Weighty Matters

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Anxiety Food

on August 25, 2012

It’s Saturday night and I spent big chunks of my day preparing my boat, house and property for a storm that’s due to hit the Keys sometime tomorrow.  Right now, this “rain with a name” is still Tropical Storm Isaac.  There has been endless discussion, with a look at “official” National Hurricane Center updates every three hours, on whether it’s going to be Hurricane Isaac by the time it arrives near my island chain sometime tomorrow night.  The coverage has been relentless on wind fields, vapor loops, forecast tracks, and the dreaded cone.  For those of you who don’t live where hurricanes are always a real possibility, that cone shows where the center of the storm might go.  Down here with embrace black humor and call it the cone of death.

While none of us takes a storm lightly, we also tend to not let ourselves get whipped up into a frenzy of hysterical proportions.   The national news media manages to dial up the drama and this often causes great anxiety for my friends who start calling to see if I’m evacuating.   I’m not.   While there is no doubt that I’ll feel strong effects, this is not projected to strengthen past a Category One level storm.  Even if it reaches hurricane strength, if the center stays south and west of me, I’ll experience tropical storm force winds.   The county emergency management team did not order a resident evacuation.  In fact, they didn’t even order the tourists and visitors to leave.

I’m confident in my preparations.  I have excellent storm shutters on every door and window, which I spent significant time installing today.  I also secured my boat high on the lift and added extra lines, although I don’t expect a storm surge high enough to float it off of its perch.   I’ve moved most of my porch furniture inside and stowed away various outdoor objects in the shed.  The rest of the stuff I need to do will take about ten minutes, so I’ll have time tomorrow morning.

The standard guideline for provisions is three days of drinking water and three days of food.    These days, three days worth for me is a lot less food than in previous years.   I realized that if I lost power for three days, I could easily survive on cheese wedges that don’t need refrigeration, peanut butter, and protein shakes.  When I shopped, I also bought a few “boxes” of milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, just for those protein shakes.  I also have some soups and canned stuff that I could heat in a pot on the grill if necessary.

Stocking my supplies was, indeed, far easier.  It made me think about my food behavior in similar situations in previous years.  Honestly, we haven’t faced a storm with this kind of surety that it would affect us in several years.  That didn’t stop me from thinking about how I would always experience anxiety over food, regardless of how well I’m planned and provisioned.  The mere thought of a remote chance that I wouldn’t have enough food, or enough food that I liked, always put me on edge.  I’d get in supplies and then usually run out again to buy more — just in case.   Once the storm event began and I was shut up in the house with Moe, the Brittany spaniel I had back when we had active storm seasons, I wanted to eat all of the time.   I don’t know why I did this, but eventually decided that the thought of being blocked from getting out to buy more food triggered anxiety.  There was a horrible irony in that I was so obsessed with having enough food in the house that I’d overeat — thus going through my provisions more quickly.

I also always had sweets in the house.  Along with water and food, officials suggest having prescription medications for three days.  In my case, chocolate, cookies and breakfast pastries were my medications.

This time, I purposely did not pick up chocolate or cookies when I hit the supermarket for supplies.  Even today when I realized I’d forgotten to get that milk, I left the store without loading up on sugar snacks.  I mentioned this to a good friend of mine and talked about having anxiety-coping foods.  She asked if I could buy a small amount to have around just in case.  I doubted my ability to limit myself to “just in case”.  I was determined to make it through.

Unfortunately, that determination eroded under a mounting anxiety.  As I went through the morning and early afternoon, I kept thinking and wondering how I’d deal if I really, really, really needed chocolate to help me cope when the storm was at its worst.    The anxiety fueled doubt in my ability to deal with the situation.

Would it be better to tough it out, no matter how anxious I got — or was I better off getting in that small supply and trusting myself to not gorge on it just because it was available?  I finally caved and got into the car for a quick trip to the cupcake bakery in town.  I bought two cupcakes — one a bacon maple and one in salted chocolate and caramel.  I vowed not to compulsively eat them both in a rush as soon as I got home.  These were going to be savored and they were going to serve as my security blanket if I found myself getting truly, authentically, anxious as the storm progressed.

So, earlier tonight I gradually consumed the bacon maple treat.   I can identify the motivation to falling prey to hunger, anger/anxiety, isolation and tiredness.  (No surprise that OA recommends H.A.L.T. as a tool — a reminder not to let ourselves get too hungre, angry, lonely, or tired.)  I had a number of things sneak up on me in a cumulative effort to destroy my serenity.

I wish I could say that the cupcake didn’t help, but it did.  However, it’s really important to note that I didn’t gobble it down like a hog.   I tasted and savored.  I ate small bites of it and spaced those bites over hours, not nanoseconds.  When I was finally finished with the last portion — six of six portions, by the way — I realized that my anxiety had eased and, oh is this a big “and”, I didn’t need to keep eating.  I didn’t find a reason to stroll back into the kitchen and start consuming the second cupcake.  It’s still in the box in the fridge.  That’s progress!

It’s also only fair to point out that I did a lot of physical labor today prepping for the storm.  Even with the lifting, shuttering, etc., I found time to check out my Zumba Dance program for the Wii.  I worked my way through the step tutorials and then did a few Beginner routines.  Even those were enough to work up a sweat for 40 minutes!

So, yes, I saw, I bought, I ate.  I did not, however, do so unconsciously and I didn’t binge on the food either.  Instead, I learned a lesson about myself and how I might eat as a result of stress and other situations.   I also learned that anxiety over food might come from the head, but it feels very, very real.  It’s a good thing that, while I felt more comfortable once I brought the cupcakes into the house, I really could control how they were eaten.  That control is progress!

8 responses to “Anxiety Food

  1. Hope says:

    We get bacon maple bars when we’re in Louisville visiting family. They’re crullers with maple frosting and bacon on top. I bet that cupcake was seriously tasty!

  2. Skye says:

    You did so well dealing with the anxiety food! What a difference from previous years. You are doing very well and I love seeing the progress you are making. Is this calmness new, too?

    Take care. Hope all goes well.

    • Mary Stella says:

      I think, overall, that I’m calmer and less stressed. I wasn’t as aware of the constant tension about food until I felt its absence.

      How was your vacation, Skye?

  3. Cathy M says:

    I was thinking about you last night as I watched the news and the weather from my house in Davie. I hope all goes well for you and your friends in the Keys.

    Congratulations on dealing so well with the stress of hurricane preparedness and making healthy decisions about your much deserved treat.

  4. The way you handled the food anxiety is totally terrific. Really well done. Be proud.

    We got hit by a Cat 1 storm while on vacation at the SC beaches. By the end of the day, the five kids were so ratchetty I made them all take a walk with me on the beach. In the storm. They calmed down after that. 😀

  5. forestjane says:

    Bacon . . . maple? Cupcake? Sounds more like a pancake. But I’m guessing it’s good if that’s the way you choose to treat yourself!

    I’d worry more about something to do during the storm, with no electricity. Got your laptop all battery-powered up so you can write? Do you also do crafty things like crochet or knit that you can do with no power? Got good books to read?

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