I used to love the first week of school. All my supplies were new and organized, with no mess-ups in them yet, I was glad to see my friends, I was glad to have new classes.
A brand-new schoolyear was a great opportunity for me to be my brand-new self: the self who never procrastinates, the self who gets straight A’s, is popular, dresses great, whose team always wins, and who gets a personal best every time she has to do a rowing test.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t usually make it very long as the perfect student, rower, team captain, clarinet player, or the person who kept a neat and color-coded planner.
And eventually, my eating would go astray. Stress and busyness started taking their toll, and I’d start looking for ways to unwind and relax. Usually my solutions were to eat more sugar and watch more TV, pushing my bedtime later and later, and making the next day tougher and tougher.
In case you find yourself in a similar cycle, here are my guidelines for taking care of yourself when you’re stressed and busy so you don’t end up overeating late at night.
Your life is governed by rhythm. Sleeping vs waking, slow vs fast, night vs day. When you first get up in the morning, your body is ready to build up and go. Your body temperature rises and all the processes in your body that make up “metabolism” rev up. All that’s missing to win the day is fuel.
So if you don’t eat, your body goes into panic mode. It thinks you’re on a desert island and resources are limited.
It slows down your metabolism and thinks “conserve.” Any food you eat will be stored for later, your body won’t build muscle because it’s so calorically expensive, and your energy will turn down so you can conserve energy.
A general rule of thumb you can start experimenting with is eating every four hours. Eat your first meal within an hour (preferably 30 minutes) of waking, and then every four hours thereafter. Try it for two weeks and see if you notice a difference.
I have so many clients that get overwhelmed by food late at night. Without even realizing it, they’ll finish whole boxes of cookies and bags of chips.
Most of the time, these people don’t eat during the day; they’re rushing through carpools in the morning, crazy busy at the office, they run errands on their lunch hour, they’ve got so many activities after work, and then when they FINALLY get home they’re starving and their bodies overwhelm them into eating. (That’s why my very top tip is to make sure you’re eating in the first place.)
So they’re starving, their body overwhelms them into eating, and they’re stressed, so all they want to do is relax in front of the TV.
When it comes to digestion and metabolism, your attention matters more than you know. Your body needs time to evaluate what foreign substance you’re introducing into your digestive system. It needs time to evaluate how it tastes, whether you like it, whether there are toxins that need to be neutralized and done away with, whether there are nutrients available and how to direct them.
If you’re focused on reading emails while you’re eating, your attention is on emails, not food. Your body can’t process the food optimally, and it doesn’t get the memory or the experience of eating.
When that happens, your body can’t tell you to do better next time, all it can say is, “I’m HUNGRY! Eat more!”
So when you eat, give yourself some time to sit, think about what you’re eating, bless your food, eat with people you like, and give your brain and body a chance to get in on the experience.
When I need food to help me emotionally, I reach for sugar.
If I’m stressed out and overwhelmed and I want to feel good, sugar is my go-to.
Honestly, it works really well; it’s delicious, it feels decadent, I can remind myself how much I deserve tasty food.
And while I’m enjoying it, it really feels like the rest of the world fades away. I don’t have to worry about anything for the amount of time it takes me to eat this cake.
Maybe your thing isn’t sugar. Maybe you like chips, or alcohol, or something else.
Remember: you have a good reason for every habit you have around food.
When you can accept that as true, that you have a good reason for reaching for food, then we can start to explore what that reason is. What about food is so compelling?
For so many people, food is one of the only purely enjoyable things they have in their lives. They can relax and socialize while they eat. They eat with people they like. The work day is done and they can breathe easy.
If food is something you enjoy, what are some other ways to infuse your days with pleasure. Are there activities you enjoy? Throwing a baseball with your kid? Crafting? Calling a friend? Dancing? Working out?
It’s not about the food. It’s never about the food. But if food is the only activity where you can enjoy yourself, if it’s the only time you can relax, if it’s the only pleasure you have, no wonder you reach for it! If you can give yourself other points of pleasure reference, food won’t seem so powerful and overwhelming.
What do you think of these points? How do you handle back-to-school stress and emotional eating?
I have five more Chocolate sessions for the month of September. Would you like 30 minutes of focused time where we can explore any emotional eating issue you’re facing? Check it out here and let me know!