When I told my therapist that I wasn’t an emotional eater, she pretty much laughed at me.1 I didn’t see how I could be an emotional eater when I barely ate. When I did eat what would be considered a “normal” amount of food, it was simply because I was so biologically hungry that physiology trumped dieting rules. I read in books that people with disordered eating and eating disorders use food to deal with their emotions. Some emotions are tough to deal with, so people use food as comfort, a distraction, to numb themselves, or as punishment. I didn’t doubt what I had read, but it didn’t really register in my mind as something that might apply to me.
After working with my therapist for a while, I began to realize that one of the primary emotions that drove my relationship with food was the feeling of being out of control. Things in my life were so up-in-the-air all of the time that I felt like every time calmness and stability were within reach, something unexpected would pop up and throw my life back into chaos. I began dieting to lose a few pounds, but the feeling of control was intoxicating. Other parts of my life could be in disarray, but I found comfort in knowing that I could control my weight by controlling calories in and calories out. It brought a sense of calm to an otherwise tumultuous day. When I saw the phrase “emotional eating”, I took that as someone who literally consumed food in an emotional way. I now see that emotional eating can also mean that you don’t eat as a way to deal with emotions.
Recently, I had an ah-ha moment that really helped me reflect on why I chose to restrict food in the past. I had a very challenging February this year. I was worried about seeing my accountant for taxes, I was waiting to meet with my director about decreasing my hours at work, and I was seriously considering the possibility of completing changing my career path. It was overwhelming! I sat in front of my computer one day, mind racing, heart pounding, and thought back to my days of restriction.
When I restricted, I would be so engrossed in calories, the weight of my food, the number on the scale, etc., that that would distract me from my emotions and I wouldn’t have to deal with them. That was my ah-ha moment! That was when I realized how powerful restricting was for me. It took away the need to deal with difficult situations and the subsequent emotions. For hours, I would look up recipes and then figure out how many calories in each ingredient and, therefore, in each serving. My mind would go on to “what-if” scenarios. If I let myself eat 1/4 of the dish, I would consume X calories, but I could save 50 calories if I ate only at 1/5 of the dish! Numbers took away the uncomfortable feelings. Being obsessed with my weight offered me an escape. It soothed me but at a cost.
If you are unsure if you are eating emotionally, ask yourself why you are eating if you are not biologically hungry. Eating despite not being biologically hungry is not necessarily bad. For example, there are times when you could be eating for social reasons and that’s fine as long as you’re aware of it (i.e., a friend is serving cake for her birthday and you want to join in the festivities). But if you are eating for an emotional reason, you need to identify what you are feeling. It sounds easy, right? What are you feeling? But this might be quite challenging if you are out of touch with your feelings. Once you do figure out what you are feeling, you will need to find a way to deal with your emotions and meet your needs without food.
Self-care is often overlooked, but it’s time for more self-care in our society. The amount of self-care I give myself has increased over time as I have learned the importance of it. I have always made sure to get my monthly massage and practice yoga, but I have recently added meditation, playing my piano, and being outdoors to my list. I even notice that my yoga practice is becoming deeper, and I feel more centered and balanced. I deal with my feelings by writing them down,2 talking to someone, giving myself permission to cry,3 or simply sitting with my feelings and watching them diminish over time.
How can you add some self-care to your life? It doesn’t have to take a lot of time out of your day, but it needs to be something you enjoy, something that will relax and nurture you. Think about it for a moment. Now stop reading this and go do it.4
1Okay, it was more of a soft chuckle, but, if it would have been professional for her to outright laugh at me, she would have.
2My method of posting this on the internet is a bit more public than you might like, but the idea is still the same.
3I used to feel emotionally strong when I had the need to cry but fended it off. I have learned that the feeling that comes from letting it out is so much better than the feeling of keeping it in. Tears are just emotions coming out of my eyes!
4You can also type it in the comment section below!
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
You’ve made it this far. Now subscribe for regular updates. It’s easy! And you get a FREE Intuitive Eating quiz when you sign up!