When we acknowledge this pattern, we can start to remove the self-judgment from this very normal stress reaction.
We don't have to be ashamed of overeating sometimes, or turning to ice cream in times of worry.
We can see the pattern. We can understand why it happens.
We can also start to take action.
Break The Habit Loop
Evening ice cream doesn't just appear on your lap. A complex series of thoughts and behaviours combines to get you into the exact same position, night after night.
In fact that's exactly how a habit works. It's autopilot for your brain, which means you often don't even realize you're doing it until you're carrying your bowl to the couch or looking at the bottom of an empty chip bag, wondering how you can make a better choice next time.
The only way to get out of autopilot is to put your hands on the wheel, mama!
How To Do It
Think about that snacky time. Maybe it even goes past a snack and turns into a binge.
Before it happens again, try this:
Ask yourself, what thoughts and feelings accompany these moments or come right before? Do you feel bored? Anxious? Sorry for yourself? Overburdened?
Track back before those thoughts to the actions that lead up to the snack or binge habit. How do you set yourself up or prepare for the habit? Do you take a mid-afternoon social media break and expect a granola bar or two from the office pantry because you've "earned" a break? Do you always clear the table after dinner, make a cup of tea and start looking forward to that moment of "relief" on the couch with your snack after a long day of momming
Think back even further. Perhaps you even expect that nightly snack and the bad feelings associated with it, and subconsciously, or consciously, serve yourself a smaller breakfast or lunch to compensate. You perpetuate the cycle by eating too little or too low-carb, saving your only indulgence for the exact habit you're wanting to change, setting yourself up for it again each day.
Start to break that habit loop up by scheduling things differently or doing things in a different order. Change the meal that typically falls before your snack. Schedule an activity just before your usual snack/binge time. Eat a bigger breakfast and schedule lunch an hour later.
Use a "pre-emptive," healthier snack right before the time you normally have that cookie or bowl of chips, to keep you satisfying the hand-to-mouth urge without turning to foods which might make you more likely to binge. (More on this below.)
Powerful stuff, that brain matter.
Next, when you find yourself in the same time of day, perhaps experiencing the same craving, try this:
Determine whether you are actually hungry? Have you under-eaten, or has it been a long time since you ate? If so, eat!
If you don't feel physically hungry, acknowledge that you have a craving. Try even saying it out loud. "I'm craving chocolate right now." Feel the way it is different from hunger. Craving tends to be felt more in the upper body and head, while real hunger feels very centred in the belly.
Ask yourself, what else might help me right now? Do I need a 10 minute walk to clear my head? A hot shower? A few minutes locked in my bedroom alone? To call a friend? To go to bed early? To have a difficult conversation with my partner? To read a book? To have a comforting cup of tea?
Arm yourself with a PREPPED substitute snack you enjoy but which makes you feel good.
One Step At A Time
Start chocking up moments where stress = cookie turns into stress = think about stress = grab a bowl of chopped strawberries instead of a cookie, and then eventually into stress = think about stress = go have a bath instead of eating when you're not hungry.
It's not an easy journey, mama. Emotional eating is often ingrained from early childhood.
But every journey starts with just one step.
Congratulate yourself each time you make a slightly better choice. Every time you interfere with that habit loop, you strike against its power. Eventually, you have a new habit (bath) instead of the old habit (wine & cookies in front of Netflix).
Ready to give it a go?
Here are five very snack-able but still good-for-you recipes to prep in advance and have on hand for afternoon snacks or in the evening.
We'll be talking a lot more about this on the #MamaReset Facebook Community, so be sure to hop on over and let us know what you think of this week's lesson and whether it resonates with you!
One last thing: if you feel your eating is beyond your control, or accompanied by symptoms of depression or anxiety, please speak to your doctor or reach out to us privately so we can help you connect with an expert to support you in your journey.