Am I An Emotional Eater?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Over the more than two years I have been on SparkPeople I have read a LOT about emotional eating. At one point in my life I would DEFINITELY have classified myself as an emotional eater but I have worked hard to find new ways to cope and overcome my triggers. After my parents split up when I was ten my mother went back to school. Money was tight and so was time. Going to the grocery store was a major chore and paying the bill just made the experience worse. There was A LOT of crying. Mom very carefully controlled what went into the cart mostly out of financial necessity. She was not around much since was usually at school or holed up in her office working on her dissertation most of the time. My father remarried and his new wife and I did not get along AT ALL. The end result was that I did not speak to my father for several years and have only recently found that his wife and I can have a civil conversation over a meal or shopping a few times a year. Piled on top of a less than ideal family situation was the fact that I was a teenager. Being 12, 13, 14,15, 16 whatever is hard enough without endless family turmoil. My parents had problems of their own and they were not exactly taking very good care of themselves, so I suppose it's not unreasonable that my sister and I did an awful lot of taking care of each other. My sister does not sleep much, but she has always been very active and she is very good at being mindful of when she is hungry and what she is eating. I do not think I have ever seen her eat just to eat. I, on the other hand, ate constantly from the time puberty hit at about 11 or 12. I ate when I was bored and I ate when I was upset. Lord did I eat!!! I could clean up an entire large pizza all by myself, lay waste to a pint of ice cream, or just systematically decimate the contents of the refrigerator or pantry. Actually its probably a miracle and a testament to my activity level and natural metabolism that I was not heavier.
Over the years I have found ways to avoid eating when I am bored. I knit or play on the computer or read a magazine while I watch tv so I do not munch mindlessly. I jump up during commercials and perform some task while I wait for the show to come back. I play games on the computer that require a mouse so my hands are busy. In high school I chewed an absurd amount of gum and for many years I drank gallons of diet soda. When I get angry or upset now instead of plowing into a pint of ice cream or an entire box of macaroni and cheese I go for a walk, lift weights or write in my journal. Working out helps me to channel the extra energy from the adrenaline charge if I am angry and it also helps me to breath and think through what is bothering me. Cleaning the house helps too. When I am really upset or anxious I turn on some music and clean. I can think through what is bothering me while I burn off the extra energy and when I am done I have a nice, neat, clean space. Having everything neat and clean ALWAYS makes me feel calmer.
I have put a lot of thought into the reasons I overeat and I have worked hard to overcome them. For the most part I have been rather successful. In the first year I was on SP I lost 25 pounds and although about 7 of those pounds keeps creeping back on I have been successful in rededicating myself to my efforts to maintain a healthy weight and healthy eating habits and I have managed to lose at least most of that weight.
Last October I lost my job do to downsizing at the firm where I worked. The first week in November will mark a year since I received a full paycheck. When I first got laid off I stopped tracking my food and ate and drank too much. As a result I gained 7 pounds from my lowest weight since joining SP. When I started tracking my food again and being more aware of what I was eating 5 of those pounds came off within a few months. I expect the fact that I was working sporadically part time and had some money coming in over and above my weekly unemployment stipend helped as did the fact that I was even more active. Since I had lots of time and not a lot of money I walked EVERYWHERE to save on cabs and bus fare. I even started walking the mile and a half to the grocery store and toting my groceries home in a rolling pack.
Than the inevitable happened. My landlords needed me to move so they could reclaim my apartment space into the main house for their expanding family. With no prospect of full time employment and the fact that my unemployment would be running out soon I panicked a bit. There was no way I could find a place as affordable as the one I was in and I could barely afford it much longer!! Rather than move in with one of my parents which would mean leaving the area where I am most likely to be able to find suitable employment and leaving my friends I moved in with friends instead. My friends are very kind, generous people. They are relatively well off and have plenty of space for an extra body. Plus I wash dishes and do laundry, which in a house full of people is a big help to the one person who would otherwise have to do it all herself.
Over the last couple of years I have spent a lot of time at my friends' house. It started out as a good place for our little group to congregate on weekends to hang out and over the years I have gotten very close to my friend's parents so much so that I count them among my friends in their own right. They also get along very well with my boyfriend, so well in fact that I think we arrived at this arrangement at least in part so that my boyfriend and my friend's dad could hang out on the weekends. They do all sorts of things together. The younger one gets the older one out in the pool any day the weather is remotely worthy and the older has taught the younger more than he ever wanted to know about sports. When we first started dating my boyfriend had no interest at all in sports of any kind. Now he is an avid watcher of golf, tennis and cycling. He is also something of a foodie so he will spend much of the weekend in the kitchen helping our friend's mom plan and prepare meals and selecting wines to drink with the meals. I have always found these little weekend gatherings very pleasant and soothing. I have lived alone for the last 6 years and especially since I have not been working having the group to interact with on the weekends helped me stay a little more sane.
However, I lived alone for 6 years. I cleaned my own house, did my own laundry, did all my own shopping and prepared my own meals. Especially since I have not been working I could literally go for days without speaking to another person. There was always the TV or the radio for company and my friends communicate mostly my email and instant message. I always knew what I was eating for any given meal and I did not have to share the bathroom or the TV with anyone else. Living with three other people and adjusting to their eating, television viewing, and conversation habits has been rather stressful. After the first couple of weeks I moved my laptop back to my room even during the day and only come out to exercise, take meals, run errands or help with chores. At least I still had my own bathroom and I make my own breakfast because I am always the last one up in the morning.
Than it got worse, we got houseguests who have been here for over two weeks and they brought their pet bird. Now I have to share a bathroom with two other people. The bird squawks constantly at all hours. The husband of the couple who is staying with us is an alcoholic and suffers from dementia. He does not do much other than sit all day drinking non-alcoholic beer and staring at CNN. No one else can use the television unless his wife takes him out somewhere. Everyone in the house is going a little stir crazy not being able to watch their regular shows and the DVR is full of stuff we may never get to watch. I am not sure how the others feel about it, but the constant chatter of the news channel all day long is very stressful to me. I eat all my meals in another room while reading a book and escape to my room as soon as I am done.
The biggest worry when we were getting ready for the guests was alcohol. My friends have cocktails every night before dinner and often have wine with dinner. I chose not to join them every day. I limit myself to one or two drinks one or two nights a week on weekends only. I have taken quite a bit of criticism for opting not to drink during the week, especially since the guests have been here and they drink every night as well. To the best of my knowledge we have done a decent job of preventing the gentleman from having unfettered access to alcohol on most occasions.
The interesting part is that on the weekends when our houseguests are often out with other friends or family there is something of a party atmosphere in the house. When they were gone most of the day last Saturday and Sunday we had a huge tv viewing fest, had two cocktails a piece before dinner and opened multiple bottles of wine. Not to mention, our houseguests do not eat sweets of any kind so my hosts have been feeling a bit deprived. They typically have dessert every night and often eat baked goods for breakfast. The fact that our houseguests do not eat sweets has not bothered me in the least. I no longer have to go through the nightly ritual or refusing dessert in favor of a piece of fruit, and I am still in the habit of preparing my own breakfast. This at least has saved me from some of the criticism I received before for not indulging in desserts or eating whatever everyone else had for breakfast. This past weekend though we had pastries from the German bakery for breakfast and desserts with dinner, which I guess you could say is our normal weekend custom and quite frankly I think I was so relieved to have things back to "normal" that I went a little nuts. I had dessert both nights and a pastry for breakfast each morning.
Part of my issues lie with the stress of adjusting not only to living with other people again and with adjusting their lifestyle but part of it is just that I grew up with certain expectations when living with other people. We had very strict rules about the use of common areas. First, we had to have permission to use any common area other than the kitchen. Second, we could not leave any evidence we had used any of the common areas when we left them. If there was so much as a wrinkle in the throw on the back of the couch Mom could tell someone had been in the room and she would go off. Also there were rules about noise. Mom goes to bed early and gets up early. No noise was to be made in the house after she went to bed and if one of us slept later than she thought we should she would come in, open all the curtains and demand that we get up and greet the day. There were also rules about food. No sweets of any kind were allowed in the house, and if for some reason they found there way in we had to hide them. After my sister and I left for college we would come home to find no food in the kitchen save a box of cereal, milk, juice, eggs, oatmeal, rice and diet soda. We got used to doing our own shopping and preparing our own meals. I actually started bringing my own food with me in case my sister was not going to be there to take me shopping. All of this sneaking around and trying to stay quiet and unnoticed led to a lot of eating in our rooms late in the evening. I am still in the habit of having a small snack about thirty minutes to an hour before I go to bed and since moving in with my friends I have taken to disappearing to my room at night with my water bottle and a granola bar. I am not necessarily sneaking food or overeating the way I did when I was a kid but it sort of feels that way.
Yes, the comments about my eating habits and my weight are almost as bad as they were when I lived at home, only now it's the opposite. It's comments about things I cannot or will not eat instead of things I should not eat and comments about how I am too thin instead of too heavy, but my reaction to them is the same. I still crave my own quiet space and I still would prefer to prepare my own meals and eat alone than face the group dissection of my eating habits. It is possible that at least some of it is residual memory and I am overreacting to the present circumstances but not all of it.
I have worked very hard to be more aware of my eating habits. I try to plan my meals somewhat in advance. I eat at regular intervals and I log everything I eat which means for the most part I also measure everything I eat. By viewing food as a tool or as fuel rather than as a source of entertainment, comfort, or pleasure I have for the most part been able to overcome my tendency to overeat. My new mantra lately has been "It's Just Food." Meaning its just there to provide fuel and nutrition to keep me healthy and so I can accomplish the tasks set out before me. Some days that works better than others, but that is what this journey is all about 1 day one meal at a time.