I’m not happy with my weight right now. That is a difficult and shameful thing for me to admit, because I am a weight loss success story. I’ve been an “After” picture for 4 years. Not only that, I’m a highly trained weight loss professional.
I lost over 40 pounds with Weight Watchers in 2006 and stayed within my healthy weight range until this year. For part of that time I was a delightfully happy, but desperately income-challenged Weight Watchers Leader. When a more profitable career presented itself, I jumped back into corporate life joyfully. Unfortunately, I also jumped back into some very bad habits.
Here’s the thing – I love healthy foods and exercise. I really do. I would prefer a ripe, juicy, colorful fruit salad over a doughnut any day. Going a whole day without a good walk or a long hike in the woods or even a refreshing session on the elliptical machine feels like misery to me. I know just about all of the tips and tricks on how to live a healthy lifestyle
So what’s my problem?
As any scientist can tell you, nature abhors a vacuum. As any writer can tell you, creativity abhors a blank page. As any successful Weight Watcher can tell you, willpower abhors an empty cupboard. And yet, any great artist or photographer will tell you that the empty spaces are key to the composition of a beautiful picture.
Personally, I have trouble dealing with the empty spaces. I tend to fill them with junk. This tendency takes a variety of forms. I live in a cluttered house, work at a cluttered desk and drive a cluttered car. When there’s a lull in the conversation, I’m too quick to fill the silence with babble. Despite my belief in the amazing benefits of a regular meditation practice , it’s nearly impossible for me to be still in the silence. And, even though I know better, I consume way too many calories when I’m bored (or lonely, or stressed or…yeah, you get the idea).
My theory of Void Patterns and how they relate to my self-sabotaging behaviors came to me while watching an episode of CSI. If you are familiar with crime scene investigation at all, you probably know that a violent, bloody crime creates blood spatter evidence. If someone or something was in the path of the blood as it was flying, and that person or thing leaves the crime scene before the forensic investigators arrive, there will be a void in the blood spatter. Obviously, voids can be invaluable clues in solving a crime.
One night, while watching two of my favorite fictional investigators solve the “how” of a vicious murder based on voids in the blood spatter, a sort of half-baked theory started forming in my brain. It goes something like this:
- Everybody, everybody, everybody creates voids in their lives—sometimes by accident, sometimes by design and sometimes by doing nothing at all.
- Some voids are good (no criminal record is a good void to have). Some voids are bad (no money, no food, no shelter and no friends…all generally accepted as not so good). Some voids are neither good not bad, they just simply are. (I am probably never going to work as a rodeo clown or walk on the moon and I’m pretty OK with that.)
- You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their voids and, more importantly, how they deal with them.
- Therefore, voids can be invaluable clues in stopping and resolving the vicious cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors (such as emotional overeating).
Are you with me so far?
In Weight Watchers, we address the issue of emotional eating with a three-step approach:
- Ask yourself if you are truly hungry. If not, ask yourself if you are trying to soothe an emotional need (fill a void) with food.
- If you are trying to soothe an uncomfortable emotion, put a name on that emotion (describe the void)
- Do something that will better address the emotion in a healthy way.
Yeah…..it’s just that simple. It really is. But simple does NOT = easy.
During the year and a half I worked for Weight Watchers, I probably led over 50 meetings dedicated to the exploration of this three-step approach, usually ending with a brainstorming session designed to get members thinking about new behaviors that could take the place of emotional eating. No matter how many times I’ve facilitated this discussion, the topic never ceases to fascinate me. Maybe because I’ve never completely mastered it.
I know I’m not alone. Whenever I think about this topic, I remember the day one of my more successful members stormed into the meeting room, threw her gym bag down, and exclaimed, “I have got to find something I like to do as much as I like eating!”
Exactly! And you know what else? I swear, it’s a moving target!
When I wrote my first novel, this theme of finding creative, empowering, healthy ways to feed the soul instead of stuffing the stomach emerged unexpectedly as a factor in my main character’s story arc. I let that aspect of the story grow and I think it bloomed into a much more rich and satisfying journey for my main character. Can I do the same thing for myself…again?
Based on a first look at my Void Patterns, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Evenings are treacherous.
- I have no/low tolerance for boredom.
- A regular practice of writing is lovely, but it’s not the cure-all for emotional eating (as claimed by some), though it can help.
- Ditto for reading.
- When I take the time to plan meals, fill my pantry with healthy options (that actually taste good), and try new recipes, I tend to make better eating choices…but that takes quite a bit of time away from my writing.
- Exercise is not optional for me, it’s absolutely vital to my mental health, but (again) it takes up a good chunk of my writing time.
So…where am I going with this? To be honest, I’m not entirely certain. However, many of us have empty spaces in our lives that can feel overwhelming: missing pieces, unanswered questions, goals not achieved, dreams deferred. Many of us have bad habits we’d like to change. I keep thinking that if I can crack this mystery in my own life, I might figure out something that could help others. Maybe. Stay tuned.