Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to stop eating as a knee-jerk reaction

Let's be honest.

If you're significantly overweight or even (gasp!) fat, one of the things that well-intentioned people tell you to do is to stop eating your feelings or to stop eating when you're not hungry.

That's kind of like when someone tells you that in order to lose weight, you should start eating more vegetables.

Every time someone says that I secretly want to roll my eyes and sarcastically exclaim, "Really?!?!  That's the key to being thin?  Why haven't I heard this before?"

The concept of eating only when you're hungry isn't lost on me.  And if you've been reading my blog for long, you know that it's kind of like finding the gold at the end of the rainbow - at least for me.  I'm always looking for ways that I can stop eating when I'm not hungry - but I can never seem to find least not for long.

Last week, I referenced a really emotional discussion that I had with my mom - one where we talked about some sexual abuse that I experienced as a child that involves a close family member.  We talked a lot about how I just don't feel like people get how absolutely traumatic that was - that my family just wants to brush it under the rug with the statement of "That person is sorry - can't you just get over it?"  In fact, in the discussion with my mom, she chose to bring up other ways that I've said or done something that hurt my abuser.  Umm...really?  Does that justify what happened to me?  Not so much.  And OHMYGOSH- stealing a Barbie or pulling someone's hair isn't the same as being forced to do things that you don't want to do!

Gah.  I'm getting upset again.

My point is, I walked in the door to my home while still on the phone with my mom.  When I walked through the door and Joe saw my face, he asked me if someone had died.  I shook my head, still listening to my mom, and finished my conversation.  By the end of it, Joe knew what the conversation revolved around, but he was in the office trying to give me the space that I might need.

I got off the phone, grabbed a blanket from the couch, and made my way (past the office) to my bedroom where I bundled myself under the covers and started to sob.  Joe came in quickly thereafter and comforted me (seriously, is he great or what?).

Later, he said, "When I saw you walking past with the blanket, I thought, 'Oh no - this is bad.  She must be really upset.'"

That's because he's seen me do the same routine a few times in the past few months...maybe not the sobbing part, but the bundling underneath the covers part.  I didn't even realize that I had started to use it as my go-to soothing method until Joe said something.

Why?  Because I realized that bundling under the covers feels comforting and soothing.  We even got a mattress cover that heats up (kind of like the ones here) so that the warmth and comfort can be available quickly.

Sometimes this is exactly what I need.  But sometimes it isn't.  I never usually know until I'm underneath the covers.  Kind of like when I used to eat food as a way of comforting myself and then halfway through I'd realize that food wasn't at all what I wanted.

My needs haven't changed. I still don't really know how to comfort myself 100% correctly every time.  What I've done is I've changed what I try first.  Instead of making myself a burrito, I try making myself INTO a burrito. :) 

Like I said, it sounds great to say "don't eat when you're not hungry" but without something to substitute it WITH, it's hard to do.  Usually the follow up to "not eating your feelings" is to try to ask yourself, "What do I really want?  What am I really upset about?"

What if you don't know the answers to the above?  Or what if you do know but you can't get what you most want? 

In the example from above, what I really wanted was feeling like my mother GOT how horrible it felt to be me.  How horrible sometimes it still feels when my abuse isn't acknowledged.  I know that she loves my abuser, but dammit, I'm her daughter too.  No matter how hard I try, she just doesn't get it.  And the sucky thing is, I can ask myself what I'm really upset about all I want; I can ask myself about what I really want.  But if I can't ever receive what would comfort me the most, I am still left with disappointment and the urge to do something - anything - to make myself feel more powerful and/or soothed.  To think beyond that feels too hard.  That's where I've always gotten stuck before, thrown my hands into the air, and then helped myself to eating whatever was handy.

I've never been a mom, but when you have a crying baby, don't you run through a series of fixes before you (hopefully) find something that soothes?  Maybe it's holding, burping, cradling, distracting, changing the diaper, and feeding.  All I'm saying is that I'm choosing to make "feeding" as a potential fix further into the cycle of comforting things rather than the first thing I try.
I know - it's not mind shattering. But for some reason, that simple idea of realizing that I can substitute what I use first to soothe was a completely new idea.

What kinds of things do you try when you're trying to soothe yourself?  Even if you usually don't comment, I'd love your input.  I desperately need more things to add to my soothing rotation and I'm betting that other people could use your idea too.


Jams said...

I'm parking myself in your comments section. I need to know what other people do too. I have to find a different way to soothe and to celebrate. My mind always goes to food.

Jack Sh*t, Gettin' Fit said...

That's my problem, too... eating when I'm not even hungry (or when I'm bored, or stressed, or driving, or need to be entertained or home alone). The really disheartening thing about it is that I've actually caught myself doing it and can't seem to rein in my behavior. Very discouraging.

However, I like to focus on the positive accomplishments I've managed to achieve. I've said sayanora to a lot of bad habits and I really am making a sincere effort to change the rest of my self-destructive tendencies. I suspect I'll always battle these urges, but I take comfort in the fact that I'm at least aware of what I'm doing... that has to be one of the first steps in making positive and lasting change.

Excellent post!

Missy said...

Definitely don't start drinking. I did that and didn't even stop eating. So I gained more weight!

Listening to/playing music. I have a piano at home, and if the music on my iPod isn't hitting the spot, then plunking out some Beethoven usually does. I always find I get so distracted by it, or so in touch with my feelings, that I work through it instead of eating.

Journaling. I stopped doing it on a blog because I can't share with people without feeling exposed. It's so much more effective for me on paper...more raw. And I can drag it into the therapist's office and read passages to her. That's where most of my work has been, and so quickly the last few months. I am so thankful for it.

Walking...not for exercise, but to be outside.

I'm sorry your mom just doesn't "get it". It was never your fault. It kind of does seem like there's part of her that doesn't believe it. Or something. I'm sure it's normal in the whole dynamics of family child abuse. I don't know, and I'm sorry.

Janell said...

I'm not sure my eating is even called 'knee jerk.' It's more like breathing (yes, even post-surgery). 94lbs down. But I think the eating post trauma is normal because that's sort of how we are taught. Child crying, toss a cookie. Dentist office visit coupled with trip to Bastard Robbins.

Crying is probably a big soother because it's part of the grieving process. You want your mom to feel what you felt and she doesn't get it and she may never get it. So you need to grieve and move through this process so you can get on with your life. Sometimes I realize when I find myself using different methods for imparting knowledge and I'm on my 3rd or 4th attempt I realize that it's really me that needs to "get it" and all I'm doing is driving myself nuts wondering what's wrong with that other person and why they aren't getting it?

Do you need me to tell you this in a different way?

Anonymous said...

Hi! It's Alicia from Texas. I SHOP!! I used to use food & then I turned to shopping. The shopping has really gotten out of control & so I put myself on a shopping ban for the month of June. I realized I have been eating more as a way to soothe that anxiousness, that unsettled child inside me that just wants her mom (you know my story). I just want to be satisfied & how do we give that to oursleves in a healthy way? I wish I knew. I think we just have to be aware. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. I often reach out to try and find similar stories or success and despair. Recently, I started watching Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition and I think their stories align with yours. Let me know what you think -- it airs Monday nights on ABC at 10pm/9c. Thanks!

Lanie Painie said...

Rocking chair is my go-to comfort these days. Big puffy swivel-recliner rocking chair. Wrapped tight in a blanket helps. Sometimes a big fluffy cat helps, too, but he's often uncooperative. Still, brownies are my favorite.

I totally get where you're coming from. I've let go of ever getting my mother to validate my feelings. It's just not going to happen because it's not part of who she is. Because of her denial, she'll never have the opportunities with her grandchild that she could have. I just can't trust her to keep my kid safe.

Lanie Painie said...

Dammit. Now I want a brownie.

Miss April said...

I just have to leave the house, I usually go out the door and go for a walk (ipod in hand). If I am having a craving or am on the verge of a breakdown and a brownie is my only way out - I leave. I don't know if that is the comfort I'd usually get from the food - but it is away from the situation and the temptations. The walk does relieve stress and releases some endorphins and gets my energy boosted again so I can return to the homefront - crisis eating avoided.