Christmas and Donuts and Emotions and Disordered Eating

We went to the Christmas tree lighting on campus and it was so cold but so fun! It was totally packed too. There were some carols and a musical number and it was just nice to be surrounded by the Christmas spirit for a few minutes. I was feeling a little bit down beforehand, and it really cheered me up. We even ran into our friends who recently moved out of the ward and we got to see their brand new baby.

We tried a new soup recipe on Sunday and then I made it again on Thursday because we liked it so much. It will definitely put you in the autumn/winter spirit. Here is the recipe.

I watched a Disney documentary during one of my morning workouts and it was very interesting.

Derek had a playoff game for basketball and they won! I was supposed to be editing his paper while watching the game but I couldn't because I was too into the game. It was fun to watch. The finals will be after Thanksgiving.

I have been pushing weights in my workouts and my hamstrings get so.tight. I foam roll a lot but the other night Derek rolled it out with a trusty rolling pin for me. I never knew until I started working out regularly a few years ago that massages can sometimes be painful and not just glorious. It was definitely not glorious and it hurt like crazy but felt so much better the next day.

I'm going to share some thoughts I've been having lately about emotional eating! These thoughts are very jumbled.

*I am not (repeat NOT) a registered dietitian. I wouldn't take my word for anything. I'm just a 100-Grand bar obsessed English major twenty-something writing about my experiences. I like this blog for an expert's take on things.

When I'm around donuts, I think of my grandpa.

I have vivid childhood memories of my mom taking me and my sisters to Thriftway (a grocery store) to meet my grandpa for lunch in the deli. We each got to pick out our own meal. Mine was always a cup of macaroni and cheese and a carton of white milk. I remember my sisters picking out chicken or jojo's or pizza sticks with lemonade or Sprite or orange juice. We would take our food and sit around the big circle table in the room with the purple walls and the big window and eat while we listened to my mom and grandpa chat. After the meal, he would walk us over to the big donut case by the bakery and help us pick one out and put it in a big brown box. Chocolate with sprinkles, old-fashioned twists with glaze, and maple. If I think hard enough about it, I'm back there in that grocery store. I can see and feel each moment. And I don't mean to make it dramatic, because it isn't, and it wasn't. But those memories are vivid. My grandpa is grinning down at us as we take too much time deciding which flavor we want, as if it's the last donut we'll ever have so we have to make sure to pick the perfect flavor. I see my mom's big black purse and my little sister holding my mom's hand. I see the mini van with melted crayon in all the cup holders that's sitting out in the parking lot. I see the hustle and bustle of the lunch crowd overwhelming the cashier, probably a high school student. When I'm deep enough in those memories, I swear I can still smell the donuts as if I was standing right there in the bakery. It's comforting; it's family; it's cathartic.

Food is emotional.

I remember a time during my sophomore year of college where I decided I was going to take a week off of all treats. To prove what, exactly? I'm not sure. No cookies, no donuts, no candy from the bowl at work, no nothing. I remember making it to a week and feeling proud of myself, as if I had accomplished something monumental or honorable. As if sugar was the thing to avoid at all costs and I had finally done it. What a sure way to make sure sugar was always on my mind.

I  remember in the weeks leading up to my wedding, my mom and I were out shopping and gathering a few last minute things. I remember being in a bookstore and her seeing the chocolates in the glass case by the cash register and watching her pick out a few for us. I think I ate a piece; I have a picture of us holding up the chocolates together. But knowing where I was at in my life then, I wouldn't be surprised if I had taken a bite and then, when my mom wasn't looking, spit it out and thrown the piece away.

I also remember, on a similar trip like that one before the wedding, my mom asking if I wanted to stop and get dinner at Red Robin. We were right by it, and I was paralyzed. Because we were so close to the restaurant, I wouldn't have time to look up the nutritional info. of the food before we got there. And I knew if I looked it up in front of my mom, she would be curious and suspicious, suspicious of something that I bet she wondered if was going on and that I had been denying, denying, denying. I made some excuse up of why I didn't want dinner, saying, "Oh, I'm fine, but if you want to go in I'll sit with you." Understandably, she didn't want to eat alone, so she picked up some to-go food for her and my dad and we went home. While they ate their food, I ate a yogurt with some cereal in it for my dinner. I remember it didn't tasty very good. I also remember going back for more cereal, something I labeled at the time as a "binge."Sometimes I think about that opportunity I missed to have dinner with my mom, and if I think about it enough, I get emotional about it. I know it's just one dinner, but it's one dinner with my mom, my mom who I was about to move away from in my first official summer away from home. It's one dinner with my mom, one dinner that I would do anything to have right now, especially on the days where the ache of missing her and home hits hard.

Food can be so, so emotional.

"Emotional eating" is a phrase thrown around that has a bit of a negative connotation to it. And I can understand why. When we use food as our only means of coping with stress, sadness, or other life circumstances, we abuse food. Having an arsenal of coping mechanisms is, I think, the healthiest option. That means we don't always turn to the pint of ice cream to get through a break up. But it also means that sometimes we do. Using food to cope is not always the right choice; in fact,  I think it's used too often. But that doesn't mean that sometimes it's not a good choice, even the better choice.

When I was younger, I used to deal with stress about homework assignments by eating handfuls of chocolate chips straight from the fridge. I would sit at the table, feel the stress of an assignment, walk over and get some chocolate, then repeat for three hours. I never felt great after episodes like that, but it was how I had trained myself to cope.

Over the years, I've practiced and learned several different strategies (some good, some bad) for dealing with stress. One that I've found works for me is to take a shower. When my husband and I got in a little argument last week and I needed a way to cool off by myself, I went and took a shower. Taking those few minutes to myself made the biggest difference. I came out of that shower feeling so much better, feeling ready to forgive and move on.

In the thick of my disordered eating, I remember using portion control and emotional food manipulation to cope with my stress. Looking back, I can see that my eating disorder was all about control. If I was overwhelmed and life was feeling out of control, I would turn to the one thing I knew I could control: my body size. I would restrict my food and overexercise as a way to keep control of at least one thing in my life. I may not have been able to control how many assignments my professors gave, but darn it, I was going to be in charge of this.

This isn't to say that looking up the nutritional info. of food at a restaurant means you have an eating disorder. (It doesn't.) This isn't to say that you always have to accept a donut from someone if they offer (you don't), that you always have to take a piece of candy from the bowl at work (you don't), or that you always have to get ice cream with everyone after a day at the pool if you don't want it (you so, so don't have to eat if you don't want to). I've found that some foods, even if they sound good, don't make me feel good, so I don't eat them. But if you find you do want to eat, you don't have to be afraid to. You can get ice cream with your girlfriends even if you aren't necessarily hungry, even if you didn't exercise that day. We eat to relieve hunger, but we also eat to connect, compliment, heal, and bond. I think of it like I think back on those memories with my grandpa. Or how I think of Thanksgiving memories from years past, where the rolls and the pies and the casseroles are all just details in the stories I remember of my aunts and uncles and cousins. But the food is still a huge part of the memory. It's why I associate this one certain casserole with my grandma on my dad's side, why when I see those frozen turkey burgers from Costco I think of the first summer Derek and I were married, why I can't eat a salad at the Olive Garden without thinking of shopping dates with my mom and sisters and grandma. Food is laced into our lives.

Like I said, using food as our only means of coping isn't healthy. And food doesn't always have to have this lasting and impactful memory. (I feel zero connection to most things I eat on a daily basis, haha.) Having a variety of ways to deal with the stresses of life is important. But if every once in awhile, dealing with your stress looks like getting ice cream with your best friend, that doesn't make you a binge eater. That doesn't make your day of healthy eating suddenly no longer healthy. Food doesn't always have to be emotional in the negative sense of the word. Sometimes, it can be exactly what you need. And if you find yourself scared to eat, scared when someone suggests a night out for dinner that you weren't planning on, know that you're not alone in that fear. But don't be afraid to reach out to someone who can help alleviate some of it. Food shouldn't be scary.

Unless you're opening a container of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls, because geez louise that pop of the can scares me every single time.