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Bittersweet memorials and the triggers of a binger

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As promised, here is the next installment in the Quest For Health series with Michael DeSanti, my health coach.  Two weeks ago, I started a journey of health counselling with Michael, founder of Authentic Self Healing.  Last week, Michael’s and my schedule just didn’t work out, so we had to skip a week.  But I’m just back from my second official session with him, and my head is spinning a bit.

But first, let me update you on my progress over the two weeks since my last session.  Basically, my homework was to incorporate high-information foods (like dark, leafy greens) into my diet.  That’s it.  Nothing was off-limits or named evil.  Everything was okay, and I was not to infuse any food I chose to eat with an extra helping of guilt.  I left feeling lighter and freer than I had in a long, long time.

And then, my week(s).

Have you ever had a series of “I just suck!” days?  You know the kind.  The kind where you feel fat and horrible and mean and ugly, no matter what?  Like a bad hair day on steroids?  I had a lot of those kinds of days over these two weeks.  Michael wants me to focus on what went right (oh, fine) so I will say that there were days when I ate mostly vegetables and I got my leafy greens in and yes, I felt great.  Those high information foods really do make you feel better.

But better in this case is interesting.  Better in this case is actually unnoticed, which is something Michael said way back in that first free consultation.  He said, “The point of the body is to not get in the way.”  And I have to say, that when I am eating the high information foods that he spoke about, I didn’t notice my body.  I felt good, so I was able to just get on with it.  I didn’t feel achy or bloated or tired.  I wasn’t shooting through the roof on a false sugar high or manic mood swing.  I was simply chillin’, doing my thing, getting things done.  Simple productivity at its best.

But then there were days of french fries and ice cream, stress and anxiety.  It didn’t help that I spent two days at my mom’s — land of starchy white bread and simple carbohydrates.  Every vegetable comes out of a can and is doused with butter before serving.  Don’t get me wrong — her macaroni and potato salads are to die for.  The only thing is that I know if I keep eating them, they really might kill me.

As Michael says, digesting this type of American diet takes up 60% of the body’s energy, so I came back exhausted, bloated, almost hung over, even though I didn’t even have a glass of wine the whole time I was there.  It took me a whole two days to detox.

Which brings me to today, and my session with Michael, and my mind that hath been blown.   I remind you that there is nary a scale in sight at these meetings — no guilt-inducing tape measures to be found.  Just Michael, who asks about how things are going and talks about stuff.

Today, he wanted to talk about triggers.

To be honest, I think most of my triggers — those sneaky things that make me suddenly want to devour a 10 pound box of chocolate or fifty million french fries — are simply thoughts.  And that’s a tricky thing, because thoughts are insidious.  They don’t always announce themselves, and they don’t wave a sign in front of them declaring “I AM AN AUTOMATIC NEGATIVE THOUGHT.”  That would be handy if they did, but they don’t.  Instead, these thought patterns quietly dig their trenches deeper in our psyche to the point where we don’t even notice them.  Often they are lying, but we accept them as absolute truth.

That perceived truth creates an emotion in us, which in turn creates a behavior.  So I might have a negative thought (I’m really bad with money) that leads to an uncomfortable feeling (guilt, shame, anxiety) that leads to a behavior — let me stuff down this emotion and get some feel-good hormones flowing with this here pizza pie.  As in, the whole pie.  Then think, boy, I suck because I just ate all that pizza.  Then feel guilt and shame.  Then snap at children.  Then raid children’s candy cabinet.  Etc and so forth.

I shared with Michael some truths that I know about my relationship with food that go back to — you guessed it — my childhood.  I feel like I write about my poor parents so much here, there’s a need for a disclaimer: my parents did the best they could with the parenting skills they were shown.  They did the best they could.  Now, it’s up to me to do the best can.  Okay, so that being said….

I remember often as my Dad would run out to Al and Carol’s  for a pack of cigarettes and I would beg, “Get me a treat, Daddy?”  He often wouldn’t answer, but would come back with a Snickers bar or a bag of Fun Dip — something sugary sweet that would tell me I was loved.  He didn’t really show love in any other way — I don’t think he’s comfortable with it, and I don’t think he really knows how — and this was one of the few ways he related to me.  Besides this and the occasional discussion about the television, we didn’t talk much.  Wrapped up in that caramel and chocolate was the only love, affection and approval I could get from him.

Just as often, though, when I’d ask him for a treat, he’d respond nastily, angrily, and tell me no, he wasn’t getting me a treat.  And there would be none upon his return.  There was no rhyme or reason to his decisions — they were entirely arbitrary.  I think I probably got more treats than I didn’t — but the refusals are more memorable.  I don’t know what I did to make him rebuff my request for love in the only relational currency we knew.  But even today, as I think about it, we communicate through sweets.  There is a jar by his easy chair that holds licorice and I only ever approach him to open the jar and retrieve some.  Still to this day a staple under the tree from me to him is a bag of black Twizzlers, and I have long ago decided that even after he dies, this purchase will happen every December, a sweet memorial to a bittersweet relationship.

So I confessed this to Michael — it was something I’d never really told anyone — and he agreed that this was an honest look at some of how my emotions are going all dark and twisty a la Grey’s Anatomy to mess with my food-seeking head.  But as we discussed it, we discovered some more…and this is where my head was blown because I never, EVER made the connection.

I’ve noticed that my behavior patterns are pretty much the same across the board.  Whether it’s my finances or my fitness or my eating habits, I tend to respond the same way, to follow the same patterns of behavior, whether it’s avoidance, overindulging, or procrastination.

While I certainly would not classify us as poor per se, we definitely were not rich.  We were blue collar middle class.  My father always had a steady job, but there wasn’t extra and there was definitely some lack.  I didn’t have tons of clothes — I had a few pairs of jeans that I wore more than once a week.  I never went hungry, but I ate a lot of spaghetti.  There was no saving for a rainy day because every penny was needed now.  Money wasn’t talked about except as a point of tension, and if we ran out of toilet paper or toothpaste, we usually had to wait until next pay day to get some.

But then…when pay day came — FOOD SHOPPING BONANZA!  The cupboards and fridge were filled with preserve-filled yogurts and chocolate chip cookies, Chef-Boy-R-Dee raviolis and grapes, ice cream and frozen pizzas, potato chips and  Fudge Stripes.  My mother and I would sit on the couch to watch Oprah and nosh, sampling a little bit of everything.  Everything communal my family did together revolved around food.

The times I remember feeling happiest and safest as a child, the times I remember feeling the most like a family, centered around food. Ordering a pizza and a bottle of Coke from Uncle Frank’s or Big Jim’s was a celebratory event.  Root Beer floats with coffee ice cream were a family affair.  Winter nights were spent making little homemade apple pies in a camping tin with some Wonder Bread and applesauce.  Everything that made me feel safe, secure, and okay centered around food.  It’s funny — I know that one of my mom’s favorite memories from childhood was the amazing bread her mother made.  They ate it hot from the oven slathered with butter.  To this day, my mother covers everything she eats with butter.  She even butters her hot dog rolls!

Anyway, I am starting to realize that the anxieties I feel around money — even when it’s not lacking — and my food behaviors are intricately entwined.  The trigger this time is that we started an aggressive savings program which automatically moves money from our checking account to a savings account.  I know this.  I know the money is still ours.  But not seeing it in the checking account where it is easily accessible freaks me out and sends me into an anxiety-ridden food binge.  Because when I was a kid, payday meant a feast, lack meant a fight, and denial of sweets meant I wasn’t loved.  Family security = pizza.  Money = food binge.

So now my brain, when it sees my checking account going low (even though the money is just in a different place) goes into false security mode and seeks out its drug of choice to get me feeling like it’s pizza night when I’m eight, like Dad just brought me the Snickers bar of the Year.  In food I seek love.  In finance I see danger.  I find security against danger in a carbohydrate binge.

The brain is a freakish thing.

 

You can learn more about high information foods, your freaky brain, and more by reaching out to Michael for a free consultation at www.authenticselfhealing.com

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Sold out Jesus-freak, mom of 2, wife, Christian Life Coach and speaker, friend-in-need-of-grace, writer of stuff.

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