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Archive for May, 2011

The Origins of Comfort Eating and what to do about it

The Origins of Comfort Eating and what to do about it.

Often our emotional state is reflected in our eating behaviors. It feels like there is an umbilical cord between how we feel and how we eat. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to sever the umbilical cord between our emotions and what we put into our mouths.

Reaching for food when life is hard is something many of us are familiar with. We were trained to do that.

I see it all the time. A baby is cranky or just noisy (at the store, in a house of worship, at a family gathering, at the doctor’s office, …).  Next, the baby is offered something to put into its mouth: a pacifier or a bottle. An older child gets a piece of candy at the bank, the doctor’s office or for good behavior. The opposite is also true: the bribe or withholding trick: if you’re good you’ll get ice cream. Or “no dessert for you, you’ve been bad”. Is it any wonder that when we finally get control over our own food supply, we do what feels emotionally supportive, rather than what we know is healthy for us?

Here are some examples for how it can play out in our lives now.

1. A couple of years ago I reconnected with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. I know her to be health conscious and fit. As her husband was battling cancer, she gained a lot of weight. She said she was comfort eating. She couldn’t help it.

2. Some years ago I was shocked at my response when my life coach asked me what my definition of SUCCESS was. When I looked deeply inside me, the surprising answer I found was “being able to buy and eat any food I want”.  That was the beginning of a profound shift in my relationship with food.

Surprisingly, we don’t just run away from “bad” feelings. We run away from “good” feelings as well. Following is an example.

Story: Anxious about being excited

Recently while at the roller-skating rink I had the chance to observe a family waiting in line. It appeared to me that the mother of three young girls was very uncomfortable with her daughters being excited about going skating. She tried to squash any sign of happiness and excitement with threats like “if you don’t stand still, we’ll just go home” and “you’ll just have to sit in the car while we skate” and “you’re spoiling it for everybody”. Later I saw them again in the snack bar. It hadn’t stopped. “Sit still” and “NO! You can’t have a pretzel”, sounded more like a drill sergeant rebuking a new recruit than a rational conversation.

So, what are these three young girls learning about being excited and having fun? Probably the same thing their mother learned when she was young: “it’s not safe to be excited” and “things calm down when everybody is eating”.  So, don’t be surprised if you are stress eating when you are happy or excited.

Call to Action and Why This Matters:

I don’t need to tell you the benefits of a healthy body. I don’t need to tell you about just having more willpower. I don’t need to tell you about one more diet to try, or one more trick to keep you from food you desperately want to eat. If you and food have an adversarial relationship – you have probably tried them all.

Are you ready to change all that? Ready to start to de-link your connection between emotions and food? Like any habit, even those you have had for a long time, reaching for comforting food can be replaced with other behavior.

Start with awareness: how and when do you self soothe with food?

  • Do you lose your appetite?
  • Do you eat for comfort?
  • Do you tend to go for sweet or salty comfort food?
  • Do you eat until you go numb or the discomfort from overeating is greater than the uncomfortable feelings you had before?
  • When your life feels out of control, do you engage in “control over food behavior” such as anorexia or bulimia?

Take a moment and reflect on today or yesterday while it is fresh in your mind. Did you eat something you wish you hadn’t? How were you feeling afterwards? Did you feel stuffed, disgusted, muted, satisfied, numbed, nauseous, calm? OK. What emotions were you feeling before you started to eat, emotions you were covering up that might have been too uncomfortable to feel? What were you running away from, and running to food to help divert you?

Keep a small notebook of situations and emotions that bring you running to food. Then pick one of them that you think you can shift into a new habit that doesn’t involve food. Don’t try to change chocolate cake to carrot sticks. Remember you still need to be comforted. What are things that are comforting to you? A warm bath? A friendly chat with a trusted friend? Sitting on a sunny bench at a nearby park? Some physical activity, like yoga? Listening to some soothing music? Make a list. Find one or more activities that you will substitute for one specific emotional pattern. Plan ahead what you will do the next time that trigger situation occurs. Congratulate yourself every time you succeed and be gentle with yourself if you slip into old patterns. Just recommit to do better next time. I recommend that you go easy on yourself. Focus on changing one pattern every 3 months.

Taking it Farther:

Start to notice why you respond to certain situations as you do. I’ve heard that 10% is what happens to you and 90% is how you respond to what happens. If a situation is not stressful to you, you won’t need comforting. But that is a topic for another article.

Contact me:

If this was helpful and you want more, I’m here for you.  Call to schedule coaching and start living the life you choose. Call Edith at 847.913.3900.

Adjusting Boundaries as a Cure for Stress

Adjusting Boundaries as a Cure for Stress

Some people say there is good stress and bad stress. Would you say that getting married is good stress and getting divorced is bad stress?

It appears that the body does not distinguish between good and bad stress. There are “50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress” listed on the American Institute of Stress (AIS) website: http://www.stress.org/topic-effects.htm which includes symptoms like headaches, back pain, nausea, chest pain, fidgeting, overwhelm, excessive hunger or loss of appetite, social withdrawal … You can have these symptoms regardless of the kind of stress you are dealing with. Ask any bride-zilla.

So let’s look a little deeper.

Story: Weddings are about redrawing boundaries

In my past as a wedding photographer, I had the opportunity to work with brides as well as the other businesses that cater to them and their special day. May my observations and thoughts help give you courage to start redrawing your boundaries.

It seems that whatever relationship dynamics exist between the various people planning the wedding are magnified under stress. For example: a bride who hasn’t been able to stand up to her mother about much of anything, will continue to have problems. Freeze, Fight, or Flight? 1. Freeze: the bride feels paralyzed and unable to speak up for what she wants. 2. Fight: the bride may fight her mother on any and every decision. 3. Flight: the bride will avoid including her mother in anything. So what’s the solution? None of those.

Let’s look at close relationships. When you get married you change your primary alliances from the family you came from to your new family unit. But often that is not a conscious decision, or it happens not at all or haphazardly. What you do take with you into your new relationship is how you deal with boundaries. If you had trouble standing up to your parents or siblings, you may have the same trouble in your marriage. If you were expected to maintain peace at all cost or secrecy, you will likely continue to do so.

←—————————————————————————-→
“Put Up With It”                                                                       “Blow Up”

Where are you on the “Put Up With It” to “Blow Up” continuum? Open communications between two people allows you to explore what each of you want and need. It allows you to draw and redraw boundaries and design your relationship consciously and in consideration with each other. And that allows you to build a relationship with very little unresolved stress. Open communication takes courage; lots of courage. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Call to Action and Why This Matters:

If you toggle between being a pushover and blowing up, chances are that your relationships are stressful. Your needs are not being met and neither do others feel they can consistently count on you. The gap between how you’d like things to be and the reality is stress. Stress affects the body in negative ways and when it is unresolved, it can cause major health issues.

Taking a stress or anger management class helps you with better self-control when stressed or angry. But that is like putting a band-aid on a toothache. It doesn’t help with the problem.

What can you do? Start observing gaps in communication. Do not sabotage your efforts with talking about big things first, like where to go on vacation, whether to move to a new house, or asking your boss for a raise. Start with little things.

If your spouse or a friend asks, “where would you like to go for dinner?” don’t say something like, “whatever you want is fine with me”. Instead give yourself a little time to think, say something like, “thanks for asking, let me think about what I might like.” Then think about it and come back with a proposal like “I’d really like some fish, how about that xyz restaurant?” or “I really love the atmosphere at abc restaurant? What do you think?” Now you have the opportunity to discuss what you both want. There may be backlash to your new ways at first, especially if you have well-established patterns. It is best to stay as calm as you can.

Talking about little things may seem extremely tedious at first. It is. You are developing a new skill and practicing on small decisions where the stakes are not very high and you are more likely to be willing to compromise. It is like building your muscle to talk things out and find joint solutions. You can move to bigger decisions as your skills improve. Just think of the value of having a calm conversation with your spouse about money, sex, children, work, and household chores. With the right skills, a willing partner, and practice you can get there. You’d be amazed how many people will eventually respond favorably to your new way of being in relationship. And you’ll find out who won’t.

Taking it Farther:
There are a variety of excellent materials on boundaries. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend have co-written many books on boundaries. They are excellent. They are written from a strong Christian viewpoint. If you are not Christian I hope you can still get the boundary lessons from their books or find other helpful materials.

Contact me:

Want more help? I’m here for you. Tired of the status quo? Get relief! Call to get coached and start designing the life you want to live. Have questions? Call to get answers. Edith at 847.913.3900

Relationship 202

Relationship 202

There are a million books out there on relationships – every conceivable kind of relationship. Many were probably written by authors about what they think should work. Some books are written by professionals based on the stories from their clients. Fewer still, like Dr John Gottman’s Love Lab, are based on scientific research.

On top of that, everyone has an opinion on what you should do to fix your relationship problems.

So what do you do and where do you turn?

In my experience, the people who have been where you are now and have found what worked for them and what didn’t, often have the most useful suggestions. Experts working in the field have seen a lot and may have lots of ideas to try. They also have insights, which can help you see your contribution to an issue.

Take something that you feel you can try, and with discernment and trial and error, take those suggestions that you find most useful and apply them to your situation. Chances are good that you will mess with the status quo. Something will shift in your relationship – better, worse or just different. Learn from the experience and make adjustments from that new relationship dynamic. Keep trying things until it is clear that the relationship is improving, is not likely to change, or it shouldn’t be continued.

An Inquiry: How was Mother’s Day for you?

Our first relationship is with our mothers. As humans we spend 9 months attached to her and then are traumatically expelled at birth. We know that the mother’s emotions during pregnancy affect us: are you wanted and lovingly conceived or are you the result of a less than loving union? Were you welcomed into this world and cared for, or were your needs not adequately met?

A very young child has a survival instinct. It takes its cues from the world around it. Being self centered the child assumes everything must be its fault. So very quickly it develops a view of the world that helps it survive the dependent years. If you are reading this – you are a survivor! Congratulations!

Now that you are no longer dependent in the same way you were as a small child, the rules have changed, but may be your beliefs about the world haven’t.

Example: As a small child you probably heard, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Well, if that still applied, you couldn’t survive as an adult: couldn’t hold a job, go to the grocery store, go to the bank or get your hair cut. We are surrounded by strangers. What we need instead is a way to discern who to trust with what: don’t trust your banker to give you a good hair cut; don’t trust the panhandler to choose your investment portfolio for you.

Do you trust that your mother loves you? Either she is capable of loving or not. Either she expresses it in a way you find loving or not. The book “Safe People” by Dr. Henry Cloud teaches us to see how our actions are sometimes safe and sometimes not safe for others – and what to do about it. He encourages us to find relationships that are good for us and do our best to make our existing relationships better. There is lots of useful advice in the book.

In the book “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, Randy tells his daughter some useful advice that may apply here. He tells her that when she is dating a guy, carefully observe his actions and his words. If there is a difference, always trust the actions – not the words. But I would take it a step further. Communicate. Ask: “you told me this but I observed that your actions seem to be saying something else”. Give him a chance to explain and tell you the truth, so that the words and the actions match. It is possible he wasn’t aware or you didn’t understand because of your different understanding about the world.

So, if your mother treats you differently than you think she should, watch her actions and her words, try to be open-minded and ask why she does what she does, and ask for changes you can both live with. Be willing to change as well. Above all, communicate, communicate, communicate.

Call to Action and Why This Matters:

Take time to reflect on your primary relationships or a relationship you most want to heal. Often we treat those we love most, the worst. They don’t deserve that from you and you don’t deserve that from them. Consider learning the skills to talk about those things that make your relationship less than what it could be. What’s it worth to you to have truly loving relationships in your life? How would life be different if you felt loving and loved, and truly appreciate others and are appreciated by them?

Barbara Brennan, author of “Hands of Light” said during a workshop I attended that healing the relationship with your mother is one of the foundation pieces to healing your life. Louise Hay, author of “You Can Heal Your Life” devotes a chapter to how she not only healed herself from cancer but also healed the relationship with her mother.

Taking it Farther:

If you really want to change your life for the better, learn how to be a non-blaming communicator and a non-defensive, curious listener. Have boundaries for those who violate your desire for healthy relationships. These skills are not easy to learn. They take know-how, courage, time, and practice. It is best to practice first with people who already have these skills, who are understanding and non-judgmental while you find your way. Over time, the results will amaze you. Know that you deserve to have healthy loving relationships in your life.

Contact me:

Want more help? I’m here for you. Tired of flunking Relationship 101? Get tutored! Call to get coached and learn in a non-judgmental setting how to create healthy relationships. We’ll go at a pace that is right for you. Call Edith at 847.913.3900

Appreciating Nature’s Beauty

Subject: How does Spring help us live life more fully?

Appreciate Beauty
Spring lets us see renewal. Plants take their stored reserves from the roots and bring them to light and life! Buds swell up and burst into bloom. The weather is nicer and people come out of their homes.

Nature presents us with an opportunity for APPRECIATING BEAUTY.

tulips blooming

tulips blooming

Story: Nature’s miniatures
I once, at an art fair, saw framed miniatures of tree leaves, all less than an inch long. I was surprised at the beauty of these leaves. Here is the story behind the art.

Every spring this artist watches carefully when each of the trees are starting to open their leaf buds. When the leaves first open, they are tiny but grow rapidly every day. So the window of opportunity to view and collect these tiny specimens is rather short.

The next spring I walked up close to some of the trees in my yard. The miniature leaves are delicate and, in my mind, extraordinarily beautiful.

new maple leaf with penny

Call to Action and Why This Matters
As spring arrives in your yard or neighborhood, step very close and appreciate nature’s beauty. Appreciation and gratitude warms your heart and gives a momentary feeling of peacefulness. Cherish that feeling. Give yourself that gift, a momentary reprieve from life’s challenges. Then, when life gets in the way of your peacefulness, take a deep breath and recall that moment of peace.

Have a peaceful day.

Taking it Farther
If you want to see nature’s beauty through the lens of a camera, take a close look at some of the beautiful nature photography in National Geographic. Or see if you can find a nature photography club near you. In the Chicago area we have the Chicago Area Camera Club Association with many photography clubs and wonderful photographers and educational programs to learn to capture nature’s magic.

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