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When No Amount of Food Will Fill You Up

Dear Readers,

I hesitated to write this post, but have decided to let myself be vulnerable.  No one among us is perfect and even a holistic nutritionist is sometimes challenged with her own emotional eating! So I share with you my latest struggle in hopes that someone may identify and feel inspired.

I’ve had the January doldrums. The holidays are over, the credit card bills are due, the next holiday in sight is Valentine’s Day and romance is NOT in the air. Although it’s natural to put on a little weight over the Winter, I am unhappy that everything feels a little snug. My workout routine has been sporadic and my body would much rather rest and sleep in than go outside in the dark and cold.

So the other day, I was feeling particularly low and premenstrual. I was REALLY craving something and so I wandered into the Berkeley Bowl grocery store. As I walked through the isles, I slowly began to fill up my shopping cart with “healthy” treats. Being a nutritionist, I try to follow certain guidelines around the foods I eat. No more than five ingredients, things that I can pronounce and recognize, no sugar, no gluten (I am gluten sensitive), decent fiber content, etc, etc.

As I was approaching the checkout line, I scanned the contents of my cart. I had a pint of coconut bliss  (agave sweetened coconut milk based ice cream), a couple different organic dark 70% or more cocoa content chocolate bars, several different varieties of gluten free cookies, various “raw” concoctions, and, a bagful of dried mango slices. All “nutritious” foods, but truly sugar and fat in various forms. Suddenly, I panicked. I realized that I was going to go home, probably sample ALL of these tasty treat and  feel overly full afterwards. I also recognized that my HUNGER to FEEL BETTER would undoubtably still be there, despite having filled my belly.  I turned around, left the shopping cart and walked out of the store. (Sorry Berkeley Bowl employees! I owe you one…)

Once out of the store, I called a friend to talk about what had just happened and we shared a laugh. THAT made me feel better. I took some deep belly breaths and asked myself “What is really going on?” I was feeling stressed out, unappreciated, and slightly anxious, and like I hadn’t had any “fun” lately. I decided to take off my shoes and go walk in the grass in the median right across the street. On the spur of the moment, I tried a cartwheel. THAT made me feel better. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of research suggesting that simply putting your bare feet in the earth can do wonders for your overall health.

Am I suggesting that you walk barefoot and do cartwheels instead of numbing yourself with food? NO. Well, maybe sometimes if that works for you!  What I am suggesting is to stay present with yourself. Observe your behavior with curiosity and try to find out what your real motivation is. You may be surprised by what you discover. What I am beginning to feel is gratitude for my seemingly senseless cravings. They are a cry for help. They are my spirit begging for attention. And I am starting to pay attention.

On the flip side, I know that my body and brain need attention too. Serotonin (your feel good brain chemical) drops the lowest during this time of year and the body’s response is to crave sweets. Serotonin also drops dramatically right before a woman’s period begins. Although eating carbohydrates at night will temporarily boost serotonin, doing so on a regular basis will sap your serotonin reserves if you’re not replenishing with the building blocks of serotonin, namely amino acids that come from protein foods. You also need a lot of Vitamin B6 to convert amino acids into serotonin.

With this knowledge, I am revamping my eating plan to include more protein and healthy fats for a happy brain. I am also being gentle with myself and allowing myself to do a little bit of hibernation in this Winter season. What this experience has taught me is how important it is to be present in my body and with my emotions. Feeling connection in the universe and cultivating joy for myself truly needs to come first. Unless I have that, I won’t have the energy to follow through with what I “know” intellectually as far as my nutritional needs are concerned. 

So I leave you with this question: What will nourish you today besides your food?  What time have you carved out for yourself to do something that brings you joy? I’d love to hear from you…

Yours in Health,

Sylvie Nalezny, MA, CNE