Wellness Wednesday: This strategy is helping me combat binge eating

It fills me up.

Me, in conversation with my therapist.

I wasn’t describing binge eating, a habit that developed in my late teens. Going on 68, I continue to examine the drive which stands in shocking contrast to all my healthy behaviors like a lifetime membership in Weight Watchers and a daily exercise regime which helped me recover from a near-fatal illness in 2019.

Binge eating feels driven by emotional desperation. I need. I need. Feed me. Feed me. Although the subsequent gorging on carbohydrates follows as if the only possible response, I end up feeling stuffed without feeling satisfied.

Binge eating doesn’t fill me.

But meditation does.

Meditation calms the beast

Twice daily, I stop, step away from whatever I’m doing, go outdoors to a chair in our garden, and sit for 20-30 minutes.

When I do this, I re-calibrate my thermostat from “I’m too busy to sit down” to “I’m just here, breathing.” It has worked wonders in reducing stress-induced eating which otherwise can sabotage a day, a weekend, or an entire week.

So, how have I managed to make this change? There are a few key steps that have helped.

Put it on your calendar

When I worked in an office, I learned that scheduling time on my calendar for my midday workouts kept that hour free from meetings. I recall the conversation that made the point, when a colleague said that she needed to see me at a certain time but saw that I had a meeting on my calendar. I almost said, “Oh, that’s just my workout.” But I kept my mouth shut, and of course we found another time to meet. And I got my workout in.

Today, I schedule my meditation breaks at 11 and 4, and they are announced by an alarm on my iPhone/Apple Watch/iPad. I have the luxury of being home most of the time, and simply walk out to my meditation chair.

I’m off the clock

Me, to my husband, and also to myself

Link to another good habit

All of us connect things in our daily schedule: creating the to-do list after breakfast; walking the dog before doing the dishes (and with any luck someone else has done them when you get home!); the step-down behaviors—chamomile tea, calm music, reading in bed— that lead our body to sleep. The experts call it habit stacking.

The best way to form a new habit is to tie it to an existing habit.

Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times

I already have two events scheduled for late morning:

So, when my Easy Kegel notification goes off at 11, I take my iPhone and a piece of fruit and head out to my meditation spot. My 2 minute exercise on the app brings my focus inward, I eat my snack mindfully, and then it’s eyes closed, seeking peace.

Engage the mind

It took a while to relax into nothingness, and I am not always successful at staying in the zone once I find it. Structure helped.

When I began this practice, I needed to engage my mind, to distract me from being distracted. This 54321 sensory exercise pulled me into the present.

This exercise evolved. Some days, I counted how many shades of green I could see, or how many different types of bird calls I could hear. Eventually, I noticed myself settling in for brief periods of just being there. And one day I noticed I was no longer counting, only being.

Practice, practice, practice

Here’s the hard part. You actually have to do this. The more you do it, the more you realize how much you need to do this.

Some days, it’s easier. Some days, not so much. Some days, you forget. The next day, you get it back on the schedule.

Because for me, meditation fills me up, way more than a box of carbs.

My meditation view
My meditation view

Wellness Wednesday: What Would Santa Do?

A cul-de-sac in our South Florida neighborhood provides a contrast in holiday messaging: almost hidden among the twinkling lights and inflatable Santas, elves, and snowmen is a simple sign slung between two palm trees: Happy Birthday, Jesus.

It’s hard to argue against that message, but it’s the secular Santa who prevails in the spirit of the holidays. The jolly old elf whose “belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly” is an easier icon to emulate. What Would Jesus Do becomes What Would Santa Do. The sedentary recluse who pulls an all-nighter once a year eating his way through unhealthy snacks says ”Ho ho ho and have another cookie.”

Snowman under the palms
Snowman under our neighbors’ palms

Which is why I blame Santa for making me lose a tooth last week.

It all started when I spun up batches of Christmas cookies to fill a tin for our daughter and her fiancé to take to his family on Thanksgiving. I was glad to hear the cookies were a hit, and even happier to share a cornerstone of my traditions with the new branch of our family.

But then I secreted a cookie stash and nibbled away as I binge-watched Netflix. Binging while binging is the essence of mindless eating, something I’ve struggled to control for decades.

Secret cookies aren’t really secret

As my Weight Watchers group understands, it is unfair that food eaten as solitary personal entertainment carries calories. That eating food quickly while standing counts. That not writing it down doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Those extra calories began adding extra weight, including the beginning of a belly like a bowlful of jelly.

Exercise isn’t enough

Long before I emerged from an Amsterdam ICU bone thin and unable to move in 2019, daily exercise was my mantra. The lifelong habit has brought me back stronger than ever and my weight landed back where it had been. Now, however, my old eating nemesis was working at cross-purposes with my health, and, as Marlo Scott of First Class Fitness and Wellness helped me write, exercise alone doesn’t result in weight loss.

Reminded about what got me well

Then my husband reminded me that deep within me is the resilience to push forward. A life force that kept me alive for those six weeks in that ICU. A determination that got me onto an airplane six weeks later, through physical therapy and back in a pool, to running and biking today.

I can’t ignore this. Here I am, despite terrible odds. Here I am.

But Santa called

This doesn’t mean I’ve been iron-clad in my resolution to count on my inner strength. I went out to buy Christmas wrapping paper and came home with gifts and stocky stuffers, including a bag of caramels. As I wrapped the gifts, that bag just called to me.

One caramel. C’mon. What Would Santa Do?

The wicked bag of caramels

I ripped the bag open. Pretty soon, those yummy chewy candies were disappearing. I stopped myself, unloaded most of the remaining bag into gifts for neighbors, and dropped the rest into our freezer. For safekeeping.

That lasted about an hour, when I discovered that a frozen caramel is strong enough to pull a dental crown off a molar. Darn that Santa!

My dentist gave me absolution

The whole story came out at Palms Dental Care where the upbeat Dr. Coakley laughed as I confessed my crazy crime the next day, with not even a charge for my transgression.

Santa came by our house last night during a community event, tossing tiny candy canes our way. Just glad he didn’t have caramels!

Santa’s pre-pandemic visit
Santa’s 2019 pre-pandemic visit