You have a finite amount of emotional energy. How you choose to use and replenish that energy can have a profound impact on your quality of life. At this time of year, when many people are setting New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or change their body, I wanted to touch on the emotional energy requirements of dieting – because food is about lot more than just the physical.
When I attended Dr Rick Kausman’s ‘If Not Dieting…’ training for health professionals he provided a great explanation of the emotional energy requirements of dieting versus learning mindful/intuitive eating. At first, dieting requires little emotional energy – after all, someone else has told you what, when and how much to eat, so you don’t have to do much thinking. Having rules can initially be really comforting and motivating, but as you progress with the diet it becomes difficult and draining. Your body might not be getting enough calories, or you’re denying your body (and mind) the foods it really feels like, you might be hungry, or finding it hard to eat out with friends. Any and all of these things increase the emotional energy requirements of a diet.
Eventually all your emotional energy is invested into the diet. It leaves little room for all the other awesome things in your life. When you eat out with friends you spend more time tallying calories, deciding what you should have, and working out the right portion size, rather than chatting and having a good time. Your brain is working overtime during your lunch break, forcing you to ‘stick to’ your diet rather than eating what you really want to eat – by the time you get back to work you’re exhausted. And not to mention the amount of effort it takes standing in front of all those yoghurts at the supermarket trying to determine which one best fits into your diet rules (please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks the yoghurt department is getting out of control?).
Some people will find the emotional energy requirements of their diet increases pretty quickly, 3 days into it and you’ve had enough. For others, it might be a year later. You might keep going on the diet for a while after those energy stores are depleted. But surely, there are better and more fun places to invest our energy.
Here’s where mindful/intuitive eating comes in. We’re born knowing when we’re hungry and when we’re full. For some people, they are able to continue this connection with their body right through their lives and so little emotional energy is ever invested into the ‘right’ way of eating (my husband is a perfect example and I have to admit I’m a little envious of him!). For most people though, we lose track, we diet, we overeat, we under eat, we get all confused. Re-learning mindful/intuitive eating takes a lot of emotional energy to begin with, I won’t lie. It can be hard work. It takes effort and time to stop and think about what we really want and need; to recognise when we are hungry and allow ourselves to eat; to acknowledge that we are full and can stop eating. But the beautiful thing about mindful/intuitive eating is that after the initial energy investment, it becomes second nature. We can go out to a restaurant with friends, think about what we feel like, order it, and eat enough to feel satisfied, all whilst spending good quality time with friends.
Ask what fits in line with your values. Is it more important to you to spend your time and energy thinking about food, weight, exercise, your body etc or to have all that time and energy free for other things in your life you love? This sentence isn’t intended to make you feel guilty. It’s reasonable to spend some time thinking about food, exercise and your body, but it shouldn’t be a constant and dominant force in your life and it certainly shouldn’t be something which stops you from doing all the other awesome things you want to do.
Emotional energy extends well and truly beyond dieting or body image. Work, kids, friends, finances, traffic etc can all leave you feeling drained. It’s worth taking some time out for you each day, to replenish your energy stores and nurture yourself. For me, I really like to curl up and read a book, I find it focusses my mind on one thing and gives me a break from all the other thoughts running through my head. Exercise can also be helpful at times, provided I’m exercising in the right way and for the right reasons. I also love spending some quiet time with my husband; I think it’s important to have friends/family/loved ones who fuel you with energy rather than draining it.
And as you spend more time caring for and nurturing yourself, as you better invest your emotional energy – your whole life feels better.