I feel particularly vulnerable writing this piece, because it’s about somewhat of a secret shame for me: Eating. Nay, emotional eating. Since having my baby two years ago, eating has become a friend, an activity, a form of relaxation, and basically something that I don’t feel completely in control of. It’s kind of embarrassing.
I’m a psychologist and feel like I “should” really know better (we’re not supposed to use the word “should” – it’s an unhelpful thinking style – but there it is in my brain anyway). I know about how addictions are formed. Gordon Bruin talks about it particularly eloquently in his book “The Language of Recovery.” To surmise:
We experience something pleasurable (food, alcohol, drugs) and our brain stores it away for safekeeping. When we experience an unpleasant emotion (boredom, loneliness, anger, stress, tiredness), the part of our brain responsible for our emotions, (limbic system) interprets it as pain and potentially threatening to our survival. Our brain tries to distract us from our unpleasant emotion by accessing the pleasurable memory and forcing us to crave it. When we use that pleasurable memory to distract us from our unpleasant emotion, a new neurological pathway is formed. Each time we distract ourselves with that pleasurable memory, the pathway is strengthened. Eventually, the brain thinks that the pleasurable memory is necessary for its survival and voilà! We are addicted. For me, it is to food.
Since having my son, food has become somewhat of a crutch to me. This makes sense when I think about the acronym Bruin uses to describe people’s “triggers” – unpleasant emotions that cause us to crave whatever we are addicted to. I was having these emotions in spades when my son was born, and still to this day, though some of the initial adjustment (aka shock) has worn off.
The Acronym is BLAST: It stands for Bored. Lonely. Angry. Stressed. Tired.
Since becoming a mum two years ago, I would be hard pressed to find a day when I’m not at least one of these things. Especially when I was a new mum and this food addiction was first forming. Here are some examples of how the emotions messed me around back then.
Babies are cute, but they can be very boring. It’s a pretty one sided relationship for a while there, with several long weeks of thanklessly wiping bums, feeding bellies, bathing, massaging, and rocking to sleep before you even get so much as a hint of a smile, which is probably just gas anyway. The days feel really long when you are doing everything in a 90-minute “feed – play – sleep” cycle. There are a lot of 90-minute periods in a day and they don’t end at 8:30 p.m. like my day used to! The nights can be super long and lonely … which brings me to my next point.
I am quite introverted, so you would think loneliness wouldn’t be such a big deal for me. Not the case. Loneliness is not the same as solitude. I see solitude as intentional, a space between me and the world. A way to recharge, to connect with the energy inside myself and remain grounded. But loneliness isn’t that. Loneliness is separateness. Everyone else is the same as they were; I am different. Everyone else is asleep; I am awake. Everyone else is at work; I am at home. When hubby had to go back to work after two weeks home with us, this got particularly bad.
I am often prone to fits of anger. I think it is the way my anxiety manifests. The rages were particularly bad when my son was a newborn, probably because of the sleep deprivation, hormones, unrealistic expectations and phenomenal mental load cocktail.
I feel like stress is a constant companion. When my son was a newborn it was about the amount of new information you have to learn when you have a newborn at home, and the responsibility of keeping a tiny human being alive. It’s really unbelievable! I felt quite stressed, especially when hubby went back to work and I was on my own with bub. Mind meltdown and brain overload. Stress! When I went back to work when he was five months old, my job in a demanding, people focused role added a whole other layer on top of that. Even when away from work and my son, the mental load does not go away. We are constantly “on” as parents.
This one is self-explanatory … I never slept. Never. Now that he’s two, I sleep better. Thank goodness.
Those were just some examples of the unpleasant emotions that triggered me to overeat (my brain’s way of distracting me from pain) when my son was little.
The eating patterns that formed while my son was a newborn are hanging on. When I feel frustrated, tired and I need of a break, I’m likely to go to the pantry and look for something crunchy to crunch my frustration out on. When I actually get some “me time” I do not feel like the relaxation can be complete without some chocolate to luxuriate with. This is all subconscious; I’m not aware I’m doing it at the time.
I’d like to become more aware; so that I can create a space between the trigger emotion and the reaction (emotional eating). Enough space to ask myself if I really need to eat right now? Am I making the best choice for my body? Will this make me feel good in half an hour? Some ideas I am considering are motivational signs on the fridge, meal planning (including healthy snacks), drinking water, and going for a walk in “me-time” instead of crashing on the couch (less proximity to the kitchen, see).
That is my goal: to “weaken” the neurological pathways that have built up in my brain. To change my brain’s default settings; each time I make a better choice for myself, it stands to reason that the cravings will lessen, and I will become more in control of my eating.
Wish me luck!
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