Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tuesdays at Forty: Is it Really "Comfort Food" if it Stresses You Out?

I had so many ideas for my next blog post that I ended up writing none of them...until now.  This one is a result of a few experiences that have happened to me recently and/or decisions that I've made in the not so distant past i.e. in July that have culminated in one topic.  I've been purposely avoiding writing any posts about food or weight loss or anything in that vein but this facet of the subject seemed so very relevant to my new normal that I couldn't avoid it any longer.

What am I talking about?  Well, I've lost physical strength.  I've also been experiencing food allergies.  These two things, together, have cemented my decision to make changes.  The remedy for loss of strength is pretty cut and dried.  I'm back in the gym, hitting the free weights and doing some cardio to get the stamina built up in my heart again.  My food allergies are little bit different in how they present; though, I guess, that remedy is pretty obvious too: Quit eating them.  Anyhow, I don't get sick or anything with these allergies.  What I get is large cystic acne on my neck, right under my jawline.  They're not whiteheads.  They're not blackheads.  They are just large bumps that hurt and won't go away until I remove the contaminant from my system i.e. quit eating the shitty foods.  Which I've been doing.

So, that's one portion of the brain waves that have gone into this post.  The other has been me reading "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg.  This book talks about, obviously, habits.  How they're created, how they, essentially, maintain themselves, and how they get broken.  So, how does this relate to my food allergies?  Because of my "go to" foods.  If you're a "stress eater" or "emotional eater", you have them too.  They are your food habits.  Your reaction to stress habits.  Your "everything" habits.  Did you ever stop to think how they came to be your "go to" foods?  I recently did.

My foods are: Red Vines, cookie dough, ice cream, and jelly beans or Mike n Ikes.  I love them but eating them stresses me out further because I know candy isn't good for me (or anyone), I'm allergic to dairy (in fairly traditional ways--I start to feel ooky), and I'm allergic to grains (hence the cystic acne).  But I started wondering WHY I eat those particular foods when stuff is going on in my life.  Red Vines was pretty easy.  My grandpa and my aunt used to go to Costco and buy the big tub of them and bring it by the house when I was a kid--single digit age, not teenager.  Jelly beans and Mike n Ikes are things that I just like the mechanics of eating--a task that takes a little time but soothes me with its habit.  The cookie dough was a little bit more difficult to figure out.  I've been eating it, periodically, for decades.  And, until a couple weeks ago, never realized why or that it was only during certain times in my life.

The serious, deep pondering of it came about after having a conversation with one friend, whom I was telling that I needed to get my physical strength back up and about my food allergies but whom I've known for only a year or two; and after having a different perspective of the same conversation with my best friend of more than 20 years.  It didn't come to me until after I had hung up the phone with her though.

A little background on me to give you a better understanding of where I'm coming from, as well as show how my habit developed.  My parents split when I was in middle school.  The summer before my Freshman year, we moved out of the house that I had grown up in to one that was in the school district that my mom was going to have me attend (by my choice, thankfully).  It was me, her, and her boyfriend (and still long-time fella of almost 27 years).  Previously, it was me, Mom, and my brother.  Dad was in the military and came home on weekends.

Anyhow, when we moved, out standard of living seemed to go down.  When I was a kid, I remember having cookies and other snacks in the house all the time.  It wasn't like that when I was a teenager.  Now, to be fair, I may have just eaten what was there so fast, that I don't remember that we actually had them.  I do remember that the fridge was NEVER full of food; but it did ALWAYS have Budweiser, Bud Light, and condiments in it.  There was always cigarettes too--Kent Kings, never 100s and I have no idea why since I've never smoked.  There was always meat in the freezer 'cause her boyfriend worked for a meat company.  I feel like I remember my after school snacks being slices of bread that I would roll into a ball and pop into my mouth or a cold hotdog.  I just don't remember any other snacks.  On occasion, though, Mom would buy some Pilsbury cookie dough.  This was only when we had a little extra money.  Mind you, we weren't poverty level.  I always had clothes and shoes when I needed them.

Let's do a little math (which might be skewed because I can't go back in time to check prices) for a week's worth of consumption:
12 pack of Bud Light (in 1990) maybe $5 (x7)
12 pack of Budweiser (in 1990) same $5 (x7)
Carton of Kent Kings (in 1990) maybe $10 (x1)
That's $80 a week spent on these "staple" items.  I remember doing the math with more accurate numbers about 20 years ago and it worked out to be about $5000/year spent.  That being said, it was always such a big deal when Mom got me some cookie dough.  It meant that we had that little bit extra to "splurge" and that we were going to be okay...in my 14 year old mind.

Fast forward ten years, having just bought my first home the year prior and going through some tough (aka tight budget) times.  What has become a staple in my freezer?  Cookie dough.  Fast forward another five years.  I have that first mortgage in WA state, apartment rent in DE, and a car payment.  What did I eat a lot of?  Cookie dough.  Now, present day (but a year ago), I have retirement coming up which means my income is going to drop significantly, my credit card has taken a beating as I threw all I can at my Home Equity Loan because USAA extended me an offer that they would match 50% of every dollar that I paid, up to $6000 between Nov 2013 and Oct 2014.  You can bet that I paid an extra $12,000 on that HEL so that I could net an $18,000 paydown.  Anyhow, the card got a lot of use because I threw all my extra cash at the HEL.  What has, once again, become a staple?  Cookie dough.  I didn't buy it when my budget wasn't tight.  I was going out and doing stuff and having fun.  I didn't need to "splurge" on cookie dough.  It was the fun that I was having when I couldn't go out and have fun because I couldn't afford it.

When I realized this connection, that I was using cookie dough as an indicator that things were going to be okay, I cried.  I cried because, after 20+ years, I finally saw WHY I turned to it.  And, now that I've realized it, I don't turn to it any more.  I don't need this chemical laden, grain product (that I'm quite allergic to) to reassure me that things are going to be okay.  My habit was broken.

What's your habit?

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