I have been dealing with my own special flavors of stress recently. They have come in the form of snap pea crisps, flaxseed crackers, copious amounts of dark chocolate and honey crisp apples. I know, I know…seriously these have been my snacks. I mean really, who can relate to snap pea crisps as a guilty pleasure? Well, I can, and I do.
Frankly the form of the snack does not matter. The point is I know I am not the only one who has gone through some shit using food as a coping mechanism. While I do not condone it, I have to admit I am susceptible to it and have to figure out how to deal with it myself…because they did not teach me this in grad school.
While I am not ready to divulge all the glorious details of my personal struggles, I can say that recently I have felt disappointed, unfulfilled and unsatisfied, and somewhat cheated. The other day in the midst of my own private pity party I had several realizations.
First, my excessive snacking is always done in private. Anyone who has studied psychology or understands connections between food and emotions is aware that privacy is often associated with shame. I could probably write an entirely separate blog post on that. Instead I will briefly acknowledge that my shame centers around feeling unworthy of such personal distress because there are many others with worse problems than mine. I should also acknowledge that there is a little part of my professional persona who is insulted that I have food-related issues. I know better than this, right? And now, I will rely on Brene Brown’s work to fill in the rest of the gaps.
My second realization is that my food selections have been very intentional, in only a way that a highly trained nutrition professional can justify…nutrient dense and high fiber with adequate sensory perception. See what I did there? Let’s be honest though. Food should not be justified. We are either hungry or we are not. In the setting of a private pity party food is providing the entertainment. It is not a necessity.
The third realization has been the most profound and the hardest to admit. I have used food to fill the emotional voids left from feeling disappointed, unfulfilled and unsatisfied. I select foods that I like, because I know what to expect as I eat them and am rarely disappointed in their flavor or texture. The excess is an opportunity for fulfillment, but usually there is a let down when I get to the end of the bag or take the last bite and realize that I want more. The operative word in that last sentence is want. I know I do not need more, but I want more because I am not satisfied.
My pattern of snacking and trying unsuccessfully to make an emotional connection with food is not unique in the least. There are volumes of nutrition and psychology texts written about this and probably even more self-help books. Most people cannot relate to a textbook. It is also difficult to practically apply the tips and solutions offered in self-help books, so I decided to keep it personal and practical by sharing what I am doing right now…and if I am being totally honest, this blog post serves as my own accountability for improving my coping skills. I hope to lead by example, so here goes:
- I try not to eat alone, unless I am truly hungry. I have nothing to hide, because when I eat I need nourishment.
- I recognize true hunger by my willingness to eat whatever is available (within my real food philosophy of course…I am not sure if I will ever be hungry enough to eat Twinkies or Ritz crackers with spray cheese again). I can also recognize that I am hungry if I become shaky, a little anxious or have difficulty concentrating. Sometimes my stomach growls really loudly too. If I stand in front of the fridge letting out cold air, or I stare into the pantry until I am glazed over and complaining that there is nothing to eat, then I am not really hungry.
- I acknowledge when I feel like shit and do not try to cover it up with fake gratitude. One of my favorite authors and life coaches, the late Debbie Ford, used to say, “Do not pile ice cream on top of poop.” I love that! I have to recognize how and why I feel this way before I can shift my perspective. I believe in the power of positive thinking, and know that once I can acknowledge the situation, then I can choose to feel or respond differently.
- I try to find distractions. For me a distraction is a good workout or a quick walk. I also tend to text with the other half of my brain residing in California. It is surprising that her name and number are not burned into the top of the screen on my phone. Before my wedding I dealt with stress by hand painting all of my thank you cards with water color flowers. And last year I dealt with my winter blues by arm-knitting a ridiculous amount of infinity scarves. The key to finding a successful distraction for me is finding a physical feeling or emotion that can override the overwhelming. It is likely that there is a psychologist (educated or armchair) out there who could tell me all the reasons why these are not functional ways to cope, but they work for me for now.
- I try to make a better decisions the next time.