In some respects, 2019 has not been the best start. I’ve done very little writing, I haven’t produced a video in several weeks, and I’m still prone to emotional ruts.
But two aspects of my life have taken positive turns – I spend more time socializing and I don’t binge eat nearly as often as I used to.
I am proud of many habits I developed in 2018 – going to the gym regularly, eating a whole food diet, meditating, limiting my hours of Youtube channel surfing. But yo-yo eating continued to haunt me.
By this I mean systematically see-sawing between disgusting gluttony and compensatory caloric deprivation. No matter how much I wanted to stick to my home cooking and healthy eating, I always found myself falling off the wagon every 7 to 10 days. And when I fell, I fell hard. I’m talking about wrecking buffets or dropping $30 on ice cream and pastries. The pattern was predictable.
“Oh my goodness, this is delicious.”
5 minutes later.
“Oh my goodness. So full. Must lay down”
12 hours later.
“Oh my goodness. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. Time to drink some water, fast for 24 hours, and never let that happen again.”
7-10 days later.
“Well, I’ve been pretty good lately. The scale is down. Let’s treat ourselves to the buffet.”
These events epitomize my 2018 diet – feast and famine, gluttony and asceticism, the pig and the camel.
My parents always told me that I lacked moderation – that I should enjoy small junk food indulgences regularly to avoid binges. While I can see there point, should an alcoholic manage their cravings by sticking to one beer a day?
As Gretchen Rubin once described in Better Than Before, there are two types of people in this world – moderators and abstainers. Moderators self-regulate effectively by allowing themselves small indulgences at regular intervals while abstainers self-regulate by avoiding indulgence altogether.
For me, moderation is a struggle. I’ve always struggled to have just one beer, just one cookie, or just one slice of pizza. In my mind, there was little difference between consuming one and consuming eight of anything. This logic is flawed, but my emotional brain does not follow rational logic.
Which brings me to emotion. As I crushed donut after donut and consecutive ice cream sandwiches, a thought always echoed in the back of my mind.
“Why are you eating this much? Does your body need food? Or does this urge to eat come from somewhere else?”
As this thought became more salient in my mind, it morphed into a tough pill to swallow. Me? An emotional eater? No! I work out. I make good food choices more often than not. My weight has never as much as made eye contact with obesity. But the facts were right in front of me. My behavior was clear as day.
So I became curious. When a binge began I began to consider my circumstances. What happened just before? What is happening in the imminent future? More often than not, I felt the urge to eat after spending time with friends – especially on Sunday. The Sunday part I understood. Sunday blues drive many people into the arms of ice cream and cake, especially in the developed world.
But socializing? Why? If anything, having fulfilling social relationships tends to curb dysregulated eating, not exacerbate it. But were my friendships truly fulfilling? Was I overeating out of loneliness?
These thoughts came and went. I ignored them as Monday rolled around and the gym, school, reading, and writing consumed my life. By the following weekend, I was oblivious to 6-day-old insights.
But then the school festival flooded me with inextinguishable emotion. As I walked home from school rocked by disappointment and sadness, my stoic facade cracked. I reached for my phone and spilled my feelings on my friends’ chat group.
I mentioned my sadness and disappointment over missing out on the teachers’ dance performance, how much I would miss my second-grade students, and how lonely I felt spending the holidays so far from home.
The warm support of my Misfit friends served as a soothing salve that night. But the ramifications of their support extended far beyond that evening.
For years I had committed myself to emotional stoicism, carefully crafting exclusively positive or neutral expressions around friends.
“Don’t be a damper,” I thought. “No one cares about your problems. Killjoys are friend bombs. You feel sad? Too bad. Keep it to yourself.”
But maintaining a permanently positive facade has the opposite effect. By keeping my less upbeat emotions under wraps, people only got to know half of me. Half-a-person is not a human. Half-a-person is a smiling corpse.
Friendships build through gradual self-disclosure of varied feelings and experiences. Friendships deepen when one respectfully lays bare naked vulnerabilities. That vulnerability is not weakness. It is courage. It’s scary, but it’s essential.
It’s been nearly a month since that vent and I’ve felt my life change for the better. For one, I’ve scheduled more time with friends. My obsession with productivity and learning has gone too far. If this intellectual journey leaves me lonely and longing for chocolate-coated waffles, then I know I need to reach out.
Second, I have not had a junk food binge since that night. That doesn’t mean that temptation never crosses my mind.
“Look at that buffet. We could totally crush some pork cutlets, fries, and whipped cream waffles right now.”
“We could also wake up with a bloated belly, swollen fingers, and sluggish energy. Keep walking. You’ll be fine.”
These cravings arise less and less often with much less strength. It’s as if my expanding social calendar has crowded out my desire to eat.
This theory sounded crazy until I read Outsmarting Overeating by Karen Koenig. There she mentions the cultivation of satisfying and empowering friendships as a powerful antidote to dysregulated eating.
People often give me crap when I say I read self-help books about overeating and weight loss. I haven’t been obese a day in my life.
But I do know that my grandfather died far too young because he did not take care of his body. He failed to regulate his eating and paid with his life. Something deep inside me is terrified of the same fate. As I result, I vow to do everything in my power to avoid having a weight problem in the first place.
While diet and exercise is a tired and true method of prevention, emotional regulation is under-discussed. My dream for 2019 is now to do everything I can to cultivate meaningful friendships where I can share my full self in a socially intelligent fashion. Tackling this issue could bring my many other issues to their knees without a fight.
And less time fighting makes more time for loving.