This week’s question is from a new mom who is struggling with eating and also with being totally at her emotional limit. I think this is one that everyone – moms and non-moms alike – will be able to relate to.
Being a stay at home mom with an infant in his first year, I crave sugar when I'm tired. Like, MAJOR craving, can't-ignore-it, I'm going to pass out unless I eat some cinnamon toast. I'll have a few m&ms or some dark chocolate every day when I need a quick pick-me-up because I've found that I usually don't go overboard if there's just something. But recently, I've noticed if my husband is traveling, I go NUTS.
How do you keep on track when your accountabilibuddy is AWOL and your emotional stamina is stretched thin?
First of all, Lindsey, I just want to say that my heart goes out to you.
What I am getting from your letter is that, more than anything, you are exhausted. Beyond exhausted. You said that you are tired, and that your emotional stamina is stretched thin, and of course you are! You have a newborn! I'm not a mom, but even from spending a few hours with my newborn niece, I know what an incredibly exhausting (and, of course, wonderful) responsibility that can be.
To start to address your issue, let's do a thought experiment together:
Imagine that someone you deeply trust swooped in and said, “Hey Lindsey! I’m going to take care of the baby for the day! Here’s $500 – go check into a nice hotel and read a book on the bed for a few hours, then treat yourself to a nice massage and go buy yourself a gorgeous new outfit.”
What would happen then? Would you really need cinnamon toast and M&Ms and dark chocolate?
My guess is that you’d run off to the fancy hotel, sink into a plush robe, and dive into that book. Or a long, long nap.
Of course, we don't usually actually get a day to ourselves and stipend to pamper ourselves. But this thought experiment helps to point something out:
Your food-overwhelm isn’t about food. It's about feeling overwhelmed.
At this point, you might be irritated with me. You might be thinking, well obviously I am overwhelmed, Katie! But there’s nothing I can do about it because I HAVE A FRIGGIN’ NEWBORN CHILD. Can you please just give me a quick tip to fix this whole eating-way-too-much-food-thing?
And my answer is, well, yes and no. They aren’t “quick tips,” but here are three things that will get you on your way to not feeling like you are going to eat the entire kitchen when your husband leaves town:
1. Ditch the concept of an accountability buddy entirely.
I’m sorry to say it, because I know accountability buddies can be fun, and even quite effective at times (you wouldn’t do it otherwise!)
But here’s the thing: the accountability buddy system has a tendency to fail just when you need it most – when you are tired and exhausted and overwhelmed and alone.
Why? Because it’s based on the assumption that there are two Lindseys: Smart Lindsey, who has her shit together and understands reasonable portions and can adhere to helpful rules, and Wild Lindsey, who will eat anything that’s not nailed down.
And Smart Lindsey is basically keeping Wild Lindsey in a cage, and guarding it with the help of her accountability buddy. But when the accountability buddy leaves town on a business trip, and Smart Lindsey is exhausted from all the baby poop she’s cleaned up that day and just wants to crawl into bed with a package of oreos…
Well, you can bet that Wild Lindsey is going to break free and eat EVERYTHING.
In my opinion, you need a system that works whether your husband is there or not. You need a system that works whether you are exhausted or not, whether you are happy or sad or angry or lost.
So here’s my suggestion:
2. Start feeling overwhelmed.
I’m sorry – I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear. But I really don’t know any other way.
It can be deeply scary to touch to depths of your overwhelm. You might be having thoughts like why can’t I just freaking get this baby to sleep or stop crying or calm down and you wonder if you’re a bad mother and why doesn’t everyone else seem to be struggle so much.
But I’m here to tell you this: your feeling will not destroy you. They will be scary, yes. But if you can really acknowledge them, you won’t need an accountability buddy or any other rule or diet or regulation.
You won’t eat when you’re alone simply because you will know, as clear as day, what is bothering you, and eating will be a useless solution to a much bigger problem.
If a gun just blew your arm off, you wouldn't put on a band-aid.
Here’s one way to do this:
1. When you are alone, and about to eat waaaaay too much (or even if you are in the middle of eating way too much), ask yourself: What am I avoiding feeling right now?
Stop what you are doing and try to really process that feeling. You might write down the response to the question in a journal, or feel what it feels like in your body. When in doubt, there’s nothing wrong with spending 5 minutes writing “I feel overwhelmed and miserable” over and over on a piece of paper.
2. Then, ask yourself, very gently, “Dearest self, why are you hurting right now? What can I do to help you?”
And you might hear:
I need to lie down in a ball right now.
I need to cry right now.
I need to call my mom or a friend right now.
And I wonder if, from a place of the most intense, radiant kindness, you could give to yourself whatever you can?
Even if you can’t hire a babysitter and run away for a whole afternoon, what can you do here, now? Could you curl into a ball on your bed?
3. Contemplate life changes
It may also be true, after you’ve really acknowledged and felt how you feel, and given yourself the most wonderful, gentle kindness, that the truth is that you need to change your life.
I don’t say this flippantly. Changing any aspect of your life – big or small – can be incredibly overwhelming and scary, especially if we have big responsibilities (like a child!) that make change extremely, nearly impossibly difficult.
But I do say this because there have been points in my life where I’ve realized that I needed to make changes, big and small, because I had reached my limit. I needed to change how I worked, who I spent time with. I needed to make sure I got a walk every day, and enough sleep every night.
Please note: I’m not saying that you have to change something. But I am saying that you need to contemplate it.
In my experience, change is like a mushroom. It grows underground for days or months or years. Now might not be the right time for you, and I would never want to pressure you to make life changes before you are ready.
But if you at least start contemplating, you’ll know when the time is right to take action.
Here’s how to do this: Ask yourself “What things, big or small, would make me feel less ______ ?” Make a list of at least 10. Note which ones seem doable, and which ones seem totally terrifying.
I know this was a doozy of an answer, Lindsey, but know that my heart is with you on this. When we can really acknowledge and deal with what we’re actually feeling, then the desire to eat when we’re not hungry is just not so scary – because we’re clear on what the actual problem is. And, almost always, it’s not food.
If you’d like your question to be answered on the blog, shoot me an email at Katie@katiseaver.com. Also – there’s a big difference between reading some tips and actually putting them into practice in your life. If you’d like some help in actually making changes, consider working with me.