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The Power of Admitting Weakness

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The first and probably most important step in overcoming problematic issues in our lives is recognizing that we have a problem. As much as we want to project that image, we can't and are not always as strong as we'd like to be. By pretending that we are, we sometimes fall into the trap of glossing over or outright ignoring problems. But, by admitting there's a problem and admitting that we have weaknesses, we can work at overcoming them.

Not easy. I come from a family where avoidance is a strong force; that somehow, if you avoid problems, they'll go away. But life experience has taught me that that NEVER happens. Small problems become big ones and big ones can become practically insurmountable.

For the longest time, I didn't see or didn't want to admit that my weight problems had anything to do with emotional issues. In my head, weight loss and weight gain was just a matter of calories in versus calories out and when I was overweight, I was eating too much and not moving enough. When I was leaner it was because I kept my calories in versus calories out ratio in a negative balance. But clearly there was a deeper reason behind why I was never able to successfully keep my weight in check. Something in me made me turn to food as a source of comfort and dealing with life's inevitable stressors and I didn't have a high enough sense of self worth to stop myself from engaging in this destructive behavior. I needed to turn to something else apart from food whenever I felt sad, stressed, lonely, anxious, overworked or overtired.

Yes, certain strategies do help me keep my eating in line--tracking, being honest about portion sizes, regularly weighing myself, eating more whole foods and less junk--but figuring out better ways of managing my stress have been what's prevented me from major backslides. It's been three years since my last significant one when I gained back half of the weight I had lost in the earlier part of 2010. Since getting back on track in early 2011, my healthy habits have become pretty well ingrained, which has slowly made my day-to-day life on maintenance seem more like second nature.

It's when the stress hits, in those dark moments, that I really need to be cognizant of why it's important for me not to to turn food to soothe myself. Usually I'm successful at this. Occasionally I'm not. But knowing that emotional eating is an issue for me means I can work at handling it. For me that comes down to understanding the source of my "hunger" and equipping myself with alternatives. Not restricting my food too much or allowing myself to get absolutely famished helps prevent me from confusing real hunger with emotional hunger. If my hunger is the real physical variety, I'll eat something and am usually satisfied with a small portion. If it's the emotional variety, I may well consume 3,000 calories before I'm through. And that's the kind I need to have the strength not to give in to. When I understand that my desire to eat is not out of true hunger, what else can I do to cope? Sometimes I blog. Sometimes I read health-related articles or articles about bingeing and emotional eating. Sometimes I talk to a friend who understands. Sometimes I look for something, anything, I can do to distract myself. I get out of the house and away from the temptation. Doing yoga regularly also helps.

I'm far from perfect and I do still have real moments of weakness where all clarity goes out the window and I give in and I binge. And I'm reminded of the fact that no matter how good it temporarily feels to gorge myself, it always feels awful afterwards. But those moments are becoming less and less frequent over time and have not led me back down the road to regain in spite of a few reasonably big life challenges. I know that I am worth fighting for to stay on track and not letting food take control of my life. I'll never be able eliminate stress or sadness from my life completely, but it's a comfort to know that I can usually manage it in a more constructive, rather than destructive, way. So, in a very powerful way, by admitting my own weaknesses, I've actually become a much stronger person and hope that I will only continue to strengthen as more time goes by.
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