It’s easy to know when your body needs food – physical cues are given out. We all know what they are (even when some of use choose to ignore those cues), and we know drinking a glass of water doesn’t make them go away. So feeding physical hunger is easy. As my writing mentor said so beautifully in the title of her memoir, When Hungry, Eat. (A fantastic read when next you’re looking for a book).
And yet I do not stand alone when it comes to yearning for food regardless of physical hunger. When I know for a fact, I’m not at all hungry and yet I stare into the fridge with a burning desire to feed a hole that isn’t in my belly. So what am I feeding?
That’s common. I’m sure many of us feed fatigue with food – especially high-carbs. It even works – for a brief moment in time – but isn’t a solution. To paraphrase my mentor, When Fatigued, Rest. So logical. The trouble with resting is thinking we don’t have the time. It feels slothful. Lazy. A waste of the day. In our modern world we push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion then eat and drink to feed that exhaustion. Maybe not everyone… But I know I’ve fed a lot of fatigue with cheese and crackers over the years. It didn’t help. Not once.
Emotional eating is not exclusive to those of us with eating disorders. We’re just exceptionally good at it – taking it to extremes. But much like feeding fatigue, it doesn’t help – not even for a brief moment. If you eat in a frenzied binge you may experience the numbing effects of overeating (I don’t recommend it). But one way or another, emotional eating leads to guilt more often than it ever leads to a solution. Once the eating is over, the emotions are still there. Still neglected. And unless you want to spend the rest of your days eating, it’s best to acknowledge, embrace, work through, and move on. At least I’ve heard that’s a good way to manage emotions – from the smallest irritation to the most profound grief. It all has to be lived and felt.
It’s not the same as emotions. Although stress can lead us to experience all parts of the emotion wheel. Some people head to the pantry when stressed, and some can’t go near it. I am not in the latter category. I’ve had friends say they’re too stressed to eat – a phrase that never escaped my lips. So perhaps stress-eating is not as common as the previous two, but I expect many can relate. Much like emotional eating though, it’s an avoidance tactic. Once the pantry is bare, the stress is still there. The only way through is through. There are loads of healthy coping mechanisms for stress (eliminating stress is unfortunately not a reality). And which mechanisms you use are dependent on the type of stress and your personality. Going for a long walk in fresh air does wonders for me. Especially if that air is blowing straight off the ocean. But don’t send me to a yoga class – I’ll feel doubly stressed at the fact I can’t do it properly… The solution for stress is as individual as the situation. This is one of those figure it out yourself times. No one size fits all.
Common practice for me. I imagine most of us procrastinate from time to time, but we don’t universally feed procrastination with food. I’ve known people who procrastinate by doing housework. I would love to be one of those people. If that happened I’d be able to find the vacuum cleaner and surprise my husband. But – like everything else – I feed my time-wasting with food. I put off things I want to do, but I’m scared to do, by opening the fridge and looking in it. (Sometimes I notice the fridge needs a clean, but rarely succumb to that urge). The trouble with walking to the fridge instead of the task, is the guilt. The task is still waiting, but now I have less time to do it, I’m more stressed about it, and those sneaky emotions are getting to me. So feeding procrastination with food leads to a round robin of things I want to feed. A more intelligent way of handling procrastination would be to put on my big girl socks and start. Because if there is one thing I learned in my 52 years, it’s that starting is the tricky bit. Once you start the procrastinated-thing, it’s usually okay. Just do it.
This might be a Simone thing. I don’t know. If I’m offered food I have to eat it – to be polite. If I’m invited out, I’m letting people down if I don’t go. And once I’m there, it’s weird not to eat. I have noticed my normal-eating friends have no trouble going to a social occasion and eating nothing at all if they don’t feel like it. Eating is a communal activity humans have participated in for millennia and apparently there is a lot of joy to be had from dining with people you like. But I’ve also heard you can spend time with these lovely people and not eat – even if they are. This is a practice I have not yet mastered. Although I confess, eating on a schedule has helped.
So friends, why have I written all these little anecdotes? It’s because the past few days I’ve felt wobbly in recovery. I want to eat despite the schedule – in addition to, as well as the schedule. Not because I’m being rebellious and wanting to break the rules (perhaps that’s another reason people eat?), but because I’ve been tired, stressed, emotional, procrastinated, and been polite. And it’s annoying how quickly and easily I return to former ways. The solution? Stop dishing out advice and start taking it. Eat on the damn schedule – no more, no less. When I want to feed the hole in my soul, feed it with rest, nurture, friendship and fresh air – not toast.