How to Handle Feeling Out of Control With Food

Here we are again – the start of a new year, fresh with possibility, calling out for a “new way of living” and endless in its opportunities. So, we start our new “eating plan,” sign up for a new gym membership and set a new bedtime of 10 p.m. every night no matter what. Then life happens, and we realize that as much as we want to “do it all,” we simply don’t do well when we overwhelm ourselves with changing everything at once.

Take eating out for example. If you are a person who eats out frequently, “stopping cold turkey” and telling yourself you will only eat out once a month will soon have you ordering from Grub Hub and having it delivered to work or stopping at the drive-thru for a “pre-dinner snack” on your way home.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing!

What about sweets? You know, all those tasty treats that were in HUGE abundance in December? They are still available at every establishment that sells food. Telling yourself you won’t eat another cookie until 2023 probably won’t work.

What if this is the year that you start to look at food in a whole new way? What if this year you start the year thinking of food as fuel?  And as something that you can ENJOY and BALANCE with foods that nourish your body as well as provide JOY. Because let’s face it, when you want a cookie, you want a cookie, not fruit as a “sweet” replacement!

So, I encourage you to consider three things when you are feeling out of control with these types of food choices:

Is this really what you want to eat?

Are you eating several foods prior to eating what you really want to eat? For example, a cookie might have 150-200 calories, depending on what type of cookie it is. Are you eating fruit with peanut butter, veggies and dip, snack crackers and cheese and THEN having the cookie because that is ultimately the craving you had in the first place? If so, your 150-200 calorie cookie has turned into a 500 calorie “snack.”

Are you really hungry?

Or are you bored, tired, frustrated, angry, sad, or anxious? If you are really hungry, then you need to eat.  If you are any of the other emotions listed above, then you need to find ways to deal with that emotion and it won’t be found in the kitchen. When we eat foods to self-soothe (aka feed our emotions) we aren’t eating for enjoyment, we are eating to cover up our feelings. Calling a friend, taking a walk, taking a nap, telling someone (even your dog) that you are angry and why, will be more helpful than eating.  Hunger is hunger. Emotional healing requires empathy, love, and support, not chips.

You CAN eat what you want and still be eating healthy.

Diets are short-term agendas. Eating healthy is a lifelong endeavor. Just like walking a mile and calling it good for the year doesn’t make you physically fit, eating one bag of chips won’t erase all of your effort when it comes to eating differently.

Grace goes a long way. If you find yourself berating yourself for how you are eating, I encourage you to explore why you are doing that. You deserve to be kind to yourself, just like you are kind to others.  Make 2022 the year that you stop feeling guilty about what you are eating and listen to what your body actually needs. And I’m here to tell you, sometimes it really is a cookie!

Jennifer Gilliland is an outpatient dietitian with ProMedica and a professional clinical counselor. She enjoys talking with people about the behavioral side of eating as well as educating people on the healthiest food choices.