The last four years have been hard on my waistband. At around midnight on November 8, 2016, a deep feeling of loss and anxiety settled in — the 2016 election was a personal assault on my gender. Like I’d been gang-raped by the electoral college.
My emotional eating habits triggered by asinine and careless acts from this administration — putting us all in danger — had rendered my wardrobe useless.
Growing up, I ate to soothe anxiety and stuff feelings I wasn’t allowed to express in my strict household ruled by my authoritarian father.
The four females in my family stuffed an emotional void with Pop-Tarts, chips, bagels, Kit Kats, M&Ms, soda, fast food — any junk we could coerce our mom into dumping into the grocery cart.
We ate preservatives for sustenance. Leaving us tired, cranky, and lethargic.
For dinner, we were served wilted vegetables, from a bag. For the longest time, I thought vegetables grew in plastic. On the lucky occasion when our father wouldn’t be home for dinner, my mom would yell, “Hop in the car; we’re going to McDonald’s!”
Big Mac take away the pain if only for the five minutes it takes me to gobble you down.
For breakfast, I mixed whole milk and Nestle Quik and then dumped Cocoa Pebbles into the sweet dark liquid. Breakfast for champions.
In high school, sports kept my weight normal. Basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey allowed my horrible eating to go on without negatively affecting my weight.
It wasn’t until I went to college my weight crept up. I started eating more but moving less — a recipe for a 20-pound increase. The anxiety of being away from home for the first time caught up with me at the cafeteria, and the all you can eat buffet. I was now living in a city, and was very lonely. So, I did what I knew, ate to soothe, and fill a void.
Then I took a nutrition class during my sophomore year that provoked an interest in food as medicine. I eventually slimmed down naturally by walking from one end of the city to the other and made better choices.
The nutrition course started me on lifelong health, which allowed me to stop obsessing over the number on the scale. It was a shift. City life introduced me to cuisines I had never tried before, like Thai and Indian. My palette, more sophisticated, explored food for taste, pleasure, entertainment, and less to fill some emotional void.
Now I ate for nutrition and moved for health.
When I had my first child, I got even more serious about eating only nutrient-dense foods. I gave up dairy because it was the only way I could continue to nurse her. When dairy was finally out of my system after three straight months without it, I never felt better in my body.
My chronic stomach aches disappeared, my energy soared, my knees stopped hurting when I hiked. I started exercising more, my chronic lower back pain left me for the first time in years.
My doctor asked, “What are you eating? Your cholesterol levels are superb!”
Since giving up dairy, in search of a that creamy mouthfeel dairy has, I started eating a couple of whole avocadoes a week smeared on whole-wheat toast with lemon squeezed on top, salt and pepper.
I went to get a massage, and the woman asked, “You don’t eat a lot of meat, do you?” “No.” I responded, “How can you tell?” “Your muscles aren’t tough.”
Eww, I thought.
I went to the local farmer’s market every Saturday, a three-block walk from my house, and filled the frig with the most beautiful and flavorful fruits and vegetables; I started eating seasonally and never felt better. Reacquainting myself with vegetables — right from the ground — had the most significant impact on my life. I started eating only organic produce, reduced my meat intake further, and never ate out of a bag again.
Until Trump triggered my emotional eating.
His vile language, the pussy-grabbing comment (and then elected after said comment), race-baiting, and every day bullying of nearly every minority group; women, POC, Gold Star families, servicemen and women, women who hold any public power, all of it, had me reaching for ice cream and chips again.
The withdrawal of the Paris Agreement, the weakening of Obama-era fuel standards, the backing out of the Iran nulcear agreement, and then the delay in taking the appropriate measures on the pandemic, then the denial about Covid, 375K Americans dead — lost from ineptness — and then more denial about Covid had me buying things at the store I never buy; white truffle potato chips (oh my god!) from Trader Joe’s, brownies layered with chocolate chip brownies, cookies, Ben and Jerry’s The Tonight Dough ice cream (damn you, Ben, dame you, Jerry) tacos for dinner at the local food truck down the block, and hey, let’s make Duncan Hines’ brownies and top it with vanilla ice cream as soon as they come out of the oven like I ate growing up.
I started buying bread made fresh daily because the world was ending.
On top of this delicious bread, I spread a giant slab of butter and some jam. Like I was living in a three-story walk-up in Paris, except that I don’t live in Paris. I don’t do the walking Parisians do after they enjoy their fresh bread, butter, and jam. I would eat bread in the morning and then sit at my computer all day writing.
My gym shut down because of the pandemic; it’s still not open. No one goes out anyway. I don’t have anywhere to wear my fabulous skinny jeans. My daily wardrobe consists of the same baggy sweats and a sweatshirt that I most likely slept in. My life consists of writing, eating, and sleeping.
The world hasn’t ended yet. But I could no longer fit into my jeans.
A few months ago, with the election coming up and Trump’s poll numbers coming down, I took a hard look at myself. I wanted to get to my pre-election weight.
I’m short. Any weight on my small frame is noticeable.
I gained ten pounds after the election of Trump and another ten from Covid. For someone who is only 5'2", that’s a lot. I have only two pounds to lose with one week left.
I can do that.
Here are the changes I made
#1. Intermittent fasting.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about fasting. I’ve fasted before, for an entire week at a time.
But you don’t have to be that all in.
Most of your fasting hours can take place during your sleeping hours. For females, a 14 to 16-hour fast each day is recommended.
I stop eating my 7:00 pm, sometimes 6:00 pm. I don’t eat again until 10:00 am or 9:00 am, respectively. That is a 15-hour fast.
After a week, your body gets used to it.
There are many health benefits to intermittent fasting. Increased energy is one. That is the one that motivates me the most to keep fasting as part of my lifestyle.
#2. No food from a bag or box.
I stopped eating or buying anything that comes in a bag or a box except for pre-washed greens.
I returned to only buying food in its whole form.
#3. Cut out sugar.
I cut out sugar completely except for fruit and I allow myself one treat once a week. That could be a glass of wine, ice cream or a croissant from the bakery.
The less sugar you consume, the less you crave. Not right away, but after a week of abstaining, the craving will lesson.
#4. Ditched the baggy clothes.
Instead of reaching for my baggy sweats each morning, I grabbed my now-tight workout leggings (as I write this, they are looser after four weeks of implementing one through six).
This does a couple of things: It makes me aware of my body and how it feels. Each week that I drop a few pounds, they are more comfortable. I can feel the progress.
I can’t hide in tight pants. I’m aware of how uncomfortable I am when I wear them. Another benefit is that I’m ready for my workout at 11:00 am when I’ve finished my writing session.
I know when I put my tight pants on in the morning, the workout is happening. It’s on.
#6. A walk outside for an hour each evening.
A brisk walk. I walk an hour loop in my neighborhood, and I don’t stop at the ice cream shop or the local bakery.
Awareness made the most impact on my eating habits.
When I reach for Ben and Jerry (ice cream is by far my biggest weakness), I ask myself a simple question, What is going on? And, even though I don’t always have the answer, asking helps.
What are you feeling? What is the feeling you are trying to soothe with this cookie?
When I’m craving something bad for my health, and I want to binge — this recently happened during the first presidential debate — I ask myself the question,
What is the feeling behind this?
Just being aware and bringing consciousness to what I’m feeling stops the craving or impulse to eat something that will make me feel bad.
I read something in Atomic Habits by James Clear that resonated with me and immediately brought awareness, “every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.”
What internal state am I running from, and why?
This one question has stopped me from eating when I’m not hungry. Instead of trying to fill some feeling that no amount of Ben and Jerry’s will ever fill, I tap into what is going on instead.