Eating Your Way Through Tough Times

With all the tragic events that have taken place over the past few weeks and months, like me, you may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, from disbelief, sadness and despair to helplessness, anger and anxiety.

You may have also noticed yourself more frequently reaching for a pint of ice cream, bag of chips or box of cookies to alleviate these strong emotions.

This is totally okay.

Eating sometimes for emotional reasons is part of normal eating.

It’s simply an attempt to take care of yourself—a coping strategy when times are tough.

The important thing is to not beat yourself up over it. 

It’s much more helpful to view each experience as an opportunity to learn more about yourself—to expand your self-awareness and cultivate more wisdom.

Doing so will help you approach future emotional eating episodes with a greater understanding of your true needs and a larger set of tools for fulfilling them.

Pause and Reflect
When you find yourself turning to food to regulate uncomfortable emotions, hit pause and ask yourself:

What need am I trying to fulfill with this food?

Maybe it’s comfort, pleasure, relief, distraction or connection.

Once you’ve identified what it is you really need, reflect on what will help you get it.

For example, if you discover what you’re really seeking is connection (not cookies), consider how you can meet this deeper need.

Perhaps it’s talking with a loved one, support group or therapist; playing with your dog; spending time with Mother Nature; volunteering in your community; or engaging with like-minded activists.

Whatever you come up with, add it to your toolbox.

Curiosity and Compassion
Sometimes you won’t know what you truly need until after you’ve brushed the chip crumbs off your shirt or washed the chocolate off your fingers. Keep reflecting; the answer will eventually come to you.

The key is to approach your emotional eating with curiosity and compassion, rather than criticism and judgment.

Doing so will enable you to become more aware of what drives your eating decisions, and empower you to have a different relationship with food—not a perfect one, but a more relaxed, trusting and peaceful one.

Screw It!
Even as you become more attuned to your true needs, you may sometimes say, “screw it!” and choose to emotionally eat. Again, this is totally okay and normal.

When you do make this more conscious choice, let go of any negative self-talk.

You know, that voice in your head that says, “I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m breaking the rules and being bad. I’m must make up for this food sin by working out extra hard and skipping breakfast and lunch tomorrow.”

Instead, squash that voice, sit down, and slowly savor every single bite. 

5 Tips for Managing Your Afternoon Slump (Without Candy or Coffee)

Do you struggle with afternoon sugar cravings?

Many of my clients do.

Around 2:00-3:00 p.m., their eyelids grow heavy, their concentration nosedives, and cookies start calling to them.

Sugar is often their instant solution for boosting their energy. Yet, as most of us have discovered, this short-term fix quickly causes us to crash and crave more sugar.

Caving into your 3:00 p.m. cravings has nothing to do with a lack of willpower.

It’s completely natural to feel sleepy in the afternoon. And it’s completely understandable to seek a quick pick-me-up in the form of sugar—or caffeine, or both.

Programmed for Sleepiness
Your internal body clock produces circadian rhythms, including your sleep/wake cycle. This cycle rises and dips over a 24-hour period, with the strongest sleep drives occurring between 2:00-4:00 a.m. and 1:00-3:00 p.m.*

While there are many reasons why you might crave sugar in the afternoon (e.g., boredom, salt intake), this natural energy dip is certainly one of them.

How to Manage Your Slump
Here are five ways to manage your low energy and recharge without reaching for the candy bowl, cookie jar, cola can or coffee machine.

  1. Get enough sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, you will experience bigger swings of sleepiness and wakefulness—and bigger sugar and carb cravings.
     
  2. Take a catnap. A siesta is the best way to honor your body’s natural rhythm, so take a 15- to 20-minute nap if possible. Research shows that doing so can reduce stress, improve alertness and productivity, decrease blood pressure, and more.
     
  3. Eat a protein-rich lunch. If I eat a carb-heavy lunch (e.g., bread, pasta), I might as well take a sleeping pill.

    I perform best when my midday meal is composed of lean protein, healthy fats and unrefined fiber (e.g., wild salmon with avocado and veggies).

    Like me, you may find this combo gives you steady blood sugar levels, sharper mental focus, a stable mood and longer lasting energy. Experiment to discover what ratio works best for you.
     
  4. Get off your rump. Sitting and staring at a screen for hours on end is a surefire way to exacerbate your afternoon slump.

    To perk up, head outside for a 15-minute walk. The movement, sunshine and fresh air will help restore your energy.
    If a walk outdoors isn’t feasible, cruise around your office building, stand while talking on the phone, or do some stretches, jumping jacks or push-ups.
     
  5. Drink up. Your afternoon slump will feel more intense if you’re dehydrated. Instead of turning to an energy drink, go for a rejuvenating glass of water. 

Despite all these tips, sometimes a bit of sugar or hit of caffeine will be exactly what you need.

What's most important is that you listen to and honor your body's wisdom. Ask yourself: In this moment, what does my body truly need to feel restored at the deepest level?

*Source: National Sleep Foundation

Have You Ever Experienced Something Like This...?

At a dinner party one summer night, after serving myself a second portion of my favorite dishes, a guy at my table narrowed his eyes at me and said with a slight smirk, “Wow, you must really be hungry.”

I wanted to smack him.

At one point in my life, his comment would have set off a major shame spiral.

I would have shrunk down in my seat, hung my head and clamped my mouth shut while my cheeks burned bright red.

Thoughts like these would have raced through my head:

  • I’m a pig.
  • I shouldn’t be eating so much.
  • Going back for seconds is bad.
  • I have no self-control.
  • I don’t deserve to eat what I want.
  • If I want more food, I need to hide while eating it.
  • There is something wrong with me.

Painful, Powerful Words
As I shared before with my brownie incident, careless comments like this can be really painful and very powerful.

They can have a huge impact that negatively shapes your core beliefs regarding who you are and what you deserve. For me, they contributed to years of disordered eating.

Thankfully, with the help of some very wise teachers, I was able to shed my destructive beliefs and behaviors.

I learned how to give myself unconditional permission to eat and enjoy food, and how to cultivate a more nourishing, trusting and peaceful relationship with food and my body.

Unconditional Permission
Each one of us has a right to eat whatever we want—whenever, wherever and however we want it.

You don’t have to earn the right to eat something.

You don’t have to justify your food choices, make excuses for them, hide them, or apologize for them.

And what’s on your plate is nobody’s business.

An Opportunity for Gratitude
After the initial flash of anger I felt when that guy made his comment, I caught myself starting to justify my actions to the entire table, something along the lines of “I’ve hardly eaten today” and "I had a light lunch." 

Realizing what I was doing, I stopped talking, picked up my fork and went back to enjoying my meal.

Later, while reflecting on the situation, I came to appreciate the opportunity it gave me to see just how far I’ve come.