My Body, My Self 

emotions & eating

I get this all the time, actually. It comes from someone who reads MyBodyMySelf, comes to my talks, or has known me for a long time. Yes, I have this problem. I think I know why they are surprised.  We are talking about body image and eating behavior, and I am not carrying around a visible amount of extra fat, and I don’t have ribs sticking out of my back. So you can't see it. People say this to me because they believe what I am talking about is a visible problem. But the issue this blog addresses is mostly not visible. It is hidden inside our minds.

WHAT you eat in the form of food and diet plans has been the main focus of weight loss in our diet culture. The Amazon book warehouse has 64,000 current books on Health, Fitness and Dieting.  Most of these books discuss WHAT you eat -- the food itself. Each book is chock full of the nutritional objectives the author believes to be the newest or best way to combine foods so you can sculpt the shape of your body. 

The fact is, there are many ways to feed your amazing body. Our diet culture would have you believe that there is some magical, perfect combination of foods waiting for you to find by obsessing over food minutia such as calories, carbs, or points. But there isn't. Sixty years of diet culture has only shown us that there no "one and done" answer. All we have really learned from our diet culture is how to stop listening to our own body and mind around eating in order to listen to the newest diet craze.

Fifty percent of adult women and 90% of teenage girls will be on a diet this year. In our crazy, body-obsessed diet culture, these dieters hope to control the size and shape of their bodies by controling their food intake.   

Diet history
'Being on a diet' was a relatively new concept in the 1970s, and dieting has mushroomed out of control in the last 50 or so years. It started with the Grapefruit Diet and Weight Watchers. Then along came The Scarsdale Diet, Jenny Craig, the low-fat food craze.  We then had the Zone Diet, the Southbeach Diet, The Biggest Loser DIet and TV show, the gluten-free craze, and The Paleo Diet. All of these diets made food-restricting seem like 'normal' behavior.  

'Staying awake at the plate' is about eating mindfully, more fully aware of your emotions, your behaviors, and your motivations around eating.  It’s about living in the present moment with your eating behavior rather than worrying about the past or obsessing about the future.  
Every idea we’re exploring in MyBodyMySelf centers around becoming aware of your eating behavior and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for you. Mindful eating is what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habits, defines as a keystone habit – a certain habit that’s actually more important than other habits because it transforms everything around it. Today's discussion explores the large and small ways mindfulness can transform your eating. 

Emotions and eating go together like peas and carrots, especially in our culture over the last 60 or so years. A woman’s own relationship with her body, eating, and her emotional life can be very complicated.  This relationship is unique to each woman; we each have our own pieces of the emotional-food-use puzzle discussed in this section.  A women who struggles with too much mindshare spent on food, eating, and her body may be only slightly aware of what is going on in her mind.  Much of the emotional involvement is going on below the surface. My hope is that you can see yourself in some of the following discussion of food and mood, so you can become aware when your own emotions are engaged around eating and food.  Once aware of what you are feeling, you have the option to choose another way to be around food, rather than have eating and food mixed up with coping with or avoiding your emotional life. 

Why is a chocolate chip cookie so irresistible?  Does it have some magic spell that glazes over your eyes and has you forget that eating too many of them can make your pants tighter? Well, actually, yes it does.  

For most of us having trouble resisting a cookie at certain times, we’re using the cookie – substitute your own food here -- for another purpose. We are trying re-gain some sort of emotional balance. Just as your body will heal a cut, so will your body seek mental balance to preserve a steady emotional state.  The pleasure from tasting something delicious works as a temporary balm from emotional stress.  Neuroscientists have shown that the pleasure centers of your brain light up from a chocolate chip cookie in a similar pattern to how your brain would light up on drugs. 

Women who spend a large chunk of their lives weighing themselves, counting calories or carbs, and filtering much of their life experience through their body size or their weight could be using their preoccupation with food and their weight as a distraction from their real emotional life.  Have you experienced women who are completely obsessed with diets or exercise? These women literally cannot focus on anything else? Their worry about body and eating -- often healthy eating -- can take up an incredible amount of mindshare. This obsessive use of food and eating often distracts them from other aspects of their lives that would be authentic and nourishing. A woman who thinks that her life will be perfect at a certain weight or dress size might be substituting the focus on their body and food for other issues in their lives. 

Many women spend the healthy years we have being alive distracted from living because we feel shame about our bodies. Many women engage in a tremendous amount of self-judgment and self-punishment around food and weight. Even Oprah, one of the most successful women on the planet, probably goes to bed feeling guilty because of what she ate that day. Time spent being disappointed in yourself can be a remarkable time-sink in a person’s life.  Research shows that the average women spends 31 years of her life dieting. How much time have you spent in past decades telling yourself that your body was flawed? Look at pictures of yourself from those olden days; do you now realize how wonderful you actually looked? From an objective vantage point, you can appreciate the smile on your younger face and look in your younger eyes, and not hone in on just how thin (or not) your legs looked.