Anxiety, Stress and Food: Learning to Live Well Through Mindful Eating

Posted By: on July 26, 2014

Have you ever wondered why dieting is only helpful to a certain degree? Or why a person tends to gain all of the weight back and then some that they lost after dieting? I think there is a crucial piece of information that is missing in the traditional ways of teaching about dieting and weight loss in our society.

Moving Beyond “Calories In vs Calories Out”

The classic idea of calories in versus calories out is what is usually taught. In my opinion this only covers a small piece of the puzzle. It fails to address why the person is eating more than they should in the first place. I struggled with this idea for many years. I could never understand how people could walk around at seemingly a healthy weight and appear happy and not hungry. My mindset was that if I was going to be able to lose weight I would have to eat like a rabbit for the rest of my life or constantly be going to the gym in addition to eating like a rabbit for the rest of my life. Both scenarios never really thrilled me, to be honest. I would unsuccessfully attempt a diet where I literally told myself “Marcie Mata, on Monday you will start to work out at least five days a week while only eating healthy and nutritious food, no more foods that have sugar and no unhealthy snacks”.

Why Diets Fail, and How They Can Hurt You

You can probably imagine that I was not very successful with this approach. Inevitably, I would go strong for the first couple of days and then my efforts would come to a crashing halt on about day three or four. I could not understand why I did not have enough “will power”to just make those changes. I would make numerous efforts to count every calorie that went into my mouth. I actually prided myself in how many foods that I knew the exact serving size and how many calories that serving contained. Counting calories and limiting the amount of calories that I ate during the day became an obsession for me. Every moment of my day was consumed about thoughts of, you guessed it, food. I obsessively thought of how much I could eat that would fit into my allotted calories for the day and as a result I never really thought of much more than when my next meal was, how hungry I often was and also fascinating about different types of foods that I labeled as “bad”. I would smell food when I was out during the day and automatically crave what I thought I was smelled. I would see a commercial on television advertising a fast food and have this immediate desire to have that very food. I even dreamt about food.

Being Self-Critical Really Gets in the Way

If I did not “mess up”and ate only foods that I felt were on the “good list”for the day, I woke up the next morning and felt proud that I had enough will power to do so “well”the day before. If I did not stick to the plan the previous day the first thought I literally had the moment I woke up was “I did not eat only healthy foods the day before”this thought was usually followed by a sinking feeling in my stomach. This thought and the subsequent body response literally dictated my mood for the day. This approach would last for a period of time in my life and then it became too much: I would just decide that I did not care how much I ate or what I ate during the day. If I desired a certain food I ate it.

Sometimes, Knowing when We’re Full is The Key

The problem was that I would eat so much often times after meal I was uncomfortable. This overeating usually happened in the evening, because I was very aware of not engaging in this very shameful behavior in front of other people during my workday. There were times that I literally stuffed myself so much at dinnertime and the hours after that, that I would not get any relief until the wee hours of the next morning. I have always said that I felt it was a blessing that vomiting was such an unpleasant experience for me that I never had the desire to purge. I hated the idea of vomiting so much that I never did despite the extremely uncomfortable state I often put myself in when binge eating at night. So, you can imagine that I walked around still obsessively thinking about food. The only difference was that I would fantasize about what unhealthy foods I could ingest that day. I still felt terrible, was exhausted and irritable.

There’s a Better Way

I just had this sense and knew that there had to be a way to develop a healthy relationship with food where I did not need to count calories, was not constantly obsessed and thinking about food and I listened to my body and ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was satisfied. I was determined to find out how to do this for myself. I started thinking back to times in my life where I was at a better weight and what I was doing during those times in my life. What I started to realize was that during those times I had something that I was really focused on that had absolutely nothing to do with food and I was not counting calories and ate what I wanted, when I wanted. Needless to say I remember those periods of time in my life as happier and effortless. My next question was how do I get back to that frame of mind again?

Three Keys

I had constantly heard that

  • if you fuel your body with the right kinds of foods you will not have intense cravings during your day.
  • I also knew that some form of physical activity was necessary.
  • Managing stress levels was also absolutely essential.

I started to notice if I was overeating on the days where my mood was generally happy and if that changed and I started to see the pattern of “a better day” resulted in less need to overeat. I also observed when I overate what my moods were and what specific feelings were driving that need to overeat. I started to experiment with eating foods that were healthier and nutritious for me. The beautiful thing was that not only was I finding nutritious foods that I really liked I started to notice that when I ate these foods I felt better and had more energy and you guessed it, was less irritable. An added benefit was that I also slept better than I had in a long time. Sleep had never really been a problem for me but when I was in the throes of binge eating at night you better believe that the quality of my sleep was terrible.

Emotional Eating – The Problem and the Real Solution!

What I also did when I noticed that I was eating emotionally and not out of hunger was attend to the feeling that was present. How did I do this? I used a combination of recognizing the emotion, slowing down when my anxious brain said “eat that ice cream in your fridge, you are feeling sad right now”and used mindful awareness in conjunction with compassion for myself. What I learned was that when I did this the emotion went away! Don’t get me wrong the emotion may have returned in the hours following but the knowledge that if I actually attend to the emotion instead of stuffing it away with food it goes away, even if it is only temporarily was extremely powerful! I was onto something. For the first time in my life I felt empowered enough to have the freedom to make a choice when it came to food and how I chose to nourish my body. The chips and ice cream did not decide for me, I did.

Compassion as Cure

This was a learning process for me. One of the biggest keys in this process is having compassion for self. I have always taught my client’s that we are our own worst enemy and for the great majority of my life I was my own worst enemy. I stumbled many, many times until one day I said to myself “Marcie, you have all of the tools you need to have a healthier lifestyle, experiment with the things you know work and see what happens”. I continued to use mindfulness in my life especially when I had the desire to overeat and attended to my feeling in the moment, I started to eat more foods that were well balanced and nutritious to fuel my body. I developed a regular meditation routine and exercise routine. I ultimately learned that by attending to both my mind and body I not only started to feel better emotionally and physically, you guessed it I started to lose weight. Let me be very clear here I have always desired a strong healthy body. Weight loss is not what my main focus is here. It has been however a pleasant by-product of a healthier lifestyle.

Free from Food

It is a very freeing feeling to know that I do not feel controlled by food anymore. I can make food choices on a daily basis and not beat up on myself if I enjoy a food that was on my “bad list”in the past and yes I enjoy those foods from time to time. The difference is that I don’t incessantly beat up on myself for enjoying that food and I can literally have a serving of it and be satisfied. The other main difference is that the majority if my diet is clean and whole foods and are packed with nutrition. Once you have experienced the feeling of ample energy, happier feelings and a greater sense of wellbeing as a result of attending to your emotions in a healthy way and fueling your body with the right foods, trust me you won’t want to go back to those old habits.

Help is Just a Click Away

So let me teach you what I have learned in my own journey to a healthier lifestyle. This is precisely why I developed my mindful eating program. With my program I will help you connect to what’s emotionally driving you to want to overeat, I will help to teach you effective tools that are based in mind body awareness to help you deal appropriately with your emotions rather than using food to cover them up. When your emotions are properly dealt with and your energy is put toward more productive things like what you’re passionate about in life, this generally promotes a healthier mindset and ultimately a healthier lifestyle. Contact me if you’re interested in working with me to develop a healthier relationship with food. I’d love to hear from you!

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