It’s all too much sometimes.
It is. We all know it is. Those days when the phone won’t stop ringing, emails flood in, a hundred and one people are competing for something they needed from you yesterday . . . we’ve all had them — and will again. (And again.)
Though I try to keep myself on a pretty even keel, harried days are unavoidable. We all get stressed. As we’ve dealt with endless paperwork, financial decisions and the logistics of planning our move the last few months, I’ve been struggling to not panic and, you know, move forward with all of my hair.
Coupled with work, family, a traumatic accident in the extended family, trying to maintain friendships but realizing some friendships will naturally ebb and flow . . . along with, you know, day-to-day stuff like paying bills, feeding ourselves and making sure the car has gas? Well, it’s a process.
I’m still figuring things out. So many things. But what I have learned about stress management, thanks in no small part to my weight loss journey?
I can figure it out without pie.
I’ve always been an emotional eater, and it’s natural to want to reward myself with food. Celebrating? Have cake! Had a rough day? More cake! Need a little pick-me-up to get through a big work project? Candy! Bored with TV re-runs? Chips!
These are all behaviors I didn’t realize I had until . . . well, until I started paying attention. And I only started paying attention when I was more than 30 pounds overweight — and I decided to stop living in the neighboring lands of denial and “someday” (“Someday I’ll eat healthier, someday I’ll lose weight . . .”).
So much of my eating was done absentmindedly, and that’s what worried me most. My portions were out of control. I wasn’t even thinking about what I was eating; I was just popping crackers while cooking dinner, or helping myself to a third muffin because it was there.
That was the simplest explanation for so many of my eating habits: because it was there.
Now that I’m sharing digs — and a kitchen — with my husband, also conscious of his eating, it’s easier to control what comes in and out of our home. I’ve mentioned my mantra before — You can’t eat what you don’t have — and find myself going back to basics a bit lately. You can’t eat the good stuff, like fresh fruit and vegetables, if you don’t have the good stuff. Conversely, you can’t while the evening away with a bag of Oreos if you don’t have Oreos to tempt you.
It’s been almost six months since I hit my goal weight and became a lifetime Weight Watchers member, and I’m proud to have maintained my weight within a pound since January. But what you don’t always consider at the beginning of the journey? The “journey” has no end. It’s cliche because it’s true: good health is not a destination; it’s a way of life. It requires diligence and dedication. I’m not “dieting,” friends — I have a new diet. This is what I eat now. I can’t slip back into old habits after hitting some “magic” number.
And as life has gotten interesting, I’ve had to develop new coping mechanisms.
Before I share my own tips for dealing with stress without sinking into a pile of banana pudding, my previous go-to, I want to stress that I love y’all and would never want to make anyone feel badly about their lives or choices. As my favorite WW Leader would say? You do you, boo.
But if you see some of yourself in my words and are making changes, here are a few of my ways to deal with challenges in a healthier way:
• Talking it out. Despite being an active blogger, columnist and all-around oversharer, I often find myself feeling rather . . . guarded. Private. I’m not one to offload my issues, even to those I love and trust, so when I finally break down and talk about something? It’s big. And usually a relief. If I call my sister instead of helping myself to a crescent roll, I’ve made a step forward.
• Pinterest. Really. It chews up time, gives me inspiration (healthy recipes! home decor! pretty places!) and generally keeps my mind busy. If I’m really stressed at work, I use my break to mindlessly scroll through pretty pictures at Panera while sipping coffee until I feel better. And usually? I do.
• Baking. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I’m a stress baker. The careful blending of flour and butter and vanilla is nothing short of therapy. I love channeling my nervous or sad energy into the creating rather than dwelling. Baked goods are my love language, but I don’t let them linger too long; Spence and I may enjoy a cupcake or two, but the rest get carted off to our respective offices. Here’s a life maxim you probably know, but just in case: coworkers like free food. So now you’re suddenly popular, friends. Try it: it’s fun.
• Reading. No surprise to bookworms, right? Distraction can be key during times of stress. And what’s better at helping one decompress than losing yourself in a good novel? When I keep my hands busy with a book, they’re not rifling through a bag of potato chips.
• Cleaning. Since crazy times often equal messy houses, I try to stay on top of clutter by choosing one “project” to work on after dinner when I’ve had a long day. Spencer and I will occasionally email about this ahead of time — “Tonight, let’s go through the mail” — and it gives a focus to our evenings. Though I love unwinding with “The Mindy Project” as much as the next gal (and still do), having a cleaning project helps keep me from snacking at night. And then the apartment looks way better, so.
• Snacking healthier. If my gut reaction is still to snack when feeling harried (which it is — hard to unlearn), I try to have choices on hand I can feel good about eating. I like the crunch and time-intensive enjoyment of celery with hummus or a ripe apple, but I’m also a huge fan of unsalted almonds, individual cottage cheese cups, grapes, low-fat pudding snacks, Triscuits and string cheese.
• Getting your significant other on board. Piggybacking on my previous point, getting your loved ones to understand your stress tactics — like not have a chocolate cake in the house — can help. We have an agreement to divide up sweets and other goodies to take to work before they linger too long on our counters. (See also: stress baking.)
• But sometimes cookies do help. And you know what? That’s totally fine. Am I a patron saint of healthy eaters who refrains from dessert like a sour-faced martyr? Absolutely not. I eat what I enjoy, and I enjoy what I eat — while being mindful of my overall goals. Foregoing cake today does not mean foregoing cake forever; it means I’ll choose to enjoy dessert when I’m in a clear frame of mind, not when I’m emotional and wanting to devour something just for the sake of devouring it. I drink something — water, hot tea, diet green tea, coffee — instead.
That sounds super boring, I know. Trust me. And if you told me I’d be “sipping water” instead of slicing pie a few years back, my eyeroll would have knocked you into a previous century. But I have changed, and I’m proud of how I’ve taken control of my eating — and my life.
I can’t tell you the difference it’s made.
I really feel like me. A calmer, happier me.