Take control over your food and your life.  

Take control over your food and your life.  

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I used to waste a lot of time getting hurt, frustrated, annoyed, or let down by other people’s actions. I’ve always been incredibly sensitive, which seems linked to heredity (everyone in my family is sensitive), star sign (Pisces), and my natural disposition. I used to take things very personally and as a result, I spent a lot of time upset with what I viewed as the cruelty or carelessness of others.

A few years ago, I realized it’s not fun to perpetually put myself in the role of the victim and to always be upset by the wrongdoings of others without taking responsibility for my own reactions. The older I get, the more I realize that most of the things other people say or do have nothing to do with me. People are generally rude because they’re tired or someone was rude to them or they’re overwhelmed or they assumed their words would have a different interpretation. People are generally not rude because they’re out to personally ruin my day. I used to catalogue everything in my brain: the look that person gave me, this comment, that gesture, this text that never received a response, that curt email. Then I got tired and decided to just worry about myself. It’s the only thing I have any control over. People are people. Sometimes they’re gruff. Sometimes they’re dramatic. Sometimes they’re angry. Sometimes they’re rude. Sometimes they're dismissive. Sometimes they're careless. I can get swept up in it or I can let people be people while I concentrate on my own day.

I’ve reached a place where I’m actually pretty good at shaking things off. Anytime someone makes a mean-spirited comment to me on the internet, I delete the comment, block the person, and think: This person has no love for himself and there’s nothing sadder. Once the empathy kicks in and I realize how sad one has to be to make weird comments to a stranger on the internet, the comment itself holds no power. I can usually parlay this into real life, too. That person who cut me off in traffic or said something snippy in the grocery store aisle is just trying to live her life. When I remind myself that people are people and not assholes – even when they’re acting like assholes – it helps me to see that their stupid words are just stupid words and their stupid actions are just stupid actions and we’re all guilty of both all the time so we may as well have some grace for each other when we’re on the receiving end.

All this leads up to the fact that in general, I don’t allow my days to get ruined by another person. Only I can ruin my days. Someone sending me a mean email is just someone sending me a mean email and someone being annoying in public is just someone being annoying in public and none of this –none of this – is my problem. My problem is how I conduct myself. That’s the one thing I need to take responsibility for. How others conduct themselves has nothing to do with me.

And all THIS leads up to the fact that after being so good at this for so long, I found myself this weekend getting so irritated and frustrated with people that for awhile I actually allowed it to ruin my mood. Partly this is because I wasn’t annoyed with one person or one small handful of people, but a large group of people. I was attending a literary event and I felt like everyone around me was being ridiculous. I sometimes think of myself as a person who has the opposite of A.D.D. I have the ability to sit quietly in a room and hyper-focus on a presentation for an hour and it frustrates me when others can’t. It frustrates me when everyone around me is texting and whispering and getting up and down and shifting in their seats. People are arriving late – sometimes very late – and walking into a crowded room in the middle of a presentation to find a seat. Others are getting up and leaving early. Everyone is shuffling around. People keep opening and closing the door, exposing the loud background hallway noises again and again. It is so distracting and I don’t understand how it’s possible that my husband and I are the only two adults in the entire room capable of shutting up and sitting still for an hour.

Then the presentation ends and we have to make our way to a presentation in another building, but the hallways are crowded and the doorways are bottlenecked and there are huge lines of people everywhere and the only way to get to the next talk is to walk through the pouring rain alongside thousands of people who are also annoyed to be walking in the pouring rain. The entire day I catch myself wanting to scream and I keep saying to my husband, “Can you even believe people?” and I’m frustrated and annoyed to the point that my enjoyment of the entire event is impacted. And then before I know it all I really want to do is eat a lot of food because eating food has always been my biggest coping method in times of distress.

And then before I know it I find myself once again the victim of my life, powerless to steer its course, at the mercy of all the frustrating people around me. And of course that’s a valid enough excuse to stuff myself with food because what am I supposed to do? Do you see how annoying everyone is? And as the weekend progresses I allow the stress I feel about other situations – worrying about a family member’s health, trying to convince the kids I’m babysitting to shut down their electronic devices and brush their teeth – to become valid enough reasons, too. Not to mention that we’ve entered the dark, rainy season and my pet allergies are in high gear and I miss my husband when I’m spending the night with the kids and I’m a super introverted person who spent a lot of hours this weekend smashed up against strangers and wouldn’t everything feel a whole lot better if I just ate three bowls of Grape Nuts?

And that’s when I remember that I didn’t just decide to stop giving people power over my life one day. It’s a skill I learned in therapy and it’s a skill that’s directly linked with my success as an intuitive eater. And the moment I let that skill creep away and allow the people and situations around me to hold more control than I do, the emotional eating creeps back in, too. Suddenly I’ve found myself in a classic Fuck It situation. Well fuck it, if So and So is back in the hospital and I’m getting really worried, I’m going to eat a cupcake. Fuck it, if everyone’s going to run around screaming and talking at once, I’m going to eat these pretzels. Fuck it, if feeling like I’m failing as a babysitter – Did I let them watch too much TV? Did I get impatient when I had to ask them to put on their shoes several times? – opens up something in me that makes me doubt my future abilities as a mother, I may as well eat this granola. And fuck it, if thinking about the countless ways my life will be perpetually changed if a child enters into it is one of the scariest topics I’ve ever visited, then while I’m visiting it I may as well eat some cheese.

And just like that I’m back in – feeling miserable because I let other people dictate my mood and feeling doubly miserable because I thought temporarily drowning in a triple bowl of Grape Nuts would act as a salve but instead it exacerbated everything. 

So let’s rewind and start from the beginning. It’s great that I can sit still and listen to a presentation for an hour. It’s unfortunate that others can’t. But whatever they do – whether they’re texting or talking or walking to the front of the room in the middle of a presentation – it’s important that I stay in my lane. I can be annoyed. I can observe how annoyed I am. But I can’t carry this annoyance with me for the rest of the day and let it dictate my eating decisions. This is why the years I spent working at a retirement center were the worst emotional eating years of my life: Every day someone was sick. Every day someone’s dementia prevented her from remembering basic life skills. Every day someone was dying. How does one deal with all of this, day after day, without going home and jumping into a bowl of macaroni and cheese?

One deals with it by dealing with it. Sometime life is a little stressful and sometimes it’s extremely difficult. The more difficult it is, the more important it is that I take care of myself. I’m an advocate of non-restrictive, intuitive eating and that means allowing myself to eat cake guilt-free when that’s what I really want. The only way this really works, though, is if I recognize the difference between a want and a desperate feeling of I THINK I NEED THIS. When I’m overwhelmed by life and want to throw up my arms and say, “Fuck it, I NEED that cake in order to deal with all of this,” that’s not the best time to eat the cake. I’m equating cake with medicine or some other fix-it-all when it’s not. It’s food. I won’t feel better after I eat it and in a state like this, I’ll likely feel worse and once I feel worse, I’m more likely to say “Fuck it” again and try to fix things with more food, more, more. This doesn’t work. This will never work.

What’s done is done but there’s always a lesson going forward. Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can offer people – one I sometimes forget to take myself – is that “Fuck it” moments aren’t for food. These are great moments for meditation or deep breathing or exercise or talking to a friend or doing something crafty or taking a bath or watching a movie or reading a book or going for a walk or writing in a journal or fixing a cup of tea. They’re terrible moments for food.

So ask yourself this: Is this a “Fuck it” moment? Are you saying to yourself “I’m dealing with this or feeling this, so fuck it, I may as well eat that”? If so, step away. You are too inside the moment to make a rational decision about food. Step away, step away, step away. You’re likely gravitating to food because food is what you’ve always gravitated to in moments of stress. Step away. Think of the aftermath: the emotional distress as well as the physical discomfort. Do you want to add bloating and indigestion to what’s already at hand? Do you want to feel heavy in your body in addition to dealing with the original problem? Step away. Address the problem. If the problem has no solution (I can’t control a crowd of people and I can’t control the health of the people I love), address your feelings. Do this without food. Food isn’t invited to this party. Food will be there when you’ve cleared your head. Wait to clear your head. It’s worth the wait. It’s worth it not to pile on to whatever you’re already dealing with. And it’s worth it not to let the people and situations around you have more power in your life than you do.

You hold the power. Remember to use it.