Kick Emotional Eating, For Good

Qpaddivyb5r07HSXy3t6guhRlvMFYjojX9Lauw1CScQPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
It's Dear Abby week at The Anti-Diet Project!
I've been so thrilled and grateful to receive all your questions and comments since kicking off the column last fall. I knew there were other people out there who were sick of diet culture and wanted to enjoy their food and bodies — not hide from them. But, nonetheless, your response overwhelmed me (in the good way!).
This week, I wanted to take some time to answer some of your personal questions. Many of you have reached out to me with your own personal stories. I read every one, and each story stays with me. If you think you resonate with my journey, know that the feeling is mutual. But, there are a lot of reoccurring themes in the questions I get. So, I decided to answer a few of them here in the column. (If you dig this Q&A, let me know, and we'll do another!)
I hope that, as well as replying to your queries, this column will help you all realize that it's not just you (and me) out there. If I've learned anything from this process, it's that we're all a little bananas when it comes to food. So, put on your crazy pants, and let me have it. No judgment here.
@mskelseymiller How do I get myself back in the gym? I live 2 blocks and use every excuse in the book. Embarrassing, I know. #antidietproject
My first boss had the best get-to-the-gym trick I've ever used. Quite simply: Put on a sports bra. When the sports bra is on, you're pretty much committed.
Truly, there will always be an excuse, especially on those days when you have an actual excuse (deadlines, children, ANOTHER SNOWSTORM?!). So, when I started the Anti-Diet Project, I decided that fitness wasn't going to be the thing I dragged myself to out of protest. It had to be, simply, a part of my life. Whether it's going to the gym, taking a yoga class, or just walking 12,000 steps in a day, fitness had to be integrated into my lifestyle. It had to be along the lines of brushing my teeth every day (and not, like, flossing my teeth every day for just the week before I go to dentist). When I stopped thinking of it as another thing I had to do, but rather just a thing I do, the burden of it lifted.
That's not to say I don't want to do it sometimes. I got up at 6:30 this morning — that's 10 minutes earlier than I actually need to wake up, because I need those 10 minutes to roll around whining about waking up at 6:30. But, once I'm up, I'm up. The sports bra goes on. Thirty minutes later, I'm at the gym, and an hour later, I'm out, wide-awake, blood pumping. The more you do something the easier it is. So, my trick for getting to the gym? Go to the gym. Just do it, just go. Today might kind of suck, but tomorrow will be easier.
unnamed-3Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Hi Kelsey,
I have like a million questions, but my main Q is, how do you deal with emotional moments that you had previously eaten through, now that you're on the mend? Because, as an emotional eater, this is the part of the balancing act that kicks my butt so hard. Help a fan-girl out?!! Thanks so much, for going rebel and talking about it!
Much love,
Oof. My own butt's been kicked so hard by this, I can hardly sit on my metaphorical chair. Emotional eating is the worst, right? In fact, I could really use a five-minute pity party. Can everyone come to my five-minute pity party, real quick?
There. That's better. W, I hear you on this. Emotional eating comes and goes, and just when you think it's gone for good, you find yourself elbow deep in a bag of baby carrots. Or corn chips. Or ANYTHING. Despite the fact that Intuitive Eating has taught me to eat based on my body's internal cues, I still sometimes get that cookie-shaped pang when I see an email I don't want to open. I've learned to come up with a few coping mechanisms to avoid stress cravings. I take a break from the stressful situation (even if it's just leaving my desk to go to refill my water bottle). I do a minute of seven-11 breathing (shorter inhale, longer exhale). I look at a website for five minutes that's not Refinery29 (though, we're a pretty good work-break website if you don't happen to, well, work here).
As for the feelings? I'm afraid the only answer is: Feel 'em. I know. I wish there was another answer (Drinking?! Is drinking the answer??), but the fact is that your feelings aren't going anywhere. And, when your food anesthesia is gone, they can fly up in your face at any moment. When I first started this process, I hit a wall of feelings and walked around like an open wound for a few weeks. Everything felt too big and real and overwhelming. But, eventually, I grew some skin — not a callous, but a layer that let me feel, without every touch feeling like a sting. By just letting it all in, I learned the lesson I would have learned years ago, were it not for all for the barrier of food I built around myself. The lesson? Feelings pass.
When I'm faced with a big-time feeling scenario — work crisis, relationship anxiety, confusing G-chat subtext — I take a breath. I close my eyes (at work, on the subway, who cares? Be the weirdo). And, I do my best to feel that feeling hard. I grab on to it, I examine all the parts of it. I take a big bite of that feeling. And, then I breathe it out.
Sometimes it's still there. But, feelings are a lot like fussy babies who just want to be picked up. Once you've put your arms around them, they tend to quiet down.
kyzAdtCAekaRn97sUiUAKb6Zj51whL2ZbWSRPbLzMokPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
@mskelseymiller my #antidietproject question is how do you deal with all your dieting friends!? That's been the hardest part for me.
About a month after starting Intuitive Eating, I went to France with a cousin who lives his life on a severe diet — totally vegan and no fats of any kind. He spent the entire week eating ham-and-butter sandwiches and, like, all the cheese in western Europe. Every time he finished a meal, he'd stare at his plate confessing his litany of sins and all the myriad ways he'd atone for them when he got home. I'd look down at my lovely little slice of tarte tatin and think, "Sorry, not sorry."
Of course, I could enjoy my tarte because I hadn't stuffed myself to the gills at dinner, scrambling for every last French fry in the name of "vacation eating." I'd consumed exactly what I needed, and then I stopped. Looking over at him, hunched over the table, asking forgiveness for his ham binge, I realized that's why I gave up dieting.
When you take up Intuitive Eating, you realize just how much of the world is influenced by diet culture. You see the subtle messages everywhere and hear how the language has slipped into all of our mouths. Even friends who don't consider themselves dieters will say things like, "I was so bad this weekend." When I hear things that like, it doesn't make me feel like I should be dieting. It makes me feel like I'm finally free.
Now, it's not easy when you sit down to eat with someone who's restricting. But, when I find myself faced with someone who doesn't get it, I reach for that ammo in my back pocket: I have had success with this; I feel better doing this; I am consistent with this. Most important, I know that dieting doesn't work. I don't rub that in someone's face — different strokes for different folks and all that. But, I remind myself. I have proof that my process works for me. This much I know for sure, I'll never find myself apologizing to a plate again.
unnamed-4Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Dear Kelsey,
I'm 19, and I've been eating in secret and binging since I was about 13. I'm pretty sure I have a binge-eating disorder, and when I figured it out last year, I decided the best thing was to start talking about it so that it wasn't such a secret any more. I've found that talking to my friends and my boyfriend just makes them uncomfortable and that my parents write it off as attention seeking. I tried meditating through my urges to binge, I've tried distracting myself, but I find myself craving carbs and sweet snacks even when I know I shouldn't. And, caving into those cravings happens scarily quickly, without me even noticing. I feel sluggish all the time, and of course I'm looking to change my ways. I just feel like I don't have support or anyone to talk to.
I don't really know what I hoped to achieve by emailing you. I thought you might just understand, and perhaps be able to offer some words of wisdom! If you've put up with reading this drivel, thank you!
What you've written here is not drivel. And, sometimes I like to borrow mottos from AA because, damn, those guys write a great motto (whether or not you're an addict). What comes to mind here is, "We're only as sick as our secrets."
Reaching out, whether it's to me, your friends, or your family is a truly brave and crucial step. It means you want to take care of yourself, but know that you need help to do it. So, so many of us are afraid to expose ourselves and ask for help. When I was 19, I would have done anything to avoid it. Bravo.
Bingeing is a cycle I'm familiar with, too. Though, I'm sure you realize this, it's not about the food. We who eat compulsively (or restrict compulsively) are always eating or not eating over something. Sometimes, it's everything. Sometimes food is about avoiding feeling all together. There's nothing like a half-gallon of ice cream to take you out of your mind and into your mouth. It's numbing and easy, and (bonus points!) it makes you feel like crap. Bingeing can be both relief and punishment, and that's a potent combo.
What you need is a good friend who's been there — and a good therapist. Because, even if your friends and family were more understanding, they're not professionals in this area. Nor am I, but I do know enough to say that we all could use a little psychological support. If anything, they can create a safe space for you to unpack all the feelings and experiences buried under your bingeing. Some people balk at therapy, assuming that seeing a shrink means they're crazy or sick — but it's just not true. Going to therapy is another brave, self-caring move that will make you feel empowered and in control of your own life and health. Therapy can be tough and scary and real, but it's so much better than being stuck.
kJJQy7LMhk_VBaPKC48M-2fVTrJ3BnGbvpz7zlrRDLIPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
@mskelseymiller How do I prepare for my wedding in five months if I go #antidietproject? I still want to look my best on my big day.
Congratulations on your nuptials! In my dieting days, I lived for those little weight-loss milestones, like losing the first five pounds or getting a Weight Watchers gold star. What never worked? Setting goals. By that, I mean the lose-30-pounds-by-my-birthday goals. The second I set one of those goals in place, my inner diet rebel would kick into high gear. The French fries were infinitely more enticing. The portions got bigger and bigger. Somehow, the harder I tried, the worse it got.
It's only when I started Intuitive Eating that the "goal" took on a whole new meaning. Instead of weight loss, I had to focus on creating a healthy, neutral relationship with food. It was a tall order after a lifetime believing that weight loss was the most important thing in my (and everyone's?) life. That's the real meaning of a lifestyle change. It's not so much about changing what you put in your mouth, but how and why you do so. When you approach it that way, weight loss isn't guaranteed. If you're overweight, like me, your body will eventually find its normal range. I gained four pounds at the start of this process! But, soon after, I began to slowly, steadily lose. I needed to go through that four-pound phase. I needed to teach my body and brain that I wasn't going to take food away with another diet anytime soon. I needed to learn to trust myself around food, knowing that I was allowed to eat it and that I would stop when I was full.
Your question doesn't indicate you're trying to lose weight. If you're not, then I think you can rest assured that you probably won't gain any weight by trying Intuitive Eating. Especially if you're starting to incorporating fitness into your daily life as well, your body should reflect that positively. FYI, even when I gained those four pounds, I still lost body fat. All my health metrics responded instantly to this lifestyle change. Ask me about my blood pressure — because IT'S AWESOME.
However, if you are trying to lose weight before your wedding day, I can't promise you will. But, I can promise you'll feel a lot better around your wedding cake. Cake, in general, is a lot more fun when you don't have to think of it as "cheating." And, like the rest of that day, it should be relished to the fullest.

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