It began with finishing off the fish fingers on your toddler’s plate – ‘I don’t want to waste food’. But before you know it, you’ve gone on to demolish three custard creams and a couple of pieces of toast and jam. You are now guiltily rummaging through the children’s snack box searching for something else. You know that you’re not the least bit hungry (not anymore) but you can’t seem to stop.
No-one knows you’re eating – you feel incredibly guilty, ashamed and out of control. You don’t want the kids to know. Only five minutes ago, you were telling them ‘only 1 biscuit – that’s enough’. You’re so confused. Why has this happened? Most of the time, you have a pretty, run-of-the-mill healthy routine with food. You feel horribly out of control and a very bad Mum.
Before you write yourself off as a terrible mother, lacking self-control or willpower, pause, take a breath and stand back.
These kind of eating episodes DO NOT happen due to unforeseen circumstances or mystical powers. They are simply a sign that your emotional balance is a little off-centre and needs some tending to. You are probably more than a bit depleted in the self-care department. There are almost certainly difficult feelings brewing that haven’t had a chance to see the light of day (you’ve been busy you know, with all that wiping, cleaning, prepping and caring), plus a likely bit of low afternoon blood sugar – it’s a perfect combination for eating.
The problem is that it’s hard to acknowledge the negative side of parenting out loud. You love your children to bits, so you feel that you SHOULD be happy – ALL THE TIME. ‘What do I have to moan about?’ you think.
But – you’re bone-tired, weary and exhausted. What you really need, is to lie down in a deep slumber for hours (no days in fact!), but it can’t happen. Little people require baths and bed-time stories. We know a lack of sleep disrupts your hunger and satiety – understandably, your body is craving anything and everything to just limp on.
And you’re not just tired; on some days you’re massively overwhelmed too. There is an endless list of cooking, facing the mountain of debris in the kitchen; trying to find the carpet, under the pile of scattered toys; bath time without meltdowns; reading the favourite story and then doing it all again and again and again. It’s Groundhog Day – feeling boring and monotonous.
You don’t want to feel this, but screaming resentment simmers – you are doing this job, predominantly alone. You know that your partner is supportive, but they are off at work in a different world – the one where you can finish an adult conversation or have a quiet cappuccino, whilst you read the paper. Remember that one? You feel bad for feeling angry – they’re working hard for all of you. So, you swallow it down with another custard cream.
And the worst thing is that you feel every other Mum has it sorted better than you. You feel envious of happy Facebook pictures; you compare relentlessly, falsely concluding that somehow they’re doing it better and you’re doing it wrong.
Mainly, our difficult feelings are often dispersed between the joyful and meaningful moments of mothering. Having negative feelings is normal. It doesn’t mean you want to abandon your offspring. Rather, you just need a break and a bit of time for you. Eating can offer a little bit of escape and momentary pleasure, when other favoured options are just impossible.
So, next time you want to turn to food, take a pause first.
What is it that you need right now?
You probably need a bit of emotional tending-to and a good dollop of self-care.
What is self-care?
- Self-care is knowing that you are worthy of your time and energy. It is demonstrated through the way you treat yourself – eating, personal grooming, health and relaxation.
- It is how you to talk to yourself – hopefully with kindness and respect, rather than with a critical voice.
- It is about saying ‘no’ when you need to, to avoid overwhelm.
- When emotions are brewing, it is helpful to acknowledge these (buried emotions often lead to depression). Seek out a good friend or family member who listens and understands. You might also need to think about counselling.
Be kind and compassionate towards yourself as you practice these things. It might not be easy at first, but it will be worth it.