I had an a-ha moment yesterday.
Let me back up a little bit first.
I have been all over the place with my weight pretty much my whole life.
As a high schooler, I never thought I was thin enough.
In college I was on the swim team and I swam — a lot — and I was okay with what my body looked like then.
After I graduated, I went from one extreme to another.
Actually, I didn’t rebel.
I had some unaddressed trauma when I was in high school, and now that I wasn’t swimming regularly and at least doing something to keep the thoughts at bay, they came bubbling to the surface.
Bubbling isn’t really accurate, either. It was more like I was completely bombarded by them. Run over by an 18-wheeler.
So I turned to something else. I just totally numbed myself with lots of weed and lots of alcohol and lots of cigarettes.
I did that for many years.
It was a really unhealthy way to treat my body — and my brain — but it was definitely an effective weight management strategy for me.
When I got married I weighed about 122 pounds. Here I am on my honeymoon.
I spent the first few years post-babies trying to get that body back.
But I look at that body now and I don’t see strength. Or health. In any sense of the word. I was not in a good place physically or emotionally back then.
In the past five years my weight has yo-yo’d up and down.
In 2013, about 2 years after giving birth for the last time, I got down to the lowest weight I’ve been at since having kids and I lost about thirty pounds.
I was about 20 pounds heavier than I was when I got married, but I was in the best physical shape of my life.
Unfortunately I got there by doing stuff that was unsustainable. I was working out between 1-2 hours a day. And I had joined a weight loss competition at the gym, and once that was over, I had a hard time sticking with things. There was no motivation to win anything.
And so, over the last six years, the weight has slowly crept back on. I’ve lost a few pounds and then gained some and then lost some and then gained some.
I have been hovering between 170-175 pounds for the last two years.
I’m in great shape still. I exercise every day. Or almost every day. My resting heart rate is in the 40’s, my blood pressure is perfect, and all my bloodwork is excellent.
But I don’t want to be this weight. I don’t dislike myself because I’m heavier than I want to be. I happily and confidently wear a bikini at the beach. Here I am this past August on vacation.
I’m super comfortable in my skin.
But I know that for health reasons, ideally I should be at least twenty pounds lighter than I am.
There is one reason that I’m not.
And one reason only.
It’s not because of my kids.
It’s not because of my job.
It’s not because of my husband.
It’s not because of anyone else.
It’s not because I haven’t found the right diet or the right workout program. It’s not because I don’t have time or money or anything else I need to make changes.
It’s because I eat too much.
I have always used something to distract myself from mental and emotional discomfort.
It used to be smoking pot.
When I quit that, I still had smoking cigarettes.
When I quit that, I still had drinking alcohol.
When I quit that, I still had food.
The past six years have been full of lots of challenges.
We filed for bankruptcy and almost had our house foreclosed on.
My marriage is troubled.
And rather than allowing myself to sit in discomfort, I have turned to food. Over and over and over and over again.
Because just sitting with discomfort without any relief fucking blows.
Food is a really good distraction for that.
For me it has been anyway.
And I have said so many times in the last couple years that I eat to relieve stress.
I am an emotional eater.
I am a stress eater.
I have formed those identities for myself.
But you know what?
That doesn’t have to be my identity.
I created that identity for myself.
There is no grand wizard who came out of the sky and said, “SUSIE JOHNSON. YOU ARE HEREBY DECLARED A STRESS EATER. SO LET IT BE WRITTEN.”
The only person who gave that identity to me is….
And I’m ready for a new identity.
I’m ready to address the discomfort and I’m ready to sit in it.
I’m ready to allow my brain to feel shitty and to know that I can get through it.
If I can get through the shitty physical pain of running a marathon without eating half a box of Cap’n Crunch in one sitting, then I can get through the emotional pain of anything without doing that, too.
I have been spending a lot of time in the last few months and weeks paying attention to what and when and why I am eating.
I had gotten into a habit of eating in bed after I finally got all the kids to sleep each night in the last few years.
It was my reward.
But this reward was not bringing any long-term pleasure or benefits into my life.
Yes, in the moment, in the short term, it was pleasureable.
And it was relief for my brain.
But the next day I always felt shitty about it.
So a couple months ago I stopped that habit. It took a lot of effort to make that change.
Now that I look back, though, I can’t imagine eating in my bed!
I changed my identity.
Part of it, anyway.
I used to say, I eat dinner, or dessert — or both — in bed after the kids go to sleep.
Now my identity is, I don’t eat in my bed.
You know how I changed that?
I just changed it.
Was it easy at first?
Hell NO! It was hard and uncomfortable and not fun. My brain was like FUCK YOU SUSIE. I WANNA EAT IN BED. GIVE ME RELIEF, DAMMIT.
Eating in bed isn’t even a thought anymore, and I don’t even think about doing it.
Now I am working on the next component of changing my self-proclaimed emotional eater identity.
I have realized that when I have to do any type of work at the computer that requires a decent amount of brain power — especially when I am tired — work like drafting emails that I don’t want to send or writing blog posts or working on digital course content, I go into the kitchen on autopilot.
Sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve done it.
Kind of like when you drive somewhere and have no recollection of how you got from point A to point B.
A couple weeks ago it was like I repeatedly awoke from sleepwalking and found myself in the kitchen. Except for this was happening when I was awake. I had such little awareness of what I was doing or how easily I slipped into relief mode.
Once I really started paying attention to my thought patterns and behaviors, the recognition of the degree to which my brain seeks relief through the distraction of food was not only a little surprising, but also impressive.
We often beat ourselves up over this stuff. We judge and shame ourselves.
Why can’t I stop this?
Why am I such a failure?
What the hell is wrong with me?
You know what?
Nothing is wrong with you.
Your brain is doing its job. Your brain is a pretty kick ass machine, and it is designed to do as little work as possible and to keep you safe.
Your brain is really still a caveman brain.
Caveman brains wanted to avoid danger — DISCOMFORT — and caveman brains wanted to expend as little energy as possible.
Our brains have not evolved as quickly as the rest of the world has. Our brains are still trying to protect us from saber tooth tigers and dying of starvation.
So when your brain is trying to keep you from being uncomfortable, it is just doing its job. It thinks it’s keeping you alive.
Rather than beat yourself up over a “failure” you can look at it from a different perspective.
My brain is pretty fucking efficient at avoiding discomfort!
Somewhere along the way we have convinced ourselves that we shouldn’t be uncomfortable.
And as parents, it is so easy to do this with our kids.
We want to keep them happy and comfortable and safe at all times.
But sometimes being uncomfortable is necessary.
Because when you don’t learn how to sit in discomfort as a kid, then you end up not being able to tolerate discomfort as an adult, and then you find yourself in the kitchen eating Cap’n Crunch by the handful without even realizing that you’ve already polished off half the box.
And it’s a lot harder to learn how to do this shit as an adult after taking the weed/Marlboro/Franzia/Cap’n Crunch route for 50 years than it is to learn how to navigate it as a kid.
In healthy ways, anyway. And with guidance.
So let me be your guide.
If you are doing shit that is not serving you, there is only one person who can change that.
Your brain is gonna fight you. Big time.
That’s the bad news.
But the good news is you can use your brain to fight your brain.
You know better now.
Allow your brain to be uncomfortable for a minute.
Listen to what it is telling you. Build some awareness.
And then, when you really have an understanding of your thought and behavior patterns when you are sitting in discomfort, you can begin to work on forming a new identity for yourself.
And eventually, that fucking box of Cap’n Crunch will just be a reminder of where you used to be and how far you have come.