I started “dieting” and heavily exercising to control my weight when I was 11 years old. A few years before that point, I saw my mother and her friends rave and preach about the Atkins diet. “Wow, you look sooo great!” they’d all say.
So to my 11 year old mind, dieting was how you got thin and if you were thin, people like you. Simple enough! For my first round of this, I didn’t pick an official diet book but I made sure I slowed down my eating to a snail’s pace and that I had tiny portions on my plate. If I slowed down enough that my family didn’t notice, I would end my meal at the same time as they did and no one would comment on how little I ate. I also started working out 2-3 hours a day so that anything I did eat I’d burn off easily. It affected my sleep and my mood but I was proud of myself for being "so disciplined.”
Then as they say, with every restriction is an equal and opposite binge. A year after, a part of me realized food was pretty damn tasty again, and I began to gain weight pretty heavily.
The violence on Saturday in Charlottesville, VA, where a white supremacist protester drove his car into the opposing crowd was disturbing and shocking. Having attended the University of Virginia for undergrad myself, it was incredibly alarming and sad to think that this had happened in a place I had called home for 4 years. I also recently watched the documentary “13th” which depicts the insidious systemic racism and bigotry that has led to the mass incarcerations of blacks, Latinos, and other minorities in support of private prison labor and other corporate interests. For me, this news painted a shockingly negative, self-serving view of humanity that frankly got me down for a few days.
I am guilty of doing the on again, off again thing with the news. I’ll plug in and try to stay involved but find that the negative coverage would bring me down. I would then disengage for some time choosing ignorance in search of peace. As I become more aware however, I recognize how privileged it is for me to be able to turn a blind eye to that which is going on in the world, especially when it does affect those in my own community.
I’ve found this week particularly hard; however, I also recognize that I am not helping anybody if I succumb to the despair. The world and the number of problems are overwhelming. Where do I focus my attention first? Who do I help? How do I stay centered in times when everything feels like it’s falling apart? It is quite easy to begin to feel powerless amongst it all.
It’s 5 pm Costa Rica time, and I have finally arrived back from work. Right on queue, I sense a craving for sweets, specifically chocolate. “Come on, one piece won’t hurt. …” the voice of craving says. “It’s been a long day at work – I DESERVE a treat.” In fact, I’ve noticed that the voice has been saying this same message all week.
I'll admit I’m not perfect – even as a coach, sometimes I give into my cravings while other times I walk away (which feels great when I do!). When my emotional eating was at it’s worst, I found myself at the mercy of my cravings – unable to say no. What I recognize now is that when I’m not physically hungry, cravings for food often represent another need – perhaps something that my body, mind, or soul is hungry for at the time.
I have learned to be thankful for my cravings. They are clear messengers that something is off-balance in my body or in my life.
A few years ago, I was at Vegetarian Fest in Seattle where a vegan chef and author, Alan Roettinger shared what he believed it meant to truly love someone or something. He shared that when he fell in love with his wife, he found himself paying attention so intently on how she moved, what she said, and what she did. To him, to love meant to give complete focus and intention. He brought that same focus to the food he made with love.
“I wish I could stop eating, but I just love food too much!” I am guilty of uttering these words and have heard them countless times from friends and clients, who deep down are frustrated with the weight loss process. Chances are though if you identify as an emotional eater or someone who is overweight, you probably don’t pay much attention to your food or at all. In fact, you may find that you eat distracted perhaps in front of your phone or the TV. Perhaps you may find that you are using food to go unconscious and to soothe, as is common in emotional eating.
So what if you agreed with Alan Roettinger’s definition of what it means “to love.” What would it look like to truly love food? Perhaps you would make your meal times special. Perhaps you would place the food nicely on the plate, focus fully on how the food tastes, and be grateful for what it provides you.
There are many variations to this story – perhaps it’s free samples at the grocery store or an abundance of different food at a party. In the case of “free food,” the mind often defaults to how great the opportunity is. However, in choosing “free food,” you may find that in exchange you are giving up something- perhaps sabotaging your commitment to your health goals or just that feeling of vitality. In my case, I found myself feeling sluggish after all my “free food fun” in Costa Rica.
So how can we make more conscious decisions that best serve us? The first step is to bring awareness and learning to the situation.