Tuesday, September 30, 2008

#18 - Donuts Are Not Mood Enhancers!

Last week a friend of mine told me the story of how she was so frustrated with her printer that when she gave up on it she went right to her pantry and started searching for Oreos. Then, today in the car ride home from the dentist, my daughter shared that it was not a good day in school and when we passed a Dunkin Donuts, she asked if we could stop and get a donut. I knew what she was doing. I told her that eating a donut was not going to make her bad day at school get better. I told her I'd rather go buy her a pair of shoes than a donut. By the way, we did neither.

When I got home I thought about our short conversation. What I had told my daughter made a lot of sense. What's amazing though, is that I never thought of it so clearly when it involved me wolfing down some food item to make me feel better. I'll repeat for all our benefits: A donut is not going to make your bad day at school get better. Wow, so simple.

How in the world did we ever get to this place where a cookie can make the frustration from a broken printer go away or where a donut can make a bad day better? Was I taught as a child that food would make the physical hurt go away and did I transition this thought process to emotional hurt? No. I know with certainty that I wasn't taught this - this using food for mood improvement. It was not my mother's, father's nor grandparent's style, nor was it their parenting style. As a matter of fact, when my kids hurt themselves, I didn't give them food to make them feel better. I used to "beat up" the floor or chair or door jam or whatever inanimate object had led to them getting hurt. And if they were feeling sad, I told them not to be sad, that I would take the sad and make it mine.

Most everything I've read says that eating to improve mood is conditioned, ie. learned. Somewhere along the line we felt bad, ate something sweet and felt better. I know it's not that simple, but that's the essence. So, if learning something, like eating to make you feel better, is learned by being reinforced over and over, then can't we un-learn it the same way?


My challenge for the next 30 days will be the following: Every time I go to food for mood enhancement [or any other emotional mood moment] I will stop and tell myself : "a donut will not make this day better". Concurrently, I will then substitute a healthy activity [or thought or action] which serves the same purpose that going to food did. Perhaps, if I repeat the donut quote enough times I can un-condition myself. Alternatively, I will do something positive.... not give into something negative. May the force be with me!!!
*photo of lady is called "death by oreos"

Monday, September 15, 2008

#17 How Hercules Cheats on His Wife

My husband told me this story about a year ago, and although he thought it was hysterical [in a guy-humor way], I saw it very differently. Here's how it goes: My husband takes a buddy [let's call him Hercules] to the hockey game. Hercules, being a vegetarian, orders a veggie hoagie for dinner. When the woman behind the counter asks him if he wants oil or mayo, he tells her both. She says to him, "Are you sure, honey?" He responds, "Give me a break; This is what I consider cheating on my wife."

Here's another story. My husband and kids are going to the shore for the weekend, and to make life easy, I drive my kids to my husband's New Jersey office so he doesn't have to come home first. Crossing the bridge back into Philadelphia, I begin to think about what I'm going to eat. Not, what am I going to eat for dinner, but what am I going to eat that I usually don 't allow myself to eat.

Do you see the parallel between the two stories? Hercules and I both felt liberated from our self-imposed food-choice prisons. It's not that our families are our jailers, but it's a role that we somehow bestowed upon them. Many of us eat a certain way in front of our children, spouses, parents, and even our friends. I have a friend who swears that she's never seen me over eat and can't, by looking at my size, understand that I have food "issues". It's because "that kind of eating" is done alone. I'm not a betting woman, but I bet in the Hercules scenario, if he'd ordered that same hoagie in front of his wife, she wouldn't have said a thing. Normal-eating people understand that eating in a restaurant or at a party or at an event is a treat, and that sometimes you indulge. They don't look at it as cheating. People with food issues DO see this type of eating as cheating, because more often than not, indulging means going overboard.

People like me restrain ourselves so much of the time that when we do let loose, it tends to be in gigantic proportions. When the reins are held taut, that's as close to normal as we get. And let me say, the reins may be self-imposed, imposed by others, or imagined imposed. For example, a friend of mine only eats healthy and "dietetic" meals when she's with her parents. Because she was a chubby child, her parents had held the reins and directed how and what she ate. Now, even as an adult, she still sees those reins, although she admits that her parents never say anything. I only eat one scoop of ice cream or small cones in front of my kids because I'm trying to teach them [without words] that dessert or a treat is just that. It's not a food group that is supposed to fill the belly nor fill emotionally empty spaces.

Over the years, and with many slips and slides, I've learned how to allow myself some out-of-control-time. Thank goodness, I've also learned how to rein myself in. Here's the SECRET!!! READ CLOSELY!!!! I feel better when I eat healthy food and normal portion sizes. There. That's it. Honestly. When I eat a side salad and a piece of veggie pizza, I feel satisfied. My tastebuds and belly are happy. I know if I so desire, I can have another piece, but I also know that I would feel a little overwhelmed - more full than satisfied.

Here's the next secret. Read closely!!! I can have another piece tomorrow. Normal people know their limit and, more importantly, they know the food will be there tomorrow if they want more. People with food issues think in two ways. We either believe that the food won't be there tomorrow so eat as much of it as you can today or we want to be "good" tomorrow so best to get rid of that "bad" food so it's not around tomorrow [that is, polish it off].

When I arrived home from dropping the kids off, and... feeling "let out of jail," I grabbed a bag of chips and a soda and went out on the porch to read that day's newspaper. While reading, I did something I hardly ever do [I mean, besides eating chips out of the bag and drinking soda]: I read my horoscope. Caroline James of the Inquirer wrote, Taurus, you bull, "Tomorrow is another day. This should be your mantra".

Amen, sista!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

#16 What's Eating You?

I've received a number of requests asking me to re-visit issues that relate to diet, food and health. So, for those needing a loving kick in the buttinsky, here goes. I hope the following will inspire you to take the power away from food, seize opportunities to overcome emotional eating, and be kinder to yourselves when "accidents" happen.

Recently at my women's group meeting one of the members shared an interesting quote. I don't know the originator, but it came from a friend of hers who recently lost 70 pounds. I guess when you lose that much weight you figure out that, "It's not what your eating, it's what's eating you". Since I was taking notes when she said this, I didn't see anyone else's reaction. I know, without a doubt, what mine was; goose bumps all over.

Here's an example of how simpatico I've become with this quote. Just the other day I took my newly adopted dog for a walk. I'm working with him on being less dog aggressive. After 20 minutes of walking and having to cross the street more times than I want to mention, we came home. I mean, he had some great moments, but overall, had he not been on a leash, he may have done damage to a few other 4-leggers out for an after-dinner stroll. Anyway, we walk into the house and as I put the leash away I start to think about food, like I want something very sweet and I want it right now. But why? We had just finished dinner so I wasn't hungry and since I've continued eating the 'Oprah cleanse' way, I really haven't had cravings or what I call emotional food foraging. So, why was I feeling this way?

It wasn't until I was sharing the story in my women's group that I had an "aha moment". I realized that I wasn't doing right by either Iggy or me. Although I already love Iggy and think he's a great dog, it doesn't necessarily mean that others will.... especially if he's trying to sink his pearly canines into your dog's hind quarters. I realized that his problem was more than just love could handle. I was worried that perhaps this behavior wasn't treatable. I know from previous experience that this feeling, this unsettled feeling [I just don't have a name for it], this feeling of being lost, out of control, vulnerable can be a trigger for me to eat.

After I related this story to the group, I realized that this was perhaps the first time I was really able to identify the reason for food foraging and connect it to the emotion that I was having at that very moment. In the past, I used only two 'emotion words', angry and upset and I called my eating "fuck you" eating to deal with those emotions [remember the babble where I was waiting for my date, he was late, he didn't call to tell me that he would be late, I gorged at dinner]. Now, when I think about that experience, I understand what I was feeling. While waiting for my date, I was feeling vulnerable, not in control, disrespected. I didn't know then how to apply or perhaps I was scared to apply the true names to those feelings so I just did some retaliation eating to try to 'get back' at who was hurting me. Those of you who have done a little
f-u eating know, avenged and vindicated is not how you feel after you've forced down feelings with a pint of ice cream or a sleeve of oreo cookies. Since that meeting I've been looking back at instances when I 'foraged' because I was "angry or upset" and am now able to realize that I was "comfort eating" and not "f-u eating".

When you've allowed food to become an important source of companionship and stress relief in your life, you are entering a trap. When you deprive yourself of your companion and stress reliever, the trap snaps closed. This depriving yourself can make you feel abandoned, frustrated, lonely and even angry. If this sounds like you, ask yourself -- what's eating you? Dig deep. Be truthful. Be present. Acknowledge those feelings that you are forcing down with slices of pizza, spoonfuls of devils food icing and diet soda. Truthfully, I'm not sure a special key exists to release this trap. However, I'm 99% positive that the trap can't close if you become aware of, find ways to deal with, overcome, and seize control of those feelings that make you look to food for comfort and answers. I can picture a number of people right now who are struggling with their weight. I recommend taking your dog for a walk [metaphorically or literally]. You may just learn something about yourself.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

# 15 Yawn, Yawn

I have a wish. I want to fall asleep at a decent hour (let's say 11 pm) and wake up in the morning around 7ish. This means going to sleep at night and not waking up until morning. Is that asking too much? If I remember clearly, before children and before I shared my bed, I went to sleep at night and woke up in the morning when my alarm went off. If I happened to have a dream and it wasn't too scary, I fell right back to sleep. Back then, I didn't get up to go to the bathroom, I didn't listen down the hall for the sounds of my children's breathing, I didn't start making mental lists of all the things I had to do, and I surely didn't gingerly climb into bed so as not to wake up my husband who if moved from that most wonderful position, might start to snore. In which case, it could be a very long while before I fall back to sleep.

I digress... What I'm trying to share with you is that although, on average, I am a little sleep deprived, the pain is worth the gain. Let me explain.

The time is 1990 -- about 6 months into my marriage. Since my husband and I are both dog lovers, we couldn't wait to bring a fluffy little bundle of joy into our new home. Because we lived in Washington DC and in a condo, we wanted a dog that would make us feel safe, but also one that didn't bark a lot. After reading dog books and talking with many "dog" people, we decided on a Doberman. We went to a breeder, played with 7 little Dobies and brought our Zoe home. She was 8 weeks old. We kept the cage in our bedroom and took turns being "on call" for the middle of the night walks. Talk about zombies. I was working shift work in the ER and my husband was working part time and spending his off time studying for the entrance exams for medical school. Let's just say Zoe taught us a lot about parenting. These lessons included: carrying on our daily lives on less sleep than we thought possible, sharing responsibilities, loving a warm tiny body that pees on you, taking turns out of turn without getting nasty with each other, and cleaning up messes of all kinds. Luckily, our experience didn't stop us from wanting kids, it just made us a little smarter and probably a lot more tolerant. Let's move forward a few years.

The time is 1995 and my daughter is almost 3 months old. We have just moved into our 250-year-old money pit. I'm 33 years old and working a 60-hour week in the Emergency Department. Even with a toddler, a new house and a demanding job, I still got up for those middle of the night feedings. Although I was usually asleep on my feet, I LOVED doing it. To this day I can still remember her baby smell, her little hands playing with my lips and nose, the absolute quiet and Zoe laying at my feet. Those were some of the best 20 minute increments I've ever spent. Not surprisingly, once back in bed I fell asleep like the dead, but had no problem waking up at the slightest squeak from down the hall. I have jokingly said that my daughter aged me. I wonder though if there is an equation where you count the number of hours of lost sleep and relate that to the number of years that it's aged you. Lets talk about recently.

About 3 weeks ago we adopted a dog from a shelter. He's somewhere between 2 and 3 years old. I felt so lucky when I discovered that he was 'potty' trained and understood many commands. I thought that, unlike a puppy, I wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night to let him out, nor would I have to listen to his crying because he missed sleeping with his mommy and siblings. May I inform you as to how wrong I was? Let me share this information with you. My dog has to be the cleanest dog in the neighborhood. During his first two weeks living with us, I thought I would go mad [the insane kind of mad]. Between 3:00 and 5:00 every morning he would start to clean himself with long, loud, luscious, lip smacking licks. I mean a total body bath! I wanted to pull my hair out. Well, we are now into our third week and when he starts 'a-lickin - I say, "NO Iggy", and he stops. I hope by the 4th week he'll have figured out that cleanliness is not next to Godliness and that in this house and at that hour it's more likely to get you booted out of the master suite. Oh, did I mention that dogs have dreams and 'some' dogs talk in their sleep?

So, what have I figured out from all this? I know -- don't let your dogs sleep in your bedroom. However, mostly I've realized how well I can function on so little sleep. I've also realized that I interact with amazing women every day who live and sleep as I do, and you'd never know it. They are vibrant, intelligent and beautiful people who only occasionally, in their exhaustion, may forget to take their kids to a dentist appointment or forget to pick one of them up from an after school activity. Perhaps, lack of sleep caused by the performance of loving acts is mathematically a plus negative on that equation of aging. Since this babble is sort of a time line, I'll finish with this. The year is 2011. I'm told as we reach menopause our sleep becomes even more interrupted. At this point, lack of sleep is so part of who I am that I might not even notice....