For years I avoided thinking of the term emotional eater, because that is what I was. Yep, I freely admit it to the world. Believe me, saying it makes me inwardly cringe. Big time. For a good solid decade of my life, starting in college, I struggled with an off-and-on unhealthy emotional relationship with food. Only within the past few years do I finally feel like my head has come out of the clouds, though sometimes I still find myself getting pulled under again. It still can be a daily struggle, depending on what is going on in my life.
How did I get this way? I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became an emotional eater. When I look back, sadly I can’t remember the time before food took up so much space in my mind. But I do know it all came about in college, which is a tough time for many young adults. It is a significant time in one’s life, being out on your own for the first time, confronting the realities of life without your parents there to shield you or soothe the blows. I was also a college athlete, so was expected to be at the top of my game (literally and in the classroom) every day. All of this pressure fed the monster within me known as perfectionism.
I have always been a bit of a perfectionist (see my post about that here!), so embracing the not-so-good, tough moments in life used to be pretty hard for me. When something bad happened, my first reaction was to run away or turn a blind eye, pretend it never occurred. So I turned to something I could control, what I ate. I used it as a form of comfort and to numb myself from the harsh realities of life. I felt safe in my little hole.
But burying emotions and pretending the bad doesn’t exist is a recipe for disaster in the long run. Emotions that aren’t properly processed and released from the body can get stuck and manifest in negative ways (disease, depression, anxiety). Through my own experience I have learned that sometimes the things that knock you down a peg or two are some of the most important experiences you can have in life.
These days I focus on other ways to comfort myself if I am feeling down, need to release stress caused by work or recover from a rough day. Yoga has been a life saver and is a big part of how I release emotions, as is meditation and writing. I also am very intentional about what I eat, where I eat and how I eat. Some days things are crazy and eating on the run or at my desk is necessary, but when I can, I make a point to enjoy my meal in a quiet space free of technology and with people I care about.
Do you turn to food to numb the pain and heartache that comes along with life? If so, you are not alone, believe me. But there is hope and a way out. Make a list of 5 things you like to do that make you truly happy. Maybe it’s working in the garden, playing with your kids (or dog), taking a bath or reading in the park. Spend a few days thinking about it and write down ideas when they pop into your head. Make a point to do those things regularly each week when you are feeling a need to turn to food to numb.
Here are some of my other ways out of the emotional eating black hole:
- Don’t eat while watching TV, standing up or playing on your phone – Put all of the distractions away. When we eat while doing something else, we don’t pay attention to what we are putting into our mouths. Eating becomes robotic. We ignore the signals our body is sending to us that we are full and end up eating way more than we should.
- Eat with intention and enjoyment – Bless your meal before you eat and honor the food that is nourishing your body and cells. Be thankful. We truly are what we eat, no joke.
- Chuck guilt at the door – Who wants to feel guilty about what they are eating? That’s no fun. If you choose to eat a kale salad, bravo. But if you choose to eat ice cream a la mode, go for it. If that is what your body wants, then embrace it and enjoy the hec out of every bite.
- Eat at the dinner table (if you have one) and share your meals with others as often as you can – I don’t have a dinner table (yes I’m 30, I’m working on it…), but I do love to share meals with others. When we talk we tend to eat slower, put down our forks more often. I rarely pass up a meal with friends and family that involves a glass (or bottle) of wine.
- Don’t go to social events hungry – This is a biggie for me. I tend to be a little more introverted so social scenes, especially when I won’t know a lot of people there, intimidate me. I eat before I go so I’m not hungry and tempted to hang out next to the food table instead of talking with people. Grab a cocktail, hold it in your left hand, and use your right to shake hands with people you meet. When you have a drink in your hand (even if it’s sparkling water) you can’t eat anyways! It also helps to go with an intention to meet people and build relationships instead of focusing on how nervous you are.
Peace, love and healthy eating,