Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Emotional Eating

I've been meaning to write about Emotional Eating since before my trip to The Arnold at the beginning of March (yes, I am behind schedule, lol!). I've gotten many, many emails and private messages over the years asking me how I deal with it, how to best combat it and win the war. Emotional eating is a real hot-button topic... run a Google search and you'll find 746,000 results popping up in less than 1 second. If you struggle with emotional eating, you're clearly not alone.

When I began my journey, and through a lot of it, I battled emotional eating. I think that most of us are programmed, from childhood, to eat emotionally. From a treat for a boo-boo, to bowls of ice cream, cookies or brownies to comfort adolescent woes, to crisis-hospitality (when you're sick or grieving and folks bring food)... we're taught from the beginning that food brings comfort.

But it doesn't. It never did.

The childhood treats to ease our pain didn't ease the pain, it was the cuddles & sympathy. The adolescent cookie dough binges didn't heal our broken hearts, it was Mom's love and understanding (and the knowledge that if you said yes, she really would go set 'em straight). During times of crisis and grief, it wasn't the casseroles that gave you peace, but the people who brought them - their companionship & compassion. Food is a delivery vehicle for what really comforts us - people who genuinely care.  It was never the food that gave us comfort, but we associate that comfort, and those memories, with food.

As adults, we often find ourselves turning to food to cope with a bad day, a bad mood, grief, pain... even joy. But you can break that cycle, and you can release the hold it has on you.  I don't battle emotional eating anymore. I'm not saying there aren't times I want to dive head first into a bag of something bad for me (anything bad for me!)... what I'm saying is that it doesn't trip me up. I recognize it, deal with it, move on. And no, to date, I haven't gone head first into the bag. I might enjoy a bite or two, or even a whole serving, but then it's done.

How'd I get to that point? It's fairly simple and straight-forward. I finally understood that there was no comfort in comfort-food. None. I have never, in my life, felt better after eating a whole bag of snickers bars, or container of Pringles, or a cheesecake, or anything. Never. Ever. What I have felt afterwards is guilt, shame, and despair. There is no comfort there.

I did NOT learn this lesson overnight. It was not an epiphany that hit me and thus thereafter I walked the straight and narrow. It's been a journey. Once I got it, when I understood that devouring ginormous quantities of (fill in the blank) would serve ONLY to make me feel bad about myself, and jeopardize my progress, the temptation began to fade. It faded until one day, someone sent me an email asking how to fight it, and I drew a blank because I couldn't remember the last time I had faced the temptation.

Again, I am NOT saying I'm perfect in this area (or any other), but I AM saying that changing my thinking turned the tide in my own war on emotional eating. I believe, with all my heart, you can do the same. I know exactly how it feels to sit post-binge and hate myself. I also know that despite those times, I got to my goal, and I've stayed there for 2 1/2 years, and I don't hate myself anymore. I beat that behavior because being healthy, fit, and happy is where my joy is.  Food doesn't bring me joy. It doesn't bring you joy either. And, it's in your control to not allow it to bring you pain.

I enjoy food. I enjoy treats. Red wine, Godiva dark chocolates, Dove dark chocolates, the incredible salted caramel custard at Culinary Dropout... these are sweet treats I love. But they don't control me. I can enjoy them periodically, without guilt, because I live a fit, clean eating lifestyle - because I made a choice to live my life, not eat it.

Please don't think I'm trying to boast, or oversimplify a complicated issue... I'm not. I know it's hard. I lived it, too. But you can beat it.

Here are a few things I did during my journey to deal with the times when I wanted to eat my feelings:

Workout. Yep, you knew that was coming. Cardio, Weights... these are weapons you can use to fight.
Cook/Bake. Seriously! I'd search the internet for a cleaner way to make a treat, then try it and serve it. By the time it was done, much of the urgency was gone, and I could enjoy a small treat without risking devouring the whole thing.
Window Shop/Shop. Mall time is like vacation time for me. It's an escape (one that requires lots of steps, btw! calories burned!).
Text a Friend. Tabitha received many text messages from me, begging her to talk me down from the ledge :-) A true friend is a treasure beyond price.
Journal. Write it out. Address what you're feeling, when you're feeling it.
Meal Plan. I know it sounds hokey, but I did my most creative meal planning under the influence of an impending binge. Not kidding! And by the time I was done, the urge to fail myself (because that's what it is) was gone.
Review my Progress. I have a photo album - a little one that holds 4x6 photos. The first photo is of me in January 2007 - at my heaviest. The photos in that book that chronicle my journey and showed me progress that I often didn't feel. Looking at how far I'd come helped me refuse to undo all that progress.

I hope this helps. I hope that my journey gives you help and hope in your own if you're battling emotional eating. As always, I would love to hear from you.  Please post a comment below, or email me directly:  Inkgoddess @ gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. WillRunForChocolateApril 21, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    I SO needed to read this! I workout and eat healthy most of the time, but my emotional eating sabotages my successes. It is such a struggle, but I feel a new sense of hope after reading about your experiences. Thank you for sharing your words of advice :)