As much as I may not want to admit it, the confession I need to make is that I'm a guy who is an emotional eater.
There's no denying it. Sure, I have thought this to myself many times before and I've probably mumbled it out loud when no one else was around. But this is the first time I've actually written it down and shared it with the online world.
That is a huge step, because I think "coming clean" is something that needs to happen before I am able to move ahead in really addressing my eating habits and changing how I think about food.
So just to reiterate: I am a man who's an emotional eater, which means someone who feeds a feeling and not necessarily just an appetite at the appropriate meal-times. It's not the same as what we all do from time to time, feeding a happy feeling with a treat, or just being tempted to eat something we know we probably shouldn't. Rather, emotional eating is a coping mechanism "characterized by an obsessive/compulsive relationship to food."
Over the years, I've noticed this emotional eating trend growing in me. What was once an off-day occurrence over the weekend or periodically at other times, is now a regular happening pretty much every night. Every day during daylight hours, I do my best to not overeat and keep my BGs in line. Often I skip breakfast (which I know is not recommended). Then later, after exerting all that energy throughout the day, I find myself not wanting to carb count or watch my food intake once dinnertime rolls around, and -- you guessed it -- the emotional eating begins!
Quite often, I find I want to comfort myself and feel better, so I just grab the entire bag of chips or box of crackers and eat away. Blood sugar consequences be damned!
For me, it's not really about which type of food may or may not be a healthy choice. Rather, it's about the serving size / amount, and my (lack of) will power to stop myself from eating more and more to appease whatever I'm feeling at that particular moment. The food is almost an escape, where I feel like "I'm in control" for as long as I am stuffing my face. Hey, I didn't say it made any logical sense...
And for the record: those who've seen me in person know that my weight is about 160 and I'm just naturally a thin-ish guy (although in recent months, my belly is slightly larger than it has been).
When I became an insulin pumper, I found that the carb-counting and bolus dosing by push of a few buttons almost fed my habit to eat at any point. Really, I could simply justify it with, "I'll just give myself some quick insulin and it will all be OK."
So the pump's flexibility almost made it easier for me to just keep eating without limit. How ironic.
Back in November, I decided to take a break from my pump to help mix things up and give myself a little kick in the pants to get back on the D-management bandwagon. My past two pump breaks actually helped me drop my A1C, making me think about everything I put into my mouth and decide whether it was worth stabbing myself with a needle (otherwise known as bolus-worthy).
This third pump hiatus hasn't been the charm, though, and I've not been able to shake my emotional eating.
But recently, two items from the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) have given me some insight into how I can do better when it comes to my eating habits.
A VIAL Of... (Not Insulin)
First, there's fellow D-blogger and friend Lee Ann Thill who is doing a research project as part of her doctoral program. She's called the initiative the VIAL Project, which stands for Voice, Insulin, Art, Life. It's a new a social networking website for people with type 1 who also have food and body issues, and want to share original arts-based work and connect with others online.
(This adds to Lee Ann's advocacy accomplishments that already include the World Diabetes Day Postcard Exchange and Diabetes Art Day -- soon approaching on Feb. 4!)
Over at her blog The Butter Compartment, Lee Ann writes that since the VIAL Project is for her doctoral degree, she'll be collecting and analyzing user-submitted content to identify any themes or trends that emerge.
From her description of the site, Lee Ann educated me that our food and body issues cover a range of behaviors and experiences -- from compulsive overeating and stress-eating, to "inhaling food" to avoid or treat low blood sugars, to using food as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, depression, and feelings of dissatisfaction.
The latter rings very true for me, because when I look back at the depression and mental health struggles I've had in recent years, I can see how my emotional eating seems tied to that. As my mood went up and down, so did my eating behavior. Until it just became habit to eat emotionally.
In comparison to more severe eating disorders like diabulimia (which advocates in the UK want recognized as its own condition) my own excessive eating habits don't seem very significant. But I know they're highlighting deeper mental health issues I continue struggling with and in a sense we're all dealing with the same type of thing.
I've signed up for the VIAL Project and am so far enjoying the discussions, as they are teaching me the warning signs to look for in my own life and offering me tips and tricks to deal with conflicted feelings about food.
It' s been very helpful so far, and all there's even more help on the way from the DOC these days on the topic of emotional eating.
A Wellness Workbook
Fellow D-Blogger Ginger Vieira has also written a book about this very topic that so many of us (PWDs and non-PWDs) struggle with to some degree. Her 44-page book is not what I was expecting when I heard it was coming my way via mail. Instead of an instructional manual, this is more of a workbook in which you can follow along and apply what you're reading to your own life, and Ginger takes a refreshing and down-to-Earth look at this topic that she's helped others recognize in her work as a personal life coach. Already, her book's helping me look at my eating habits in a different way.
In an interview on Tony Rose's Blogging Diabetes podcast recently, Ginger shared this about putting her book together:
"I wanted to create something that's not a textbook, not thick and heavy, and is not full of over-analyzation. I just wanted to put in the words (people) really need to hear to improve their relationship with food."
That's something I really appreciate in this thin workbook, because it doesn't scare me off with lots of pages and scientific language. Something else I really like about Ginger's book is that every section includes some chalkboard-looking boxes at the bottom of the pages that include personal stories from fellow PWDs -- names known in the DOC like Scott Johnson, Cherise Shockley, Jenny Smith, Abby Bayer, Ann Bartlett and Mike Lawson. This really made me feel connected to other people who experience some of the same types of things I do.
The design is also catchy, as the text and font sizes vary and in some instances are HUGE and take up the whole page to spotlight some nuggets of wisdom. The look keeps you entertained and motivated to keep moving through the book.
A handful of worksheets also allows you to dig into the material and express your own thoughts and emotions about the content, and how you feel about all these food topics. I discovered a few things about myself that I hadn't really considered before, such as "Do you truly believe you deserve happiness and health?" This made me think more deeply about the root of the problem, and that it's really not the food -- but rather my overall depression -- that may guide my emotional eating habits.
One thing made me curious as I was thinking about emotional eating: it seems most often we hear women voicing these concerns, not guys. A quick Google search shows a lot of references to stats saying men constitute just 10% of emotional eaters. But some researchers point out that men may just be less likely to admit it.
I reached out to Ginger, and she agreed: "In my experience, men are just as prone to emotional eating and binge eating as women, but it isn't a 'manly' thing to talk about. Therefore, men are not able to express or share what they're doing with the people close to them, while it's more normal for women to talk about their diets and weight loss goals."
I love Ginger's frank approach, and would say that overall, she's created a great resource with this new book!
Emotional Eating with Diabetes is available on Amazon for only $9.99, in print or via Kindle.
We're not doing our traditional book giveaway this time around, but we do have a special offer for 'Mine readers! Ginger has generously set up an exclusive offer for readers interested in working with her on healthier food and D-Living aspects.
All you have to do is mention this DiabetesMine blog post when you email Ginger to schedule a free initial coaching consult. You'll then receive life coaching sessions for just $45 per session, down from the usual six-pack rate of $60 per session!
Thanks for the great discount, Ginger! I may have to think about taking you up on this myself...
Hopefully, with help from Ginger's book and Lee Ann's network, I get a better grip on these emotional eating habits I've developed; if I can grow into bad habits, I must be able to grow out of them too, right?
Like many things in life and living with diabetes, I'm sure 99% of this is "all in my head" and involves re-training my brain to healthier views on food and how I respond to negative feelings. It's work in progress, which I'm excited to tackle... with a little help from my friends!