“Mom’s using again!”

Selection of nut butters – peanut, cashew, almond and sesame seeds

“Hey Dad! Mom’s using again!”

I was imagining my son calling my husband at work as he watched me rummaging through the kitchen cabinets looking for a fix.

For weeks, I’d managed stress eating and avoided my drug of choice — nuts. Macadamia nuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, peanuts. I wasn’t picky. If it was salty, crunchy, and nearby, I’d eat it. When I committed to avoid snacking, the truth was hard to face. I wasn’t eating to hunger. I was eating to emotions.

I began to focus on hunger, asking myself before eating, is this hunger or emotion? If emotion, I decided to do something. Taking a walk, cleaning a drawer, scrubbing a toilet, walking up and down stairs, phoning a friend, or sending an email were all distractions that I used to manage stress eating.

Then came the “big one.” A stressor that caused a tsunami of emotions including fear, frustration, anger, sadness, insecurity, and helplessness and knocked me off my feet. There I was reaching for a lifeline in a bag of macadamia nuts.

My son was watching as I went into the kitchen and began digging. His eyes met mine, and it was obvious he recognized that it was stress I was trying to soothe. That’s when I imagined him calling my husband and saying, “Dad, Mom’s using again!”

In reality, he asked, “Mom, what are you doing?” What was I doing? His question gave me enough pause that I recognized that I wasn’t hungry for food, and that respect, understanding, and support weren’t lurking in the kitchen cabinets in a bag of nuts.

“I’m going for a walk,” I replied. “Would you like to join me?” He declined as I grabbed my tennis shoes and bolted out the front door. My feet hit the pavement. Thud, thud, thud, thud, faster than I usually walk. The tears came, and I let them. Within a few minutes my pace slowed, and my head slowly began to clear.

The stress, and the urge to eat, seemed to fall away as I walked; my body felt lighter. The elementary school bus stopped at the end of the street and three neighbors’ children came tumbling out, shouting hello and giggling as they ran past me basking in the sweet freedom of being home from school.

Minutes later, I was greeted by one of the neighborhood’s friendliest dogs, an old fella, Mulligan, who seems to know that his primary purpose in life is to make everyone feel special. I had a nice chat with his owner while he snuggled against me and let me stroke his fur.

I turned to head back to my house thinking that kids and puppies were much more therapeutic than macadamia nuts. They brought me perspective. The walk had given me energy, and I walked through the front door with a very different mindset then when I’d walked out of it.

My son was watching, reading my face. “I got to see Mulligan!” I said, reassuring him with a smile. He smiled and turned back to his homework. Mom was okay. She wasn’t using food again.

/ Kristie Sullivan, PhD

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