I work in education. This means that this, this month of May, is the most stressful time of the year for me (the second most stressful being the start of school). I gain pounds almost every May and lose them in June. This is unhealthy. It is even more irritating.
Buuuuutttttt . . . I know what to do!!!!!
Buuuuutttttt . . . I am an emotional eater.
I eat my stress. Especially when my stress is compounded.
BUT, do you know what is different this year???? I NOTICED THIS PATTERN! This has happened every year now for 11 years. ELEVEN YEARS. Now, I know what you are thinking . . shouldn’t I have noticed this before now? UH, YEAH. Only, I guess I did – I just had the mindset that it is something to endure – not something to prepare for. So, now I am at the end of this “most stressful season” and realizing this change in mindset gives me the motivation to identify stress sooner so I can create strategies to push through it in a healthy way instead of in the Bonnie way, which clearly does not work.
I have tried several diets and ways of eating and my success boils down to the following things:
- I have to like what I am eating. I do not do well if I have to “get used” to the way something tastes.
- I know what to eat. My issue is one of emotional eating. I know what to eat and when to eat it, I don’t always follow my own directions because I can be bratty that way.
- I know planning is e v e r y t h I n g . . . .
- If I get too strict with myself I will rebel against myself. Ha. I am such a BRAT.
What do I do with this information??? Well, first, I wait to really delve into a plan to conquer the stress eating until after the last day of school or #4 will be a factor. But THEN I will be back with a plan. I can, between now and next week, take notes in my planner of what is triggering stress for me. Research research research. That and make water a priority. I can do those two small things until I am in a position to do some bigger things to get myself back on track!
How do you, my reader, redirect your sugar monster (or whatever type of monster your emotional eater self is) when you begin to feel stressed or anxious???? I could use some ideas 🙂
When my ex-husband went to rehab for the second time, our closet became MY closet. It was a beautiful walk in deal – not huge but not tiny. I had taken the dimensions and designed shelving and spacing and it had been rebuilt just for us. I cannot explain why exactly this closet became the symbol of my reclaiming of my life, but it did. I cleaned it out and donated everything I knew I would never wear again. I organized it by style and color. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place. When he returned from rehab after this particular stint he moved home for a couple of months. I was so emotionally attached to the closet space that it upset me greatly to think of having to rearrange this masterpiece to accommodate his clothing again. . . I wasn’t ready. It was like the closet was a symbol of my life if it were put together, neat and tidy. Adding anything would mess with the organizational system I had created. Perhaps it was also a representation of my giving over complete trust in him to love me, as if moving into my closet was allowing him to move back into my heart. (Cheesy, corny, I am an English teacher/librarian, remember??? It is how I am wired.) Also, this closet had been where I would go to cry so my kids couldn’t hear me. It was a safe space. I wanted my marriage to work and I wanted our family to be a strong one with love oozing all over the place, but I was still heartbroken when he returned; I needed time to heal with him and find a way to be with him and not on the defensive from him. I had an absolute come apart over this closet thing. He was very accommodating, if not understanding. The trauma of recovery isn’t for the faint of heart. It affects everyone in the household – not just the one with the addiction.
Now, when I say this closet thing is a big deal to me, I mean it is a BIG DEAL TO ME. When I started dating after the divorce I sorta started judging each man by whether I could see myself allowing him a fraction of my closet space EVER. Honestly, I am pretty sure I used this to give myself an excuse to not date because how would I really know after a date or two anyway if they were worthy of closet space???? But, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I really did know after a date or two that the date would never be a man I could share my sacred closet space aka LIFE with. Who knows. This was one of those evaluation practices that ran on gut intuition and not facts or an evaluation of boxes a man’s qualities might check off of my “perfect match” list.
At this moment, five years or so from the morphing of the closet into a coping mechanism to deal with the pulling apart of my life, my family, and three years or so since the divorce and my re-entrance into the dating world, I am still very fond of my closet but it does not hold the same uber significance for me that it once did. My post-divorce house was built in 1909 and (I assume thanks to the needs of some previous owners) I have a nice size walk-in closet here as well. It is large enough that I am turning part of it into a very small (tiny) office space – to write and begin podcasting. I love my closet. I like that I have shoes in color order, by season. I like that my clothes follow a ROYGBIV pattern and are all facing the same way, grouped by type. I like my neat stacks of sweaters and tshirts. You see where I am going. My house can be in utter chaos and the first place I straighten and get put back together is this closet. My closet is still sometimes my safe space. It calms me and makes me feel safe in chaos. It just makes me HAPPY. And, thanks to embracing vulnerability, it is now nothing more than this.
After doing a great deal of research, I chose to eat a low carb/keto type lifestyle as a way to lose weight and get healthy. After much research I found that this way of eating:
- Reduces inflammation – this is the one thing that keeps me coming back. I have -0- cartilage in one knee and when I am eating low carb/keto my knee does not hurt me at all. When I am eating an average amount of carbs I am taking ibuprofen all day to relieve the pain.
- Improves energy and sleep
- Improves brain function
- Loss of the irritating feeling of being hungry
- Improves mood overall
I also made this choice knowing it will need to be a lifelong lifestyle for me. Once my body is used to burning fat instead of sugar it would be a difficult transition back to burning glucose. Choosing to eat this way for the rest of my life, not just for as long as it takes me to lose weight, has also made a difference in my approach. I have researched and gathered an arsenal of recipes and go to snacks to keep my healthy and low carb.
Weaning myself off of sugar is never easy. After birthday cake it takes me MONTHS to get back on track. I just love sugar! So, to start, I just allow myself to eat whatever so long as it contains few carbs. I also up my water intake. Drinking a ton of water is very important on this diet. In the next week or two I work on keeping my carbs under 20. After about 3 weeks of this I am in control of my cravings enough to begin to work on also looking at my fat, protein, and calories. I eat low carb veggies, healthy fats (like avocado), and protein (limiting dairy).
When I get back on my bandwagon of keto living I use ketone strips to confirm I am burning fat instead of sugar. I will track it on occasion to be sure I am staying there and I use the CarbManager app to track my progress and my macros (carbs, calories, fat, protein).
When I get to the 4th week of a low carb way of living I find I am no longer feeling hunger the way I am when I am eating carb laden foods. I can go longer periods of time without eating and I love this. I do not like feeling hungry and I also do not like eating several times a day. I can eat lunch and dinner only and lose weight and feel great. My blood pressure and blood work has come back excellent for the past two years of mostly eating this way as well.
I have mentioned that I do not like to feel out of control. So, that moment when I realized that regardless of my herculean efforts to control my life and that these efforts were really just to soothe my anxiety and really did not have much bearing on my situation at all – well, it kinda freaked me out.
Now, I knew I could not control my kids. I mean, have you ever met at toddler? All you can do is set parameters and cross your fingers you will be there when those boundaries are breached so you can limit the chaos or damage. I knew I couldn’t control my then husband, I knew I could not plan away his alcohol addiction. But, that does not mean that I didn’t try.
For a period of time I made it my priority to spend time with him and grow our relationship. I made sure he could see evidence of my devotion and strove to create a deeper friendship between us. I was careful to have alternate beverages in the house. I planned social outings with friends and we went on vacations. I took care of all of the kid responsibilities so he could be devoted to work. We were not a perfect family, but I worked hard to build a life that would make us all happy and content. I wanted him to have the family that was worth fighting for.
Yeah. It doesn’t work like that.
Addiction really doesn’t care. We could have been the royal family with the most supportive members and the most money and the most fun activities planned all the time and addiction would infiltrate anyway. His addiction was not about me or our kids or our family. I had heard that addiction was a disease, but really, what did that mean? Well, now I know. Like cancer, it can strike anyone in any family. And, only the one who is in the disease can engage in the treatment for it. The kids and I couldn’t do it for him. And, the craziness of alcoholism or any addiction really, is that no matter how much the addicted person may WANT to be free of it, it just isn’t that simple. Sigh.
I remember very vividly the day I realized that I no longer wanted to live the life I found myself in. I have never felt so alone. We were at a family reunion and I was surrounded by my family, my extended family, and my extended extended family. Now, all that comes to mind is Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby, “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” I was surrounded by my people and I was alone. I was trapped inside this knowledge of what was happening to my husband and, as a result, how miserable and helpless I felt and how the chaos was affecting our kids. At the time, my ex didn’t even realize the insidiousness of the alcohol and it wasn’t something I was able to explain with enough clarity for him to understand. It was like seeing this tsunami approaching, knowing the destruction it will bring, knowing I needed to prepare and guard against it, and not at all having the ability to do so. I was not in control.
I did not leave at that time. I chose to stay. But, this meant finding a way to crawl out of the misery and helplessness I was feeling. In order to do this I had to concede that I had NO control over this situation, I could not control his alcohol consumption. I could not best friend him out of it, or love him out of it. I could choose to live in anger or I could choose to live in love. I chose love. Love of my family, love of my husband, and most importantly, love of ME. Disclaimer: I am human. I did not stay in that place of love 24/7. How could I? I am not a sitcom mom and as much as I really, really want to most days, I do not live in a Hallmark movie. I was living in the Lifetime movie channel where things are messy and not pretty. I made mistakes, I got angry. I lashed out. But, my ultimate goal when I woke up every day was to see my life and my people through a love paradigm. This is still my goal. How could I have regret if I loved my way through the difficult times instead of allowing bitterness to reign?
Now, in reaction to this epiphany what ensued was, in all reality, an Escape Plan. You know, when the idea that you might be ok with divorce? The Escape Plan begins the moment you allow this thought to even enter your mind. When this happened I began spending my time with one foot in my marriage and one foot out the door, preparing myself to live on my own. I explained this to myself, at the time, as an effort to prepare myself for anything, as if my preparedness would stave off the ugliness of alcoholism and keep divorce at bay.
Also, doesn’t work this way either.
But, in all of this I did learn the very deep and honest truth: I am the only one I can control. That’s it. Just me. So, I am the only one who can create a life I love, find the happiness I desire, and live the sort of life my kids can be proud of me for. Ya’ll. THIS was my turning point. My life is MINE. It was at this low point, I began living like it.
I am thankful for these very trying years. I learned a lot about the world of addiction and through that I learned very important skills for a successful life. I learned to set boundaries. I learned to choose happiness on days when I really, really didn’t want to. I learned that spending time for myself is necessary and not a luxury to feel guilty for. I learned that I needed to discover my convictions and take the steps toward living them. I learned about codependency and how this is not so nearly as romantic a concept as I once thought. I learned that I still love art, music, and being outdoors. I learned that playing with my kids was more important than cleaning my house. I learned the importance of having a confidant or two to confide in. I learned the beauty of counseling.
I learned that even when I am angry with God, He still loves me. He did not give up on me while I was throwing the ultimate angry temper tantrum and giving Him the silent treatment. He waited patiently and showed me in my still moments that He was still there, in the eye of the storm, guiding me.
In my entire life, my biggest dream was to be a wife and mother. I had not thought much beyond this, really. And the crazy thing in losing part of this dream, has been to discover that THERE IS SO MUCH MORE. Oh so much more to life and so many more dreams to be had.
Have you been through a difficult time that taught you something wonderful about yourself? I want to hear about the wonderful thing! I want to hear about how you changed and grew from your experience. I will be featuring these interviews on a podcast I am creating. This project will focus on stories of everyday women with inspiration to share from beauty that sprung from chaos.
I HATE FEELING OUT OF CONTROL. I think the first time I felt out of control I was with a college boyfriend, whom I knew had been cheating on me with MANY other girls, who began flirting with some girls at a sandwich shop. Actually he may have just talked to them. Regardless, I grabbed his sandwich and stomped on it. I am not kidding. I STOMPED ON HIS SANDWICH. I was immediately embarrassed and panicky. What was that????? That, ladies, was my first firefly, lol.
Now I see that 1) I should never have stayed in this relationship because I was the only one in it and 2) I should choose my friends, and my boyfriends, WISELY. People who love you and get you do not inspire you to stomp on their sandwiches.
Do you have a tribe??
I am blessed with the most incredible tribe. My people love me, call me out, inspire me to achieve at higher levels, and generally be a better person. I have several friends who constantly leave me in awe of their accomplishments and their drive to reach for MORE. These women are powerful in their fields and loving in their homes. I admire and respect these women and want to learn from them. I have heard more than one inspirational personality state that choosing friends who exude the qualities you wish to possess or who achieve at the level you would like to achieve, is critical for your personal growth. I must agree with this. However, I don’t actually remember choosing my people. I just naturally gravitate toward women who inspire me, have qualities I lack (but need), that I respect, and that I feel good around (laughing is key to life, ya know). My people have my back and they get me. They forgive me when I am irrational and they are patient with me when I am emotional. Having these people in my life grounds me and gives me the support I need so I do not go mental!
In addition to having a group of girlfriends who lift you up, if you are dating after divorce, pay attention to the men you are choosing to spend your time with. Do not get caught up in the old dating game. My father once told me, when I was dating as an adult in my 20s, that I should be careful who I spend my time with because I may not always be able to control who I fall in love with. Surrounding myself with the sort of people I know are good for me is far more important than I may realize. He was so right. Isn’t that sort of the premise of choosing friends who push you to be a better person?? Surround yourself with those who make you better? This same premise should apply to the men we choose to date as well.
So, why do we, as women, so often choose to spend time with men who do not do the same for us as our girlfriends? Shouldn’t the person we choose to spend our lives so intimately with be chosen, at the very least, with the same standards we use to choose our friends?
Dating, after divorce, has been different than dating in my 20s. It is not that everything is jaded, it is that I now understand with an incredibly heightened awareness of how important it is, how non-negotiable it is, to find someone who will be my best friend and my most enthusiastic cheerleader.
Once, in Sunday School, not many years after marriage, our class was asked who our biggest supporter was. Who did we think supported and believed in us more than anyone else? I responded: my mother. Most of the other members of the class chose their spouse. It was not my then husband’s fault that he did not fill this role for me. We were just very different people and we did not click on such an intimate level. I think back on this and see with glaring clarity the holes he and I left in each other. We did not know it then, of course; this is the bittersweetness of hindsight.
I have spent the past couple of years sort of dating and learning more about myself, eventually arriving at a place where I am happy and content on my own. So much so that I had resigned myself to this solitary life for a bit. If I were to ever enter a romantic relationship again it would have to be something spectacular. I will not settle for anything less. After much reflection on what I did not have in my marriage, what I thought I wanted in a significant other, and what I knew I needed in someone who was to be my life partner, I called on a friend to pray for him with me. I set my standards to a level that was only attainable by God. And, I couldn’t be happier. I am confident that some day, God will lead me to this man, whomever he may be, even if it is not anytime soon.
Choose to spend time with people who will have your best interests at heart and will push you to succeed at what you are working to achieve. I don’t mean for you to surround yourself with “yes” people. I mean choose those who believe enough in you to believe in your dreams, whether they understand or want the same things or not.
Spend time with people who will lovingly call you out when you are wrong, or cannot see the forest for the trees, being completely irrational, or are just needing a little nudge back to the sunny side of the street. Choose friends who weather conflict and will grow with you in your friendship.
Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself.
Choose to spend time with friends you can model on your way to success.
Choose people you feel SAFE with. Those you can trust and with whom you feel safe to laugh and cry with WILL NOT inspire sandwich stomping. This is the most important thing. . .
Set your standards high, ladies.
Sign up below to get an email when this blog has a new post:
I am in a dark room, no – a dark one room CABIN, in the woods. It is a beautiful sunny day outside but in this cabin I cannot see anything. It is completely dark with the windows shuttered and the door closed. Inside this cabin there is one tiny, beautiful firefly, blinking slowly as it flits around the room. I need to see, so I am chasing this little firefly, trying to capture it – harness it’s light, as it avoids me with clever zigs and zags. . . and I am completely ignoring the obvious. I had only to OPEN. THE. DOOR. to let in a blinding light, capable of lighting up the whole room.
The firefly is hope. It was the hope I had for my marriage and for the dream of family I had built upon it. The outside is all of the rest, all of the possibilities I refused to allow myself to see because I would not let go of this one hope in this one dream. This is fatal optimism. I engaged in such a fierce hope that my dream would materialize that I could not see all of these other wondrous possibilities just on the other side of that door. To me, opening that door meant giving up. Never been good at that.
In not giving up, I encountered so much more hurt than was necessary. I was slowly strangling my ME-ness by focusing so hard on this ever shrinking possibility, on this unavoidable necessary ending. This optimism that – Things will be ok! We will work this out! I can force my life to conform to my design! – it about killed me. Ok, not really, but it did cause depression, anxiety, and a loss of creativity in me that I was afraid I might never recover. I allowed my sunny side natural tendency toward optimism to blind me, to place me inside a box. I hid inside it, convincing myself that in being positive, in being hopeful for what I wanted, I could somehow manifest this desire into a reality. My Pollyanna was frantically chasing that tiny firefly.
I sacrificed my creativity to the pursuit of this lightning bug. And my creativity is my life force.
Do you know when it returned to me? It reappeared when I began considering other possible roads to happiness and joy and a contentedness that I so desperately needed. I found a family counselor who had experience/knowledge of the destructive nature of alcoholism and its affect on family and I saw her just about every week. She helped coax me out of the darkness and into the light. My creative spark sprung to life once again.
I opened my door and focused on what would bring me joy without considering the context of my current circumstance. I did dream big – I mean BIG. It only took one tiny, tiny step to propel me forward: I had to acknowledge that the possibilities I had not wanted to consider were/are actually possible. I did not WANT to find my happiness on another path, but it was and is possible. IT IS HAPPENING. I covered miles and miles of ground toward my big dreams once I allowed myself the possibility that happiness could be realized in the paths I had once been so dead set against instead of the one I was so dead set ON.
Most importantly, I conceded that I was not giving up on the commitment I made in my marriage, I had lived it out.
When I chose to move in a direction that was healthier for me the world opened and welcomed me back (and delivered transformative surprises too!)
If you are contemplating an ending, I have a book to recommend – Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud was worth my time (times 3). Dr. Cloud explains the “necessary” part in a way that helped me make peace with my own endings. Your ending may not be a marriage, but a career, or a big move you would not consider before. Change in any form comes with the ending of something.
It is ok for endings to be necessary.
It is ok to redefine life’s dreams, it is not ok to stop dreaming.
Oh, and choose to open doors. Stop chasing fireflies.
Yes, seriously. I went for vitamins, specifically probiotics, first.
I had just moved into the house my ex and I had renovated to be our forever home and I had also just asked him to leave for what would begin the downward spiral through his recovery and our marriage’s end. It was a lot to deal with. For the first time in my adult life I was responsible for every aspect of the household, from finances to maintenance, and every aspect of parenting – from sending our oldest to college as well as managing the two teenagers at home (not to mention the anxiety over my ex’s health and recovery).
I was so overwhelmed that I could not fathom making big lifestyle changes and I was so overwhelmed I HAD to make big lifestyle changes. In the stress of living in what felt like a silent battleground full of eggshells and unhappiness, I had turned to food to hide from my feelings. Food insulated me from dealing with the chaos around me and eating gave me an action I could take to feel like I was doing something about it. I could have what I wanted for a few minutes when I made a choice of something yummy to eat. UGH. When my life spun out of control I realized I needed to get my health under control for me, for my kids, and for our future.
Around this time a long time friend had started a supplement business. These products, she told me, were originally formulated to help diabetics regulate sugar and sugar cravings but it was found that these products also helped people who were not diabetic to reduce sugar cravings and feel better. Sign me up. Sugar is my love and my poison. This sounded too good to be true but also sounded like minimal effort on my part to possibly get me started toward a healthier life.
So, I spent the money. And, honestly, I will be taking these supplements forever more. They make me feel better, they reduce sugar cravings, and they also make my moods more – oh I don’t know – predictable I suppose.
I do not tell you this to sell this product, though I do believe in it, I tell you this to share that really paying attention to my gut health ended up being the critical first step in my weight loss and emotional well being journey. It helped because the probiotics really did make me feel better but it also helped because psychologically I saw it as a step toward optimal health and believing I was making a choice to be healthy pushed me to make the next best decision for my health. It fixed my mindset on health as an attainable goal.
You can choose to take a step toward better health no matter how small. A step is a step is a step.
As it turns out, gut health and its connection to the brain is a real thing. Here is a brief article on it from Harvard Medical if you are interested. And, here is another one from Psychology Today that explains how your gut health affects cravings.
*This is my personal health journey. I hope you find inspiration to discover your own health journey. I am not a medical professional, just an everyday person! My story is meant to inspire you to begin your own journey, and to encourage you make the decisions you find are best for your body and for your life, which may not necessarily be the same as mine.