It Doesn’t Come Naturally – But It Really Works!

 

Humor helps too!

 

There are predictable times that people tend to struggle with eating.  While meeting with a client recently after a few months, I listened as she told me about the real life challenges that made her summer very stressful and demanding.  She has noticed, as many people do, that at times like this, eating basically slips and slides, exercise disappears, and what’s more – she just doesn’t really even care much about it.

Once life reaches a certain level of stress and overwhelm – a level that certainly varies with the individual – the natural tendency is to give up, punt, and begin to slide on self-care.  Inertia often tends to propel us toward self-pity and easy rewards.  Healthy habits, especially ones that are still developing, take a back seat.  It takes a conscious effort to turn it around and start moving in a more positive direction.

As the two of us talked, I remembered a conversation I had just the week before, with a good friend of mine.  My friend has had a rough year, working too many hours at a job and then more at home, while dealing with stressful family issues.  She made the comment, “Kim, one thing I always remember about you is that you always take really good care of yourself –  but you take extra good care of yourself when you are having a tough time.”

This friend remembers how I dealt with a rough patch in my own life several years ago, when we first met.  She was impressed by how I went out of my way to eat healthy, but not perfectly, and to keep up with exercise and friendships.  I do not consider myself a perfect role model, but this is an area of my life that I have learned much about, not always the easy way.  I too have watched myself fall into a pit during tough times in the past, but at one point I realized,”Hey, isn’t this THE MOST IMPORTANT TIME TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?”

Granted it is not natural.  Everything seems to be pulling toward negativity when situations in life get difficult.  Still, we can make a difference in how we handle major stressors.  We can be proactive with extra-special attention to real self-care and real rewards, not the indulgences that disguise themselves as helpful in the form of doughnuts, ice cream, cookies . . . .

We can reframe how we think about rewards in general, a huge shift in thinking!  During times when we are stretched paper-thin, emotionally and physically, we can simply be aware that it is tough – and that we will need reinforcement.  We can acknowledge that we do feel a need for a reward or payment for our suffering – it’s normal and natural to feel this way!  But, we can also change the way we look at rewards.

A box of cookies (or your personal drug of choice) feels good, tastes good, and can act as a reward for many people, but it is not as rewarding later on when the result is a stomachache and guilt/disappointment.   This may seem like an obvious disconnect, but many MANY people never consciously notice the illogical nature of this “solution”.  They just want relief – now – from the stress and problems keeping them from feeling calm and contented.  Can you really blame them (or yourself) for looking for a solution?

There are alternatives that REALLY help.  The key is to think more about the long-term than immediate relief, and to get ahead of the game.  If you know that you are in the middle of a stressful time, just see what happens if you imagine how you might set yourself up to be more emotionally stable.  My personal plan includes 1) extra attention to my eating without worrying too much about a treat here and there, 2) not missing workouts, and 3) rewarding myself with a massage, manicure, yoga class, or hot bath.  If I don’t have time for much in the way of rewards, I will close my door, turn out the light, lay flat on the floor, and just BREATHE.  If that is all you can do, do it – it works!

People spend lots of time and energy training for sports events, but we may not realize that we can “train” for dealing with life’s challenges.  We can get into good fighting shape, because  sometimes life can throw a us a curve ball.  Be ready!

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2 responses to “It Doesn’t Come Naturally – But It Really Works!

  1. Kim,
    I think an addition to this may be that that some people need to change the way they feel about themselves during tough times, meaning that they must feel inside that they are “worthy” of self care. Someone that I work with is going through a stressful time and sometimes blames herself. The way she talks make me think that somehow she doesn’t see herself worthy of taking care of herself.

    Psychology and eating is an area of great interest to me and how it seems people may doom themselves to illness without subconsciuosly realizing it. Eating poorly as a way of self distruction?

    Cindy

    • This topic is a part of what makes eating such a valuable window into how life is going in general. It IS fascinating, and you are absolutely right about the challenges for someone who does not feel worthy of good self care. I think there are varying degrees of “food abuse”. By that, I mean that there is a wide range of eating that is not connected with good feelings and good health. On the more common, lower end of the spectrum, many people just don’t place a priority on themselves, and this is often reflected in frequent fast food meals when they are in a hurry, junk food as a quick and easy “fix” for a stressful day, etc. These people (maybe most of us at certain times) probably are not really self destructive. In fact, I believe that most people are just misguided to some degree – they are trying to solve a problem (stress discomfort, time constraints, etc.), and the quick junk is a short-term band-aid.

      There are certainly others at the other end of the spectrum who truly are self destructive, and their eating may be a means toward that end, just like an alcoholic uses alcohol to the extent that health and even life are threatened. Some people similarly eat themselves to death, with a true wish for self destruction. Then there are all of the other degrees of unhealthy eating and over-eating that fall between the two extremes.

      I think a person needs to see that they are doing this to themselves before they can begin to change it. People who do not feel worthy of good things in any form probably need to take a look at life as a whole and what is causing them to feel that way. It can only create an unhappy life, with extra weight (in the case of overeaters) being just a symptom of the bigger problem. A professional therapist may be helpful in more extreme cases. I don’t know the details of your co-workers situation, but if you are right about her general feelings about herself, it is unlikely that she will be able to set herself up for success in stressful times as I describe until she feels she deserves it.

      Long response, I know, but you can see how much I agree with you!

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