Ellen Whitney
August 29, 2016
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Stressed Spelt Backwards is Desserts

How many times have you come home from work after a really stressful day, and taken it out on the pantry? Only to find yourself feeling more stressed because now you have to add “burning off” everything you just ate to your to-do list; or maybe you’re now feeling comatose and unable to focus on the work that needs to be completed to relieve your stress.

Bingeing, or emotional eating, was a huge part of my life this time last year when I was working and living in a toxic environment. Everyday I went to work I felt unhappy, stressed, exhausted, depressed, and the only way I could numb those feelings was to reach for something to snack on, usually something loaded with sugar. The problem with these sugary “snacks” was that the sugar was acting as a drug on my brain, temporarily numbing unpleasant feelings, but only leaving me to crave more once the effect had worn off.

This cycle continued for months, as pounds slowly crept on to my frame that was previously well maintained by a calculated diet and exercise regime. While I’m not sure if I ever reached a point to classify as someone with “Binge Eating Disorder” that was added to the DSM 5 in 2013 as a true eating disorder, I do know that my behavior had become truly a point of disruption in my life.

Not one to wallow in self-pity, I finally decided to take action. I thought to myself- what other ways can I reduce stress in my life besides reaching for food? Here’s what I came up with:

1. Exercise In Ways I Enjoy: Since working with a strength coach for 3 years, I had become accustomed to a very regimented workout program. I thought I had to lift according to my programed body parts, reps, and sets each day to continue progressing. I finally realized this no longer brought me satisfaction, so I decided to ditch my program and just do whatever I felt like doing each day to move and sweat. Some days I’d run, walk, box, lift, or simply go to yoga. Exercise can be such a great outlet for stress, so keep trying new methods until you find a form you actually want to stick with.

2. Find Alternative Ways to Manage Stress: Since I couldn’t change my job in that moment, I knew I had to find other ways to change my mental and emotional state. This is how I found yoga. When I first start practicing I only viewed it as a form of physical exercise. But once I started going to class consistently, I started actually tuning in to the breath and the meditative aspects of the practice, and I found a sense of calm I had never experienced before. Yoga brought me to a state of mental relaxation, and also helped me reduce physical stress by swapping out some of my lifting sessions for this more gentle form of exercise.

3. Let Go of Restrictive Diets. When I was counting macros (weighing and tracking every gram of food that went in my mouth) I found my mind becoming obsessed with food. I didn’t always realize in the moment, but that alone was placing my body under more emotional, mental and physical stress. Not to mention, on days I wasn’t tracking, I often found myself bingeing under the mindset of “Quick! Eat as much as you can before you going back to weighing everything”. When I let go of counting macros, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had forgotten what real hunger cues were because I was always so hyper-focused on simply “hitting my numbers” for the day. Now, my diet simply involves eating real food, and enjoying treats in moderation when I want them. Eating doesn’t have to be complicated, despite what the multi-billion dollar diet industry that would like us to believe. Turn off the noise from the media on what you should or shouldn’t be eating, and allow yourself to tune in to what your body really needs.

4. Open Up: This may be the hardest step to take, but opening up about what I was going through made me realize just how bad of a situation I was in. It wasn’t until I finally said it out loud that I fully absorbed my stress-managing behavior had actually become the biggest stressor in my life. It can be tough to make yourself vulnerable to others, so if this doesn’t seem like a step you’re ready for, start by simply writing it down. Get a small journal and write down what your thoughts and feelings were leading up to a binge, and what you felt like afterwards, so you can start to recognize your trigger points and avoid them in the future.

This time last year I had reached a point where I no longer recognized myself physically or mentally. Luckily, I was able to recognize my problem, find ways to remedy it in the moment, and then eventually remove myself from that place in my life entirely. One thing I’ve learned from my experience is that eating for an emotional hunger will only complicate my problems. Every time I binged I only found myself feeling more unhappy and stressed afterwards, until I was caught in a vicious cycle.

I hope by sharing my experience it can help those of you who may be going through something similar at this time. Know that if you’re feeling “stuck” it’s only an illusion. You never have to stay in an unhealthy situation. The first step of acknowledging something isn’t right is often the hardest, but I promise it will be worth it. You owe it to yourself to make a change and start living your best life right now!

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