The Hatch-Palucks, Week 8: Diary of an Emotional Eater

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

Hatch Palucks Photo

When the going gets tough, the tough eat cheese soup in a bowl made of white bread. And ice cream. Credit: Amy Hatch

Did you hear a gigantic "thud" some time around Wednesday last week?

That was my family, falling off the fitness bandwagon. We hit the ground hard during a busy, stressful seven-day span that revealed in stark relief just how much we resort to food for comfort when things get emotional.

Or, should I say, how much I resort to food for comfort.

Channing soldiered on as best he could, still eating that organic cereal for breakfast and walking most days. But I inhaled a metric ton of potato chips, did a very poor job of getting meals on the table for our family, and didn't exercise at all. It was all fast food, unhealthy snacks and collapsing on the couch as I grappled with some life-changing transitions based on a new work schedule.

Realizing that you may have to put your last baby in full-time child care of some kind can make a mama crave massive amounts of high fructose corn syrup.

I wouldn't have thought it was all that bad, really, except that we started keeping a food diary at the suggestion of the very fine and smart people from the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois.

The Family Resiliency Center is an academic unit of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and is dedicated to advancing knowledge and practices that help families meet life's challenges.

We have a high-powered team of experts to help us: Brenda Davis Koester, the center's coordinator; Dr. Sharon Donovan, professor of food science and human nutrition and the Melissa M. Noel Endowed Chair in Nutrition and Health; and Dr. Barbara Fiese, who is the director of the Family Resiliency Center, professor of human and community development and the Pampered Chef, Ltd. Endowed Chair in Family Resiliency.

Channing and I sat down with all three of them and opened up about our deep, dark secrets: Emmie's food phobia, Henry's inability to actually sit at a table to eat a meal, and our reliance on French fries as a food group.

After we were done spilling, I took a deep breath and looked up at the three women around the table. They were all smiling at me.

"What you've just described is totally normal," said Fiese gently. "We've heard this same story hundreds and hundreds of times."

With the exception of Emmie's severe fear of new foods, we can be easily rehabilitated, Donovan told us, and she even offered hope for our daughter if we are quick to intervene now. It was a relief to hear an expert tell us that Emmie isn't just a picky eater -- something we realized a long time ago.

We don't even need to eliminate the foods we really love, according to Davis Koester. She says she cooks with butter herself -- and thank goodness, because for Thanksgiving I'd already planned to serve butter with a side of turkey -- but balances it out with other, healthier foods.

We left the center with our first assignment: Keep a food log for a week. We were also asked to make a list of foods we won't compromise on, like our Saturday night ritual of getting take-out burgers after church.

We left with optimism in our hearts, and started keeping our diaries. I used my smart phone to take photos of our meals and snacks so it would be easier to keep track of. On the first day, I ate a bread bowl filled with cheese soup for lunch and a Philly cheese steak with cheese fries for dinner.

Channing fared slightly better, eating a turkey sub with mustard for lunch, but consumed eight Buffalo wings and half of my fries for dinner. Emmie had her usual evening meal: Frozen chicken patties. Henry had chicken, too, with a side of peas.

When I looked at my photos of the foods we were eating, I saw a pattern. I snack like crazy when I'm upset. I reward myself for getting through a tough day by baking brownies ... and eating 10 of them. Then I stepped on the scale.

I was up three pounds. I'm not discouraged, though, because just recognizing that I'm eating to relieve my stress is a big breakthrough.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Who's the rest of the competition? Check out all the challengers' latest updates here.



How is the Hatch-Paluck family doing? Check in on their progress!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.