Math is easier than human emotions sometimes.
At a point not too long ago, shortly after my conversion to intuitive eating, I was at a crossroads. A few things were shifting in my life and I was feeling a little uncertain about the future.
Meanwhile, my wonderful partner had just finished a program that would put him and his classmates on the path to lucrative and promising careers. I went to celebrate with them.
And I was happy for them. The celebration started early on in the day and basically consisted of constant access to delicious food and beverage all day and well into the night. I allowed myself to eat, drink and be merry. Intuitively.
Or so I thought. As the day went on, I felt a few old fears creeping up. I felt really full. Then, this old mean voice came up in my head again. Amy Poehler might call it, "the demon."
"Ugh" It said, "You're so fat."
"Eating all day? You're out of control." It said.
Ever the people-pleaser, I said to that demon, "I'm not 'out of control!' I have a calorie tracking app so I'll just put in what I ate today and I'm sure it'll be fine."
When we got home, I needed to prove myself to that asshole demon, so I started filing away all the data. Half-way through, I stopped. For one thing, the numbers weren't what I wanted to see. They didn't make me feel better. They didn't prove anything to the demon.
I felt the sadness and anxiety well up in my throat.
This was the big "a-ha! moment" for me. I realized that I didn't care about "getting fat" really. I didn't feel like I had "it" together. Probably because I spent the day hanging out with a bunch of people who were celebrating feeling like they had "it" together.
Perhaps you can relate. Life can feel out of control at times. It's why I used to find great solace in tracking and controlling food.
Adding up the calories of the beers and burritos I consumed was easier than trying to figure out my career trajectory.
The fancy clinical word for this is "coping mechanism." It's something I heard a hundred times while working at the eating disorder treatment center. Many times eating disorder "behaviors," like restricting, binging, purging, or obsessing about food served a purpose for those using them. They provided a way of managing a tough time.
If you find yourself emotionally eating or thinking about food or feeling fat or feeling like you WANT to control food, here are some things you can do:
1. Identify the "behavior" as a coping mechanism.
There's a big difference between eating ice cream mindlessly for hours and eating ice cream because you knew you had a hard day at work.
If you notice that you're eating weirdly or getting extra anxious around food, it might be a symptom of something else going on in your life. Awareness is so underrated but it's so helpful. Just knowing that what you're doing serves you in some way can help you realize what's going on.
2. There might be a more direct way of managing your distress.
If you do notice that your "behaviors" crop up more when other things are going on, it's an opportunity to address your issue head on. Instead of compartmentalizing by doing something else, notice what triggers "behaviors" and address the triggers. Treat the cause, not the symptom. This might mean seeking out a therapist or another professional who is trained to help you work it out.
In my case, I had to accept my own situation and learn how to be happy with that. I journaled a lot and tried to find ways to get a little more clarity about my next steps.
3. Trust Yourself and Your Body
Remember that you can't really control your body weight. Increasing research suggests that your body weight is set to to stay within a certain range that is healthy for your body in particular. The fancy science people call this, "set point theory." While you may temporarily be able to restrict food, ultimately, your body wants you to be healthy and survive. It will take measures to keep you where you are supposed to be.
Sometimes relaxing into this can help us be present to and mindful of the issues in our lives and the "coping mechanisms" we're using to manage the difficulties in our lives.
And honestly, it's easier than doing math.