Treating Parenting Stress with Junk Food: How I Traded One Addiction for Another

Healthy Living 8

My highest non-pregnancy weight was around a year and a half after my first son was born. I was sick of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin -- and sneakily relying on maternity-waisted sweatpants when I was at home -- but I had developed some very bad eating habits. Well, it wasn't so much habits, plural, as one major diet-sabotaging routine: every evening, after my child went to bed for the night, I collapsed on the couch in front of the television and mainlined whatever junk food struck my fancy.

I knew it wasn't healthy, but the entire comforting ritual had become my reward for making it through another day. Those precious few hours between my kid's bedtime and my own represented the one time a day I was allowed to be as selfish as I wanted, and what I wanted was to completely unplug … and treat myself. With, say, an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream.

Breaking that nightly "But I deserve it!" habit was the hardest part, when I eventually got ahold of myself and lost the weight. Like many bad habits, though, it never went away for good. Time and time again, I fall right back into it.

Years ago, I bragged that I didn't have a sweet tooth. What I didn't realize is that 1) not having a sweet tooth doesn't actually make you a superior person in any way, so shut up, jackass, and 2) I did have a sweet tooth, I was just drowning it in sugar-laden booze. After all, why have dessert when you can have another glass of wine? Or, you know, five. Plus two beers. And maybe a G&T chaser.

When I quit drinking, I turned immediately to food. I tried all the other relaxation techniques that had been suggested to me, and a few even worked (to this day, I take a hot bath before crawling into bed, because I got so used to doing so in the early days of learning how to sleep instead of passing out), but food -- particularly sugary foods -- became my new indulgence.

Food addictions are tricky to deal with. I can attest to the fact that stopping an out-of-control drinking problem is no fun at all, but there is the small, cold comfort of not having to decide how much alcohol you're going to drink, or what type, or when you're going to have it. With alcoholism, you stop drinking altogether. (Or, okay, I shouldn't speak for everyone. That's the tactic I took.) With food, well, you can't just ban it from the house. You need to learn to eat like a normal, non-self-medicating human being.

And if you're me, you have to learn how to enjoy the childfree part of your evening without overdosing on pizza-flavored Combos and Nutter Butters while watching Deadwood. Not that there's anything wrong with any of those things, mind you ... unless maybe you're wearing maternity pants and you haven't been pregnant for at least 18 months.

In the fullness of time, I started replacing junk food with healthy snacks and herbal tea, I exercised while the TV was on, and I worked to fill my life with non-parenting activities that I drew enjoyment from, so I didn't feel quite so desperate in those evening hours. I relied on everything I'd learned to get back in shape after my second son was born, and I never fell into quite the same rut the second time around.

But (you knew there'd be a but, right?) it's insidious, that couch-snacking habit. It's crept back lately, since the weather's gotten wet and cold and it's dark out at 4 PM, and I've been a happy, but increasingly lazy, homebody. By the time the evening comes I just want to chill out and revel in the fact that my work is done and I have another adult around, and yes, after the boys go to bed I've been far too tempted by the plethora of holiday treats on hand.

What is it about mindlessly shoving food in my mouth while zoning out in front of a movie or a TV show? It has nothing whatsoever to do with hunger, that's for sure. It's like I'm telling myself that it's okay to completely switch gears -- that it's okay to stop thinking, stop exercising any form of discipline. It feels like the ultimate relaxation, and yet it eventually creates all these bad feelings as my fitness levels decrease, my pants stop fitting, and I start feeling self-conscious and unattractive.

Anyway, the hard part is taking the steps to make healthy changes, but something that always helps me is writing it down. So here I am, making a public commitment to break out of my junk-rut -- and if it's a bit of a cliché to do that on New Year's Day, well, SO BE IT.

Do you struggle with the nighttime Oh Thank God the Kids Are In Bed, Pass the Cookies habit too?

Image via Linda Sharps

weight loss, time for you, stress


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nonmember avatar Amanda

I could have written this myself! I medicate myself with sweets after the kids go to bed to destress and because "I deserve it." It's the hardest habit to break. I finally saw a nutritionist, who said, "Lets be honest, at least you're self-medicating with food and not alcohol, cocaine, or any number of bigger problems." That both made me feel better, and worse. Anyway, I get it. Thanks for writing this and letting me know I'm not alone.

fave82 fave82

I do the same thing.. I always figure that i dont really get to enjoy my meals cause Im chasing after a toddler, i usually just graze and then gorge myself once she goes to bed. Plus, entering my 30s was a whole new world.. Its hard to realize that i can't still eat like i did when i was 22 and wake up a size 1. Im currently 9 mths pregnant and I've already told my husband that after i have this baby Im getting my ass in gear. Im so over not being able to wear anything in my closet!!

the4m... the4mutts

Yeah, I do the de-stress eating. I've tried to make a platter of fruits & veggies, with ONE junk food item on the platter, so I don't go nuts. We'll see how well it keeps working, because I just started this last week.

cleig... cleigh717

I cudve written this myself too. My same resolution as well. Plus getn off my ass since its getting so big now. I gave birth eight months ago almost. Being bigger is one thing but gaining more weight post-partum is another. I need to nip this in the bud! Its easier to lose twenty than thirty.

xxshe... xxshelbyxxx

Wow I'm with the other two moms who said they could've written this themselves. I thought I was the only one who ate an entire box of cookies before falling asleep. I'm bigger now then I was after I gave birth and I remember thinkin once I started devouring different types of cookies every damn night 'I'm eventually gonna gain weight.' Then I shrugged it off n said 'nah I've never gained weight from junk food before ill be okay, I'll lose the extra five pounds I'm gonna gain'..stupid huh? I'm a recovering heroin addict though so yeah I definitely replaced one with the ither

femal... femaleMIKE

I could empathize.

I had this great weight watchers leader that once said "walpole (maximum security prison)) has tons of residence who do not feel guilty for what they did .....and they did not just eat a pizza"

Basically, yes these foods are so unhealthy for us but we should stop feeling so guilty.  Its just food.   We must make peace with junkfood.  

femal... femaleMIKE

good job Shelby!

Nancy... NancyJ422

Ha! I have that same night time snack habit and my son is 22! I have to talk myself out of getting out of my chair and going to eat snacks bought for his lunch (sorry ladies I guess what I'm saying is it never gets better!) BUT BUT you can do it for one night, and then the next and the next is a little easier. I'll have a cup of tea or like tonight, my cranky chihuahua/terrier is wedged against my side sleeping. I find that I sleep SO much better when I don't eat junk at night and I wake up refreshed in the morning ready to work out. 


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