Need to shape up for summer? Quit mindless bingeing by eating with intention, says Cassandra Bodzak
Socrates once said: “The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” I am such a firm believer in this, and I think it explains the failure of prohibitive diets. You focus so much on the food you can’t have and the things you are trying to change about the old you that you’re not looking forward. You’re not looking to the new.
This was a revelation for me when I changed the way I was eating, and it was paramount to me not to feel deprived. I felt like a painter with a new set of paints when I started cooking with new ingredients. It was exhilarating to cook now because it challenged me to think outside of the box. My energy wasn’t spent lamenting over all the food sacrifices I was making or complaining about how hard it was to not eat the ice cream or the pizza; it was all directed toward finding new, creative ways to cook the foods that made me feel great. This concept goes beyond food and can be applied to every area of your life.
Maybe you want to stop nagging or pestering your partner about the small things, and you want to be more loving and supportive in your relationship. Direct your energy toward being the kind of partner you want to be rather than giving all of your energy to walking on eggshells and holding your tongue all the time. Or if you want to reduce your stress at work, think of ways to bring joy and fun into your work instead of how you can ‘combat’ the stress. When we focus on what we want to create, the whole process flows with so much more ease and pleasure.
At times, abstinence is required when it comes to eating habits, and it’s a useful tool if you feel out of control in handling your eating. I had no trouble limiting gluten in my life: I have bread occasionally, and it makes it easier for me to avoid it knowing that I can indulge once in a while. Sugar, on the other hand, was my guilty pleasure and required abstinence. When I eat a little bit, I can barely stop myself from eating it five more times that day. If I bake cookies that aren’t sugar-free, I will eat them all. They don’t stand a chance. Some of you reading this might think I’m a little nutty, but I bet many of you are nodding with empathy. Can you think of anything you’re currently eating that has this kind of effect on you? If you think you know your ‘trigger’ foods, jot them down in a food-mood journal. Pay some extra attention to them this week and observe your patterns around these foods, so you can make an executive decision about whether or not you need to abstain from them altogether. It’s important to be brutally honest with yourself during this process. Do some journaling and let it all out; release your feelings around these foods that sabotage you and feed destructive patterns. Be nice to yourself around this. You are not weird, you are not weak, you are human – and you are so incredibly brave and courageous for having the fortitude to look at yourself and your habits to make self-improvements. Besides, you are ready to rewrite that programming!
Once you’ve identified your problem foods, what next? Do you really need to go cold turkey and give it up completely? That is truly up to you to decide. Some people find it easier to give it all up at once, cut off the drug, so to speak. You can also take a progressive approach if that’s easier. If your trigger food is sugar, start off by just eliminating added sugar (like the kind you might put in your coffee) and sweet treats like cupcakes and cookies. Once you begin to feel comfortable, you can get more specific and read the labels of all your groceries and avoid anything with sneaky ‘dried cane syrup’ in there. I’ve found it in almond milk, granola, salad dressings, and other foods I thought were clean of it. Also, pay closer attention to your reactions around fruit that is higher in sugar, like mangoes and grapes. Doing it in two stages may also lessen the pain of the detox, which can be pretty intense if you are used to eating a lot of sugar. When you begin abstaining from a certain food – whether it’s all at once or in steps – it’s important to be kind to yourself during the transition. Take lots of baths, get plenty of rest, and really honour what your body needs.
The one thing I absolutely don’t recommend during this process is giving yourself a ‘cheat day’ with your trigger food, because it will make it exponentially harder for you to abstain the remaining six days of the week and may lead you to binge on that one day. You wouldn’t tell an alcoholic that it was okay to drink on Sundays, or that having one glass of wine with dinner doesn’t count. You wouldn’t do that because you know that their reaction to a glass of wine is different from yours. So I’m asking you to be really honest with yourself, go inside, and determine if any foods or beverages (like coffee!) make you feel this way.
Now let’s take a look at your situation triggers. Some common situations or events that may induce addictive behaviour include anything related to alcohol, barbecues, holidays, buffets, or certain stressful circumstances, but there are loads more and each one of us has our own special triggers. What situations lead you to abnormally excessive food consumption? Where do you feel you lose control or get caught up in a habitual pattern and feel powerless to resist?
The main trigger I want to mention is stress, and many people tend to emotionally eat during stressful situations. When I first moved to Manhattan after college, I was waitressing and would come home every single night and binge on mango guacamole with pitta chips.
Now you might be wondering what’s the big deal. It’s not too unhealthy of a food. The big deal isn’t about what I was eating. It was the fact that I was eating it every night for stress relief. It was my intention for eating it and my addictive tendency with it that made it an unhealthy habit. Maybe you have a habit of stopping by that bakery on the way home from work and ‘treating’ yourself to a red velvet cupcake when you’ve had a stressful day. These emotional eating patterns have become cultural norms, so we become unconscious to the fact that we have ritualised our emotional eating. We try to eat away our feelings and numb the pain we are going through instead of dealing with the emotions that are coming up for us.
What would happen if you actually treated yourself with some love during those rough emotional times? If you really allowed yourself to feel those feelings and asked yourself what you really needed? I guarantee that it is not Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy ice cream.
Years after I had made peace with my body, I still had a very emotional relationship with food. I began writing in my foodmood journal again and started looking at my eating patterns. I noticed a few glaringly obvious things right away. First and foremost, I was an emotional snacker. I would grab that cookie every single time I stressed out over work. I also noticed that I had fallen into patterns with go-to foods that I would order from the same few restaurants around me. It was apparent from my detective work that I had started eating on autopilot.
Mindful meal planning helped me stop that emotional snacking habit for good. It’s been years since I had to plan out meals the night before, but I still eat three nourishing meals a day and rarely snack. Just like I went back to my original food-mood journaling to discover my emotional eating patterns, meal planning is an evergreen tool. Use them and then keep them on the shelf for later when you get stuck in a rut. They are always accessible so you are never far from getting back on track.
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