This isn't a nutrition blog, but since we all eat and the process often affects how we feel I think it's an important topic. Today I want to talk about a phenomena I have noticed among many powerful, busy women that I have come to think of as “dramatic eating.” This is different then emotional eating, which is using food to deal with an emotion (for example, eating cake when you’re feeling lonely), though there is certainly some overlap. “Dramatic eating,” as the name implies, entails lots of emotional highs and lows and the dramatic eater is usually feeling very bad or really good about their current eating habits.
On a good day our heroine is nailing paleo (or whatever plan they're on) and walking by croissants without a glance. She feels in control, strong. She’s got her shit together. She might even feel prettier and sexier than usual. She’s often losing weight as a result of her dramatic dieting high, so the scale is her omnipresent cheerleader. If she can keep it up for long enough the compliments will start rolling in and she will ride the high even longer. In the telenovela this is the part where our heroine gets kissed by the hunk, inherits a fortune and finally gets the pet dolphin she's always wanted. She names him Jack.
But all highs must end and there is always a low. Following a strict plan for a long time leads to failure. Our heroine will inevitably stumble. Perhaps while she’s in a hurry at the airport, feeling stressed and hungry, she’ll grab a blueberry muffin. Like a sexy but ultimately flakey Lothario, those refined carbs will hit her system like a ton of sugary kisses that quickly transform into bricks. She’ll feel the buzz of love and sugar and the temporary relief of sweet surrender. But then...
The spell is broken and our gal is facing the agony of another diet defeat. The tipping-point muffin often leads to the what-the-hell french fries, followed by more off-plan eating, culminating in the I-already-blew-it pepperoni pizza and wine... Our heroine will continue her transgressive affair until she hits another low—make that high—on the scale. Then it's back on the kale bandwagon.
No matter what the food plan or binge foods, for a dramatic eater the resulting feelings are the same. She feels virtuous, respected and high when it's going well and embarrassed, shameful and low when it's not. There is no in between, and that's what makes a “dramatic eater.” Even more than the sugar and fat, a dramatic eater craves a certain emotional feedback loop. True, no one wants to feel bad about themselves, but once this emotional high/low combo is gone, an emotional eater may subconsciously miss it and feel flat. If there's no candied carrot or spiked stick, what is there?
If you think you might be a full blown dramatic eater or have a little bit too much drama in your eating life here are some things that can help you change the channel. Goodbye telenovela, hello reruns of Friends.
- Start by beginning to notice and acknowledge the feelings you have around “good” and “bad” eating and do your best to right-size them. Should eating a muffin really make you feel this bad? Shouldn’t those kind of emotions be reserved for puppy kicking and cheating on your taxes? And shouldn’t feeling really good be less about kale and more about helping others, beautiful sunsets and refraining from saying snarky things about skinny bitches?
- Pick a moderate and healthy eating plan that you can follow on your good, bad and inbetween days. Really strict plans are easy to follow in the beginning or when you're feeling good, but they become impossible when life gets crazy and you’re not feeling so great. Extreme low-calorie, low-carb plans usually do not end well.
- Get ready to feel sort of blah and grey as you get used to having a healthier relationship with food. Think of it like a long-term marriage: steady, stable and nurturing, but not always exciting. Not that you can't still ignite the fires for special date nights. Food is meant to be pleasurable, just not constantly dramatic.
- Ask yourself, what are you doing to feel good? If everyone ate chicken breast and kale would the world be a better place? Does the Dalai Llama talk about how bad you should feel when you eat a muffin? No, he talks about being kind, helping others and being present in the world. That's the nutrition your soul really wants and no superfood can come close.
- Support another through their food drama detox. Human connection is the enemy of our shame and hidden dramas. Open up to another and let them open up to you.
With some compassion, forgiveness and support for ourselves and others we can put the drama back on Netflix, where it belongs.