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Do You Turn To Food When You’re In A Transition?

The Random House College Dictionary defines a transition as “a change from one position, state, stage, subject or concept to another.” Many emotional eaters have difficulty with transitions and turn to food as a way to comfort and soothe themselves during the transition process.

Here are a few examples of what I call “transition eating”:

–You need to start working on a difficult, daunting task at work. You find yourself heading to the staff room searching through the cupboards. After you dive into the project and hit a bump, you take another snack break.

–Whenever you have to make a presentation at work, you seem to need tea, coffee, candy or gum before you present.

–You’re in a service business and you find yourself regularly grabbing a snack before you see your next client.

–You have a long drive home from work, you’re tired, and you could really use a quick nap before the drive.
Instead you stop at a drive through and order a large meal for the drive home. And you still have dinner a few hours later.

–You finally get the kids to bed and find it difficult to shift into “me” time. So you eat compulsively for the next hour until you feel calm enough to shift gears.

–You’ve just finished watching the nightly news and it’s time to head to bed to shower, floss and brush. Instead, you head to the refrigerator for a late night snack and then fall into bed, completely blowing off your self-care routine.

–It’s Friday night and the weekend is finally here. You feel a bit restless with all the free, unstructured time ahead of you. You’re wondering what delectable meal you can start the weekend off with.

–It’s Sunday night and you’re not looking forward to the week starting. You prepare your favorite comfort food meal and top it off with a large dish of ice cream and cookies.

–Your mother’s health has taken a turn for the worse. All the extra trips to the grocery store and drug store include extra snacks to bolster your endurance through this new phase of your life.

–You’ve been laid off from your job. More time at home means more visits to the kitchen to kill time.

–It’s time to head to the gym for your Zumba dance class and you’re not in the mood. Even though you’re not hungry, you grab a snack before heading out.

–It’s been a couple of weeks since you broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend. You find the depression and extra alone time difficult to handle so rather than going out for groceries, you’re having food delivered, and lots of it.

–You’re back home from a dream vacation and can’t figure out why, after having so much fun and even losing a few pounds, you’re bingeing at night again.

–You just moved out of the apartment you lived in for years, into your first home. You’ve got so many boxes to unpack and you’re not sure why you’re eating is so out-of-control when this is such a positive change.

–You just downsized from a large, beautiful home, into a much smaller condo after a difficult divorce. You thought you had adjusted to this big life change, but find yourself window shopping in the refrigerator every night.

–You just got married and are now living with your spouse. You thought you had pretty much resolved your emotional eating but all of a sudden you find you’re sneak eating once again.

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, take heart. You’re not alone. Many people find transitions to be uncomfortable. Why? Because we’re wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We like comfort and transitions aren’t always comfortable. We like feeling motivated and motivation can wax and wane. We like certainty and life is filled with uncertainty. Transitions demand that you shift and adapt: from comfortable to uncomfortable; from inertia to action; from avoidance to initiative; from overwhelm and paralysis to movement; from partnered to going it alone, from single-hood to partnered, and so on.

The good news is that your transition eating is just a habit. A habit that serves a purpose–it offers you comfort, soothing, distraction and pleasure during uncomfortable times. For a short period of time, your transition eating seems to soothe your anxiety, lessen your sense of overwhelm as it distracts you and soften your insecurities and internal or external pressures for perfection. But your eating doesn’t motivate you or insure that you’ll complete the tasks you’re avoiding. It also has a cost–perhaps it puts weight on you or keeps you from losing weight. Maybe it leads to more serious procrastination issues. Perhaps it keeps you from achieving certain goals.

The following 6 steps can help you can begin to tackle your transition eating:

1) Make a list of all the times you engage in transition eating–remember, change begins with awareness.

2) Select one transition to work on. Pick a fairly easy one to start with. Don’t try to tackle all your transition eating at once. Keep in mind that your eating serves a purpose in your life and you’ll need to build in other, more adaptive, ways of coping before you can fully release it.

3) During the selected transition, set an intention to stop using food for soothing, comfort, pleasure or distraction. Take a pause when you want to grab food, and make a conscious choice to delay gratification for at least 10 minutes. Remind yourself that you’ll be fine without the food. You’re building a new habit with new associations and over time, these new habits and associations will feel more natural.

4) Practice self-affirming commentary every time you succeed in not eating during a transition. For example, “I’m proud of myself for going to bed tonight without first getting a snack.” Or, “I’m pleased that I didn’t go to a drive-through after I dropped the kids at soccer practice.”

5) Plan a non-food reward for yourself once you’ve conquered an area of transition eating. You deserve it!

6) When you’ve successfully released one area of transition eating, set an intention to tackle another area. Progress to more difficult areas once you have some success under your belt.

As I said previously, your transition eating is nothing more than a habit. It once served a purpose, but now its keeping you from achieving your goals. I have no doubt that your transition eating can become a “thing of the past” and that you can make a serious dent in your emotional eating. I believe in you!

Now, which area would you like to tackle first?

Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual: A Practical Mind-Body-Spirit Guide for putting an End to Overeating and Dieting. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to http://www.overeatingrecovery.com.

Image courtesy of Gregory Szarkiewicz/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Responses to “Do You Turn To Food When You’re In A Transition?”

  1. Such a practical, inspiring post! When I was grappling with disordered eating thoughts and behaviors, I found the shift from negative self-talk to positive commentary extremely difficult, but also the most helpful work I ever did.

    In all my work with eating disorders – my own and working with others through theirs – I have never explored “transitional eating.” Thanks for enlightening me!

    • Thank you for sharing your experience re: reframing self-defeating thoughts. You’re right–this can be extremely difficult, yet very helpful and rewarding. Glad the article was enlightening for you August!