This is a picture of my daughter’s pajama top. She loves it because it’s comfortable and because it has hearts, gold letters, and pink sparkles on it. After she’d worn it a few times she actually noticed what it said and read it out loud. “Love who you are…Who doesn’t love who they are?” She asked this as if the statement on the front of her shirt was as ridiculous as telling people to breathe air.
I wanted to just stop right there and hold her in a big bear hug at that point. Her self confidence right now is so great. She makes comments every now and then about comparing herself to others, we talk about it, and she moves one, still confident in who she is.
“Who doesn’t love who they are?”
Unfortunately so many people do not. I know someday Devin will understand why people need to be told to love who they are, even if her confidence wanes only for a brief moment. She’ll go through puberty and despite my best efforts, she’ll compare herself to others. Her strong athletic legs that can outrun many now will be “too big,” and she’ll find many other things that are so wrong with her, ignoring everything else that is awesome. I will be with her every step of the way, and I’m going to try to make her a strong confident young woman, but very few escape being critical of their bodies in some way or another.
I’m not going to get into the external pressures, like unrealistic images in the media, there are plenty of those. What I want to talk about today is something I’ve struggled with off and on quite a bit the internal pressures and disordered relationships with food. This leads to emotional eating.
We think that if we can control everything and get our bodies perfect, then somehow everything else in our lives will be perfect. But there’s no such thing as perfect, is there? Our broken view of ourselves is caused by looking at everything through broken lenses. We compare everyone else’s highlight reel to our bloopers and feel like we’ll never measure up.
I know some people think that because I’m a health coach, a personal trainer, and a figure competitor that everything is going great for me in this area. I must live a perfect clean eating life where not only do I never find soggy wilted greens hiding at the bottom of my produce drawer because I always eat them right away, I definitely never eat emotionally or have a stray craving to eat an entire bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough. Let me assure you, I’m not perfect. If it appears like I’ve got my shit together it’s only because I’m standing in it. (That’s not even my quote, it’s a paraphrase of a quote from author Steven Levine.)
In the weeks after my last competition I found myself doing a lot of emotional eating. It wasn’t about the food. Competition prep took up a lot of my time before that which made me fall behind on my business goals. Reevaluating where I was compared to where I wanted to be hit me hard. Especially since December is a crazy month for everyone and I didn’t have a lot of time to play catch-up.
Rather than admit my limitations, face it head on, and come up with some new goals and a new game plan, it was easier to turn to food for comfort. Food never tells me “No!” or measures me against anyone else or gives me deadlines. It’s always there for me and it always tastes so good. When you think about it, no other relationship can really give us that much security. But the problem with that is that when we turn to food to solve our problems, our problems don’t really get solved, and we end up experiencing the crash that eventually comes after the sugar high.
I went from months and months of strict dieting where I told myself that I couldn’t have so many things that when the competition was over I had no reason not to eat them. Instead of listening to what my body really wanted to have- all of the good clean foods that properly fueled it in the off-season- I wanted what my competition diet had told me that I couldn’t have. See the difference there?
Once you let go of crazy dieting rituals and the idea of taboo foods, you stop putting pressure on yourself about all of the things that you’re not supposed to eat. There’s a release in that that allows you to listen to what your body really wants you to eat.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved competing this season. Pushing myself toward a goal, seeing how good I could be. Putting good clean fuel into my body and pairing it with intense workouts then watching them ignite into the figure that I brought to the stage for both of my competitions. There was a great sense of accomplishment in that.
But when I came off of that high and had to face my other goals that had fallen behind, I just got off-track. I can’t blame anyone but myself. I do like food, but again, it’s not about the food. Plus, if I really liked the food, if I really considered it such a good friend, I wouldn’t hide away while I ate it like I was ashamed of it, would I? That’s not how you treat a friend. I wouldn’t scarf down three cookies before the first one even made it to my stomach.
If you’re buying a candy bar on impulse while in line at the grocery store, even though you’re not even hungry, and then eating it before you even get out of the parking lot, that’s not a sign of a healthy relationship with food. There’s something missing there. You’re going to call me crazy and I’m not going to sound very much like a health coach when I say this, but if you really want it then buy it. Don’t eat it quickly while hiding in the parking lot though. Take it home and sit down at the table with a cup of tea or just a glass of water and really enjoy it.
I know many people like me that go through boughts of emotional eating and claim it’s because they like food and just can’t give it up instead of facing what’s really going on. I was re-listening to a lecture by Geneen Roth the other day. She’s written several books on emotional eating and runs several retreats a year. Her story is really interesting and I encourage you to check her out if you have a problem with emotional eating.
One thing struck me is the way she encourages you to eat. Treat food like a friend that you are enjoying. Don’t eat while distracted like when you’re driving or watching TV. Think of it this way, if you had a friend that you wanted to meet for lunch, then you got a phone call that you took and ended up spending the whole meal on the phone you wouldn’t be able to enjoy your friend (and your friend may not want to meet you for lunch again). That’s how it should be with food. Eat mindfully and enjoy what you are doing.
I’m going to try to put that into practice over the next few days of Christmas get-togethers with family. Instead of fearing the food, avoiding it, then end up circling back around and sneaking treats while no one is looking, I’m going to just enjoy them. I’m going to treat food like a good friend, get a plate of the stuff that I want, sit down and enjoy it- slowly- with my family. Then I’m going to enjoy the rest of the evening with my family and not think about the leftovers on the counter.
Life is going on around me while I’m obsessing about food and honestly it gets a little old sometimes. I know that my relationship with food has been skewed since I was young and I didn’t love who I was. There are many things that I need to face in order to be truly healthy, instead of just look good in sequins and heels in my competitions. These are things that I’m going to focus on in my coaching and work on in the off-season. I know I’m not going to solve them in a few days (or even a few months) so I’m not going to give myself a hard time for having some treats of the season. I’m just going to eat them and not beat myself up for them.
Then I’m going to move on and focus on creating a better relationship with food. I’m not perfect, but I really want to help as many people as I can break free from the emotional hold of eating. I encourage you to love yourself enough to join me this year.
I want to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Questions? Comments? Please let me know.