Whether big transitions in life, or small transitions in your day, get these strategies to stop eating your way through them, and start embracing life.
There’s rarely just one cause or reason a person will be triggered to start eating, overeating, or sometimes even binge eating. I’ve discussed a few triggers that I’ve struggled with, like the hyperpalatability of food and playing the “what the hell” game with myself.
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But one situation that has managed to find itself return into my life, even though I thought I’ve resolved my issues with overeating, is what I call, “Eating through Life’s Transitions.”
I rarely hear people talk about it, so I’m not sure how common it is. All I know is, overeating to soothe, cope, or numb out with any transition in life can be brutal.
I first noticed my dependence on using food to cope, when major changes in my life created feelings I wasn’t ready to deal with. The two biggies were that I quit my job and two of my three kids had left for college.
While I was excited about both of these changes and I love new chapters of life, it was also difficult. I found myself postponing and procrastinating even the tiniest of tasks by telling myself, “I’ll just have a little snack first, and then I’ll get to work.”
You know how it feels. Life transitions could include major changes in life such as:
- Getting a new job. You’re nervous so you eat.
- moving to a new house. You don’t know anyone, so you stay home and eat.
- starting school. School is going to be hard and stressful, so you need something to eat before you start worrying about it.
- kids moving out. They are gone. You miss them, so you eat!
- having a baby. It’s stressful and exhausting, so you eat.
- the death of a loved one. You are lonely and sad, so you eat.
But transitions can also include small things like
- You get home from work and no matter what time it is, the first thing you do is stop at the pantry,
- You return from vacation, and you want to relax from traveling and not clean up, so you stop by the pantry and eat first.
- Or it could be as simple as you finished vacuuming, so you better take a break and eat before the next task.
These are the transitions in life. And sometimes, they get uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable not to have a plan, or not want to do the next thing, especially if it’s hard.
But what’s not hard or uncomfortable? EATING!
That’s right. We eat.
Not sure what to do with your next phase of life? Have something to eat first, and then we’ll figure it out.
Not sure how to handle more down time with your new schedule? Eat first, and then we’ll figure it out.
Worried about what the future will bring? Eat.
Why do we do this? Why do we EAT instead of actively participate in the transitions in life?
I think everyone could answer this differently. But there is usually a common thread that all human’s are experiencing, making us unsure of the next steps we’re supposed to be taking in life. Some things I identified are:
- Stress– When a transition triggers stress, such as the loss of a job, or having a new baby, a conditioned stress reliever many of us have used to cope in the past is to eat. It’s easy for a few moments to eat a snack than to deal with the stress.
- Uncertainty– When you aren’t sure what you want to do next. What job you want to apply for. What life will look like as an empty nester, etc.
- Being Uncomfortable. It’s not comfortable to sit in your feelings, no matter what they are. We’ve been trained to deal with discomfort by eating, so it’s only natural to want a snack.
- Buffering is our way to numb out our feelings. To NOT feel something. To not feel lonely, uncomfortable or unhappy. We buffer by eating. But we also buffer by watching TV, drinking, taking drugs etc.
- Lonely– You might feel lonely as a new empty nester, a death of a loved one, or divorce. This transition from people around to no one around will cause loneliness and might trigger overeating.
- Anxious– Have you ever had to do something you didn’t want to do (Like make a phone call to someone you didn’t want to talk to), I always decide to have snack first, of course! But to postpone this even more, I KEEP eating, because clearly I can’t make that phone call (*or insert your anxiety producing task here ____ ) until I’m finished with my snack.
- Fear– Like anxiety, if you are afraid to do something, you tell yourself, snacking is safe.
- Overwhelm! This is a huge one for me. When I have too much to do, or too much that I want to do, I eat instead!
Like most behavior change, identifying your triggers and creating new solutions can help break the cycle.
My personal transitions that caused overeating
I’m grateful for my trials, mistakes, failures, and challenges in life. I know God is refining me to be a better person each time I fall or stumble. So, let’s use the two situations where I found myself eating through a transition, and how I cope with those transitions now.
Transition 1: I Quit my job and Kids Moved out at the same time.
This was a tough place for me to be. I felt a lack of direction. A lack of purpose. I was 46 years old and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I spent so much time in my work and raising kids, I never had time to think about my life’s purpose. I was living it!
So, finding myself without either of those things was very hard. I woke up each day with intentions of building this blog (Health Beet), but then I was unsure how I wanted to do it or where to start. So, instead, I ate.
I repeated this pattern every day for about 4-5 months. I got nothing done as far as building a business, and I spent my days eating instead.
Transition 2: Return home from work, being on vacation or running errands
What is it about this transition from returning from work or a vacation, and the only thing you want to do is eat? Even when you recently ate!
When I worked at an office, It didn’t matter what time I came home. Noon, 2:00, 5:00 , as soon as I walked through the door, I didn’t want to deal with anything until I had a snack!
Strategies to stop overeating during transitions
- Acknowledge it! Name it. Call it out. Notice it. Say to yourself, “Ahh.. I see what you’re doing here. You’re tired from your trip, you don’t want to tackle the laundry, so instead you decide to have a snack.” Realizing what you are doing is a big help to turning that around.
- Resist it. I know this is tough, but the more often you resist it, the weaker that voice gets. Every time you give in, that behavior is carving it’s way into your life deeper and deeper.
- Replace it! Once you see what you’re doing, replace that habit with something else. If you truly want to numb out, perhaps you watch a TV show that feels like an indulgence. Make a list of numbing activities that don’t involve food and keep that list where you can access it any time of day. I think it’s funny when people suggest, if you are triggered to eat, go for a walk instead. But since I’d rather eat than walk, it never worked. But, I do love a good trashy TV show more than eating, so that seems to work for me.
And for what it’s worth, when I was feeling lost from the big changes in my life, I actually went to therapy. It’s very uncharacteristic of me to feel unmotivated or like I didn’t have a purpose. But it was something about the two events together that spun me into discomfort, fear, anxiety, loneliness, etc.
Going to therapy helped me sort through those questions, and ironically, once I got comfortable in that transition, the overeating stopped.
We can choose to transition with grace, intention, and reflection. We can learn from our past and plan for the future in a way that can ease our fears and calm the uncertainty.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! What helps you avoid eating or overeating during your life transitions?
Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.George S. Patton