By Dr. Bernadette Rock www.heydayworld.com
Angry + bored = ice cream. Hurt = chocolate. Stressed + biscuits = guilt. We’ve all let our feelings and habits overrule our appetites and then regretted it. While I now help people develop a healthy relationship with food and weight, it wasn’t so long ago since food was my best friend and eating was my way of coping with stress or difficult situations.
A Personal Story
I could write the diet book, and I knew how many calories were in every food from carrots to cheese. At the start of each week, each month, and every New Year, I promised myself that this time it would be different and I would lose weight. I spent my teens, twenties and college years either overeating or restricting my eating, and food and weight were my full-time preoccupation. So much of my energy and thoughts were focused on what I would eat next, how I could eat less, how I could eat without no-one noticing. A lot of my eating was done when I knew no-one was watching. I would have been mortified if anyone spotted me shovelling down crisps or crackers and hastily brushing away the crumbs in shame.
I was drawn to food as if it was calling out my name, and I understand when my clients talk about the pulling power of food. For me eating numbed emotional distress, anxiety, even boredom. When I sank my teeth into cake or marshmallows, a feeling of relief poured into every pore of my body and I could momentarily escape reality. Of course, it returned later, and I needed more food to wipe away the emotional discomfort. When offered food my reasoning was, “Ah sure, it’ll make no difference. I might as well go ahead and eat it”. It’s a commonly held belief, and suggests a sense of hopelessness and reigned acceptance.
While in college, I rarely openly talked about weight and eating anxieties with friends, and if the subject of weight arose, my friends routinely responded, “Ah you’re grand. It’s not like you’re that overweight”. While well-intentioned, it made me feel alone with my struggles, which were invisible even to those closest to me.
My big “Aha” moment came shortly after my daughter was born when I was 28 years old. When my daughter, Keela, was just 6 weeks old, I separated from her father. For the first 6 months, Keela had a bad dose of colic and cried for hours on end. I was a physical and emotional wreck. On top of this, I was trying to complete my PhD in UCD. In the past, any sign of stress would leave me in search of food. But I knew that whatever I was doing to try to manage my weight was not working and I needed a change. There was another more important reason. I wanted the best for my little daughter, and the thought of her growing up and picking up my negative eating and dieting habits scared me. I wanted her to enjoy a healthy relationship with food and I was tired of living a life that was preoccupied with weight and food and hurling insults at myself for my eating.
Finding a Balance
One cold September morning when my daughter was 2 months old my brother asked me to join him for a morning run, and I reluctantly agreed. Before I knew it I had the running bug. Before that I never had the confidence to engage in sports. Now when I feel stressed I run instead of eating! I started becoming more self-aware and mindful of my eating and of the situations and emotions that were leading me to overeat. Now if I find myself grabbing a packet of crisps or mindlessly picking at biscuits, it’s a sure indication that something is bothering or upsetting me. It’s my red flag. When I pause and ask myself, “Am I really hungry?” or “What am I hungry for?” the answer is usually “I feel snowed under by work” or “what if things don’t work out here”. Focusing on food cannot fix this these anxieties or make them go away. Only I (and you!) can take the reins back and start taking charge of life challenges.
I’ve now reached a place where I am happy in myself and in my own body. I enjoy food and it’s no longer a guilty struggle. I’ve moved away from the all-or-nothing mentality. My eating isn’t perfect but it’s balanced and healthy 85% if the time. That’s good enough for me, and a relief to know that my little girl will grow up with a mother who is healthy and confident in herself. I still have moments when I have an urge to eat all around me, especially on a Sunday evening as I become aware of the seemingly endless weekly tasks and demands ahead of me. Laura a 37-year old client and mother-of-two, recently shared her new and revealing insight, “I know now that whether I eat that slice of cake or not it will change nothing. Whatever I’m avoiding by eating will still be there tomorrow morning. So maybe I’m better off dealing with whatever is bothering me right now”.
My ambition now is to help other women and men develop a healthy relationship with food and weight. I know from my own struggles that aside from diets and food plans, there aren’t many other options or support for people like me. I drew on my own personal experiences, my PhD in Sociology, and mindfulness practices to create a programme called Heyday. Heyday takes the focus off dieting and deprivation and empowers participants to address the habits, emotions and situations that lead to unhealthy eating. Heyday consists of workshops and 1:1 meetings, which I have delivered in Loughlinstown Weight Management Clinic, with very promising outcomes among patients. Since then I’ve delivered the Heyday programme in Medfit in Blackrock, and developed a motivating online programme. I love my work and I’m inspired by my clients’ honesty and sheer determination.
Real and long-lasting change starts with knowing yourself and choosing to address the stressors that lead to your unhealthy eating. That takes personal strength and courage. It’s not without its challenges but it’s definitely a liberating and enlightening journey. I called the programme Heyday because it’s about bringing joy and radiance back into your life. It’s about empowering yourself to take the reins back instead of handing your time and energy over to eating and weight. Are you ready to let go of the food and weight and start reclaiming your life?
Deep Breath & Pause: We make countless mindless decisions around food every day. Pause before you eat and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry”, “Is this hunger or habit?” By pausing and slowing down you are more in control of your food choices.
Black-and-White Mentality: Are you an all-or-nothing eater either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, in control or out of control? Your all-or-nothing mentality keeps you locked in a cycle of out-of-control eating. Interrupting this cycle means acknowledging your slip-up, “Ok I’ve eaten a half packet of biscuits. But if I continue eating, I’ll feel worse.” Draw a symbolic line. Don’t wait until Monday morning to start being good. Tell yourself, “Ok, I’ve drawn a line. This is where the unwanted eating stops”.
Start enjoying a better relationship with food! Send your comments and questions to me at email@example.com. The Heyday program is available online. I deliver workshops and 1:1 meetings in Medfit Proactive Healthcare, Blackrock, Dublin. I also deliver a workshop program ‘6 Steps to No More Dieting’, with leading Dietician Paula Mee. Email me, as above, for further details. Also see www.heydayworld.com and www.facebook.com/heydayworld.