By Debbie Koenig
My natural response to stress involves moving as much food into my mouth as possible, again and again until my stomach hurts. Over the years I’ve had periods of stress eating — work deadlines, family crises, pets dying. They’ve all had end dates, so I’ve mostly managed to cut off the eating before it becomes a full-blown binge. Lately, though, the entire world feels topsy-turvy. Private and public upheavals have been coming daily, relentlessly, for months now. If my response always included food, I’d gain back every pound I lost and then some.
So I’m doing something different. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I go for a walk.
We’re not talking major mileage here. Three or four mornings a week I meet up with a friend to do fast laps in the park, 45 minutes of cardio. Yesterday I was particularly despondent, so I asked her to limit talk to butterflies and puppies. That worked. When I feel stress starting to roll in I’ll go out on my own, too — I don’t worry about reaching my target heart rate, and the change of scenery does me good. Most days I wind up averaging about five miles of pavement-pounding.
Late one afternoon, after I’d already walked with my friend and gone out on my own, some new calamity hit. I clung to my sanity until my son finished his homework, then we laced up our sneakers and walked to the park. Miraculously, he didn’t give me a hard time about moving his body. I think he sensed how much I needed to get outside. Eventually we settled on a bench and watched a team practicing ultimate Frisbee as dusk descended. They flung discs, took turns on defense, and applauded each other’s good plays while the sky turned violet and the klieg lights came on. My son and I kept a running commentary, debating which player displayed the best skills.
I don’t know if it was simple distraction, spending time with my son, or the glorious mood lighting, but those 30 minutes refreshed my hope for the future more efficiently than any cookie ever could.
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