Do you feel overwhelmed by the daily question of what to eat? It’s something I hear over and over. After all, we need to eat every day – several times a day. And yet if you’ve struggled with food, meal time can feel like walking a gauntlet, fraught with anxiety and inner turmoil, and not a source of nourishment.
One way you can make mealtimes less stressful is by minimizing decisions about what to eat. This helps you relax, come down and feel safer around food. This is especially important if you’re highly sensitive and easily overwhelmed, or if you struggle with ADD, ADHD, or distractability.
One dear woman in my very first sugar class described her life as a version of the children’s story If You Give a Moose a Muffin. She enters a room to get a stamp, but then sees the plant that needs watered. So she goes to the garage to find the watering can, then sees the mess in the garage and starts to clean it, and the stamp is completely forgotten until minutes – or hours – later.
So if you have a nervous system that is easily agitated, if you struggle with feeling grounded and often feel spacey, or if ADD is a daily challenge for you, please read on. In the following paragraphs, we talk about how setting limits, minimizing decision making, and making fewer choices can help you relax, soften, and overeat less:
Minimizing decisions and containment
Minimizing the available options – what some call containment – is a tool that you can use to minimize overwhelm and the stress you may feel about what to eat. I only recently discovered that I have ADD, so much of the information on ADD is relatively new to me. But in looking back, I can see how many of the tools Ive intuitively used over the years to organize my life – including food – are ones that minimize the overwhelm I feel from too many options, choices, or stimuli.
Each decision you make creates stress. It involves several steps, such as thinking of options, choosing among many options, ranking those choices, dealing with conflicting thoughts and values, and then carrying out your decision. When we make a decision, much more goes on in the brain than we may realize! So minimizing decision making with regular, consistent structure alleviates some of the stress we may feel around too many decisions.
This is one way my structure of eating regular meals supports me. For example, unless Im going to yoga class immediately upon waking (which is Saturday mornings for me), I know that Ill eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking. I dont have to think about whether or not I eat breakfast or when I do it; I just do it.
How containment helps you
Containment supports you in this concrete way: you rest, relax and come down in not having to make food decisions over and over again. You rest in being taken care of, so your brain can focus on something other than, What am I going to eat?
Im going to be perfectly honest here: I hate thinking about what Im going to cook. Sometimes, when Im feeling tired and overwhelmed, the very thought of, What am I going to make for dinner? can bring me to tears, collapse, or to tortilla chips!
This is particularly true at the end of the day when Im feeling worn out. (This is one reason why I suspect most overeating happens later in the day – its when we collapse under the day long build up of overwhelm from so many decisions.)
Create a food uniform
If you struggle with overwhelm around decisions, you may find this tip helpful, what I use in my own life. In the same way someone may use a clothing uniform (say, a skirt, camisole, and jacket/cardigan – yep, thats mine!) to simplify their decisions about what to wear, you can create food uniforms that simplify decisions about what to eat.
For example, my breakfast uniform tends to be either kefir with nuts and seeds or scrambled eggs with whatever mix of veggies, herbs, cooked meats, and sauces (pesto, salsa, etc.) I have on hand. This minimizes the overwhelm I feel about what to eat.
My lunch uniform is leftovers of whatever I had for dinner the night before. And my dinner uniform, when Im cooking, rotates between three main things: soup; a one dish meal of cooked veggies, protein and legumes, or protein and a large green salad when its hot. The food I like to cook and eat is simple, simple, simple.
Why limits are a kindness
Containment is a way of using limits to create safety. Its one reason why eating meals sitting down, putting your food on a plate (versus grazing out of the jar or bag), and having a structure to your meals – a beginning, middle and end – feels so good. You feel more grounded. You feel less overwhelmed. You feel nourished.
Narrowing your options lowers your stress. This feels energetically simple, and the scattered, chaotic energy of anything goes calms down.
Limits honor our humanity. They honor the physical universe we live in. They support our dear human bodies. For a highly sensitive, empathic being, limits are your dear, dear friend. Theyre how you minimize the overwhelm you self soothe with food. They’re how you come home and rest in your own care.