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The emotional side of the journey can make or break you

I choose make! Tips from a (recovering) emotional eater.

eattofuelHappy Monday, peeps. Forgive me for not getting a blog out last week. The truth is, I had to double down to keep Lori-in-the-equation and stay on track amidst some unexpected emotional upset and stress.

This “emotional upset” triggered my long-lost (ex) friend — the Worthiness Gremlin. Yep, that’s my nickname for destructive “old” thought patterns and internal voices that make me doubt myself and my worth. The bottom line: I had to hunker down and go “all in” to stay healthy.

As if that weren’t enough to navigate, we’ve had a crazy heat wave in MN with temps in the high 90’s and heat indexes of 110-120 degrees. That meant my go-to-method of managing emotional stress — power walking my neighborhood lake — was not always available to me. So I had to find alternatives.

Despite those obstacles, I had a solid week on my Lori-in-the-equation healthy restart. Yes! Several wins here. I managed to stay the course on my nutritional plan in the face of emotional pain and upset that in the old days would have triggered emotional binge eating like a pro. I found a way to exercise every day, even when it was in the high 90’s with 78% humidity outside. I stayed off the alcohol, giving up several opportunities for a summer cocktail on the patio with friends. (Though I’ll admit that a week of wild emotions had me wanting to drink!) And, perhaps most importantly, I worked extra hard to hold my strong sense of self and stay positive among some serious emotional pain, upset, worry, and stress. I did this by focusing only on what I can control — ME.

Why am I sharing my personal struggle with the emotional side of the weight-loss and wellness equation? Because I think many of you share it.

Lori-exerciseisbestThe challenge not to self-medicate with food when faced with emotional pain and stress is a tough one for a lot of people. Whether you’re a stress eater or a full-on emotional binger, the pattern is similar. We turn to food for short-term comfort ITE_Awareness_Quote_sqduring emotional times and then end up feeling out of control and ashamed — and we beat ourselves up over it. It’s one of the most common ways we sabotage ourselves, whether short-term or long-term.

Am I right? Can you relate?

So while I was successful this past week, it was not easy…it was not necessarily pretty…and it was not fun. Sometimes, it still feels tentative for me…like it all could fall apart at any time and I’d end up at McDonald’s slamming quarter pounders with cheese! Yep, I am more than four years in to living a healthy lifestyle with me in the equation — sans -200 pounds — and I still struggle at times. Thus this blog.

Why is emotional upset so hard?

I wish I knew the answer. I think it’s a personal answer for each of us. But for many, we learned to cope with tough stuff by self-medicating with food or something else that was not good for us. And thus it becomes a go-to for us later in life.

I know many people who have no problem staying the course on a weight-loss program and practicing excellent self-care when everything is going well — the scale is moving in the right direction, we feel better, our friends compliment us on how great we look, we get to buy new smaller clothes…

But, give us some serious people disappointment, bad news, emotional pain or stress and it’s game over. These are the times we most often turn to food (or something else like work, alcohol…) to comfort us in the moment and fill us up. Then, after that emotional binge, we feel ashamed, disgusted with ourselves and we begin the process of beating ourselves up — over and over again. This is self-sabotage. And too often this pattern becomes a long-term pattern (or addiction) and — well, one day, some of us find ourselves weighing more than an NFL Defensive Lineman, living small, and shaming ourselves on a daily basis. (That was me!)

I want to be honest…

I want to be honest about the fact that for those of us who have/had this struggle throughout most of our lives, it doesn’t just go away. It is something we will likely wrestle with for the rest of our lives. But, that isn’t the worst thing that could happen to us. I promise you. It gets easier and you can conquer it — some or most of the time.

I want to offer hope in the form of reality. (Please note: I am not a trained therapist and everyone is different. I am just sharing my personal experience.)

Here’s what works for me…

When I finally accepted the fact that my compulsive eating/food addiction/whatever you want to call it — was BOTH a curse and a GIFT, that’s when I actually settled into life as a healthy and fit girl! It is my reality. I can’t change that but I can change how I live with it. I am a recovering emotional eater and I’m okay with that. Tt’s part of me. It’s part of my history and my story. I will likely always struggle in my relationship to food, but I now know that my desire to overeat often means something else is going on with me emotionally. I know that I must stop and listen to myself, before going off on a binge and/or emotional self-sabotage, and that I know that I have choices. And, when and if I do binge, I know that I can pull myself together, stop the Gremlin voices and get back on track as adeptly as I got off track. I know the way!

That acceptance — along with lots of trial and error over the past four years — has allowed me to embrace my personal reality. Once I accepted, for example, that sugar is a trigger for me and takes me down a path of carb cravings and binge eating, I chose to get refined sugar out of my diet all together — most days/week/months anyway. And when I slip, I restart.

Over time, with professional help from a counselor and a lot of practice, I have absolutely learned to recognize and counter those Gremlin voices of self-doubt and sabotage — before and as they happen. And, I’ve learned more loving, caring ways to nurture myself that don’t include food.

Honestly, this was my process for really living into a life with Lori in the equation, even and especially when the going gets emotionally tough. That and learning what my triggers are and doing my best to avoid them.

My Tips for Self Care During Times of High Emotional Stress:

  1. Start with self-care. Double down if you have to! When, and if, I’m faced with emotional pain, stress and upset, the very first thing I do is hunker down on my self care. It’s one thing I can control. I make sure that I’m on track with my healthy living, especially and including sleep and exercise because both have strong emotional side benefits.
  2. Get curious. Become conscious of what you are thinking and feeling. If I feel myself closing off or getting really emotionally upset, and/or when the Gremlin voices surface, I become a detective. I observe and note how I am feeling. Have you heard the term H.A.L.T? I ask myself: Am I Hungry? Am I Angry or Anxious? Lonely? Or Tired? Almost always the answer is something other than hungry. It helps to get in touch with what you are feeling and what is REALLY going on.
  3. Counter the Gremlin voices with new mantras. Fake it until you make it. When the Gremlins surface — and you’ll learn to recognize them — try these mantras instead: “The answer is not in the Frig!” “I eat to live, not live to eat.” “Eat to fuel your body, not your emotions.” “Food is NOT going to help me right now…and definitely not long term.” “I can’t control XXXX, I can control me and what I choose to do about it right now.” “I am a happy, healthy girl living a WHOLE life.” “I chose healthy, happy and WHOLE.  I choose ME!” “I know the way. I’ve totally got this!”
  4. Distract yourself with something good for you! (NOT FOOD) Get outside and go for a walk or ride your bike — exercise is one of the very best emotional outlets. Others for me are: Listen to your favorite music, blast it! Dance in the kitchen. Call a friend. When you do something that is healthy and NOT centered on food for 20 min, almost always the temptation to eat/binge will pass and you’ll feel better. I created a list of 30 ways to pamper yourself without food, which you can view here. I suggest making your own list or trying some of these!
  5. Get clear about what you can and can’t control (Hint: Most often it’s only you that you have control over)! I think this one is self-explanatory and I’m a work in progress, so enough said. Most things are out of our control, including other people. I absolutely have work to do on practicing giving up control. I’m working diligently on my attitudes about that and working on focusing just on ME.
  6. Set yourself up for success. Knowing yourself and what works for YOU when and if the emotional eating bug strikes, or the Gremlin voices surface, really is the key. Before I put myself in the equation and got healthy, I honestly didn’t think I could stop the emotional binge eating. That WAS the largest part of my problem. I was constantly sending myself the message that it was out of my control and a self-fulfilling prophecy. That I couldn’t really do anything to change it. All that did was fuel the problem and keep me stuck. Now, I tell myself — “It’s okay. You are imperfect. So you screwed up, you know the way back. And you’ve totally got this!” This really does makes all the difference.
  7. Get mindful. try mindfulness or meditation. If you’re a beginner, start where I did. Just stop and listen to a timed mindfulness meditation. This almost always helps me. While it’s really hard to train yourself to do this one at first, you get better at it. And 10 minutes of a timed meditation really does make a difference.
  8. Have a “go-to” daily practice and do it! Before I started my mindfulness practice, I embraced a daily gratitude practice. On my walk every day, I would tell myself at least 5 things I was grateful for and it always worked to shift my focus and my mind. I still do this but have unfortunately gotten out of the daily part. Other practices that work for me are the “Tell me something good” practice with a friend. And self-affirmations. Prayer can work for some, too. Do whatever practice works best for you!

I know this as sure as I am blogging these tips today. It is not hopeless. There is hope. I am hope. I am a happy, healthy girl and a recovering emotional eater at the same time. Chances are, I will likely struggle again because I am imperfect. That said, I am enough, I love me, and I know the way. I have a good list of strategies and lots of successes under my belt. And I can only control one thing — how I hold and how care for me. 🙂

Cheers! I hope you have an awesome in-your-equation week.

P.S. Check out some of my related blogs on this topic below, and PLEASE comment here if you have other tips or strategies to share.

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