My early years of motherhood were some of the highest-stress years of my life.
I became a mom at almost the same time I became an adult, although I definitely didn’t feel like one yet. At 22, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was working at a place where I could be with my baby (a church preschool), but the environment was toxic and stressful.
Over the following years I would struggle to start my own business, add two more children, navigate my parents’ divorce as well as a tumultuous end to my first marriage, single-motherhood with three small children, and my dad becoming extremely ill with a brain tumor.
I’ve been through some sh*t.
Through it all, one thing remained constant for me, and that was food.
The pleasure of a Reese’s cup or a cheesy gourmet pizza was like instant relief and distraction from the never-ending pressure and instability. When I worked hard, I ate. When the baby cried all night, I ate. When my husband left, I ate.
Another distraction from all of the pressure of my life was the dieting that I obsessed over in between the eating. Thinking about how to fix myself and the 20-30 extra pounds I was carrying was easier than thinking about what I would do if my business failed, or how I would survive my Dad’s illness, or if I was paying enough attention to my kids’ emotional needs.
So from the age of 22-32, my life looked like this:
- Eat to distract, always looking for the next “hit” of food
- Freak out over my body, research the latest diet, obsess over following it, feel distracted by that
- Lose the weight, go back to eating to distract since the diet was no longer necessary.
And repeat ad nauseam.
While there were other factors to my eating habits that contributed to this cycle (energy management, quality of food, etc), stress and emotional/compulsive eating was ruling my life.
Many of my clients come to me in this state because let’s face it – being a human being trying to create a life is hard, but new motherhood is REALLY FREAKING HARD.
The pressure to keep our tiny humans alive is just one part of it. In the information and sharing age, we are bombarded with parenting guilt every moment of the day. Free-range parenting or helicopter parenting? Co-sleeping or crib? Baby-led weaning or homemade organic pureed? SHOULD MY TODDLER BE LEARNING A SECOND LANGUAGE BY NOW???
Being a parent to a young child is like having someone poking at you in an uncomfortable place all day long in between squishy, feel-good hugs.
So it’s no wonder we’re turning to food…we can’t really drink (don’t think I haven’t considered it) or do drugs to ease the stress, and food is usually just a Target trip away.
For most of us, the pressure, emotions, and feelings of isolation probably aren’t going away. So how can we stop eating compulsively in these situations and deal with the stresses of motherhood in a healthy way?
Here is what I do for myself and use with my clients to deal with compulsive eating:
Know the difference between hunger/low blood sugar and emotional eating
Before you can even determine whether or not you’re eating emotionally, you have to understand your body’s signals and what they mean. What I have found with my clients is that their instances of stress eating cut back dramatically when they learn how to properly manage their blood sugar through strategic meals and snacks.
To do this, make sure you’re eating plenty of satiating protein throughout the day and getting ahead of hunger.
Other factors that might be causing compulsive eating that need to be addressed:
- are you getting enough sleep?
- are you experiencing pleasure in any other areas of your life and making meaningful connections?
- are you getting enough nutrients through whole foods?
- are you depriving yourself of foods you love and ending up in the binge/restrict cycle?
Develop Healthy Coping Skills
Feelings, stress and emotions are not just going to go away on their own. The more you try to ignore them, the more they demand your attention.
You must first recognize that your emotions are valid and worth investigating. You may have come to believe at some point in your life, either by the people around you or an experience you had, that your emotions were a sign of weakness or should be ignored. But, this is not healthy or true.
Emotions are there to teach and guide you. You are worthy of having those needs met. This belief must be your foundation to resolving your emotional eating.
Next, just becoming aware of the emotions takes much of their power away. It may feel completely uncomfortable to feel them, but just practice sitting with that discomfort. Eventually they will begin to lose power.
I use a short meditation as a way to pinpoint my emotions. I close my eyes, take 3 deep breaths, and ask myself, what am I feeling? And just observe what comes up.
Finally, you must ask yourself #whatdoIneed? Create a list of healthy self-care actions, at least 10 things ranging from things that take just a second (deep breaths) to things that put you in your zone (journaling, exercise class, etc).
Give yourself permission to have the food you want (this is important!) but only after you try something on your list first.
This is the exact process I used to break up with Coke Zeroes and candy bars and start meditation and exercise instead.
ACTION: What self-care actions can you think of that might help you deal with stress and emotions? Make a list, then let me know what you come up with!
PS – Helping moms overcome emotional eating is just one small part of what I do. I am currently accepting ONE more 1:1 coaching client this month before I am at capacity and have to go to a waiting list for the foreseeable future.
If you are sick and tired of scraping around, wasting time and money on coaches and programs that a) don’t address the ONE aspect that makes a healthy lifestyle actually stick, your mindset, and b) don’t understand the specific physical, emotional, and hormonal needs of new moms, then don’t miss this final opportunity to work closely with me and transform your entire life. You can apply here.