Weight fluctuation has always been an issue for me. I was never fat, but I was never skinny either. Growing up in Italy, surrounded by pizzas and pastas, didn’t help much. I have always been a food lover, and Italian culture taught me to really appreciate food with all of my senses. Quality food cooked with love, is an essential part of a happy lifestyle. Thus, it is important to distinguish between beautifully prepared soulful food eaten consciously and mindfully, and comfort food, eaten rapidly in moments of stress. When faced with emotional eating, we don’t enjoy the food we eat, nor do we savor or fully appreciate it. Instead, we just shove it in our face, and wait for it to make us feel better. But as a result, we get the opposite effect – we feel even more grumpy and stressed.
When I was eighteen, I chose to study abroad. I really wanted to discover a new culture. I picked England. Located not too far away, yet so different to my home country. What I didn’t know though, was that moving away from family and friends, would make me turn to emotional eating, and gain a lot of weight. Ordering in pizzas on a regular basis, and topping them up with containers of Ben & Jerry’s did the trick: I gained + 7kg in 3 moths. How did my stomach handle such large amounts of junk food remains a mystery till today. The funny thing is – I was not even aware of my weight gain. I stopped wearing jeans because they felt uncomfortable and opted for loose shirts and skirts instead. Apart from a tiny mirror in my bathroom, I had no full-body mirror, which left me in the dark about my drastic body-transormation. Until the horrifying reality hit me. I recall that moment very well. It was during my Christmas holidays back home. My mother was picking me up at the airport and she barely recognised me. She didn’t even try to hide her shock, she just said: “You are humongous! What happened to you?”. Yes, the thing about me is that I don’t get ‘fat-fat’, instead I turn big – like one of those basketball players or those big and dense Nordic women, who when standing next to a normal person, will make them look too skinny and weak. My mother, having a slim figure, did look tiny next to me at the airport that day. Her rude reaction hurt my feelings, but also awakened my senses. That is when my weight-loss struggle began. I signed up to the local gym and instantly became an addict. I would burn 1000 calories in cardio, drink juices, and eat soups for a week, and as a result lose 3 kilos. Then, I would drastically return to my ‘pizza-chocolate regime’ and gain back the double of what I’ve lost. This “yo-yo” routine lasted until I moved to Paris for my Masters Degree. I’m not sure whether me and London were not compatible, but living there did make me emotional and unbalanced, just like an unhealthy love affair.
My yo-yo dieting taught me to stay alert to mood swings and cravings. Which are all due to stress and the hormone cortisol – when released by our body it signals our brain to seek out rewards in the form of comfort food. According to Cynthia Bulik, author of Runaway Eating, if we turn to comfort food when we feel down “that food gets coded in our memory as a solution to an unpleasant experience or emotion”. (prevention.com)
So what can we do to curb our food cravings? Everyone has their own techniques. For instance, one of my Instagram followers said that whenever she gets a craving, she meditates and runs on the spot – as fast as possible, and for as long as possible. Which seems like an excellent way to fight those hormonal imbalances. Another one said that switching his attention off the craving and focusing upon spending time with family and friends, watching movies and reading, does the trick for him. I do too have a few tricks to fight off stress and food cravings, which I would like to share with you.
- When I get into emotional eating, I feel like I’ve lost control over myself; I logically understand that I shouldn’t eat that cake or pizza, but I am too weak to say ‘no’. I usually embrace my craving and get carried away a little, for maybe a day or two. Not in big amounts though. A little bit of chocolate, an ice-cream or a pizza – whatever makes me feel better. Then, I find the courage to react with a one-day juice fast. It never fails to work. It magically reverses my brain into a healthy mode. One day is enough to find my balance back.
- I organise a “beauty day” at the gym. I pack everything – from hair oils, body scrubs, black hammam soap, face masks and body creams. I spend a few hours working out at the gym, followed by an hour of relaxation in the sauna and the hammam. I always make sure to stay hydrated, bringing a thermos of freshly brewed ginger and lemon tea, as well as a big bottle of water. This trick always ‘resurrects’ me back to life.
- I wake up 30 minutes earlier than my usual in order to do a light yoga session at home, together with some mediation and breathing exercises. It brings balance to my vital energies and helps me start the day on a positive note.
- Since I’m not strong enough to say no to comfort food, I make sure that there is none around me, thus I clean and defrost my fridge. I throw away anything that is dangerously tempting and fill my fridge with healthy fruits and veggies.
- Usually a candle-lit bath filled with salt or baking soda helps me to release the tension. Experts call it ‘balneotherapy’ – treatment of disease through bathing. According to aromatherapy specialists adding 1 kg of salt or baking soda helps to realign your spirit and to remove negative energies. To make this process even more powerful, I play 40 minutes of ‘Gong Bath music’ on loudspeaker next to my bath. This trick never fails to work.
- Praying is another way for me to recenter. I usually light a candle in the morning and list all of my life blessings out loud. I thank God for everything, from my home to my job. Gratitude is the best way to fight off negativity. If ever I start complaining, I remind myself of how blessed I am.
- To stay away from junk food during lunch hours I make sure to either cook my lunch at home and bring it to work, or to find restaurants which promote healthy eating. For example, my new favourite is “Vapiano” – their green decor never fails to inspire me to opt for a salad and a juice, and their organic products imported directly from Italy, always make me feel like ‘home’.