Of course, we have a million ways to eat more calories than we need. The food is richer than we thought. We ate faster than our satiety signals could process it. We ate mindlessly throughout the day, we binged, we were just too tired to say no to the unhealthy choices. But my favorite excuse for eating too much: anger.
I eat mad. I eat frustrated.
Sometimes I’m just sick and tired of the pressure. So, I eat furiously. Defiantly. I eat like a gladiator tearing through a lion’s haunch after making the kill. I eat in my car while playing the music loud, chomping to the downbeat of some singer who is nearly as angry as I am. I eat powerfully. I eat sneakily. I eat the way I used to smoke. Squinting and sneering through my exhalations.
It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes it does. Maybe I’ve run all day long and into the night. When there are too many demands on my time, none acknowledging my own hopes and dreams, none of which steer me toward anything I’d like to be doing with my time. Maybe the to do list has overwhelmed me. I haven’t had a chance all day to have a glass of water, or check my email, or pee. I get mad on those days. And when I get that kind of my-life-is-not-my-own mad, I take it out on food.
And gnash the hell out of it. And make the food suffer.
And make my body suffer.
Where anorexics, who control their bodies carefully because it’s all they can control, operate under a logic that is distorted, at least there’s some logic at play.
Eating because you’re not in control? So that then your body is out of control too? That’s not logical.
However, it is a natural response to stress. It’s basic biology, baby. Working beneath the sentient mind. It’s what almost all life forms do when confronted with stress: Nourish. Nourish big time. Refuel for the next fight.
The warblers are coming through Michigan right now on their big spring commute. I love warbler week. I watched a kinglet in the larch outside my bedroom window yesterday morning. She ate wildly, hopping from branch to branch, gorging herself on the bud skin thingies left over from when the larch needles pop out. Barely swallowing one hunk before she reached for another, hopping so quickly from branch to branch it wasn’t easy for me to identify her though she wasn’t more than two feet away. She’s migrating, so under one of the most stressful times of her life, and eating — well, as if her life depended upon it. Eating like crazy. Eating brainlessly. If I were another kinglet, I’d have stayed way the hell out of her way.
The thing is, I am not a kinglet. I really don’t live in a way that threatens my life or my livelihood. But on an emotional level, or a gut level, it feels that way sometimes.
I know what works. I just have to start doing it again: Breathing.
I have to remember what a hugely successful tool deep breathing –really getting into the practice of breathing meditation, not figuratively taking a deep breath — is for managing stress and as a consequence, stress-eating.
Time to break out my Andrew Weil breathing meditation CD. Rip it to the iPod. Get my mellow on. Because logic? It only works when it’s there for me. And that’s not 100 percent of the time.
And you? What’s your trick for restoring your mellow when fright or flight brain’s taken over? What works?