Like so many people I know, I fall victim to stress eating. When something feels off emotionally, I find myself reaching for unsightly amounts of chocolate or, oddly enough, Eat Real Tomato & Basil Hummus Chips with hummus. I can finish the ENTIRE bag of chips in ONE sitting.
But...my craving is still insatiable. The initial blood sugar spike and related feel-good mood is short-lived and I inevitably find myself reverting to the original unsettled feeling and craving something more.
And that’s when I know that I am not craving food; I am craving feel-good emotions.
It’s not hard to trace back this relationship between food and feelings all the way to childhood. You behave well, you get treats. You eat all your dinner, you get dessert. The excitement of Easter, Halloween and Birthdays are all deeply connected to chocolate, candy and cakes.
Couple this social conditioning with very limited emotional regulation skills and you have an excellent recipe for emotional overeating. My parents did their absolute best, but naturally could only teach me what they knew. Talking about emotions was a fairly taboo topic, and crying wasn’t well tolerated. This was pretty status quo for the 80's and 90's era.
I can vividly remember being a teenager, upset about something or other, and crying in my bedroom for hours wondering why no one seemed to care. In hindsight, I know they cared but just didn’t have the skills to deal with my big emotions. At the time, while it seemed no human was there for me, food always was.
It was only in my early 20’s that I learned what emotional intelligence is and started on the path to intentionally develop better emotional regulation skills. It is still a work in progress and I am constantly making two steps forward and one step back.
As an adult, I have had to create some checks and controls to knock myself back on track when I find myself falling into old patterns.
Two weeks ago, after an intense few months of busy-ness in my life, which was coupled with indulgent eating, wine and chocolate (as well as a LOT of hummus and chips!), I decided to go on a mostly juice cleanse.
A mental, physical, and emotional reset.
A shock to the system to say “Hey, wake up! These habits aren’t serving you!”.
I was determined to get back on track and to redirect my brain to healthy habits, creating new and sustainable rituals.
I recently read that when we overeat, we are trying to literally make ourselves heavier so that we feel more grounded, more stable. This resonated deeply with me, and inspired me to integrate more grounding rituals into my everyday life. I am back to my almost daily yoga practice (even if only 5 minutes), have been meditating more and listening to inspirational speakers on YouTube while cooking or driving. I get out into nature every day with my Mom’s two dogs, who have been part of our family since June.
Since my Mom died last year, my emotions have been quite volatile and I have struggled to have the self-control to even make it through a 3-day cleanse. I have had so many failed attempts that for a long time I gave up trying to start. This time though, somehow it was different.
It wasn’t difficult to choose tea instead of a glass of wine in the evening.
It wasn’t difficult to drink a smoothie while I cooked my family dinner.
It wasn’t even difficult to serve my kids hummus while I sipped on green juice.
It was, however, just plain boring to have the same thing over and over again! So this week, I slowly introduced some foods again and yesterday I even decided to crack out the hummus and chips.
And I feel so good right now. Light physically yet grounded mentally.
I ate some hummus. I ate some chips. I stopped after a few handfuls because it just wasn’t all that satisfying. I cleansed myself of this connection between eating and feeling good. I cleansed myself of this craving for food when what I am really craving is grounding.
Will it be forever? Probably not. It is said that it takes at least 21 days to change old patterns into new ones. Old patterns are like freeways that make grooves in the brain . The more the freeways are frequented, the deeper the grooves they make. And the deeper the grooves, the longer it takes to build new freeways.
After 10 days, I can wholeheartedly say it is so worth at least getting out the construction team to start building that new freeway. You might start and stop the construction along the way, but the end goal is always clear and the results of the work-in-progress feel great.
I have tried many different cleansing approaches over the years. If you are interested in the approach that I have personally found is the easiest and most effective, check out Global Healing Center. I finished the colon cleanse, took a week off, and am now starting the liver cleanse. I order the products in Europe from The Finchley Clinic.
What has also been so helpful is having an accountability partner - a friend who does the cleanse with me and keeps me on track when I want to give up. We check in daily by phone or text and it helps so much, even if in the past a few times this has meant me admitting I don't have the willpower at the moment and her validating that this is okay too. She is not only there to keep me on track with the cleanse, but to help me to avoid negative self-talk, and to focus on what is most important, when it isn't the cleanse. Thank you dear Lara!
If you also have some deeply rooted emotional eating habits, I would be curious to hear how you try to change, or perhaps even embrace, these habits. Write in the comments below!
Michelle Borner, a mom on 23 missions, blogs about her Deep Thoughts on a wide range of topics from parenting to conscious living to lessons from brain cancer.
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