Why Am I Really Eating This?

Why am I eating this_ _ Cognitive Behavioural Coaching _ Erin's Life Bites

I used to have a thing for Skittles.

It was more like a compulsion for Skittles.

At one of my former jobs, there was a vending machine.  If you work in an office, chances are there are one (or five) convenience portals to grab food.

The first six months of working in this particular office, I didn’t know anything about that vending machine.  Not a thing.  I couldn’t have told you one item that was in that machine.  You get it.

One day I was informed that I had to take on a new, challenging and time-consuming task that would take up approximately three days at the end of each month.   And then that one task turned into multiple responsibilities also expected of me each month.  And needless to say, some of these tasks did not come easily to me and often frustrated me to tears.

When I couldn’t balance out reports or my workload started to become completely overwhelming, I began to feel the stress.  At first, I tried to incorporate stress relief tactics like mindful breathing and going for a walk out to get some fresh air.  However, one of those days on my ‘time out,’ I decided to walk into the office kitchen and look into the abyss of the vending machine.

I bought a package of Skittles and brought them back to my desk and ate them all as I continued to work my way through stressful tasks.  I did the same thing the next day and the next day and every month-end after that.  In fact, I kept a bowl of change for the vending machine in my desk drawer to be sure that I could get my ‘Skittles on’ during the end of month duties.

After five months of my vending machine habit, I put on six pounds and spent about 400%  above the wholesale cost of Skittles in the process.  I also noticed the days I would eat sweets while trying to work through reports and reconciliations, I would go home feeling depressed and would eat more when I got home or drink one too many glasses of wine.  Stress begets stress begets stress, am I right?

Why am I eating this?

I have this saying that emotional eating is a lot like Dumbo’s feather.  I’m assuming most people have seen or read the story of Dumbo, but in case you haven’t, Dumbo had unique, oversized ears that enabled him to fly.   When Dumbo first discovered his talent, his friend and confidant, Timothy Q. Mouse, gave Dumbo a ‘magic’ feather which would enable him to fly.  In the end, Dumbo loses his feather but still manages to fly without a hitch.  The feather gave Dumbo a false sense of confidence, support and security.  My Skittles compulsion (and every other food I used in times of stress, pain, and sadness) were not so different than Dumbo’s feather; they provided me with a false sense of confidence, support, and security.

We emotional eaters all have a bit of that Dumbo’s feather element when it comes down to it.  

When we are feeling discomfort, pain, insecurity or shame, we turn to food to give us much-needed self-care that we need at that moment.

I’ve had people tell me over the years that they struggle with food (and subsequently their weight) because they were having a bad day.  They didn’t get that job, their friend got angry at them, nothing in their closet fit them, or something traumatic is lingering in their subconscious, and they need to “quiet the noise.”

I want to be clear, in my opinion, there is nothing inherently wrong with emotional eating.  It is an attempt at self-care — to soothe and manage our emotional discomfort.  Many people feel additional shame and discomfort when they emotionally eat because they feel like they are helpless or powerless to food.

Emotional eating is not about being helpless or powerless it is about feeling helpless and powerless over emotions.  Emotional eating is a behavioural response, and therefore it can be managed with the right support system, knowledge and tools.

Emotional eating is not about being helpless or powerless it is about feeling helpless and powerless over emotions.  Emotional eating is a behavioural response, and therefore it can be managed with the right support system, knowledge and tools.… Click To Tweet

One of the first steps that can be taken to manage an emotional eating trigger is to stop, look at the food and ask yourself, “Why am I  really eating this?” – and here are some questions to provide you with an honest answer:

1. Am I truly hungry?  True hunger is physical.  When we are truly hungry, there are physical cues supplied by our bodies such as weakness, depleted energy, lightheadedness, and shakiness.  If you are feeling physical symptoms of hunger, your body is telling you that, yes, you do in fact need to eat something.

2.  What is happening right now?  Stress and anxiety are two big triggers for emotional eaters.  In the situations when you have the urge to eat something, take an inventory of what is happening at that moment.  Are you at work?  Are you under the pressure of a deadline?  Did you see or hear something upsetting and you’re unsure what you can do to process your anxiety?  Did something or someone remind you of a painful memory?  At that moment take a minimum of two minutes to breathe and ask yourself, “What is happening right now?”  Write down your feelings and give yourself 15-20 minutes to take a break or grab a drink of water.  Giving yourself time to assess the situation and the feelings you are experiencing can help you become better aware of ‘why’ you are eating when you are eating.

3.  What can I do instead of eating?  Okay, so you have assessed the situation, and you know you’re not truly hungry, and you’ve taken your time to ask yourself what is happening at the moment – so now what?  What can you do instead of eating when you are feeling anxious or stressed?  You should not ignore your feelings because they are valid.  If you are feeling anxious, stressed or triggered in any way, you should work on strategies that will help you tackle those emotions.  For example, in my situation with stress eating Skittles while feeling under pressure at work – in hindsight, instead of turning to junk food during those times, I should have talked to my boss and told her I was struggling.  I am not blaming myself for not asking for help, but part of my emotional need to eat was based on feelings of insecurity about my work but led me to ignore the fact that all of us have to ask for help from time to time.  There is no shame in asking for help or admitting that we feel overwhelmed.  As you work on building confidence with food, you will become more in touch with what triggers your emotional eating, and that awareness will help to better equip you with strategies and solutions for the times you need to exercise self-compassion without using food to cope.

It is important to remember (and yes, I am a bit repetitive – sorry!) that emotional eating is an attempt to self-care.  It is also important to remember that emotional eating often leads to feelings of shame and that sense of guilt can lead to emotional eating.  While I do not believe there is anything shameful about wanting to care for ourselves and show ourselves compassion, I do think that it does negatively impact our ability to have confidence with food.  The ability to trust that we can make the distinction between needing food for physical survival and relying on it for emotional survival and learn the way to give ourselves the best chance of repairing the relationship between food mind, body, and soul.

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If you are interested in working on repairing your relationship with food by working with me one-on-one, please email me at erin@erinslifebites.com and don’t forget to subscribe to post updates!

What I learned When I Quit Crash Dieting

what i learned when i finally quit crash dieting _ erin's life bites

Crash dieting used to feel like my full-time job.

Every time I tried to give notice, the insecurity over not trusting myself enough around food stopped me.

It felt familiar.  Crash dieting was second nature.

And so was my self-doubt and dissatisfaction with my body.

I tried every crash diet, pill, potion, cleanse whathaveyou over the nearly two decades of my toxic relationship with food and my body.

So, I tried something radical (for me):  I simply quit crash dieting.

What do I consider ‘crash dieting’? Anything extreme – as in the polar opposite of whatever way a person may have been eating – and with strict parameters (i.e. cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and lemon ‘cleanses’; celebrity juice diets, ‘detox’ pills/shakes, etc.). I’ve worked with clients who would rage over not losing weight fast enough when they lived on celery juice Monday through Friday — and then drank bottomless glasses of merlot and the brunch buffet all weekend long. There is no need to do all of that black and white restrictive crap, and it is the one way I would say you will likely not keep the weight off if you continue your relationship with food in this way.

What I learned when I (finally) quit crash dieting

I got to eat what I wanted without feeling any guilt.

When you don’t have restrictions placed on your diet left, right and centre it gets a lot less stressful when you decide to let yourself eat!

I spent so many years worrying about whether the food had the right amount of carbs, sugar, fats, macros that it took all of the joy out of eating.

Seriously, just making a decision to eat was like solving a puzzle when half the pieces were missing.

Frustrating AND boring.

When I stopped restricting myself, I also stopped shaming and depriving myself.  Deprivation is fuel to the crash diet and food-obsessed person’s inner motivation fire.

Without all the self-policing, I was able to focus on listening to my body and becoming more in touch with what I could eat rather than what I ‘shouldn’t.’

When you take strict restriction out of the equation, your urge to punish yourself for your food choices is no longer.

I saved money even though I was eating more.  

I was a total sucker for energy drinks, diet snacks, and protein bars; not to mention diet pills, caffeine, and fitness-enhancing supplements.

All of these “health” products were slimming down my bank account and doing nothing for my well-being.

I soon discovered that eating whole foods was not only more satisfying but much more beneficial to my overall fitness level.  And because I was eating healthy, flavourful foods like healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and real protein sources, I found that when I did try to eat an odd “energy” bar, I was paying £2 to eat something that tasted like plastic and probably contained it too!

In the same respect, a piece of pie or cake for dessert tasted so much better.  Without eating processed foods, I appreciated the richness and flavour of the items I was eating.

I realised that I was “addicted” to certain foods.

I began to recognise my true hunger cues and my body was able to lead me to a better understanding of my appetite and how to feed it. It made me understand that I was truly addicted to certain processed foods. I now understand that some foods do ‘trigger’ me to eat more and fall into a food ‘rabbit hole. For years I thought that food addiction was bullshit. It’s not. I have read lots of research, I have worked with people who have successfully changed their body and life from cutting out foods that ‘trigger’ them, and I know from my own experience.

So many foods that are on the market today have gone through a ton of testing and trials to make the perfect combination of salt, fat and sugar. For people who are reliant on these types of foods for emotional ease, it can be damaging to eat these products. Highly palatable and processed food is designed to make you want more, and studies show that some people have lower dopamine receptors in their brains, which fire off while eating these foods and the lead to the compulsion to eat more or binge on these specific foods.

I stopped being at war with my body

An arbitrary crash diet is an anchor for shaming ourselves.  When I ceased to shame myself my relationship with food, I also stopped the cycle of body negativity.

A new cycle of rational and healthy give and take begins when you quit crash dieting.

Eating what my body needs for health and vitality, stopped the mental battle I was living through while I was engaging in restrictive crash dieting.

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I stopped continually being in a bad mood which I attributed to two things 1) Arbitrary food guides were no longer screwing with my digestion and bodily functions and 2) I stopped shaming the hell out of myself for not being compliant with a wackadoodle diet plan.

It is incredible how much better you will see your body when you stop punishing yourself for not putting it through unnecessary hell.

Self-compassion is something with which most of us struggle.  You’re only human, and there are enough causes in life to get passionate and fight against, your body doesn’t need to be one of them!

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I lost some weight (and it has stayed off)

Emotional and physical weight can be present in our lives in equal measure.  When I quit my crash diet cycle and began embracing self-compassion, it enabled me to shift weight without conscious effort.

As an eating psychology coach who utilises neurolinguistic programming, I can tell you that when you spend life thinking negative statements, you will also spend your time fighting against those thoughts and get the very thing you don’t want.

When you say to yourself “I can’t eat sugar,” your mind will only hear, “eat sugar.”  While you think you are commanding yourself into not to doing something, you are talking yourself into obsessing over the very action you are trying to avoid

What I learned when I (finally) quit crash dieting. #health #eatingpsychology #coach #motivation Click To Tweet

Enjoy and appreciate your body every single day that you have it.  Feed it with love and compassion.

Have you ever been on a crash diet? How do you feel about highly restrictive food plans?

4 SIGNS YOU MAY BE IN A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

four signs you may be in a toxic relationship with food _ erin's life bites

Ah, toxic relationships.  Chances are you’ve had a few of those or maybe your suspect you might be in the grips of one right now.

One relationship that many people struggle with is a toxic relationship with food, and it is easy to see why this happens.  Everybody has to eat to survive.

Most people, particularly women discuss food and weight at multiple points in any given conversation.  Talking about weight, diet and bodies is a part of our culture.

So, what makes a relationship with food toxic?

Have you ever wondered if the way you think, view and discuss food is affecting how much and what you eat?

Truthfully, many traits can help you determine if your relationship with food is toxic, but for this post, we will focus on four specific characteristics:

  • Blaming 
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Self-judgment
  • Bad feelings

four signs you may be in a toxic relationship with food _ erin's life bites

4 SIGNS YOU MAY BE IN A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

Blaming

When we are young, it’s understandable that we would blame ourselves for the traumatic things that happen around us.  Self-blame is a way to make sense of things that quite frankly are not for us to explain or figure out.

You may be thinking; of course, you are going to blame yourself when you emotionally eat or feel out of control with your eating habits – you can’t blame the slice of pizza.

But we do blame the food, and by blaming the food, we give it an incredible amount of power (or “say”) in our ability to cope with stress and trauma.

“But if the food weren’t so delicious or comforting, I wouldn’t turn to it.  I mean, I’m hardly going to cram entire stems of broccoli florets into my mouth when I feel bad!”  Well, you might if you found broccoli comforting.   It’s not the food being too delicious or comforting that causes you to eat it when you’re upset.  It’s the need to shut off discomfort or to cope with a stressful situation.   The food isn’t going to fix anything, but if continuously turn to food in times of distress it sure might seem like you depend on it to do something it isn’t equipped to do.

Listen, there are way worse things, in my opinion, that a person can do when they are stressed or upset than eat something.  However, when eating something leads to eating something else and then another thing and turns into a manic cycle of feeling powerless and shameful while hitting up multiple drive-thrus, then your relationship with food is toxic.

Lack of autonomy 

Autonomy is a basic human need.  We need independence to feel that we can make the best choices for ourselves and our lives based on what we need without the influence or approval of others.

“I can’t eat that because I’m on a low carb diet.”

“I can’t have dairy because I’m paleo.”

If you choose not to eat carbs, that’s fine.  If you decide not to eat dairy, cool, but the thing is you can have carbs, dairy and sugar — unless you have an allergy or medical condition that prohibits you from consuming them safely.  If Sally, from accounting, lost 15 pounds and cured her irregular period by cutting sugar out of her diet, that means it is a suitable choice for Sally, but that doesn’t mean that you should try an elimination diet yourself.

Pursuing dietary “lifestyles” that restrict you or limit you because you believe that it will “fix your body” to eat a certain way or that you have to abstain from entire food groups to “eat right,” you could have a toxic relationship with food.

Judgment

A judgment is an opinion.   We live in a judgmental world.  People judge a book by its cover all of the time.  Is it right?  No.  Nine out of ten times the judgments we make are based on a very skewed and limited amount of information and are inconclusive at best.

We don’t reserve judgments for other people – we also judge things.  Food is always under scrutiny.  Some foods are bad.  Some foods are good.  Some foods are even labelled “super.”  The bottom line is they. Are. All. Just. Food.  

True, some foods are more nutritionally dense than others, but to believe that one food is terrible and another food is good is an arbitrary judgment that creates dysfunctional relationships with how we eat.  There are many reasons we consciously and subconsciously choose the foods that we eat when we decide to eat them and how we judge food has a significant impact on those choices.

Having a healthy and objective attitude towards food is #goals when it comes to your relationship with food.

Bad feelings

Counting celery sticks and not participating in events because you can’t be around the temptation of food is something many people do every damn day.  If the very prospect of being around food or being in an environment you can’t “control” causes you distress, you’re not alone.  So many people spend their days feeling wrong about the foods they choose to eat or not eat.  It is what happens to our thoughts and feelings after we eat that can show our actual relationship with food and our bodies.

“I’m a failure because I ate a cheeseburger,” this is a sentiment most people will think – if not say – to themselves when they decide to eat a particular food item.

Having bad feelings such as guilt, shame or anger after eating specific foods or quantities of food could mean that you have a toxic relationship with food.

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So, how do I manage my toxic relationship with food when I have to eat to survive?

Well, the first thing to establish is that it is not the food that is causing the toxic relationship, it is the associations and attitudes you have created surrounding eating as behaviour and the stigma you have assigned to particular foods.  Let me add, any shame attached to a specific food could have been designated by a parent, a friend, or just from society in general and is not necessarily an original association created by you.

The four signs you may have a toxic relationship with food – blaming, lack of autonomy, judgment and bad feelings – all come from how you have been conditioned to view food; as a coping mechanism.

Let me be clear:  I believe there are far worse things a person can do than eat a cupcake when they are sad, angry or stressed.  In those cases it is usually only in small quantities and when the individual has an established healthy attitude towards food.

However, eating as a coping mechanism – or as a response to an emotional trigger – is what leads the behaviour to have negative associations which over time can become harmful not only concerning physical health but mental health as well.

When food becomes an automated self-care method, or a mechanism to soothe stressors or trauma or is used as a reward system is when toxic emotional associations with food and how we eat start.

It is important to know that you are not alone.

Many people I have worked with over the years both as a personal trainer and nutritional therapist have communicated the same frustration when it comes to food and stress; they feel as though they have no control over their lives and the food is a way to distract themselves from the moment.

Some clients express feeling as though they had an ‘out of body’ experience where they feel in the moment that they are no longer in the driver’s seat of their life.

Other clients say that they know that what they are doing is “wrong”, but they feel like crap, so what’s the point in doing anything positive – it’s not like it matters at the moment.

Regardless of a client’s specific account of what they experience, the message is the same:  they are using the food to escape a discomfort.

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As a result of this association, the foods they consume while feeling upset, angry or out of control are branded as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ and exist as a response to an emotional or an environmental trigger.  At that moment, they need to pull the ‘escape hatch’ on reality and escape even if it is just until they reach the bottom of the chip packet.

Nobody deserves to be in discomfort or to experience crippling stress.  Every person deserves the opportunity to heal from trauma, and that is why recognising not only how we react to stressful situations but whether or not the way we cope with these situations is healthy and not causing secondary physical or mental health issues.

People are feeling much more comfortable these days discussing their struggles, and breaking through the stigma and shame that emotional eating and toxic relationships with food while giving you the tools to successfully manage stressors, anxiety, and emotions in a healthy and healing way.

Is your relationship with food healthy or toxic? Read my post on the four signs you could be in a toxic relationship with food. Click To Tweet

I offer clients one-on-one coaching programs to work through rebuilding their relationships with food, stress and help them find their way to the healthiest lifestyle specific to their needs and struggles.  Everybody is unique and has their history, and while signing up for my coaching emails and blog posts is a great start to rebuilding your confidence with food, some targeted work could help you better reach your goals.

If you are interested in working with me one-on-one, please email me at erin@erinslifebites.com and follow me on social media.