The Maintenance Library - TFL Key #8: Face Life Head-On

View Full Version : TFL Key #8: Face Life Head-On

02-26-2005, 07:49 AM
Key To Success #8: Face Life Head-On

Chapter 8 of Thin For Life addresses emotional and stress eating. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt! :lol: I used to laugh about how I was never too stressed to eat. If someone would tell me that they were too upset to eat, I’d scratch my head and say: huh? Too upset to eat? :chin: Never! Nope, for me, when the going got tough, I got eating. Happy, sad, bored, lonely … you get the picture. :dizzy:

Lots of us are stress and emotional eaters and that’s a big part of how we ended up being overweight. But it's important to note that the book emphasizes that emotional/stress eating does NOT mean that we have psychological problems and need therapy to overcome this kind of eating for the wrong reasons. For most of us, it’s a problem that can be solved with some analysis and planning.

The purpose of this chapter is to talk about learning to deal with life without turning to food as a crutch – facing life head-on. Studies of maintainers and regainers show that positive coping skills help with weight control. We’re ALL going to have stressful events in our lives – it’s how we deal with them that determines how successful we’ll be in keeping off the weight:
In the Kaiser Permanente study comparing women who successfully maintained weight loss with those who regained [p 64] researchers found that the maintainers ‘believed themselves capable of handing their problems and used problem-solving skills to cope with their difficulties. In contrast, relapsers did not deal with their problems directly (perhaps because they lacked effective problem-solving skills) and reported that they used food to make themselves feel better when upset.’ (p 236)
95% of maintainers used ‘planful problem-solving’ skills, compared to only 10% of regainers (p 237). Wow – doesn’t that just say it all? OK, so what exactly are these planful problem solving skills? The first step is to label your emotions – put a name to exactly what you’re feeling when you want to overeat. Are you bored, angry, lonely, sad, depressed, anxious etc? You’ve probably heard of waiting for 20 minutes before you give in to a craving, right? One benefit of waiting out a craving is that it gives you a chance to label what you’re feeling and to deal with it.

Another aspect of labeling your emotions is recognizing what triggers them – the warning signs. Do you do certain things that lead up to overeating, such as rummaging through the refrigerator or cabinets? Reading recipes? Stopping by the grocery store on the way home? Label your triggers as well as your emotions. Many people find that journaling or writing down their feelings can help label emotions and make them easier to deal with.

Four of the biggest emotional triggers for overeating are listed as anger, loneliness, boredom, and depression (p 243-4). I’m not sure this counts as an emotional trigger (maybe it’s physical?) but I’d add 'being tired' to that list. For me, exhaustion triggers overeating both because it gives me a quick energy pick-me-up and because I lose all willpower when I’m tired.

So once you’ve labeled your emotional eating, how do you control it? The book sets out a specific six-step process for dealing with the stresses that can trigger overeating (pp 245-9):

1. Define the problem. Look for patterns – when the overeating happens, where, if you’re alone or with others I tend to pig out on junk food at night when I’m watching TV.
2. Come up with alternatives. I can keep snacks out of the house. I can plan healthy snacks. I can go to bed early.
3. Evaluate the alternatives, listing pros and cons for each. How likely is each alternative to work for you?
4. Make a decision and a commitment.
5. Implement the strategy.
6. Evaluate the plan and switch gears if necessary.

The remainder of the chapter deals with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) (pp 249-58). There’s a big difference between BED and occasional emotional eating and we here at Maintainers have touched on this issue in our recent ‘Binging’ thread. What we colloquially call ‘binging’ usually isn’t what a psychologist would define as BED and we need to be aware of the distinction. The book defines BED as being able to answer ‘yes’ to all or most of the following questions AND the behavior has gone on regularly for at least six months:
Consuming ‘unusually large amounts of food' – the example given is a quart of ice cream, 6 brownies and 16 chocolate chip cookies – in a two-hour period.
Feeling out of control while you’re eating
Eating much more quickly than usual.
Eating past the point of being uncomfortable.
Eating alone because of being ashamed.
Feelings of intense guilt, depression, and shame.

BED is frequently linked with major depression, low self-esteem, and other problems that need professional help. The book says that 10% of obese patients have clinically significant depression that needs to be dealt with before weight can be lost (p 257).

But for the rest of us, mindful problem solving skills are the best way to deal with occasional episodes of overeating that are triggered by stress, emotions, or boredom. I know we’ve discussed this in the ‘Binging’ thread, but let’s talk about emotional or stress eating and ways that we’ve short-circuited our food response to emotions.

I’ll start out with a little story about a friend of mine who’s struggled with her weight her whole life (like me). About seven months ago, she started losing weight with healthy eating and exercise and has lost 49 pounds to date. All along, the two of us have talked about what it’s going to take to KEEP the weight off for life because we’ve both lost and gained and lost and gained probably hundreds of pounds. We both recognize that it’s when life takes an unexpected turn and things get stressful that our new good habits tend to go out the window.

Well, it happened to her two weeks ago. Her job blew up, things got very ugly, and her life suddenly became stressful to the max. Her knee-jerk reaction was to go right back to comfort eating, specifically carbs. Huge quantities of carbs. She stopped exercising and slid right back into those old bad habits of seven months ago.

I sat her down a few days ago and told her that I was going to fight her doing this to herself – that I wasn’t going to stand by and let her put the weight back on. I reminded her that in six months, this food wasn’t going to fix the job or make her happy. In fact, she’d be miserable in six months once she realized that she’d undone all her hard work.

It was like I had thrown a bucket of cold water in her face and she said she never realized how easy it is to go back to the old way of coping with emotions with food. She said that it was SO seductive just to fall into comfort eating instead of dealing with the issues themselves. Thankfully, I think the story has a happy ending and she’s on Day 3 of exercising and eating healthy again. But it’s been a big lesson to me to watch all these events unfold and seeing how emotions and stress can throw us completely off track. The lesson to me is that we’re always going to need to be aware of how emotions and stress can affect our eating and always be on guard.

How about the rest of you? How have you dealt with stress/emotional eating? Has any strategy really worked for you? Do you find yourself falling back into old habits when the going gets tough? Do you have any great tips or tricks to share?

02-27-2005, 07:42 PM
First of all, I just gotta say what a great friend you are Meg. I don't believe there is anyone in my life that would do for me, what you did for your friend. Good for you Meg, we all should be so lucky.

Stress/emotional eating, wow, that's one of the biggest reasons why were all here right? This is our "thing"; this is how we've learned to deal with life. Just like the smoker who grabs a cigarette to relax, or the alcoholic who pours another drink, we seek comfort in the form of food. I've often wondered, what makes “it” food for some of us and not for others?

The questions listed for BED perfectly describe a typical binge for me. That's it exactly, that's how I feel, and that’s what I do. Scary. So my objective is not to let that happen. I am usually very controlled in my plan; only eating preplanned snacks, meals, and "treats" (like a planned dinner out consisting of off-plan food) with occasional B.L.T.'s (bites, licks, & tastes) here and there, but never more than one or two at any one time. So when unexpected things come up I try to regroup and work around it as quickly as possible. But there are still those times, especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed and out of control, that I have to really fight myself not to go tearing through the kitchen like a mad woman. Luckily I've discovered that exercise is a tremendous stress reliever! I do worry though, how well I would handle it if my life completely fell apart tomorrow. But I believe that I will do what it takes to remain focused because I know that life is gonna happen, no matter what, and that I can't always be prepared for everything. It's how I choose to react to the unexpected that will make all the difference. And it's my goal to keep this body healthy no matter what may come my way. Sure, that could prove to be extremely difficult to accomplish, depending on the circumstances, but I believe there is always a way if I’m willing to find it. It just depends on how much of a priority I make it at the time. For me, this is my #1 priority, so everything else will just have to work around it. I guess that may seem a bit harsh and self-serving, but that's how it has to be for me if I’m gonna make this work for the rest of my life.

Again, thanks for the excellent summery, Meg, I don't know what we'd do without you!


02-27-2005, 09:07 PM
Beverly, you just wrote my post for me.

I have to eat in a very controlled manner too, and also answer yes to every one of the BED symptoms, along with a few others not on the list. The fat woman who hid food and hid in it still is lurking in my brain and will always be there. I know the triggers, I know the feelings building up, and sometimes I literally have to battle full time against them. Exercise, flossing, brushing, rinsing and going to bed, going shopping, reading here and posting, calling a friend...and finally after 21 years, telling my husband, are helping. Sometimes when I want to eat irrationally, I try on my new, small and stylish clothes, and then put on my 1 pair of old pants and old top. What a contrast. I don't want to be there again.

In a way, all the strategies come down to delaying tactics: food management. But if I can delay or manage the scope and frequency of the problem down to MUCH smaller quantities and only a few times a year, it's not so much of a problem.


03-01-2005, 02:07 PM
Do you find yourself falling back into old habits when the going gets tough?

OMG I did this yesterday! I was talking to my mom about my dad's upcoming radiation treatment, when I hung up, I was in the kitchen, I stood up, turned around and opened the pantry door and proceeded to eat 20 crackers!! Thank goodness they are the good type or crackers so the fat and calorie content was low... but nevertheless the old habit came back! I immediately thought of this thread and stopped eating at 20 crackers!! Thank gawd for this site or I'd be :censored: ....

Thank you for being here...

03-04-2005, 01:35 PM
My problem has always been that I recognize emotional eating even before I do it -- I know that I'm eating out of boredom or whatever, and then I do it anyway. :?: I'm working on that. But until I can stop doing that, I've changed what I eat. Now instead of turning to krispy kremes, etc., I eat an apple, low fat vanilla wafers or some other healthy alternative. So I guess I've instinctively chosen one of the solutions suggested in this book - I keep only healthy snacks on hand. And, I'll take 2-3 vanilla wafers out of the box and PUT THE BOX AWAY instead of taking the box with me to the couch and consuming the entire thing.

Meg - thanks again for all the hard work you do here. I also post over on the Jenny Craig boards and this week alone I've linked several members to this very posting to help them learn how to deal with emotional eating issues. Your hard work is helping numerous people. You are earning your place in heaven. :angel:

03-05-2005, 06:15 AM
Wow, Elaine, that's so cool that you're sending people over here! Your kind words mean a lot to me (and Beverly's too!) :thanks: I feel like I've been the world's worst moderator lately in between juggling my new job, studying, and everything else ... seems like I have a few minutes to read but not post as much as I'd like.

Back to the topic at hand - if your life fell apart tomorrow, Beverly, I have no doubt that you'd keep right on doing what you're doing now. You've been at this long enough that it genuinely has become a lifestyle for you. Sure we may all slip at times, but to fall off the cliff back into that pit where we were? Nope, it will never happen for you, I'm sure. For me, all I have to do is REMEMBER how it felt to be obese - all those old feelings of despair and hopelessness - and I'm determined never to go back there. There is NO food in the world that tastes good enough to be worth all that pain.

You're absolutely right about making yourself a priority - it's not harsh or self-serving at all. Our Jiff always says that she's never met an overweight woman who makes puts herself first (or even close to the top of the list) and she's right. I'm seeing this all the time at the gym now - a woman comes in who's spent the last 10 or 20 years taking care of her DH, kids, parents, house, job, social obligations, church, Scouts, PTA etc ... and she's been putting her own needs LAST for way too long. And now she's 50 or 100 pounds overweight. And if I sit her down and say it's time to make yourself a priority and take care of your own needs, she'll start to cry. Like she needs permission to take care of herself?? :dizzy:

When I stop and think about it, I'm probably a BETTER mom and wife and daughter and all those things now that I'm taking care of myself. Hmmm ... what do you all think? Did you have to make your weight loss a priority for it to work? Did/do you feel guilty?

03-05-2005, 10:58 AM
a woman comes in who's spent the last 10 or 20 years taking care of her DH, kids, parents, house, job, social obligations, church, Scouts, PTA etc ... and she's been putting her own needs LAST for way too long. And now she's 50 or 100 pounds overweight. And if I sit her down and say it's time to make yourself a priority and take care of your own needs, she'll start to cry. Like she needs permission to take care of herself??

Wow, this is so sad yet, unfortunately, standard issue requirements for being super mom.

I absolutely had/have to make taking care of myself a priority or I would never bother. I could come up with a hundred excuses for putting off exercise, eating crap out of convenience, and pretending the dryer is shrinking my clothes. But where would that get me? Oh yeah, I remember, my old life!! :p We have to take care of ourselves in order to be the best possible wifes, moms, and women we can be, period. Do I feel guilty sometimes? Absolutely! But I figure, I can still take my DD to the park an hour from now, after I exercise. The laundry will done...eventually, the floor doesn't need vaccuming right this minute. It's a trade off, learning how to balance all the most important things in life to achieve the best possible outcome. So everybody is not completely happy all of the time, they WILL get over it. Plus, and you all know it's true, if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!


03-07-2005, 09:53 AM
Did you have to make your weight loss a priority for it to work? Did/do you feel guilty?

I did have to make it a huge priority to lose weight, though I don't think it was because I put my own needs at too low a priority - not being married or having children, most of my priorities are those I choose for myself. On the other hand, I do sometimes feel guilty about how much thought and energy I did and do put into it. It feels very selfish, especially since I did slack off on certain other responsibilities. I haven't quite reconciled the discrepancy in my mind between where I think fitness should be on my priority list and where it actually is, but I can live with the cognitive dissonance by not thinking about it too often ;)

03-07-2005, 10:38 AM
I feel guilty all the time for spending so much time on exercise but like JCH said: "... I can live with the cognitive dissonance by not thinking about it too often" or in my case rarely...:lol:...

I feel guilty when I'm going out the door and the kids say: " I want to go here can you take me", I say "no I'm off to the gym I'll take you after"...and they roll their eyes, argh, then I roll my eyes as I head out the door I will NOT be dissuaded .... Or when DH is vacuuming or doing laundry as I'm heading out the door to the gym, the GUILT, really sets in then... But I head out the door anyways... the house work will be there when I come back whether DH does it or not... But my DH NEVER EVER complains about my going to exercise, thank goodness for that!

03-08-2005, 12:54 PM
Meg, I think that you've hit the nail right on the head. Most of us put ourselves last in line when it comes to dishing out care - mainly because culturally we've been trained to do so (especially those of us who grew up in the Deep South). A "good mom" is selfless and sacrifices all for her family. It wasn't until my children were grown and on their own that I began to look after my own needs. I guess, because of that, I don't experience guilt when I exercise or spend money on a weight loss program. I feel like it's my turn - I've paid my dues and now I deserve to focus on me. And I'm extremely lucky in that my DH is and always has been very supportive. So, no guilt trips here. :coffee:

04-23-2006, 10:27 AM
I know I fall into the pattern of eating out of boredom. I ate so often this way that I fell into a pattern of stuffing my face the moment I walked in the door from work, later eating as I cooked, and then sitting down to a full meal with my family. I'm not even finished here... after dishes were washed and put away I'd plop myself down with a book or movie or tv and snack all night long. I am amazed that I don't weigh more.

I don't do this anymore. Not only is my eating mindful but my day is mindful and much more productive.

I have a few tools to keep it this way:

sleep well
eat regularly..healthy whole foods.. sitting down with NO distractions..
plan to do things.. little and big things
always have water nearby
clothes that fit and look good.. especially exercise clothes

It also helps that I threw away nearly everything that would tempt me. I couldn't have gotten very far with it looming over me, though I think I could by pass a lot of it now.

As with many overweight women, overeating and underexercising was about not putting my needs first. I'll discuss that on the next thread. Key #9