It was mid-April, and I had been steadily increasing my dog walks and regaining strength following scoliosis surgery when I pulled a muscle in my hip. Even after a few days of rest, I couldn’t make it across the room without limping, and I hadn’t been released to drive yet, so I couldn’t get to the gym. To top it all off, my boyfriend was off on a sailing adventure, leaving me home alone to fend off the impending frustration and restlessness that threatened to suck me into a downward spiral of careless eating.
How could a measly hip injury be so devastating to me? Exercise is my main antidote against depression—when I can’t move my body, my energy drops and pulls my mood down with it. A nasty concoction was abrew: no exercise plus no plans plus discouragement all added up to one thing—food!
I knew I was at risk for gnoshing my way through the day only to feel even more miserable at the end than I felt at that moment. It was time to implement my restless eating syndrome strategy (RESS for short).
This is a great dual purpose technique because it can get you through a difficult few hours without binging, AND you can get some stuff done that you’ve been putting off. The gist of RESS is making a detailed, hour by hour plan. This written plan gives structure to an otherwise unstructured, potentially out-of-control day. Once you finish one task, you simply consult your itinerary and act accordingly. With the schedule, you won’t be stuck multiple times throughout the day wondering what to do next, which can be a dangerous state of affairs because uncertainty and indecision are the devil’s kitchen.
Because my mind, on that difficult Sunday, was in a restless and agitated state and unlikely to accept the notion of hours-long chores, I broke my day into half-hour segments. Here’s how it looked:
8:00 finish day plan and check email
8:30 brush out dogs and Ysabel (old cat who doesn’t groom)
9:00 dust for half an hour
9:30 feed the fur family and prepare my breakfast
10:00 eat breakfast
10:30 clean kitchen, check email
11:00 guitar practice
My schedule went on like this until about 4:00, when my boyfriend would return and entertain me with his swashbuckling fish tales.
Don’t just plan—follow through
Once you’ve made your detailed day plan, it’s important to stick to it. If you get lost in an activity, you may find yourself mentally lost when you come up for air and not know what to do next—a weak moment in which the eating drive can take over. Also, it’s ok to include non-productive activities (like watching a Netflix) in your plan, though I recommend that those diversions be scheduled for later in the day so you can look forward to them as you accomplish more provident tasks. Completing a few prosaic chores is important—it can give you a sense of accomplishment, helping to neutralize frustration. When frustration drops, restless eating syndrome is easier to avoid.
Next time you find yourself with some spare time and feel vulnerable to eating off your nutrient-dense food plan, make a schedule. The free spirit in you might balk, but that’s ok. You can remind her that the freedom to follow every whim isn’t necessarily a good thing, and even mavericks have to make a few concessions to be thin and healthy.