I’m An Emotional Eater

I’ve dabbled in Paleo before.  I know all the rhetoric.  I’ve researched it.  I have the cookbooks.  I follow the top bloggers in the Paleo world.  I’m convinced it is the optimal way to eat and to thrive.  I’ve primarily eaten that way for the past fourteen months after first discovering and understanding the foundations of the diet.  I even lost seven pounds in the first three weeks that I initially went strict Paleo.  However, I only get so far before I completely lose my focus.

This loss of focus can’t be called “cheating.”  It is full-blown, fly-off-the-handle binge eating.  Once that “forbidden” food hits my lips, I’m done for.  I know it will take me days to get back on track.  Just this morning, my daughter had a piece of toast for breakfast.  She made a second piece but ate just a couple of bites of the second piece and left the rest on the counter.  Six hours later, when I walked into the kitchen, having had a bit of an unproductive day, but having been “good” thus far with Paleo eating, I ate that old piece of toast.  I ate that piece of toast and then some.

I love to “be bad” with food.  When a birthday party or holiday comes around, I tell myself that I could never pass up the opportunity to try that new dessert.  You know, since I’ve never had it before, or because this is a special occasion.  How often does one get the opportunity to have a slice of Costco cake?  Really, I just have no willpower.  When a particular issue arises with work or some task or problem is irritating me beyond belief, I become temporarily conflict-avoidant and distract myself with food.  I seek out chocolate chips by the handful, and I go at it until I am so disgusted, I finally stop. Although, stopping means for the rest of the day; I will do it all again a few days later.  Sometimes, life gets so busy or I squeeze in work, errands, and a workout, without taking breaks to eat, and then I’m so ravenous that I stuff my face with the first mindless, “forbidden” food I can find.  Sometimes it is my son’s bag of pretzels that I proceed to dip in the cube of butter that my daughter has out on the counter softening for easily spreading on toast.  I’m not joking.  I’ve really dipped pretzels in butter—many times, in fact.

I’ve grossed you all out now, I’m sure, and perhaps you are debating whether I measure up to or supersede George Costanza on Seinfeld when he eats the éclair out of the trash.  However, I really am a regular person.  I pride myself in being a pretty “put together” and capable person.  I have two amazing kids.  I’m in love with my husband, and he adores me (and, please note, he did notice that I ate the old toast.)  I’m successful at my job, and I’m getting stronger every day with my CrossFit progress.  But clearly, I’ve got some issues with food.  I am an emotional eater.

I’ve admitted that I have no willpower, that I sabotage my good progress when I’m upset, and that I have little coping skills when it comes to caring for my basic needs when facing time management challenges.  This self-awareness is good, but it hasn’t motivated me to do anything.  I have all the excuses.  Thankfully, I’ve always been pretty active as an adult (or have been breastfeeding—wow, was that ever a free pass!)  Fortunately, I’ve also gotten turned off quickly enough by the food on which I binge, that I’ve never really gained much weight.  Luckily enough, I didn’t ever get caught up in bulimia or depression from it either.  I think I’ve actually been conditioned and even motivated to continue the emotional eating patterns because I haven’t ballooned in weight or suffered more detrimental consequences.

I did have a defining moment of realization though.  Just a little while ago, when my daughter saw me storm over to the kitchen cabinet and shovel a handful of chocolate chips into my mouth, she questioned, “Mommy, why do you always eat chocolate chips when you’re mad?”  Crap!  Busted!  Pegged!  There was no way I would ever let myself hand her the “do as I say, not as I do” line.  At this point, I knew that if a six-year-old could read me this accurately, it was time to do some serious self-improvement.  I model other healthy behaviors to my children, but I can’t just feed these emotional eating issues to my kids.  This would need to be an overhaul beyond willpower.  We’re talking deliberate behavior modification.  Let me dust off my psychology textbooks.  Perhaps B.F. Skinner can fix me.

Recently, my CrossFit gym announced an upcoming 30 Day Paleo Challenge.  That means wheat/gluten, all grains, dairy, soy, peanuts, beans, trans-fats, processed oils, and sugar are not allowed.  Meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like olive and coconut oil are encouraged, and the occasional drop of honey or maple syrup is permissible.  I got really excited about this opportunity.  If I really committed to the Paleo Challenge, I would be eliminating my “binge” foods, and I would be forced to address some of my bad habits and patterns.  I would have the opportunity to pay close attention to what I do to set myself up for bad patterns, and hopefully I’d learn some positive replacement behaviors.  Perhaps the Paleo Challenge could be my gateway to overcoming some of this emotional eating baggage.

The challenge starts in three days.  I am excited and ready, although some looming thoughts of self-deprecation are already creeping in.  I have never honestly done a full thirty days without “cheating” due to those “cheats” cascading into a negative mindset: if I’ve already obliterated my progress for the day, I may as well mow through as much food garbage as I can since the day is already a failure and then reel for a few days before getting back on track.  (Note to self: I will have to set up some strategies and goals for Day 31!)  For now, with three days to go before the challenge begins, I will have to stay focused on my 30 days and on self-awareness.  Maybe the blog will help.  I do like sharing recipes and getting inspired.  The narcissist in me will tell you that I will succeed with an audience.  I do obsess over feedback.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a half-eaten three pound bag of Kirkland chocolate chips in the kitchen cabinet that I will need to do something about.

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