Desperately need help going from emotional eating to healthy eating
January 23, 2018 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I've been overweight since after my first child, I have two now. I'm approximately 40 lb over my ideal weight. I find it extremely hard to stick to any eating plan whatsoever. I have tried calorie counting that was too hard. I tried going vegan that was too hard. I tried going low-carb high-fat that was too hard.

My default eating habits are mostly unhealthy and fattening so something has to give or else my health and quality of life are quickly going to suffer more than they already have. I don't have any diseases yet but I know that if I don't change something I will one day soon maybe. I actually do love vegetables like onions and broccoli I prefer them cooked. I love Meats for the flavor and don't necessarily need to eat a ton of it. But I also want to support the vegan movement for the environment sake and I don't want to support factory farming. I like the style of low-carb high-fat eating but I also love love love desserts and pastas and rice bowls. One thing I really would like to aim for is learning how to eat until I'm 80% full. Right now I consistently overeat and stuff myself until it's uncomfortable. Obviously I am an emotional eater. I am dealing with anxiety and I'm sure I use food to numb my feelings. Other than getting help from my emotional issues which I am are there any other ideas this community could offer to get me on track and stick to a healthy way of eating without bending over backwards to do it?
posted by livelikegold6 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
How are you on portioning? If you make pasta are you putting that pasta into a big bowl that looks full when it has a double serving in it? When you have some chips are you snacking directly from the bag? One of the most effective things you can do is to just present yourself with less food - regardless of what you're actually eating.

Revisit your dishes. Get a bunch of small bowls and sandwich sized plates, smaller disposable storage containers and for bonus points you can shop for cute bento boxes and divided platters. Then get into the habit of portioning everything. For traveling and work you can portion out snacks into baggies and storage containers ahead of time to grab and go. For meals at home use your smaller dishes, so for example when you make a rice bowl use a smaller bowl so a smaller portion looks generous - rice going up at least halfway, toppings poking out the edge. For desserts use a saucer sized plate, just enough for a single brownie plus a small scoop of ice cream, or a palm-sized ramekin of cobbler. Use big bowls and plates as serving platters for vegetables and big crunchy salads. For snacking, get in the habit of filling a small bowl with snacks, putting the bags away and bringing the bowl with you - the minimal effort required in getting up and refilling the bowl will naturally cut your snack habits down just because half the time we're snacking out of boredom instead of actual hunger.

I think that food *does* serve an important role in our emotional wellbeing, and for someone who naturally uses it to self-soothe pulling yourself into knots to reject that instinct makes more anxiety than it's relieving. The trick I sometimes manage to pull off is to use food as self care, taking pride in the times I can eat mindfully and with pleasure. Putting more care into presentation and portioning can really help me with this, and it prevents guilt after the fact. It sounds like you've got a good angle to approach this, through doing research into the sustainable and humane food production that's local to you and supporting that. Remember that perfect is often the enemy of the good - your approach to meat as flavoring is a great example of a good attitude that many might consider imperfect, but it's going to work for you and that's awesome.
posted by Mizu at 10:05 PM on January 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you like sushi, I've just been trying a brand of frozen sushi that showed up at a supermarket near me, which seems to be working out well for healthy meals; I have trouble restricting my portions too. It's not incredible sushi... but it's on-demand, whereas making sushi myself can require a good half-hour of work and cleanup if I already have some cooked rice handy. So I find myself having it when I don't feel like cooking, whereas I'd usually have something less healthy and with more carbs in those circumstances. They're maki rolls but laid cut-side-down so that they can easily be broken apart by hand while still frozen, so I can have as much or as little as I want.
posted by XMLicious at 10:44 PM on January 23, 2018

A lot of people love whole30 for reinventing one's relationship with food and cooking. It certainly did that for us, although we now do a modified paleo. But it got us to kick sugar, pasta, and most dairy (will still do yogurt).

Lots of people lose weight on it. There is a ton of online social support for it. The recipes are fantastic.
posted by k8t at 11:12 PM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Try the book “Breaking Free from Compulsive Overeating” by Geneen Roth.
posted by woodvine at 3:47 AM on January 24, 2018

One psychological and behavioral distinction that I have found really useful is the "moderator/abstainer" distinction. If you're a moderator, you can have (e.g.) a single 100-calorie pack of cookies and stop. Moderators are good with calorie counting. If you're an abstainer, you probably should cut out whatever foods (or categories of foods) give rise to uncontrolled eating and binges. Abstainers are better with clear, bright-line, rules (eat this; don't eat that).

For example, I'm an abstainer. I've noticed that I find it hard to have one stick of string cheese - I'll either have four, or else I'll "have one", and then go back every ten minutes until I've had six over the following hour. If I were an moderator, I would find it easy to have just one and then stop.

Identifying your most significant "trigger foods" can really help in putting the brakes on emotional and habitual eating. +1 to the suggestion of Whole30, which is a good 30-day-trial that dives deeply into the emotional, psychological, and behavioral aspects of food (i.e. it is not meant to be "just another diet").

Also, generally speaking, the more you can reduce added sugar (including honey, syrup, etc) in your diet, the better off you'll be. There's a lot of new data and reporting about the adverse effects of added sugar in the past couple of years (see books and articles by Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, Robert Lustig, etc).
posted by theorique at 6:26 AM on January 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

Make one change at a time.

There are lots of good steps to take including ones you've identified yourself. Find ways to impose portion control, just don't keep things in the house if they aren't productive, drink more water, focus more on vegetables, do use healthy "helper" foods for a while (frozen produce and proteins, pre-prepped produce, canned or packaged beans/legumes, relatively healthy jar sauces/pastes/spices that make the vegetables and plant-based proteins taste good) so that it's easier to make the healthy choice than the non-healthy.

Pick one to start with, for this week. Maybe pick another to add next week since it might require pre-planning, but just make once change a week.

And based on the tone of your question, which I recognize so much from my internal dialogue, you might want to reframe "emotional eating" as "anxiety self-medication". You may need to actually medically treat your anxiety in order to give your brain some breathing room to make and ingrain healthy diet changes.

As far as specific changes, the last hugely helpful one I made was putting away almost all my big bowls and switching to these flatter shallow bowls. I originally did it because I was tired of finding my dishwasher entirely filled with awkward-fitting bowls all the damn time and these not only fit in single plate slots on the bottom rack but they fit on the top rack too. They're much smaller in capacity than my old bowls (but still, 15 ounces is nearly a pound! these are fine for everything but the very sloshiest soups, which we've started putting in oversized coffee mugs instead). I was already using salad/dessert plates quite a bit.

And on the portion control side, get a digital food scale and tape up a portion reference in a cabinet door and make this deal with yourself: you'll stick to the serving size first, wait 20 minutes to see if your brain registers full, and if not you can have more. No stress, no scarcity anxiety, no punishments, this is just to give your brain and stomach time to calibrate.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:53 AM on January 24, 2018

I also identify with the "abstainer" concept - I cannot, I repeat cannot, buy things like cookies, ice cream in pints, stuff like that because I will eat the entire thing in one sitting. I buy things that are only in single serve packages or, like in the case of ice cream in pints, I don't buy them at all. I try not to keep anything at home that I know I'll just scarf like a monster.

I would pick out the things that you tend to binge on the most and then just stop buying them. That is the biggest thing I've done to cut down on that kind of eating.

Good luck!!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:53 AM on January 24, 2018

My take on it is the moment of willpower shouldn't occur in the kitchen (where you'll have to resist that ice cream over and over and over again while it's still there) but in the supermarket (or wherever you buy food).

Eat a large meal before going grocery shopping.

Only buy things you wouldn't feel guilty about eating later. Personally when I consider buying something that I would feel guilty eating on the grounds that I deserve it- this entire grocery cart is filled with fresh vegetables! - I ask myself, would I rather spend $3 on this mochi or $3 on a discounted indie game, or a half of a museum's admission, or some other form of reward? The combination of 'I shouldn't eat this' and 'There are other things I'd like to spend this money on' works better than the first reason alone.

I used to use Michael Pollan's rule for eating treats- eat as much as you'd like AS LONG AS you make it yourself. That worked until I discovered an actually decent mug brownie recipe (and became a more skilled baker in general). Now I use the rule that I can eat whatever I want as long as it's from someplace fancy: an artisanal ice cream shop or bakery. Those places are usually both out of the way and way more expensive than storebought and homemade, so it's far easier to make it an occasional treat.

The number of calories in almost all vegetables and fruits is SO SO SO low that it's basically impossible to overeat on them. There's also a ton of fiber in them which helps with satiety. I ate like 5 bowls of spinach yesterday, total calories? 40. (The dressing was a different matter (400), though I was MUCH more generous with it than I usually am because I was trying to stretch the spinach into a meal.) So, rather than do the 80% full thing, just fill your plate with 75% vegetables, 25% high-calorie foods that fill the rest of your nutritional needs (mainly protein).

Two easy ways to do this: roast them!!! Roasting is SO EASY and has the magical ability to turn even vegetables I detest into vegetables I love! It usually takes about three minutes to wash, roughly chop, toss with olive oil and salt, and slide vegetables into a preheated oven- then the oven takes care of the rest of the work (anywhere from 10-60 minutes depending on the vegetable). I'd be happy to give you my specific recipes but this post is too long already so you can MeMail me if you want! For vegetables you can't roast, make a vinaigrette, I use America's Test Kitchen's recipe: 1tbsp mild vinegar, 1tsp mustard, 1tsp mayo, 1.5tsp minced shallots, salt, whisk together, slowly whisk in 3 tbsps of olive oil. Be sparing with this, it's pretty calorie-dense- around ~110 calories per tablespoon I think.

Lastly, really get a sense of which foods make you feel full. I always find that the foods that people SAY will make me feel full and the actual reality tends to have less overlap than I'd like. Oranges: if I eat two I feel pretty satisfied. Mandarins: I could eat them alllll day long and never feel full. I like mandarins slightly better than oranges, but I prefer oranges for this reasons. Nuts? Never feel at all satisfied after a serving and they are extremely calorie-dense. Very dark chocolate? It doesn't necessarily make me feel satiated, but after a bite or two I'm usually satisfied and don't want to eat more, unlike good ice cream where I could eat the whole pint.

Upon rereading your question I also notice that you've been zig-zagging between a few different diets. Personally, I tried going vegetarian but just found it too hard to supplement the protein- I live in what's basically a food desert and wasn't a great cook at the time. By trying to go vegan you're really playing the game on hard mode, so while I applaud your motives I think it's best to try to establish healthy habits and then transition into being vegan- though perhaps people who actually did manage to stick to being vegan have better advice on that. If you have the money for it, try buying ethically-raised meat. For now, I use these basic rules which after extensive research seem to be the most well-supported:

-Eat as many and as varied vegetables as you possibly can. Fruit, too, in lesser quantities.
-Eat only whole grains- refined grains are a treat. In my opinion some of the less common kinds are actually far more delicious than plain white/brown rice, I'm particularly a fan of farro, quinoa, and wild rice.
-Use 'good fat' as needed to make food taste good- use butter sparingly.
-Eat only poultry and seafood- red meat is a treat.
-Try not to 'drink your calories' in general, stick to water or low-sugar coffee and tea as drinks.
posted by perplexion at 9:07 AM on January 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Do you have specific times of day that trigger you? For me (also two kids), during the week, I end up eating a lot when I am packing their lunches (one salami for you, two salamis for me...). I also find that at the end of the night, when they are finally asleep and I can relax, all I want to do is sit on the sofa and eat chips. I've been trying to create new routines that address these trigger points. For one, my husband now makes lunches (double win). For the second, I'm trying some light exercise via dvds from the library (which I hate but am trying to do it anyway). So I go straight from their bedroom to exercise, skipping the draw of the sofa. I do immediately after the kids are asleep. Or on off-nights, I'll try to limit myself to a cup of tea and small bowl of air popped popcorn. Weirdly turning off the kitchen lights and brushing my teeth afterwards seems to help.
Oh and for lunches, my husband and I have taken to splitting a fancy bagged salad from Trader Joe's every day. You have to watch the amount of dressing and toppings (it can be a lot of calories if you use everything they provide). But it's been almost a month of daily salad consumption! And it's clearly super easy.
This is really hard and it's really impressive that you are trying to make changes.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 11:12 AM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Does your health insurance cover consultation with a registered dietitian? It's helpful to have someone to talk to who can work within your requests while also being willing to press you when you're resisting sensible advice. I started seeing an RD (via Skype!) a few years ago to help me deal with a medically-recommended diet and it was a tremendous kind of support I'd never experienced before. We had three full sessions within the first month, and a follow-up session about a month "on my own". In the process we developed a really helpful list of go-to recipes for a few specific occasions when I'm weakest (including always having pre-portioned ziplocs of low calorie soup on hand in the freezer that I could consume freely), started a food diary to keep track of what and how I eat (including counting calories/being aware of portions), and set a list of goals that went from the short term to one- and two-years out. I'd happily do it again!

A great, big, simple takeaway lesson that came early: if there's a "naughty" food that I compulsively go for--like a bag of Hershey kisses--then I shouldn't stock them in the house. That sounds painfully obvious, but just not filling up the pantry and fridge with kisses and the like has been hugely helpful for everyone in my household.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:42 AM on January 24, 2018

I have tried calorie counting that was too hard. I tried going vegan that was too hard. I tried going low-carb high-fat that was too hard. That's basically the truth of losing weight--it's really hard. Look at any legitimate news source covering obesity and weight-loss and the one thing is: we know it's hard; we don't know how to make it any easier; and we know that there is no One Weird Trick. What I'm saying is--there does not appear to be a way to lose weight and maintain weight loss without "bending over backward" to do it.

Personally, I need to moderate and monitor (monitor both what I eat and what I weigh). Constantly. It, frankly, is tedious and a real drag, but--for me--the monitoring is key. It helped me learn what foods I have to avoid (because I can't moderate them); what habits I have to change (because they make it hard for me to moderate my eating); and to develop the habit of eating smaller portions--of realizing that not "feeling full" was not the same "feeling hungry".

Remember that it's a very slow process--very slow. Maybe you need to change your habits for a few months before you start weighing yourself regularly--so you have a baseline of new habits that feel normal, but not related to the goal of losing weight. Maybe you need to find a companion who will cheer you one and congratulate you for holding to your portion control, regardless of what the scale says. Maybe you need to have a strict list of things you can and cannot eat. I don't know.

But you can do it--people do. It's just a long, slow, tedious process.
posted by crush at 11:58 AM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah the smaller dishes thing did work for me. My trick was buying plates and bowls I really loved so I was actually pumped to eat out of them. Changes your perception of what a portion is etc etc.
posted by moons in june at 12:30 PM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks all! The comments really resonated with me. Im going to try smaller dishes, cook healthyish meals at home, try not to buy sugary goodies, and try to get back into calorie tracking if nothing else works.
posted by livelikegold6 at 11:22 PM on January 25, 2018

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