Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gaining in Crisis

I was thinking today about how many people tend to gain weight when they're in crisis. Divorcing? Eat some peanut butter cups. Have a sick child? Have a Twinkie. Father in the hospital? Have a hoagie and chips. Big decision coming up? Maybe a supreme pizza and Coke will help with that. Why do we turn to FOOD in crisis?

Part of me says it is because food is a comfort, and when we are stressed out we like the nice calm, filling feelings we get from eating. But that begs the question: why don't we get comfort from friends, or loved ones, or a warm bubble bath instead? Those things would be comforting but wouldn't have the negative consequences of weight gain. Maybe we eat when we are in crisis as a distraction. Instead of feeling hopeless, scared, overwhelmed, we get to focus on the pleasant tastes and textures of our food. Our senses are flooded with the sight, smell, and taste of food. Our fingers are busy unwrapping candy bars or scooping ice cream or picking all the sausages off the pizza to eat them first. Our bellies are screaming out at us for overstuffing them. Our bloodstream is overloaded with sugar and cholesterol. All that sensory input is like a giant white noise drowning out the panic or sadness or fear, as our minds are so busy eating it's like our hands are over our ears and we are screaming at the fear, "I CAN'T HEAR YOOOOOOOOOU!!!!!"

Is it biology? Maybe. When animals are struck with crisis sometimes they eat. If there is a famine coming, or winter, or any other disaster, it is in their best interests to eat as much as possible. But then what about animals who stop eating when they are stressed? Their bodies are so busy creating a fight-or-flight response that their digestive systems stop working for a time. They need all their energy and focus to get through the impending crisis. Some people seem to be like that, too. They get "so worried they can't eat." I have WISHED I would respond like that to crisis. Then I probably wouldn't be obese.

Maybe it doesn't matter that much why we gain weight when life throws us unexpected curve balls. Maybe what really matters is that we notice it. "Hey, I am stressed out and all I want to do it eat." And then we can change our response. "I know I want to eat because I am upset about my divorce/sick child/dying parent. But if hunger is not the problem, food is not the answer. I will choose to confide in a friend/hug someone/go take a walk/have a hot bath instead." We can choose different coping mechanisms. It's HARD, terribly hard to break the habit of turning to food in crisis. You get stressful news and the food is in your mouth before you know it. I've been dealing with my daughter's health issues (and a mini-crisis) for the last week or so, and yesterday I got a couple of distressing emails regarding other, unrelated things, and I seriously had ice cream in my mouth and half the bowl gone without even noticing it. It was so automatic, it's like I went on auto pilot. When the stress got too high, boom. I zoned out and ate. It's a very strange feeling when you look down and see a half eaten bowl of food and don't know how you got there. I was doing perfectly fine, eating healthy, riding my bike and then suddenly I was eating ice cream to prevent myself from melting into a puddle of tears. Stuffing the feelings, they say. I think they're right.

Now I am hyper aware of just what I am putting into my mouth. When I was watching the Biggest Loser last night, it dawned on me just how much our success depends on pushing ourselves. Doing things we didn't know we could do. Not just waiting for motivation to come along. Not just doing the minimum required. But really going out of our comfort zone and pushing it. Part of that is feeling the feelings we have been stuffing. Part of it is pushing ourselves to MOVE. Get up. Walk. Bike. Do SOMETHING. Even though you don't want to. Losing weight is your JOB. Do you lie in bed in the morning when your alarm goes off and DECIDE if you are going to work that day? "Oh, I am tired, I don't really want to work, I will sleep instead." Or, "I just don't have the motivation to go to work today. Oh well, maybe tomorrow." Uh, no. You just get up and do it. Make weight loss like that. It's your job.

We don't HAVE to gain weight every time things go bad in our lives. After all, one thing you CAN control is what you put in your mouth. And even if it is a little scary thinking about changing your ways and living a more vibrant, more "present" life, it is a wonderful thing if you give it half a chance.

22 comments:

Marshmallow said...

why don't we get comfort from friends, or loved ones...?

Bear in mind that some of us do not have the luxury of friends or loved ones who know how to give comfort.

Lyn said...

Marshy,

Oh I know this all too well. Really. I don't have anyone either. Parents dead, no siblings, few friends. Which is why I added the bubble bath in there. Even with no other person to comfort us, Marshy, we have other options... reading, walking, finding comfort in a pet or cooking or whatever other hobby we might find. I hope those who DO have parents to comfort them, or a best friend, or a loving significant other realize what a blessing and a luxury they do have.

Petunia said...

GREAT POST.

This is exactly true. For me food benders are not about being hungry (usually I'm past the point of being hungry) I just want to go into an food coma to distract me from anything else.

This is the entire reason for me overeating. If I could conquer this and come up with an alternative for even 75% of the time I want to reach for something I believe I would lose weight...

45 and Aspiring said...

I think it gets kind of tied up with depression for me. . . or an overresponse to crisis--tidal wave thinking.

By that I mean I let my worst fears take over and start thinking how I don't want to live that way (like when my husband had cancer, I projected to what if he died or if I had to be a caretaker and sucked at it), so I go into f-it mode. . . nothing matters, not sure I even want to go on. . .

So I think for me it's about recognizing and learning how to rationalize negative thoughts and put things in perspective.

Plus, what I know works for me is thinking about what will ultimate comfort me and make me feel better--even tomorrow. Because eating is only 5 secs of pain relief. Then instant self-hatred.

Course all of this good thinking is harder to maintain a grip on during stress!

Is that too much to share??

new*me said...

I thought about getting an evening workout ( I had already done an hr in the morning) in last night after feeling inspired by BL. Then I saw my warm bed and the motivation left. I get into a routine and need to spice it up now and then. An hour less of sleep would have been fine.

Sheri said...

Lyn, have you been easedropping in my thoughts? I just blogged about a crisis experience, and that I struggle. Though there is no resolve to it, I'm definitely a work in progress.

Sheri said...

Oh, and maybe its because the anxiety found in whatever the struggle is, we mentally confuse with hunger. I've caught myself in that - thinking I'm actually hungry when I really am not. I'm just so full of anxiety that it causes a stir in the stomach, which will become nausea if it were to build any more.

Jen said...

"When I was watching the Biggest Loser last night, it dawned on me just how much our success depends on pushing ourselves. Doing things we didn't know we could do. Not just waiting for motivation to come along. Not just doing the minimum required. But really going out of our comfort zone and pushing it."

What a powerful realization - the responsibility comes from ourselves. It's ourselves who need to become accountable for pushing ourselves to choose to be healthy!

Sending healthy wishes your way!

Jen
www.priorfatgirl.blogspot.com

Ames said...

My favourite quote: "But if hunger is not the problem, food is not the answer."

Alexia@theonelastthing.com said...

I swear you are psychic. I just blogged about the aftermath of a stressful week. Learned some things about myself.

As for weight loss being my job -- that's exactly what I decided this year and that's what made the difference for me. It's just not optional any longer.

Paula said...

Ames, that is so true, what a good quote. I'm keeping that one.

I am the opposite in here as usual, if I'm upset I can't eat. Unfortunately so many other situations call for food though, sigh. I think I am going to get that Mindless Eating book, see if that helps anything. Although I know truly that all the books in the world can't help if I don't stop snacking.

Alexia@theonelastthing.com said...

Also, you know, I realized just how much I lacked nurturing growing up when I did some work through a program called The Solution. That's way more touchy-feely than I normally feel comfortable with, but it was an a-ha moment for me with my behavior around food.

Twix said...

I've been there! It is scary to see that half eaten candy bar and wonder where it came from. As long as you are catching yourself and then putting on the brakes you are headed in the right direction! I didn't get that far yesterday. I caught it early and then decleared it was time to go outside and play. What a difference that made!! I had more energy and I didn't feel so guilty! :D

adventuresandmusings said...

Great post and a very inspiring blog!

Lady Bug said...

What I found when we had to bury our little boy a couple years ago was that I wasn't eating for comfort, but that the horrific pain I was feeling was so distracting that I didn't feel able to turn enough attention to food. Quite frankly, when every day seemed as though I was being torn apart, food was the last thing that seemed important.

It took me a while to make my peace with my emotions, and once that was done, THEN I was able to concentrate on eating healthier foods. I've had a good bit of success, and have lost 30+ pounds, and am looking forward to melting off more.

Lyn said...

Lady Bug,

I am SO sorry for your loss. No one should have to go through what you have. {{{hugs}}}

Sarah said...

Make weight loss like that. It's your job.

That's so true. I've never thought about it like that. Why have I not given myself the same effort I have given my job? That makes no sense. Thank you for this thought! It really struck a cord with me.

kgrenier12 said...

Wow. phenomenal post. you are able to articulate moments that I also have in my life but can show me how i can react next time...

unbelievable job at "walking the walk"

keep it up

Anonymous said...

Have you ever watched the movie "Super Size Me?" It's kind of off topic, but you've been talking a bit about sugar intake lately as well as comfort foods, and that movie gave me incredible insight into exactly what junk food actually IS. Sugar really is a drug, you eat it and immediately feel better, you know? There are mental reasons to turn to sugar and food, definitely, but there's a chemical element that draws us to it also.

Best wishes, and thanks so much for sharing your journey with us!

Lyn said...

Anonymous,

Yes! I saw that movie! Very insightful and it made me not want McD's for a long time (but then I got over it, LOL).

bbubblyb said...

Great post. I do think crisis brings on gaining often times. It does seem to be about wanting the comfort. I think too eating is the easy thing to do. But it is about choicing something better for yourself. Finding something else that will help relieve the stress and anxiety. It is about finding that inner person that says "I CAN DO THIS". I loved the idea of making it your job to lose weight. I really think it is about putting it at the top of the list.

Ceres said...

Eating has definitely been a coping mechanism for me in the past, and sometimes it still is... The thing is that extra food not only doesn't solve the issues, but it makes everything worse, because of the immediate consequences (bloating, feeling like you're about to explode) and the long-term impact on your weight, health, and self-esteem. Now, if only I could keep a cool head and think like this every time I want to stuff myself :-)