These strategies can help you stop trying to make your way through big life changes or small life transitions.
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”Play with me.
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. It can be very difficult to cope with life’s transitions by overeating.
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. Two of the biggest events were that I quit my job, and that two of my children had gone to college.
Although I was excited about these changes, and I love new chapters in my life, it was also hard. I found myself procrastinating on even the smallest of tasks. “I’ll just have a little snack first, and then I’ll get to work.”
You feel it. You may feel the following:
- You are looking for a new job. You’re nervous so you eat.
- You are moving to a different house. You don’t know anyone, so you stay home and eat.
- starting school. You will find school stressful and hard. Make sure you eat before you worry about it.
- Children moving out. They are gone. They are gone. So you eat!
- Being a mother is an exciting time. It’s stressful and exhausting, so you eat.
- The death of a loved. You feel sad and lonely, so you eat.
But small things can also be part of a transition, like
- When you get home from work, it doesn’t matter what time it may be, the first thing that you do is stop by the pantry.
- You’re back from vacation and you want to unwind from the travels and not clean up. You stop by the pantry to grab something to eat.
- It could be as simple a matter of finishing vacuuming.
These are the transitions of life. Sometimes, these transitions can be 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.
You aren’t sure what to do in the next phase of your life? Have something to eat first, and then we’ll figure it out.
You aren’t sure how to manage your down time? Eat first, and then we’ll figure it out.
Are you anxious about the future? Eat.
Why do we do it? Why do we eat rather than actively participate in the life transitions?
Everyone could answer this question 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. I was able to identify the following:
- 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 would like to apply for. What your life will look and feel like as an empty nester.
- 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.
- BufferingIt is our way of numbing our feelings. To NOT feel anything. To not feel unhappy, lonely, or uncomfortable. We buffer by eating. We also buffer by eating, drinking, and taking drugs.
- Lonely– You might feel lonely as a new empty nester, a death of a loved one, or divorce. This transition from having people around to you can cause loneliness and may lead to 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.
- Overwhelming! This is a big one for me. I eat when there is too much to do or too little I want to do.
As with most behavior changes, it is important to identify your triggers and find new solutions.
My personal transitions which led to excessive eating
I’m grateful for my trials, mistakes, failures, and challenges in life. I know God is improving me every time I stumble or fall. 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 moved out with my children.
This was a difficult place for me. I felt lost. It was a lackluster sense 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. It was all I did!
It was difficult to find myself without these things. Each day, I woke up with the intention of building this blog (Health Beet), but I wasn’t sure how or where to begin. So, instead, I ate.
This pattern was repeated every day for approximately 4-5 months. I didn’t get anything done in building a business and instead spent my time eating.
Transition 2: Returning home from vacation, work, or running errands
What is it about the transition from vacation to work? Even if you just 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 eating during transitions
- Recognize it! Name it. Name it. Pay attention to it. You can say it to yourself. “Ahh.. I see what you’re doing here. Your tired from your trip, you don’t want to tackle the laundry, so instead you decide to have a snack.”Recognizing what you are doing can help you turn that around.
- Resist it.It is hard to believe, but it is possible. Every time you give in, that behavior is carving it’s way into your life deeper and deeper.
- It’s time to replace it! Once you see what you’re doing, replace that habit with something else. Perhaps you are looking for a way to numb your mind, such as watching TV. 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. However, I do enjoy watching trashy TV shows more than eating so it seems to work for my needs.
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. It was the combination of these events that caused me to feel uncomfortable, fear, anxiety and loneliness.
Therapy helped me to sort through these questions and ironically, once that transition was complete, I stopped overeating.
We have the option to choose to move with grace, intention, or reflection. We can learn from the past and plan for the future with grace, intention, and reflection. This will help to ease our fears and calm our uncertainty.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! What tips can you use to avoid overeating or eating during life transitions.
Accept the challenges to feel the thrill of victory.
George S. Patton