A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO THE PANDEMIC #3 – STRESS EATING

I keep seeing posts every day about how much weight everyone is gaining and that all everyone is doing throughout this Pandemic is cooking and eating and eating and cooking. I’m guilty as charged! I also read how wearing elastic waist yoga pants or pajamas is allowing us all to eat to the point of discomfort rather than to the point of fullness. I see all the delicious food pictures being posted.

As someone who lost 80 lbs. 5 years ago who has kept off 75 of those 80 lbs. to date, I’d like to talk about the concept of stress and boredom eating because we’re all doing it. While this topic has nothing to do with Cabaret performance, remember, we have gowns and suits to fit into when this is all over!


Then, 80 lbs. heavier (with Julie Wilson)


Now, 75 lbs. lighter (with Gary Crawford)

I have recently had to take a breath and put my own foot back on the break to stop all the bad habits I thought I had broken because the stress of this whole situation is tremendous. Eating soothes. Eating is sating not only a need to nourish your body, but it also brings emotional comfort as well. What is not comfortable to any of us is the scale going up and our waistbands tightening.

How do we stop this cycle? My mom used to say, “It’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you!” What’s “eating” us? Oh, just a little thing called the Covid Virus and having to stay inside for 43 days so far! It’s no wonder we all haven’t gained 30 pounds already!

A comedian friend of mine, Starla, used to do this whole routine preaching the evils of fat. One of her funniest lines was: “If you eat fat, you will get fat!” While this is funny, I am not in complete agreement with this because there are good fats and not so good fats. No food is ever “bad” but there are just better choices. Real food, whole foods and organic foods are better choices but everyone’s body processes food differently. Some respond better to a higher protein/lower carb (or vice versa for most athletes) and others cannot do grains or choose Vegan or Paleo options so there is no 100% “rule” of how to lose weight. However, the old adage,  “eat less and move more” still holds true for most people.

So how did I lose 80 lbs.? For me it was never about what I ate or what I currently eat, it has always been about how much I eat. I also have so many “triggers” for my binge eating episodes like: stress (hello?!), depression, anger, boredom and I’ve developed this Pavlovian Dog-like behavior where a TV commercial has become the stimuli to go graze. It’s ridiculous and yet it is what it is these days. I thought I had all of these situations under control, but they all seem to be creeping back into my behavior which will ultimately creep back up on the scale.

Now, how to combat all of this? Please read my other two articles on Motivation and Routines because a lot of the behaviors mentioned above can be averted by many of my suggestions within those articles. While I am not a licensed therapist or claim to know jack about everything or anything actually, this is a topic I know from personal experience.

For stress? Dance, exercise, do yoga, read, journal, cry and let it out or live chat with someone who can relate.

For depression? All of the above AND…talk, talk, talk it out. Do not keep it in. Reach out to someone. Take a long hot bath with bubbles. Eat a little chocolate without guilt. Paint your toes nails a funny color. Distract yourself with tasks from your To Do List. If you go to food, eat what you want without guilt but give yourself a portion of it. Walk away after you’ve eaten it and if you need more…have more but only to the point of feeling full and not grossly full. Binge eating is a form of self-abuse but it happens. Forgive yourself.

For Christmas one year, I made “In Case of Emergency” boxes for a few friends that included: a candle, bubble bath, chocolate, a little bottle of champagne (for my friends who drink), a funny cartoon, a picture of the two of us, a small journal and a pen, and a personal letter from me telling them that whatever made them open this box that it would be OK and to call me immediately. Make yourself a box with things in it that will remind you that you matter and that this will all get better. It’s not an easy time for many, especially those who are alone or those who have lost a loved one.

For anger? Journal your feelings rather than eat them. VENT to a friend. Go punch a pillow a couple hundred times! Get it out of you. Work it out by working out.

We literally push food down our throats to avoid allowing our feelings to arise so that they can be recognized, felt and released.

For Boredom? Get to that To Do List I suggested that you create in the first of these articles. Wake up every morning with (at the very least) the intent of scratching a few things off your list then get to them! If you’re busy, you’re not eating or focused on food.

For the Pavlovian urge to allow stimuli to provoke you to eat? This is a good idea in general for all who tend to overeat. We eat standing in front of the frig, at our desk, on the couch, in front of the TV and rarely at the actual dinner table except for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I can make one suggestion, it would be that you can eat whatever you want but it must be at the table. You must take time to eat and enjoy it because it takes a minimum of 20 minutes for the brain to even register that you’ve eaten. It also take 20 days to create a habit. Eventually your only “eating place” will be the table.

Also, set the table for yourself. Treat yourself like you’re a guest!

 

These are just a few other guidelines (I don’t say rules) that I can suggest that could help:

Everything in moderation.

As suggested above, eat in 1 place and 1 place only.

SLOW DOWN by putting your knife and folk down and sipping water between bites.

Eat what you want when you want it but take a little bit of whatever, sit in your eating place, eat it, enjoy it and then try to distract yourself.

At the start of what you know will be a binge, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry or do I just want to eat?” Then ask yourself, “Why do I want to eat right now?” Process those feelings or go write them down. A pattern should eventually emerge.

If you binge, let it go. Forgive yourself and move on. Tomorrow is a new day. Do not let the binge be a trigger for continued wrong choices. Just tell yourself that tomorrow, you will make better choices then do it!

Remember, the amount of calories you can take in at one binge is substantial, if you continue to run amok for a few days, instead of working off 1-2 pounds for one binge, you’ve now eaten your way up to 5-10 pounds.

Put a heavier picture of yourself on the front of the refrigerator to remind yourself of all the hard work it took to get to where you are right now.

Plan your daily foods. Breakfast, lunch, a 3:00 yummy, guilt-free, portioned-controlled snack, dinner and dessert one hour after your dinner to sustain your eating into TV time, then STOP!

No phones when you’re eating. It completely distracts your brain from recognizing that you’re eating. If you’re quarantined with someone…be present and talk to them!

I personally do not eat past 9:00 pm.

I drink water all day long. Just keep a nice big, icy glass next to you all day long and sip and replenish.

Keep healthy emergency snacks like crackers, carrots, hummus or fruit around for those times that you feel a binge coming on. Just binge on better foods!

Make every bite count. Eat what you like but use the best possible “fuel” for your body to function.

Don’t keep trigger foods in the house. I realize this is hard for the moms who have kids but they should be eating healthier snacks too.

If you’re really hungry and not just grazing…protein will fill you faster if you eat meat. Make up some cold chicken breasts and eat a hunk of chicken.

Distract and divert your energies to something else…sing, dance, exercise, bathe, sew, draw, write…whatever!

Set achievable goals and start small but think big. Identify three changes above that you think you can start doing right now and then move on to other goals as each one becomes a new habit.

Breathe! You are not alone.

Sue Matsuki
Dream it! Believe it! DO IT!