Ice cream is great, isn’t it?
What comfort can equal the cold, thick spoonsful of sweet cream on your tongue, the chewy chocolate nibs and cookie dough chunks that linger after each bite of deliciousness falls away? When we turn to cream and sugar during those emotionally-laden moments, we are acting not only from impulse, but from rational self-preservation; eating as a coping mechanism helps us. But when emotional eating becomes our primary method of handling our emotions, it also harms us.
Eating Our Emotions
Intuitive Eating asks us to treat our bodies as our trusted friends. Like the most intimate of companions, your body stays with you, shares with you, and tells you what it needs to thrive. Think of every occasion to eat as a lunch date with your body – a chance to listen closely to your body and find out what it needs.
When your body lets you know it has had enough to eat, yet you continue – mindlessly munching on pretzels, filling your plate with fourth helpings of eggplant parm, or scorching your mouth on cookies straight from the oven – take the opportunity to figure out what is driving your impulsive eating. Eating past full can be an indicator of a slew of emotions, and you can use your bingeing moments as a tool for reflection, and an impetus to find a healthy method of self-care.
Tribole and Resch offer a range of possible emotions you may find buried under your pint of ice cream. Do you find yourself overeating in response to any of these emotional states?
- The desire to self-reward
- Love, joy, and happiness
- Frustration and anger
- Anxiety and depression
- The desire to connect with others at a social function
- The need to “loosen the reins” on the pursuit of perfection
Putting on the Brakes
Do you think of food as the perfect time-out?
Food gives us an excuse to take a break that we’d otherwise feel guilty about giving ourselves.
The time we spend wasting — biding time until we are “supposed” to eat our next snack, dreaming about forbidden treats, making conditions with ourselves to ease the misplaced guilt of eating, trying to distract ourselves from the foods we really want — is time we could have used to take a much-needed, soul-nourishing break.
Tribole and Resch provide three ways to meet your needs without using food:
- Seek nurturance. Give yourself a real time-out to show yourself you are entitled to being taken care of. Try a new nail polish color, take a bath, or finally arrange that night out with friends.
- Deal with your feelings. Call a friend to vent. Meet with a therapist or a coach, like Rena. Write in a journal to process your emotions.
- Find a different distraction. Blast your favorite playlist and dance. Watch a movie. Read a book.
We binge as a form of resistance. When we silence our inner voices — those pesky messages that beg us to quit the PTA, lock ourselves in the bathroom during a challenging bedtime routine, or give up on the strict diet that is making us jittery with hunger — we can end up losing it in a tub of marshmallow fluff. When we assert our emotional and physical needs, however, and care for ourselves the way we would care for our loved ones, the desire to binge often disappears.
Geneen Roth writes, “Stopping when you’ve had enough food will lead to naming what you truly want. Instead of living your life crowded onto one note – food – you become a warm, rich chord, a whole symphony.” Life is so much more than food.
Purim is Not a Punishment!
It is 1 am on post-Purim and Penina is losing it. While she circles her dining room table, sorting through cellophane packages of mishloach manos and sweeping the crumbs off the floor, she rehashes the disappointing events of the day. She spent months coordinating the kids’ costumes and mishloach manos, and weeks planning the perfect tablescape and menu for the seuda, but no one seemed to appreciate it. The hollow pit in Penina’s stomach comes from her overstressed body and tired mind; she needs a break.
Though Penina is utterly exhausted, she does not do the best thing for her body at the time, which would be to leave the mess and go to bed. Instead, she noshes as she cleans up. She devours her toddler’s leftover strawberry hamantaschen, the fancy chocolate mousse cups that no one else touched, a package of wafers. The next morning, Penina wakes up bleary-eyed, resentful, and nursing an intense binge hangover. The self-care she gave herself in the form of sweet treats did not help, in fact, it made things unbearably worse.
Adar is a month of joy. But the pressures women feel in pursuit of Purim perfection, along with the abundance of “play foods” of which they may feel deprived during the year create a perfect storm for emotional eating. This month, while we spend the weeks leading up to Purim taking care of our families, let us also be sure to take care of ourselves.
Rena Reiser is a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She has changed the lives of countless women all over the world who have tried dieting, and are “fed up”. She helps women come to peace with both food and life by discovering and satisfying our real hunger. Listen to a demo class atmindovermunchies.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elisheva Blumberg is a freelance writer living in Edison, NJ. She has written the Frum Fashion Designer series for this publication. She can be reached at email@example.com.
What is Intuitive Eating?
It’s the anti-diet.
It’s the solution to the diet-binge cycle.
It’s a recovery.
Developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating (IE) is an evidence-based approach that relies on your body’s basic intuition to feed itself. While diets depend on external messages to determine our food intake, IE trusts in the body’s natural nutritional wisdom.
We are all born with the instinct to read our bodies’ signals. Just as our body will tell us when we need sleep, and how much of it we need, our body is programmed to tell us how to eat.
IE helps us reverse the damage the dieting culture has wreaked on our body’s natural wisdom. It leads us back to the basics. It may have been many years since you’ve lived fully in your body, but rest assured, you can return.
The Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating
Adapted from Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Respect your Fullness
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
- Respect your Body
- Exercise – Feel the Difference
- Honor your Health
Rena’s Tool of the Month
Use this survey as a tool to help you discover what your needs are, and how they can be more precisely met. Even if your needs cannot be met all the time, simply having the awareness of them will help you honor your feelings, and find other ways to cope.
There are no perfect answers; the goal is to aim for the highest level of self-care for your individual needs.
1. How much sleep do you get on average?
2. What time do you go to sleep and when do you wake up? (Research shows that sleep quality decreases during the early-morning hours, so a later bedtime may leave you fatigued despite sufficient sleep hours.)
3. How many hours do you work per week (including housework). How many hours are you “on”?
4. Do you have a sufficiently satisfying social outlet?
5. Are your eating habits chaotic? Do you sit down with your family for meals? Do you always eat on the go?
6. How often do you spend time outdoors?
7. How often do you say “yes” when you should be saying “no”?
8. Are you a perfectionist?
9. How much time do you spend on your spiritual life?
10. How much alcohol do you drink?
11. Do you feel guilty when not productive?
12. What do you do to relax? How much time do you spend relaxing?
13. Rate your current stress levels on a scale of 1-10.
14. How often do you engage in physical activities? Are they enjoyable?
(This article originally appeared in Olam Yehudi.)