Saturday, 20 June 2015

Emotions & Food

Emotions & Food (or Drink)

Warning: a long heartfelt post

Recently I have been going through some emotional 'stuff' and it's brought to the fore for me about how I treat my emotions when I'm sad and hurt, but also when I'm happy and laughing.

I have started to reflect on the journey I have been on over my entire life, and how food and drink (specifically alcohol) have played their role in this life, and how they have affected my body and it's journey to health and balance.

When I was young (shout out if you remember any of this happening for you), if I was upset, or sad, or hurting in any way, the ultimate way to sweep away those tears turned out to be a cuddle, a cup of milky, sugary tea and a bun/cake/biscuit.  That certainly stopped the tears pretty quickly.  But what is this really doing to your emotions?  On reflection, I can now see that it's about swallowing how you feel, not expressing what is inside, but pushing it downwards to ensure it is 'soothed'.  Swallowing pain is a habit.

I'm sure this happens the world over, and it starts before you are even on solids.  I watch mother's around me, especially with their newborn first child. They're unsure why they're crying initially, so a good way to soothe the baby is to feed the baby.  Where do we learn this? From our mother's and their mother's and the story continues.

Now, I'm not saying that this is a wrong thing (well, maybe I am, we'll come to that!!), but it's just as it is.  What we're not doing as a society, or even within our family, is acknowledgeing that this is what it's about. Instead, we're feeding into it and encouraging it.  We aren't stopping and asking the question, how do we change this so that our children have a better attitude around food (and even drink).

Culturally, this happens worldwide too. Recently, I've been watching a food program that is about different cultures and their food.  All of the cultures use food to celebrate.  Now this is not so much about pushing down negative emotions with food, but it is associating having a fun time with eating, and not with, e.g. dancing, or having a fun adventure with family.  Again, I'm not saying it's a wrong thing!

As we begin to grow into our lives, we have food all around us. We need a balanced meal, but sometimes the food choices are not so good for us.  Would I have avoided the yo-yo dieting routine if the food choices had been different?

Tell me, how many parents out there tell their children that if they're good, they'll be rewarded with a meal at MacDonalds?  What does this teach us about respecting our food and our bodies?

For me, the journey to where I am today is littered with examples of how food has been used as a soother, a comforter, a celebration, a reward, a comforting memory and yes, even as a weapon.

I remember well being taught that if I'm good, I can have dessert.  If I don't eat my cabbage I can't leave the table (and my sibling is laughing at me, hence the idea of a weapon), or have dessert.  If I stop crying, I can have a piece of cake and maybe a milo (cold sugary, malt and milk drink).  If I pass my exams,  I can go to a restaurant and choose whatever I wish (usually creamy, fatty foods!!). Here, have a glass of wine, that will calm you down.  You're looking tense, have a relaxing wine.  Not feeling confident, have a heart starter before you hit the clubs (usually a spirit).  I even remember a time I was going to run away, I must have been about 4 years old, I was caught filling my little suitcase up with home baking, I was convinced not to go as I could sit down with some of those goodies, and have them in the house!! Now whenever I am at home (where I grew up), I instinctively want to stop at the local store and buy a hokey pokey icecream, as it was a treat I had with my Dad in the months before he died, so a memory trigger.

All of these statements have been part of my history as I've grown up and as I've gone through adult hood.

Now, as I'm approaching 50years of age, I'm finally beginning to realise my triggers when it comes to food.  And some of them are

  • sadness and not wanting to talk (push those feelings down)
  • celebrating with friends and wanting to feel included (so low self-esteem)
  • boredom (what else can I do)
  • memories of loved ones passed away (memories of food sharing moments, so want to repeat those)

Some of the poor food choices have been

  • fried and salty foods
  • icecream
  • alcohol
  • bread and butter with peanut butter and honey

Now that I'm realising the triggers, it's now about how to recognise them, and to not succumb to the triggers and consequently the poor food choices I can make at these times.

I have been slowing implementing actions that change these choices.  Yes, I am still feeling the triggers, however as I'm aware of them, it's a more conscious choice over what I do with them.

In regards to the alcohol, I've instigated having soda water with lime slices in a fancy glass, or swapping out the alcohol for a low alcohol, small bottle, thus restricting the amount I have.

When it comes to food, I make sure that there are always healthy snacks in my handbag (I have fabulous fibre rich, protein rich bars that I carry with me everywhere, as well as my green tea infused chocolate) and cupboards. I enlist my husband to do the grocery shopping, so I can't be buying unhealthy snack food (he won't buy it unless it's on the list!). I use an app on my smartphone, making me accountable by having to write down all that I eat.

I also write in a journal every day.  In this journal I write about all that I'm grateful for in my life, including the tough things, including the fights with family, including the insults felt during the day, including the feeling of it being 'tough', and I also include why I'm grateful for these things. How they make me feel, that I'm acknowledgeing these feelings, that I'm realising that I can let them go. I also write about the beauty I see during the day, the Kookaburra that lands on our balcony (as he did today), the sunset as I write this will be going in (the colours are stunning, as they are most days, but also, I've lived another day, how incredible), there  is so much beauty around us, if we stop and see it. That has been part of my journey too.

I've also done a little ceremony this week, where I've written letters to those that have instigated the hurt in me recently (as it's my reaction that has hurt, not their action), and I've bought a beautiful box and ribbon, some wonderful paper to write the letters out on, and I've placed these all into the box, wrapped it up, with love and intention to heal. Letting go of what is in the box.  This has been truly powerful for me. Another trigger dumped, with love, from my life.  Feel so amazing and light (and I've not cracked a bottle of anything to celebrate that either!).

I've been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now. A friend of mine has been posting on Facebook recently, some of her thoughts on her food addiction, and it has certainly helped me realise that I, too, have been struggling with this. That I too, have been reacting to triggers in my life.  And that we can all overcome this, we just have to make the decision to do this.  I know I've made the decision. I also know that there will be slip ups, heck, it's taken me nearly 50 years of practice to get where I am, I'm not going to change that overnight!! But it is changing, and for that, I am truly, truly grateful to have discovered what I can do, and learn and move on it!

Thank you all who have read this far for listening and sharing in my story, I hope it has helped you understand some of the ways food and alcohol can play a role in the lives of those around you.

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