Saturday, August 30, 2008

Food as Avoidance

One day I was sitting on the sofa after I sent all the kids off to school. I was alone, and I had a list. It was a general "To Do" list complete with phone calls to make, errands to run, and chores to complete. I got up and made a couple of calls, but they were frustrating. People wouldn't pick up, or I had to wait for a call back. I did some dishes, and looked at the piles of laundry to do. Ugh... maybe later. I looked at the list again. Suddenly, I was hungry. There was a bag of chips in the cabinet. Yeah, some chips, sliced cheese, and a Coke sounded good. So down I plopped to eat and watch TV.

Half an hour later, I got up and put the dishes away. That laundry was still sitting there... and so was the pile of paperwork I needed to sort. Oh how I hate sorting paperwork, especially when it has piled up into a tangle of little tasks to complete. I reached for the paperwork, but then I thought about that container of chocolate pudding in the fridge. Mmmm, that would taste good right now. I put the papers down and waddled into the kitchen, happy as a clam. I piled my dish with chocolate pudding, whipped cream, chocolate chips, and nuts. I sat down on the couch and dove in headfirst. Oh so tasty!

After awhile, I figured I ought to get something done, so I went back to the kitchen to wipe down the counters. Hmmm, it was lunchtime. How about some french bread pizzas? You know the type. Those Red Baron atrocities piled high with greasy wads of sausage, pepperoni and bacon and enough sodium to sustain a herd of deer in winter. I would down two of those for lunch, but only after baking them *just so* in the oven for 15 minutes and then dipping them in a puddle of Ranch dressing. And don't forget the Coke.

Well my goodness, where has the time gone? I look up from my plate and see that the kids will be home from school soon. I better get something done. I look at the laundry and the paper piles and the To Do list. I sigh. Well, better get online and check the email. That turns into surfing the web, doing a little shopping and chatting, getting up for a bowl of chocolate covered pretzels, and suddenly the door slams. "Hi Mom!" It's the kids. Where did the day go?

This was a common scene that played out in my home years ago. It may seem obvious now, that I was using food as a way to avoid doing the other, less pleasant tasks on my list for the day. But at the time, I didn't consciously notice I was doing this. Days would pass, nothing would get done, and I kept gaining weight. I couldn't figure it out. I didn't even know what I was doing.

Several people have commented recently about food as avoidance. How we eat *instead* of something else. How about you? Do you do it, too? Fill in the blank:

I eat to avoid _____________.

Maybe it isn't chores or annoying paperwork you are avoiding. Maybe it is conflict. Maybe it is social interaction. Do you eat to avoid communication? Intimacy? Or facing your fears? Do you eat to avoid sadness, or maybe to avoid thinking about something painful? The bottom line is, a lot of us use food as a distraction from LIFE.

I eat to avoid conflict. When I get frustrated and feel like I am going to say something I shouldn't, I eat. The other day one of my teenagers was being pretty snotty. He was getting on my last nerve, and I was starting to feel my anger rise. I didn't want to yell at him or say something negative. Instead, I found myself grabbing a bag of cashews and shoveling them in, mumbling to myself about "obnoxious teens." I caught myself doing this. I saw clearly that I was eating to avoid dealing with the situation. What I needed to do was go and calmly talk to him about his attitude. But it was easier to shove nuts in my mouth.

The key to stopping this bad habit is *awareness.* When you catch yourself eating, and it is not a planned meal, stop for a minute. Put the food down and look at it. Ask:

Why am I eating?
What am I trying to avoid?

Maybe it isn't always avoidance, but for me, it often is. If I can identify what, specifically, I want to avoid, the next step is:

a) Put the food away and just do the thing I was avoiding; or
b) Give myself permission to avoid the task WITHOUT eating.

How's that for powerful? If you say to yourself, "Okay, you don't want to fold laundry right now. That's okay. Find something else that will help you feel better" then you might decide to take a walk, or take a long bath, or call a friend. Maybe you'll decide to so some scrapbooking or reading. It's OKAY to avoid a task sometimes, and it is better to avoid it with something that will truly fill you, without fattening you.

Of course, we can't avoid life forever. That pile of papers does have to be gone through. It can help to set a time. "I will do what I want for an hour, and then I will spend 15 minutes on that task." If it is an emotional issue we are avoiding, we can face that the same way. Put down the food, and either face the issue and do something about it (feel the pain, say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done) or give yourself permission to avoid it for awhile... a few hours, a day, a week. With permission, you no longer have to make up *stuff* to do in order to put off the task. You can just live your life and feel okay about waiting. And stop eating as avoidance.

I have concluded that the best thing I can do for my weight is to face the *stuff* I have been avoiding. Just get done what I can, and accept what I can't. And on the days when I just don't want to do anything, maybe I can give myself permission to just sit back, read, take a bath and go easy on myself. I would probably get more done by giving myself one day off each week than I do by avoiding stuff day after day. So I am making a list of my *stuff* and the next time I pick up an unplanned snack, I will make myself stop and see what it's really about.

Let's get to living, shall we?


Fattie said...

Oh yes, that sounds so familiar...eating to avoid the less pleasant things in life. It reminds me of that Twix candybar commercial. There are a few of them, but the person in the commercial is always in an uncomfortable situation, so instead of dealing with it they shove a Twix in their mouth. That totally sounds like me! I never really thought about it until you pointed it out. Thanks! said...

I just posted on this on my blog, too -- I ate to avoid anger, big time. Now, I eat more to procrastinate, I think.

MizFit said...

*waves hand* isnt eating right now but I DO avoid me some conflict.

and really, really liked your phrasing of WE CANT AVOID LIFE FOREVER.

while sometimes it does feel as though 'just one more day' would be nice :) youve nailed it.

redballoon said...

Yeah, this is me totally. I eat to avoid making my life more interesting in the big picture and when I'm at home I eat to avoid making my room presentable, which I suppose is an avoidance tactic in itself, having it sooooo bad that I don't have to have people over, don't have to be social, can keep them at arm's length in a bar, from where I can always get up and go.
I am reading "Confessions of a Carb Queen" right now and it is dredging up all sorts of very unpleasant memories. That book and this blog are making me feel like I HAVE to face life, that the eating is not the problem. The problems are that I am simply very unhappy and not doing anything about it, as if I were still an unhappy child and teenager who couldn't do all that much about my situation.

Deb said...

99.9% of my trips to the vending machine at work are due to my trying to avoid temporarily some difficult task or looming deadlines. And all the junk ends up doing is making me feel tired and sluggish and making the task all the more difficult to accomplish. It's a vicious circle.

themarlatts said...

Ummm, did you just step into my life? As a SAHM, I am a chore avoider, and I totally turn to food.

You're right - it needs to stop!!

Take One Stripper Pole said...

I can not even count how many times I look in the refrigerator every day ... like something new is going to pop up ... lol.

Karyn said...

Great post, Lyn! Such wisdom in it! Thanks.

nasus said...

Man, so true. I eat to avoid doing homework or if I get all flustered over a situation, often love life related. I caught myself doing exactly that today-shoveling oreos because a guy had admitted he wanted to hang out but couldn't because he was busy. A simple thing, but a mix of emotions I didn't want to deal with. "This guy probably really does like me, but things aren't progressing as fast as I want. Do I want things to progress? Does he really like me?" Eating oreos mindlessly was easier than thinking about all that. I'll have to figure out something more constructive to do when I feel that way next time.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, me too. I think you and I must have been separated at birth! :)
Anyway, I used to eat to avoid housework, to fill the time til my husband got home from work, etc. Luckily I have changed my eating habits. But that doesn't mean I don't still avoid! I guess I'm just a world-class procrastinator!

Jesse said...

Hi Lyn, I just found your blog recently (and read through most of it!). This post touches on a hard subject for me. Sometimes I wish I knew what I was avoiding, when I eat for no reason! Sometimes I have tried to sit with that restless feeling, where it seems my brain is just full of desire for [whatever junk food or overindulgence] and I can't seem to figure out what else might be driving me to want it. Sometimes I think I eat just to quell that feeling of anxiety, of knowing I want to eat something. But is there really a sadness or another feeling hiding in there, making me want to cover it up with food? I'm not sure sometimes. Or maybe I haven't been brave enough to face it. I want to work on it, though -- I think growth only comes from sitting with those ridiculously uncomfortable feelings and figuring out what they mean.

new*me said...

I don't think I eat when I am avoiding but I tend to procrastinate at times. I usually tell myself, get this stuff done and then you can get on the computer for 20 min. Or, I'll make myself some green tea and sit down (sitting is so nice in this house) and read the kids a book AFTER I finish the laundry. I think any emotional eating issues I have are eating when lonely....trying to fill a spot.

I think all emotional eating is connected in some way.
Great post Lyn! And great job on recognizing the behavior this time ;)

Ceres said...

This is such an excellent and well thought-of post Lyn, thanks. I think you're spot on, and this kind of avoidance behavior definitely fits my pattern of overeating.

Pandora123a said...

I once did Optifast (no food at all, just five "shakes" a works, but it isn't sustainable, for me at least.) When I started someone told me "you'll be surprised to find how much anger you are washing down with your milk and cookies."

for me it wasn't was sadness and anxiety...but as anesthesia and avoidance is soooo real.