It always seems to me that the first week of January is a tough one. The excitement (whether it was deserved or not) of Christmas and New Year is over, you're going back to work, the bills of Christmas are looming, there's no holiday for the foreseeable future, and most people seem to be making themselves miserable with unrealistic resolutions. It's no wonder we want to curl up in a ball and rock ourselves gently in the corner until the warmer weather comes back.
For me, January has been the start of a new job, which kind of spices things up a bit - something new to get my teeth into rather than going back to existing problems and a pile of unanswered emails. So that's cool.
I've also been very careful not to go crazy over the festive period this year, and I made it more about a time of restfulness and looking after myself than the traditional time of excess. That's definitely helped cut back on that Christmas Hangover feeling - I don't feel so exhausted that I'll never make it through January alive and I don't feel about a stone heavier and bloated with all the Christmas food and drink.
I've also set myself reasonable resolutions and challenges, designed to make me feel better about myself, not worse. I've cut out alcohol for most of January, as well as takeaway, but I'm not particularly missing either of them right now and know that I'll feel better for it. I'm running again, which is hard, but always makes me feel a bit like a ninja warrior when I'm done - the battle is all in getting myself out the door in the first place, and not talking myself into thinking I can't do it before I've even put foot to pavement. And I'm continuing to read lots around emotional eating, self-compassion and mindfulness.
Which brings me to today's topic. Emotional eating. A phrase that I've thrown around my whole adulthood, but without really know what it means.
As an adult, I've constantly been aware of, and struggled with, my weight. I did Weightwatchers in my gap year, aged 19 - it didn't work for me at the time. At university I piled on weight in my first term. Then I battled to lose it again during the rest of my time there. I think I tried Rosemary Conley for a while. I played sports for the uni and kept active. I ended up losing most of it during a particularly vicious bout of Norovirus.
After graduating I moved very quickly to a job in London, and ended up living in a hotel for a month because I didn't have a home down there yet. Again, I piled on weight in that month. Then I spent the next two years trying to lose it. Are you seeing a pattern here yet? Every time I was in a new and stressful environment I ate way too much to comfort myself and ended up putting on weight and adding an extra stress to the pile I already had.
After those two years, I moved back to my parents' home, as my mother was ill and I wanted to be closer to family and I was so over the London thing. I lost a bit of weight, but not much - perhaps half a stone. I was still constantly fighting with myself over it - struggling, obsessing, but not really getting anywhere. Two years after that, and following my mother passing away, I moved out into a flat near my Dad's, and it took another two years after that before I came back to Weightwatchers again. That time it worked. I lost 4 stone in less than a year. Then I started struggling again - I've never put it all back on, in fact I've never put more than 2 stone of it back on, but I've bounced around that 2 stone bracket, struggling to get back down to that 4 stone loss, and to finish losing weight and have the battle ended.
I've just wanted to get to the place where I'm at a healthy weight and at peace with food.
And I never got there.
Sometime in September something clicked, and for some reason I started researching emotional eating. Turns out it's not just a phrase, but an actual clinical thing. In psychiatric terms, it's called a maladaptive behaviour, and knowing that really helped me. I wasn't just weak of will-power and useless, I had developed a recognised pattern of behaviour to deal with life - and if it's recognised, then there's ways of changing it.
A maladaptive behaviour is basically receiving a stimulus and translating it into a different response than the one a "normal" brain would use. With emotional eating, that means feeling sad, or bored, or frustrated, and instead of processing that feeling in a useful way, the brain translates that into a hunger (emotional instead of physical) and causes the body to go in search of food. Why? Because eating distracts from the original stimulus. The brain has forgotten, or found an easier way, of dealing with an unpleasant emotion.
Effectively, the body has developed a reliance on food in an emotional capacity. An addiction. Not dissimilar to any addiction to alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Yep. Really.
That's an eye-opener isn't it?
But like an addiction, there are therapies and oodles of information out there on dealing with it. One thing I've quickly discovered though is that in facing emotional eating, you have to be open to the fact that you have it and actively want to deal with it. I've realised this both through reading reviews of all the books I've been looking at, and also in speaking to my own friends, which has been a shock.
To me, it's been an amazing revelation - I don't want to diet for the rest of my life, I want to find balance in a natural way, and the more I read on emotional eating, the more it makes perfect sense that I use food in a screwed up way. But talking to my friends about it, they say "of course I'm emotional eater, I eat when I'm bored, but I'm totally not addicted to food, and I'll just go on a diet to lose weight" which is completely missing the point. I've learned pretty quickly that where I could talk to friends about losing weight via Weightwatchers, and they were either totally supportive, or ready to jump on board with me and lose some too, now I'm delving into the deeper meaning of why I overeat in the first place .... tumbleweeds. Either they're not ready to admit what they're doing or they're not ready to step outside of the comfort zone yet.
Which is cool, because me and my journal are exploring it quite happily on our own.
Some things have been super-quick to resolve. Others not so much.
I've already read a couple of really cool books - Shrink Yourself by Roger Gould (hate the name of the book, loved the contents) was genuinely revelatory. I read it like "yes, yes, yes - this is ME!". Half the book is explanatory and then the 2nd half is related exercises for the reader to do themselves. I worked through all the exercises, some of which were quite painful as I had to go through and recognise all my crappy sentiments about myself before I could address them, but it's definitely been a helpful process. Just reading that book I banished one of my cravings straightaway for good, as I found that my attachment to Chinese food and frequent craving for it is related to trying to recreate feelings of happiness and celebration from my childhood. Now I've made the link, I realised that I can actually access those same feelings and memories any time I want, and the need for the accompanying food as completely vanished. That happened to be a standalone behaviour which has been easy to resolve, and a lot of the other behaviours aren't as simple but I'm working on them.
I also read What Are You Really Hungry For? by Deepak Chopra, which went a bit too spiritual for me, but still had some really interesting points, concepts and techniques in. Techniques like how to slow down your response to food cravings and how to work out alternatives responses that work as well, if not better, and are more appropriate than eating.
Because that's what curing emotional eating all comes down to: intercepting the cue to eat, assessing whether it's a genuine physical hunger or emotional, and if it's emotional tracing back to what you're actually feeling and allowing it. Embracing it. And if it's frustration, figuring out how to remove that mental block and make yourself happier.
It's slow, tiring and so worth while.
So yeah - that's what I'm doing at the moment. I'm still on Weightwatchers because it gives me a useful guide as to how my eating is going as a whole. I have a new Fitbit to encourage me to move a bit more. And I'm doing a lot of reading, thinking and journaling to unravel all my emotional eating cues, and to either accept and embrace them when I'm feeling crappy for some reason and find a better way than food to feel better, or to turn those frustrations into positive actions to make my life better.
2016 feels like it'll be a good one!
6 Week Gym Challenge (2) back on plan (3) back pain (4) baking (1) biking (6) bikinis (1) binge (1) birthday (1) Body Combat (4) body confidence (1) body image (3) changes (5) cheat days (1) Clothes stress (2) cold weather (1) complacency (1) control (1) cooking (3) courage (1) cravings (1) decorating (1) dilemma (1) eating out (10) eating patterns (2) energy levels (1) exercise withdrawal (4) feeling out of control (3) fitness gadgets (1) food (2) frustration (1) Goals (6) good heating (1) heart rate monitor (2) hill walking (1) holiday (15) holiday pics (1) holidays (1) kit (1) lightbulb moments (1) measurements (4) meeting people (1) mojo (1) motivation (4) moving house (2) New Year (1) Norway (1) NSV (1) nutritional report (1) off plan (1) over-eating (4) Pain (4) persistence (1) phantom fat (1) photo-diary (1) photos (2) physio (4) pilates (1) planning (4) positive thinking (1) races (2) Resolutions (1) Running (20) self-control (1) shopping (1) shrinking (2) spin (4) stress eating (1) the dreaded scales (3) the post-holiday come-down (1) The week long plan (10) theatre (1) Visualisation (2) wavering (1) weddings (2) weekends (4) weigh in (16) weight loss plateau (1) windsurfing (1) winter (1) winter colds (3)