And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. John 8:32

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Perfectionism and Emotional Eating

Christmas isn’t easy for emotional and obsessive eaters. I don’t know how many Christmases I’ve stuffed myself so full of goodies that by the time New Year’s rolled around, I weighed five or ten pounds more than I weighed at Thanksgiving just five weeks earlier.

I can still remember driving west on I-90 after marrying my husband in North Dakota 27 Christmases ago and throwing cookies out the window as we drove along because it was the only way I could keep myself from eating all of them in one big shot as we headed back to Montana.

Eating too many Christmas cookies isn’t good for our health, our figures, or our morale, but we make a bad situation worse when we take an extra step and condemn ourselves for eating them. My guess is that there are more than a few of you out there who are now beating yourselves up because you didn’t eat perfectly this holiday season!

So I decided to write a post today about perfectionism and emotional eating. I'm hoping you'll read this and stop beating yourself up if that's what you're doing - because perfectionism will hurt your efforts to break free from emotional eating.

Here are just a few of the areas where perfectionism kicks in to slow down our progress in breaking free from emotional eating:

1. Wanting a PERFECT body.

The lie we believe here is that the only thing that’s acceptable is a skinny body. Is this true? Of course not! If life is about loving God and loving others, then it’s loving God and loving others that makes us acceptable, not being skinny. Not to mention the fact that God accepts us “as is.” He doesn’t demand that we shape up before He's willing to love us.

Believing we need to be skinny to be acceptable will actually hurt our weight loss efforts because it leads to self-condemnation when we break our boundaries. “Well, I’ll never be skinny anyway after all that food,” we think, “so I might as well just eat this and this and this.” And then we go all out in the eating department, which of course, is counter-productive to losing weight.

If we instead focus on the truth that life is about loving God and others, it won’t be such a big deal if we break our boundaries. God is far more merciful and gracious than a world who demands physical perfection. He won’t beat us up because we eat too much, but He will want us to have the right attitude about food and our bodies. So He’ll be hoping we come to Him and to His Word so we can see both food and ourselves through His eyes.

2. Trusting in the PERFECT boundaries.

The lie we believe here is that “if we can just find the right set of boundaries it will be easy to control our eating and/or lose weight.” So we try new diets and new boundaries, just waiting for the right one to come along that will make us lose weight and keep it off.

The problem is that unless we radically change the way we think about food, people, and life, we’ll eventually go back to our old ways of handling life’s problems with food, and we’ll gain our weight back—no matter what program we used to lose the weight in the first place.

The boundaries are a good framework for eating, and I believe they’re necessary for the emotional eater, but we’ll never have enough will power to make ourselves stick to our boundaries until we change the way we think about food.

3. Expecting life and people to be PERFECT.

If we expect life and people to be perfect, we’ll eat when they’re not. At least, we will if we’re emotional eaters. Developing a lifestyle of gratefulness, grace, and dependence on God will help us do away with a good share of those negative emotions that make us feel like eating in the first place.

4. Relying on PERFECT foods.

It’s easy to get in the habit of thinking we deserve to eat well, and that if we only eat what our body really wants to eat—the perfect food, in other words—we won’t feel like overeating.

While this might be true for people who have never turned to food for emotional reasons, it’s usually not true for the emotional and obsessive eater, because it’s often not taste and hunger that’s driving us to eat.

5. Condemning ourselves when we don’t follow our boundaries PERFECTLY.

This is a biggie. I might as well eat because . . . I will never get over this because . . . I am such a failure because . . . I will always be overweight because . . . All of these sentences can be answered with the same phrase— because “I broke my boundaries.”

But the truth is that it would be an absolute miracle if we could break free from emotional eating without breaking our boundaries time and time again. And I mean that literally.

God doesn’t normally choose to solve our problems with a one-time magic swipe of His hand. Instead, He allows us to go through trials, leaning on Him for strength, truth, and wisdom because He can teach us more by having us lean on Him than He can by doing everything for us.

Failure paves a good share of the pathway to success. But failure only leads to success when we step from failure toward God. Our normal operating mode is to step from failure to the refrigerator.

I did that for years, but it wasn’t until I was willing to make the sacrifice of taking the time to renew my mind that I began to experience significant change. God used the truth to transform me. My next blog post will be a renewing the mind challenge to you to start the new year off right!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How To Choose Boundaries

I’ve had a few questions lately about how to choose boundaries, so today I’d like to give some ideas that might help. If any of you want to share how you came up with your own boundaries, that would be great also. Please share your ideas in the comments section. I’ll be giving ideas for three different types of boundaries:

1. A set number of meals or snacks – example: three meals and one snack.

This may be a good boundary for you if . . .

• You like to eat meals with your family. Even if you’re not hungry, you’ll be able to sit down with them and eat a little bit.

• You like structure, order, and routine. This way you can plan out your meals and snacks and know when you can eat.

• You have a hard time telling when you’re hungry and when you’re full. With the meals/snacks boundaries, you’ll look at what’s available to eat before your meal and determine what a healthy amount is. Anything you eat above and beyond that amount would be something you would journal about.

• You tend to rationalize hunger i.e. tell yourself you’re hungry when you’re really not.

• You like to know when you can eat next.

2. Eating when hungry and stopping when full.

This may be a good boundary for you if . . .

• You have a hectic life and don’t have time for scheduled meals.

• You feel like it’s easier to control your eating if you eat only when hungry.

• You’re traveling and feel like nibbling all the time just because you’re on vacation.

• Would tend to use three meals and a snack as an opportunity to eat as much as you wanted at those meals and snacks and wouldn’t have a tendency to do that with hunger only boundaries.

3. Diets

This may be a good boundary for you if . . .

• You're faithfully doing one of the other boundaries and not losing weight even though you want to lose weight (and actually need to lose weight for your health).

Note: If you decide to go on a diet, you should be training yourself to follow one of the other boundaries while on your diet. For example, if you’re going to Weight Watchers and your lifetime boundaries are three meals and one snack a day, you would divide your points for the day between those four eating occasions. For example: 4 points for breakfast, 8 points for lunch, 8 points for supper, 3 points for snack. Then you would truth journal each time you ate more than your allowed points for each eating occasion.

One thing to remember with all the boundaries is that it’s impossible to find a set of boundaries that will be easy to follow if you’re an emotional eater. One set of boundaries may be more suited to your lifestyle and personality than another, but it still won’t keep you from eating when you’re stressed, bored, annoyed, etc.

What boundaries do is provide a structure to keep us from eating emotionally. You might say they keep us from eating whenever we feel like eating, because we feel like eating too often! Boundaries also provide a framework to know when to truth journal.

If you truth journal whenever you break your boundaries, the truth will start working its way into your heart, and there will come a time when you won’t feel like eating outside your boundaries. This doesn’t happen overnight, though. I just counted the number of lie/truth charts I have in a file for blog ideas and there were 17 of them – and I know I didn’t save all my charts!

If you’d like to read more about boundaries, look at the category headings on the left side of this blog and click on the link for boundaries. There are a couple of posts on rules and another one called “Not Even One Bite” that might provide helpful insight, as well.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Christmas isn’t an easy season for emotional eaters. In a month where we’re surrounded by good things to eat, we’re also surrounded by opportunities for negative emotions that make us want to eat.

The funny thing is that we’ve taken a holiday designed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came to bring us peace, and turned it into probably the least peaceful time of the year. The stress of all the things on our to-do lists would send us to the refrigerator even if the Christmas cookies didn't!

So what do we do? Resign ourselves to the inevitable Christmas weight gain? Get rid of the Christmas cookies? Or use the season as an opportunity to change our focus and see life, ourselves, our to-do list, and even Christmas through God’s eyes?

This Christmas my goal is to keep my focus on God throughout the Christmas season and to avoid getting caught up in the negative emotions that seem to come with the season. Here are a few of the ideas I had to help me reach that goal.

1. Practice the presence of God as much as possible.
I think I mentioned before that I’ve been reading the book The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a man who lived in the 1600’s. Here’s an excerpt from his book:

I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God, which I may call an actual presence of God; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God, which often causes me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them and prevent their appearance to others.

Brother Lawrence said that developing this habit of always being aware of God’s presence no matter what he was doing did more for his relationship with God than anything he’d ever done before.

I’ve found that it’s a hard habit to develop, but when it works, it’s delightful. It’s like you’re having a side conversation with God while you’re doing other things. Or like He’s right there with you fellowshipping with you while you do those other things. I’ve also found that it makes things you don’t usually enjoy doing almost enjoyable because you’re doing them with the One you love.

2. Deal with the emotions that come up when they come up.
When I find myself craving Christmas cookies, I'll ask myself, Is it the cookies, or is it my emotions? If you have a tendency to eat to procrastinate like I do, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to eat at Christmas. Same with eating for stress. Or relationship problems—often there are more of those at Christmas. What we need to do when we experience those emotion-induced cravings is go to God and work through the emotions.

3. Stick to my eating boundaries faithfully.
This is more important than ever at Christmas. It's helpful to get in the mindset of not even one bite outside of the boundaries - because one bite usually leads to lots of bites!

4. Prepare myself for parties and other tempting eating events by renewing my mind before I go.

I have to tell you that I don't actually do this one because it's not an area of temptation for me anymore, but I thought I'd write about it in case you might like to try it. I think it would have helped me back in the old days.

Here's the idea - before you go to the party, write down a list of things you might tell yourself that would make you want to overeat at the party. Recognize the lies and replace them with truth. You might also make a list of the advantages of eating whatever you want at the party and the disadvantages. This will help you recognize the truth that it really is better not to eat too much.

5. Don’t be a perfectionist or a procrastinator when it comes to holiday jobs.
I probably need to give myself this lecture every day. Perfectionism and procrastination lead to stress. Things don’t have to be perfect. Things don’t have to be done all at once. Pace your holiday jobs throughout the month—if you do one thing a day, it will be more manageable.

Here’s an example. Today, I’m going to buy my Christmas cards and address the envelopes. That’s a job I don’t mind doing—but if I were to tell myself I have to send a bunch of cards today, I probably wouldn’t even get around to buying the cards because the whole process would seem too intimidating. (Yes, I know, I’m a bit on the pathetic side.)

These last three things on the list might seem like they have more to do with practical issues rather than walking with God, but the truth is that every part of our lives affects our relationship with God. When I obsess over food, it affects my relationship with God. When I demand the easy life or the perfect life, it affects my relationship with God. When I get too busy, it affects my relationship with God.

That's why I really want to develop this habit of practicing the presence of God - because I can't focus on Him and demand those other things all at the same time. Living in His presence helps me live for Him. Which is exactly what I want to do this Christmas season.