Monday, August 25, 2014

Stress and Dieting

It's no secret that I finally lost weight when my life shifted to having less responsibilities - I started my last diet just as our youngest graduated from high school and shortly afterward left for college.  I was able to focus on myself and be a little more selfish with what food I allowed in the house - I can be mean to my husband and deny him treat food, but I always had snacks on hand for my kids and their friends...which of course I also indulged in on a regular basis.  While losing weight is hard, I wasn't dealing with a lot of other stressors that made me struggle with how I reacted to them, so I was able to stay on track for most of the nearly two years that it took me to get to where I wanted to be. 

Over the years since my initial big weight loss, I've had some stressful times, from running injuries, to my mom's cancer diagnosis, to various other issues.  And I've coped with sugar.  Sure, I've coped in healthier ways as well, but my first instinct is usually to reach for something sweet, which of course leads to guilt, gain, and regret.  As time has gone by, it's gotten a little easier to not always follow through on my stress suger eating, so I was a little surprised (and disappointed) to discover that last week, as we drove home after the second adreneline-filled self-defense class, where I'd fought off my "attacker" for what felt like several minutes (most women seemed to get away within 20 or 30 seconds), I wanted SUGAR in a bad way.  

Luckily for me, I don't keep much in the way of sugary snacks in the house anymore.  Self-preservation, you know.  Although, I was a little ticked at myself for not having a secret stash of candy somewhere in the house - but this is exactly why I do this - so I have to work harder, and think a little more, before I manage to get my hands on something that I know I don't really need to eat.

Now, this stressful situation was situational.  And short-lived.  It wasn't an ongoing thing, like having a family member with a serious illness, or other out-of-(your)-control instances.  Which made me wonder, are we (the royal) being unkind to ourselves when, on top of dealing with something really stressful, we practically self-flagellate after we self-soothe with food?  Is there a time when it's OK to eat the sugar?  I'm not saying go on an all-out binge, but at THAT moment - you know, the one where you just need something familiar to feel calm for an instance - can it be OK?  Can we (the royal) ever be as nice to ourselves in stressful circumstances as we would be to a friend or family member in the same situation?

I'm curious - what is your take on this?  Can you self-soothe with sugar (or whatever your comfort food of choice is) and truly be OK with it?

24 comments:

  1. I used too and that's when I gained a lot of weight. It was in the months after my dad died where I seeked comfort in sugar (and other food) and that ended in my heaviest weight ever.

    When I read this post I was thinking what I do know if stressful things happen and to my surprise I realized I don't deal with that anymore with having sugar (or other food) I might take a glass of wine after a stressful day but thinking about it, I never take food anymore.

    I do think that if you self-soothe with sugar or other food and it doesn't happen on a daily base, you can trule be ok with it. Because you might just need it at that moment.

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    1. I would equate a glass of wine after a stressful day with a bag of coconut M&Ms (do they even make those anymore??) - something to help you wind down and relax. You are right about not doing it on a daily basis, though. That would definitely lead to trouble (as we are both all too aware of, sadly).

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  2. for me the answer is NO (SALT!!!!) only because of how I feel the next day.
    BUT sporadically? occasionally?
    Im ok dragging the next day.

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  3. I'm fascinated that you are writing and asking about this as I was thinking about this very thing yesterday as I lay on the beach wanting potato chips for no apparent reason. So I lay there trying to figure out why that thought had come in my head and wouldn't go away. There were potato chips available if I was willing to get up and walk up to the snack bar - but the $1.75 price tag for a tiny individual size bag saved me. Plus, I am working very hard to manage stress as I learned in my workshop that it is one of the big keys to weight management without dieting. However, we are not divine - we are mere imperfect humans and if I am in a quite stressful situation ultimately there will be times I will give in. If the wine bottle is already open it's super easy to grab it... if the bag of candy or chips are already open in the house, it's easier to eat until done. Also, when my husband is around, I am very much less likely to react with food because he would probably say something about me eating an entire bag of chips you know? So, for me, the answer is yes with an exception. That exception is that I am able to keep from self flaggelating if I have to go out to get it because it limits the portion. Lots of times my laziness kicks in and I just won't do that (and I have 2 convenience stores 1/10th of a mile from my house - literally right around the corner) which really shows me "oh, you were reacting emotionally to something and food is not the answer."

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    1. It's funny how the little things (like the price) can save us in the moment, which in turn gives us time to think about the reasoning behind the craving...and try to actively manage stress in a better way.

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    2. LOL, laziness has saved me many times as well, Helen. In fact, when I find myself actually making a trip out to get something that's a signal that I am in very deep waters.

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  4. For me, no, it is not all right to give in to a stress-induced sugar craving, because at those times, one of anything will not satisfy. It will only get worse and potentially propel me into an all out binge. Plus I can see myself magnifying stresses just to allow myself treats. Yep, I am a true food addict. I am getting better at not feeling guilty (cuz I do give in sometimes) - I try to focus on making sure my next meal is healthy-ish and yummy and filling.

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    1. Sounds like you know yourself and your reactions very well, Jeannie - kudos! :)

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  5. I had to say something about Helen's comment: "Also, when my husband is around, I am very much less likely to react with food because he would probably say something about me eating an entire bag of chips you know?"

    For some reason I don't usually over eat or even think about eating a whole pizza by myself if Tony is home - but for some reason, left to my own devices I go back to the thinking and eating I did when I was a single parent and used to eat a ton of stuff after Hannah went to bed. So crazy!

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    1. I used to eat like crazy when Jeff would go out of town, so I can count that as a huge step in progress because I don't do that anymore.

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  6. In my mind, I want the answer to be 'yes!'...but I'm accepting now that the brain chemistry changes caused by sugar...that start the cravings, make it hard to stop the downward spiral. If I could control myself easily with sugar, I'd likely still be eating it. I can't. Especially with chocolate (even the 'good, healthy' dark chocolate kind.) It's a trigger food for me. But, each person is different. If you can have one or two bites of a sugar-laden food to self soothe, and stop right there; bravo! If you honestly keep eating a little more, a little more...or find that it keeps you mini craving for several days afterwards...then perhaps not. Good luck deciding!

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  7. Nope, I skip the guilt completely and only suffer regret when the splurge wasn't worth the extra calories. To me, there's a huge difference between having a teaspoon of chocolate chips and parking myself on the sofa with a bag of Snicker's bars. One's a legitimate (and temporary) stress-reducer and the other is just a fantasy. :)

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    1. I love this Cammy. I think you said in a few sentences what I wanted to say in my long-ass paragraph up there lol!

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    2. Ooh, that bag of Snicker's - what a fantasy!

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  8. I was blog surfing and came across your blog, and I am so glad I did. This post hit me right in the right spot today! I'm working right now myself to change my lifestyle for a more healthier one, and dropping a few pounds at the same time.
    I can't keep cheat junk food in the house because its too much of a temptation, my biggest temptation is Pepsi, it's my nector of the Gods, but also my biggest curse because all that sugar is what helped me gain the weight I have. I allow myself one cheat day a week where I eat any snacks or foods I have been craving, and for me I need that day. I don't over do it, but thats the day I drink my pepsi, or have a slice of pizza whatever I am craving to get me through the next 6 days:)

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    1. I'm right with you on not keeping cheat foods in the house - a friend thinks I'm crazy for choosing to go out for frozen yogurt over having a half gallon of ice cream in the freezer (cost-wise), but for me, that once-per-week trip to Yogurtland is much cheaper in many ways than the grocery-store-priced ice cream.

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  9. My goal is to never to self soothe, whether it be sugar, protein or carb. I distinguish having a "planned" treat at a birthday party or other celebration as different than eating out of stress or emotional pain. For me, it's the eating to soothe that brought me to obesity.

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  10. Well, I have been thinking about this a lot. You know, the fight or flight response we naturally have to stress or adrenaline is never to eat. You don't say "Oh, a bear - let me grab a snack". No - the idea is to move or hide. Granted, we aren't fighting off bears, but it does make me wonder exactly where the eating to relieve stress comes from.

    That being said, food is comforting and many times we were comforted as children with hugs and food. That probably built pathways.

    I stress eat, but I usually don't beat myself up anymore. It just happens. That helps keep stress eating from becoming a guilt binge.

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    1. I got a good laugh from your comment...first, at the "let me grab a snack" and then realizing that's what the bear was thinking! :)

      I didn't want a snack while I was defending myself during class - it was later on that the SUGAR craving set in. Maybe once I'd come down from the adrenaline rush?

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  11. I had to abstain from all grains and sugar to truly be food sober. I had to be 100% honest that I "used" food to sooth. Once I faced that fact and abstained from those foods, I found I could loose, maintain weight and feel very, very young again. Even better when I was young. I'm 48 now and feel 28.

    Life is better feeling my feelings rather than using sugar. Less pain, no migraines, good sleep, stable moods, stable & normal weight. All while going completely through menopause. I get support for emotional eating as well as keep tabs on my weight. Feeling my feelings was easier (and less painful in the long run) than continuing to numb out with food. Great topic and good luck in your next steps. It took me 40 years to accept it. It's never too late!

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  12. Sugar is my biggest friend; however,she is also my biggest enemy. She soothes me when I'm feeling anxious/stressed but when I'm with her too much she makes me feel guilty, sad & almost "hung over". Over the last 5 months, I've decided to cool off my relationship with her - not totally, but we're not as close as we used to be. Ha Ha. When I'm feeling anxious, nothing seemed to soothe me better than some my home baking [why can't I have a hobby like knitting] or a few scoops of ice cream. I'm almost an all or nothing type of gal when it comes to sugar but over many, many years I've learned that denial of treats just leads me to have one big sugary binge. And we all know how we feel after that - both physically & emotionally rotten.

    So, my pal sugar & I are trying to learn how to live together peacefully.

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  13. I think self-soothing with food is okay, if you can indulge and not let it spiral into a binge. My problem is figuring out when things are stressful enough to give in to the craving and when I need to buck up. Stress is such a subjective thing, when you're in the midst of it, that I play these mind games with myself figuring out how much stress is enough stress to warrant the splurge.

    I am getting better about not beating myself up about it, but I feel that if I was capable of monitoring my stress-eating habits, I would be capable of controlling ALL my eating issues, and that is just not the case, sadly.

    Thanks for the post, Shelley, it gave me something to ponder...

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  14. Great post Shelley! Just the other day I was hosting a family party and things got really hectic for me. My daughter had left a half-eaten cupcake on the counter and when I saw it, I thought "I just need a couple of bites to calm me down and then I'll be fine". So I took two bites and a deep breath and carried on (my wayward son). Eating the sugar sort of gave me a mental smack and I was able to calm down enough to keep going. I don't know if it was the right thing to do or not, but it did seem to help. And I didn't worry about two bites - if it had been two whole cupcakes, yeah that would have been a problem.

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  15. This was a really great thought provoking post. Of course you can see that by the conversation in the comments. For me,no more self flagellation for eating, whether for happy or sad times. Oddly enough, I believe that the way I originally gained all my weight was anxiety eating. It seemed like once I realized that, I no longer needed to eat when I was anxious. I still like to eat when I'm happy-- like now : )

    I do get upset with myself when I eat too much and am over-stuffed. This post, along with Helen's,have given me food for thought about my future relationship with food.

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