cycle I was finding myself in. Those things SUCK equally. And this week I’ve gone to bed every night without either sensation. AND IT HAS BEEN WONDERFUL.

12 thoughts on “No Lasting Changes Ever Happen Quickly Or Easily”

  1. Your emotional eating (I call it compulsive eating) sounds a lot like mine, and when I started seeing a therapist after my marriage imploded, I quickly moved on to talking to her about food issues (I randomly got matched, through my EAP, with an eating disorders specialist, which lends weight to my belief that sometimes you are given exactly what you need by the universe exactly when you need it). I have been seeing her for a year and a half, and I don’t feel like we are even close to me “figuring it out,” but I have had some similar insights to what you are saying here.

    One of the first things I really felt was that I had to stop counting calories. The last three-ish years of my marriage, I was losing weight like a champ. I was also totally emotionally checked out, and I was using dieting in the way that I had once used food…to control my emotions. I am still struggling with this because I really think sometimes that my only two options right now are (A) count calories or (B) gain back all the weight I lost (I had lost 70 pounds and have gained back about 20, and I am TERRIFIED that I will keep gaining.). I just don’t yet trust myself enough not to be “bad” with food. But I am trying. I have SO MUCH TROUBLE getting in touch with my emotions, and overwhelming emotions (which, in my world, is any extreme emotion, whether it be a positive or negative one) send me right to food.

    The topic of shame has come up a lot as I have been doing this work on me, and I have enjoyed both TED Talks by Brene Brown, one on shame and one of vulnerability and have been reading her books. I also read all of Geneen Roth’s books last year, and they sort of helped me put words to what I feel around food. I feel like this is a really long, complicated journey, and because I am such a linear person, I want there to be a magic wand that can wave around and “fix” me. Instead, I have to keep working at fixing myself. One thing I do a ton of is journaling (not blogging, as my blog is a little too public for some of what I have to say), and I am starting to carry with me in my journal a list of emotions so that when I feel the urge to binge, I can try at least to pause long enough to identify that there is a strong emotion happening and to try to put a name to it instead of burying it in something numbing (other numb-ers for me are online shopping, games on Facebook, and channel surfing). It’s REALLY HARD to do this because I constantly have ED (my eating disorder) in the corner of the room, trying to get me to do anything BUT process my emotions. But I have glimmers of hope in everyday. And reading your story was my first glimmer of hope today,

  2. I’m in a similar place right now and it does work! I’m not losing but I’ve finally stoppe the creeping gain I had going on, and I’m so much quieter in my head about food. I’m also trying to cut way back on sugar again, since it seems like it makes my head so crazy that I can’t slow down and consider my choices (ha ha, originally wrote hooves… Yes, let’s consider my hooves.)

    So basically, this has SO been the answer to deeper peace for me. I’m not “there” yet, and maybe I will never be, but I’m in an increasingly good place, and that’s a nice change.

  3. Thanks For Writing This. My Feelings About Food Are Hard To Articulate, But I Know They Are Full Of Shame (I Don’t Know Why My Phone Thinks All Of This Should Be Capitalized. Sorry) Anyway, MyFather Visited Last Week And I Got To See Alllllllll KinDs Of Shame Behaviors In Full Effect, And For Once I Was Not As Caught Up In My Own Anger At Him,So I Was Able To Just Look At Them, Not Participate In Them. Seems I’ve Come A Long Way. (On The Nights/Weekends He Had Me When I Was A Kid, He Would Take Me Out To Eat At Crap Food Places, But Never Let Me Finish Because I Was Overweight. Then He Would Take Me To His Mom’s where Food=Love.) It Wasnt Until I Started Training For A Marathon That I Thought Of Food As FueL; Not An Emotional Thing, But A Physical Thing.

  4. Good for you! You make so many great points here that can be applied to anything you want to change about yourself or your habits. When my husband was in school for his MBA he had to read the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal and when he finished he insisted I read it, too. It touches on a lot of the same things you learned in your seminar and doesn’t read like a textbook at all. I highly recommend it and I don’t “do” self help books. Plus, any book written by someone named Professor McGonigal has to be a winner, right?

  5. i find you so inspiring. Please know that as you confront these challenges, you’re taking me along with you and I can’t thank you enough.

  6. you go, girl!

    as a lark, my friend nancy and i did one of those groupons a couple of years ago for a hypnosis weight loss class. per expectations , neither of us think any actual hypnosis occurred. HOWEVER…the class was much more like the seminar you just went to than anything else. and that was JUST what i needed. like you, there were no new concepts…just me finally in the “head space” where i was ready to hear what they were saying and actually be able (somewhat) apply it to my life.

    it wasn’t an “fix to end all fixes” or anything…but it was a start that i desperately needed! 🙂 you got this, girl.


  7. This is entirely off topic but…..where can I get that cake recipe?? 🙂

  8. I’ve followed you for a while and maybe commented once way back but wanted to take the time to say THANK YOU so much for posting this.

    I am an emotional eater, as well, and I appreciate this insight into why. Your experience (and courage to share) is inspiring.

    Thanks, again, and keep the focus!

  9. Good for you, Kim. It’s tough work, I know, I’m still struggling with it big time myself, but I’m so happy to see you making healthy steps. (Or something, that sounds less cheesy, I dunno.)

  10. I read this post yesterday and had to come back and comment because I keep thinking about it. Emotional eating isn’t one of my struggles, but boy it still resonates. For health reasons, my doctor recently recommended a slight modification to my eating habits. It really isn’t much of a change from how I currently eat, and it shouldn’t be an effort at all. Except, now I want to eat things/in a way that I never did before I was told I shouldn’t. And because my husband was with me for that appointment, my instinct is to hide it from him. How weird that just being told NOT to eat it makes me want to eat it when I never did before… And when I put myself in your shoes, that makes me think your experience this week makes ALOT of sense.

  11. I have been going to what I call my food therapist for about a month now. (really she is a nutritionist) She does have me keep a food diary, but she doesn’t like numbers, calories or weight. I have found myself making better choices, eating fresher food, cooking more, not buying ready to cook meals. It is making a huge difference. I find myself doing the same thing you discovered, to figure out why I want to eat the “bad” food. I ate some “bad” food this weekend and didn’t feel bad about it at all. I had smaller portions than I would have normally gotten and some I enjoyed and some I didn’t. My weight has stayed the same, and I am okay with that. I am riding my bike everyday, swimming and eating well. I am okay and happy with where I am at now. It is great isn’t it?

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