Disclaimer: If you are currently suffering from or in recovery from an eating disorder (especially binge eating disorder), this post may be triggering, as I discuss bingeing and emotional eating in this post. If you haven't already, please seek help from a professional therapist and RD who specialize in treating eating disorders and get the support you need ❤️
Okay guys, before we dive into this I need to give a little context. This past week we had Rosh Hashanah on Monday night, Tuesday, and Wednesday (Shana Tovah!!), then a quick break on Thursday before heading into Shabbat on Friday/Saturday. For those who don't know, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and it's a 2-Day Holiday filled with beautiful traditions, prayers, and special foods (especially fruits). So it's been a week filled with LOTS of celebration and delicious food but lots of heavy food too (brisket for days, tons of meat, rich chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, etc.) In some ways I'm feeling great. 72+ hours of technology-free time is the greatest gift for a workaholic like me, and my mental, emotional, and spiritual health benefitted immensely. But physically, I felt terrible. Eating so much heavy food (especially so late at night) left me with painful stomach aches, terrible bloating (I seriously look like I'm 6 months pregnant), headaches, and eczema flare ups that are so aggressive that my skin starts bleeding. So let me be clear- this post is not about feeling like I ate a bit too much over the holidays, or feel guilty for having a piece of dessert and putting on weight. This is about eating so much food to the point where I physically feel ill and have symptoms that require days and weeks to reduce.
Since I've started my health journey, I've struggled with finding a balance between using food as a means to celebrate and still maintaining boundaries around meals to keep me feeling my best. For most of my life, celebration was equated with decadent desserts. But since learning I had PCOS and then diabetes, I pretty much cut out refined sugar and processed foods from my diet. Through tracking my meals, blood sugar, and moods, I was able to create a routine around meals that helped me keep my blood sugar balanced, feel totally full and satisfied, clear up my skin, improve my sleep, decrease bloating and other unpleasant digestive symptoms, all while really enjoying my meals. And sticking to those boundaries most days really helps me feel like my best self. But when things like holidays or vacations come up and I deviate from my regular routines around eating, my body responds in a pretty intense way. And it's really hard to find the balance between enjoying myself during the holiday while also sticking to my regular routines.
At the big meals over this past week, I noticed myself eating well past the point of being comfortably full multiple times. Sometimes I literally already had a stomach ache and kept on eating. I even had moments where I told myself "Lauren, stop eating. You're going to get an even worse stomach ache" and I just kept going. This makes me feel out of control around food and there's definitely some extra shame thrown on top of that since I literally teach people how to eat healthy and how to have a healthy relationship with food.
If this week existed in isolation, I wouldn't dwell too much on it. But since it's only the beginning of a month filled with festivities (pre and post Yom Kippur meals, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and all the Shabbatot in between) I know I'm not the only one who needs to find a way to enjoy these holidays without compromising on my physical health. I say this not from a place of anger or deprivation but from a place of love: I fully deserve to feel amazing in my body Respecting my fulness cues is integral to treating my body with respect. When I eat well past the point of fullness and keep shoving food into my body, it's genuinely disrespectful and prevents me from actually feeling satisfied and enjoying my meal. It's the opposite of intuitive eating and while it's not detrimental in the short term, it's not a behavior that makes me feel good physically or emotionally.
The following action steps are how I plan to manage the rest of the holidays from this place of love and respect towards my body.
1. Identify what fullness actually means to me:
Get as specific as possible here. Write it down. Is it the absence of hunger? Is it the physical feeling of food in your stomach? Is there an emotional satisfaction piece to it for you?
I actually need to feel hungry before a meal in order to feel full and satisfied after eating. The satisfaction comes from the change in state, and the starting point is hunger. If I'm already not hungry and just eat and eat, there's no transition into the satisfaction state. I go from already satisfied to stuffed, and it's emotionally and physically unsatisfactory. One way to ensure that I'll be hungry before the meal is to make sure I'm eating proper meals throughout the day, not just picking at food all day while I'm cooking.
2. Eat mindfully:
This is something I really want to practice more, especially on Shabbat and holidays when we're already taking the time to sit and have long meals and we have nowhere else to go, nowhere to run, and no work to do. Mindful eating might sound very "woo woo," but it just means bringing awareness to what's going on when you're eating. Notice the way the food looks and smells before you even pick it up. Take time to really chew your food and notice the feeling of the food in your mouth, on your tongue, and how it fills up your cheeks. Take time to swallow before moving on to the next bite. If you've never practiced mindful eating before, this is a great exercise to go through to learn some of the techniques: https://www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/files/Mindful%20eating.pdf. When we take time to properly eat our food, we're also much more in tune with how it’s affecting our body. You notice the food traveling through your body more and how it feels to settle your stomach. It also makes it much easier to get emotional satisfaction and joy from your food when you eat it mindfully.
3. Schedule a Check In
It’s really hard for me to pay close attention to what’s happening in my body when I’m at a table with lots of people and there’s a really interesting conversation going on. Take a moment to excuse yourself from the table, go to the bathroom and just have a check in. It can be as quick as 1 or 2 minutes, but this practice is so important and a great way to improve your relationship with your body. Think about it- when you have a friend or partner that you love, you text them throughout the day to check in and see say "Hey, how are you feeling?". Doing this with yourself builds up a loving relationship between you and your body.
During this check in, ask yourself if you're still feeling hungry. If yes, go add some more food to your plate. If you are already feeling full, ask yourself what will eating more food do for you? If the answer is that it will give you a stomach ache or make you nauseous, those are some valid reasons to stop eating and make a conscious decision that you’re full and had a great eating experience and now you’re done. If you still feel more of an emotional pull to keep eating, ask yourself again what will eating more do for you? Will it calm any anxiety you have about the social situation you're in? Do you feel the need to have something in your hands or in your mouth because sitting still for so long makes your fidgety? If that's the case, think about an alternative behavior that can satisfy that need. For me sometimes I just want something in my hand or mouth and I'll play with a toothpick or the tablecloth or something (not super polite table etiquette, but won't give me stomach aches.) I might drink a cup of tea or even water mindfully and appreciate the sensation of having a really nice drink. Reminder- these are not behaviors to do instead of eating when you're hungry. These are behaviors that can be done instead of overeating to the point where you feel sick.
4. Conclude your eating experience with gratitude:
This is actually really easy for us to incorporate because we formally end all of our meals by saying a blessing to conclude the meal. Since we've had this practice for years, we often do it on autopilot, but taking time to really recognize how blessed we are to eat delicious food and share it with people we love. This doesn't have to be a religious practice if that's not your thing- think about all the steps that need to happen in order for our food to get from its source to your table- good soil and rain conditions, hardworking farmers, the chefs or factory workers, or your grandma's time and efforts in preparing the food, and everything in between. It's truly amazing when you stop and think about it. It helps you end your eating experience with gratitude and appreciation, which also has lots of mental health benefits.
These four steps aren't something to practice one time- when you get into the habit of being mindful about noticing your body's fullness and satiety cues, your ability to eat intuitively increases tremendously. Our bodies know how much food they require in order to function optimally. Unfortunately, when we are eating diets rich and processed foods and junk, that actually hijacks our satiety hormones, make us feel resistant to insulin and leptin, which prevents us from truly understanding when we’re full. Eating nutritious foods is an essential part of eating mindfully and overcoming the factors that cause us to overeat. When we give our bodies the proper nutrition and listen to our bodies' natural hunger and satiety cues, there is so much less conflict around finding the balance between eating healthy and enjoying ourselves because they really become one and the same.
I'm excited to update you guys in a few weeks with how these action steps helped me in my own health journey and I would love to hear how they helped you too! Send me a DM on instagram or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how these tips helped you!
Wishing you health and happiness!