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!