Spaghetti squash with garlic, cheeses, basil and walnuts.

I realize I haven’t done a Project C.U.E. update in a long time, and there are a couple of reasons for that, actually there is one glaring reason in particular and it’s that I haven’t been so good myself.

As some of you may be aware already, I have a bit of stress and transition in my life as of late. The two main stressors I am facing are “the big move” and a terrifically huge amount of work stress. I had been doing okay with the stress level and coping with it in a myriad of healthy ways, mostly by going to the gym and increasing my runs and staying away from my temptations, but  then a couple of key things occurred.

  1. My work stress suddenly increased exponentially
  2. A more psychological stressor emerged.

One of the biggest changes I have made in my efforts to combat unhealthy eating is to keep track of my food intake, but also to keep track of my triggers; how am I feeling? What is happening in my life? How much have I been sleeping? Where am I in my hormonal cycle? The good thing about doing this is that I can look back over the last two weeks and say; ah, so THIS is why I fell off track. It also helps eliminate the guilt and self-deprecating behavior..which I do a lot of. That’s never healthy as it tends to veer me off course into a cycle of restriction and bingeing.

This is healthy!

So lets talk about barriers and stressors to healthy eating. Sometimes you may not even realize something is a barrier or stressor, which is where the whole journaling thing comes in because you start to see patterns.

Stressors

Now, I know I have discussed stressors before and using mindful eating techniques, I have also talked about the importance of PLANNING, which makes a huge difference when your mind is racing and things are crazy and you need to reach for something right NOW. In my case we didn’t have a lot on hand to eat because we were trying to use up what we had and not buy anything else because of the move. So that meant I packed less for lunch and snacks…always super dangerous when you work among many temptations; bread, candy, peanut butter and crackers…all are readily available to me and that is NOT GOOD. Second, some crazy stuff started going down at work. I have literally not had time to sit down, not to mention the fact that things are in a huge state of transition and major changes are expected in the next couple weeks. It makes me very anxious and conflicted and sad…and that makes it really difficult to resist sticking my hand in the candy bowl especially when everyone else is doing it.

Barriers

The biggest barrier I faced these last two weeks was a lack of food and a lack  of time. If you want to eat healthy you need to have the time to shop for healthy ingredients and to prepare them. I haven’t been able to do either, and as Jaime still has a broken hand she is limited in her ability to help (though she does a stellar job trying!). The other barrier I encountered was my exercising. Yup, that’s right. Because I was using exercise as a tool for stress relief I was running harder and farther, and consequently I was hungrier. I figured I could afford to be a little lazy with all that exercise and so I didn’t watch my portions as much.

Big mistake.

It didn’t take long before all that exercising turned into a bit of a compulsion, and I justified my overeating by thinking I needed the fuel. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s great to use exercise as a stress reliever and to focus on being healthy and strong. However, it doesn’t mean you can eat a loaf of bread and not expect to see it on your hips.

Cinnamon Cocoa Acorn Squash

So once you are off track, what do you do? Well, there are a couple of key things;

  1. Identify your triggers. What happened? That should give you an idea of what needs to change. In my case it was extreme stress, compulsive exercising, and fatigue.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up. That only leads to restrictive eating and can start the unhealthy restriction and bingeing cycle all over again. Take a deep breath, there is nothing you can do about what you have already done, focus on the now.
  3. Plan, plan, plan. I immediately started bringing complete meals and snacks to work again so that I had no excuse not to reach for those alternatives. I mean, look at the yummy meals above! You will feel better too when fueled by healthy, real food.
  4. Eat real food. Focus on giving your body lots of vitamins, protein, fiber, and healthy fats. When I got home yesterday I mowed the lawn and came in ravenous. I wanted to open the peanut butter jar and dig in but I didn’t. Even though the fridge was pretty empty I took leftover spaghetti squash and sautéed it with garlic, then topped it with asiago, parmesan and romano (just a little!) fresh basil and walnuts. So much better!
  5. Slow down…or speed up! For most of us we fall off the wagon for two reasons; we are busy or we’re bored. In my case, I slowed down and realized I needed to stop killing myself with the exercise on top of everything else I was doing. I focused on smaller runs, yoga, thirty minutes of exercise, and walking at lunch every day. My daily walk is a huge de-stressor and I REALLY notice when I don’t have it. If you are bored, do MORE. Go for a hike, read a book, make plans with friends, take a class..get up and move!
  6. Get help. I don’t know what I would do without Jaime. I have been completely up front about my food compulsions and addictions and she has been very gentle and supportive. She encouraged me to stop focusing so much on my caloric intake and remember to eat healthy all the time and see what happened. As she eloquently put it; “If you’re going to obsess, obsess about your food being healthy”. So talk. Talk to a buddy, or talk to me!

Is it working? Absolutely. And the best part is that I have started a healthy cycle. Fuel and energy from whole foods drives a more positive mood which makes me more able to deal with the stress in a healthy way and makes me want to eat more healthy food. There is a light at the end of the tunnel too, we finally move tomorrow! These months of selling the house have been excruciating and I can’t wait to move to my little piece of heaven and share it with all of you!

What are your triggers? What are your strategies for healthy eating in stressful times?

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