As I was going through this break, I tried to be really reflective about the thoughts and feelings I was having when I would struggle with anxiety and want to fill my face with a food binge. Apparently, I have a few key strategies to work through my anxiety that I have used over the past several years: eating, television, exercise, intimacy, music and excessive attention. I’m not saying that these are all practices that are great strategies, they’re just the ones I fall back on when others get out of balance.
When I’m having uncontrollable thoughts, putting something in my mouth is the easiest way to distract myself and this week I have fallen into that trap repeatedly. The crunch of something between my teeth, something sweet to give my brain a brief high note- food is a beautiful distraction. There’s nothing that so completely takes over my brain like food. Seeking it, making it, looking at it, smelling it, eating it- food is a whole brain distraction for me. No wonder I used it to chill my brain out so often.
Television is another addictive habit I have. Mostly, I have broken it and I’m pretty much one of those annoying people who doesn’t really watch TV. Except I do. I like to watch TV to turn off the voices in my head. Having a narrative going in my head distracts me enough that I can cover up the bad self talk I have going and it helps to stop worrying about all that stupid little stuff. I find that falling asleep to a comedy series like Friends or The Office allows my brain to shut down faster, to the point where I don’t even need to see the pictures, I just need to hear voices talking. I use meditations, books on tape and actual streaming TV with headphones, sometimes, to make my brain quiet.
Exercise is a newer strategy, and it’s probably the most difficult strategy to pull out of my back pocket when I’m feeling overwhelmed. But it’s also the very best. If I go for a run when I’m feeling like life is too much, I fight it for about the first mile. After I get through that torture, my brain starts to make a shift and I start feeling so much better. The endorphins start rolling through me and it is the cleanest, best pick me up I know of when I’m out of control; really it’s the one I should turn to above all else! When my run is over, I’m usually feeling just fine and can continue my day like a normal person.
Intimacy is the strategy that I don’t like to write about here the most. I’m a teacher and, while it is acknowledged that we have private lives, we are like parents to everyone and no one wants to hear about what happens behind our closed doors! That said, having focused 1:1 time with my husband can change my entire outlook on everything. Human touch, loving feelings, good endorphins- I need them all and quite often! To that end, we have an understanding with each other and try to support one another as often as we need to keep this in balance. When I’m missing out on my husband’s attention, I can turn into a pouty little brat, and when the pouty little brat comes out she also wants to eat crappy food because a brat, by definition, does and demands what she wants when she wants it regardless of how bad or selfish the choices are, and I am no different! It’s silly – but vital- to consider how important this aspect of my life and marriage are!
The others, music and excessive attention, are definitely things I use, but not nearly to the degree I use the others. I make really specific playlists that target being and thinking positively, that target being understanding, that target being in love, being empathetic and being happy. I put the headphones on and close out the world and life rights itself nicely, through music, sometimes. And excessive attention? Who doesn’t love a massage from their spouse? An opportunity to be babied a little? We all need that from time to time.
I think, though, the point of writing about this was to look at what has happened over the past few weeks that has thrown me for this loop. My work life has been taking way too much of my private life up through worry, obsessive thought and too much conversation, not to mention the physical and emotional drain it takes in the moment. I was getting too worn down and stopped exercising- which is one of the best strategies to make me feel good! I made up for that by adding some food binge behavior into my day to day. Because I was tired, I wasn’t as good about getting the kids to bed on time and I ended up cutting my intimacy time short from my husband. I made that up by, you guessed it, adding more food into my day. What I’ve been doing is systematically ditching my positive, affirming life skills and returning to the one tried-and-true-always-works-and-fixes-everything strategy of stuffing my face. Not good.
But it was so good to have had the reflection time that allowed me to see myself a little more clearly. It’s also good to realize that just by losing weight, my body is in a stress mode and I’ve taken one of my primary coping tools (binging) away from myself. I have to acknowledge that it has been really hard to do that and I’ve made remarkable progress. I have to give myself credit for that. But I also need to use that as motivation for moving forward. Look how happy I am! Look how good I feel! Look how healthy I am now! Look how active I can be! That’s all because I’ve changed out the negative behaviors for ones that build me up and make me into a strong, vital woman. The binging makes me feel tired and negative and has the exact opposite effect, long term, than I’m seeking.
My goal is to eliminate the binge behavior. I feel like the first step in doing that is actually acknowledging that I actually have an issue with binging. It wasn’t until I ‘met’ Katie from Runs For Cookies that I actually realized I had those same behaviors that she described as binging. I used to think that a binge every once in a while wasn’t a big deal, so a weekend of pizza, chips and donuts wasn’t a great sacrifice for me. Now I know, though, that it is a huge deal; I can gain 5-15 pounds in a 2-5 day span. My weight wasn’t gained through day to day bad eating habits, I gained through a series of binges over many years.
My job now is to keep it reigned in every day forever and ever amen, hallelujah.
It will be that easy.
But I’m up for the challenge.