When you think of emotional eating, the first thing that may come to mind is an overweight person sitting on a couch talking about their rough childhood and how food has helped them cope all these years. But actually, this is not the only face of emotional eating. I would bet that after reading this, you may find that there are one or two emotions that unknowingly cause you to eat more than you ultimately want. For many, like myself, who are always trying to shed extra pounds, there are emotions that seem to creep up and sabotage all our efforts to live our best life and be as healthy as we see ourselves in our mind’s eye.
I don’t think I’ve ever been “fat” to my standards but I definitely have experienced major fluctuations in my weight pretty much my whole life. Even when I was weighing in around the 130s (which I thought was too heavy at the time – but that story is for another day), I can still think back and see these emotions being the reasons that pushed me to work out 2 hours almost every day to make up for my food choices.
Taking responsibility for everything, both past and present, is a big thing for me this year. So when I start to think about losing weight and how I have to take responsibility for the things I put into my body my mind kept coming to a block, a rough place where I couldn’t figure out why sometimes the choices over food may have felt stronger than me. I start to think about my friends and how food has impacted them, the excuses we make, the things everyone says in regards to their eating habits. When I started doing some soul searching to get to the root of the issues, I came up with a few emotions that I feel when it comes to food. Dwelling on these feelings, I was able to clearly see how they’ve had an impact on my eating habits most of my life.
The first feeling that is the absolute strongest when it comes to food is guilt. When I think about it, I honestly don’t think I can eat a single “bad” thing without feeling some form of guilt about it. How silly right? I literally can’t enjoy a slice of pizza, a birthday cupcake, or even a glass of soda without thinking about how I will need to watch what I eat the rest of the day, or how I need to go to the gym tomorrow, I’ll need to workout harder, walk longer or more miles to work away the guilt of one cookie. The even sillier thing is, when I think about other women I know – they do the same thing! “I’m going to start eating healthier on Monday” they say, as they shove a spoon full of pasta salad into their mouth. “Well I haven’t eaten all day so I have the calories left over for this”, “I don’t care, I’m stressed out and I need this”. I even know someone who will lie at a party about what she eats to make herself appear healthy when a few of us know it’s totally bull crap.
How did we get here? Of course we must enjoy sweets and treats in healthy moderation, and I’ll touch on that next, but why is it that we have guilt for it? Funny story, but still true to this day, I will only eat a large #1 from Mc Donalds (which is a Big Mac meal if you haven’t read my other posts – and yes, I still eat this shit from time to time) if it’s in the comfort of my own home. Like in my room…where no one can see me…because guilt and embarrassment. I seriously feel guilty about indulging in a burger and fries (of the worst kind – I’m admitting this). Generally upon finishing said embarrassment, I am plotting the gym time it will take to recover myself. It’s a guilty feeling that will probably stay with me for about 24-48 hours. What is it that makes us feel so horrible about eating bad things? A large part is social media. Sorry ladies, there’s just not a section on Pinterest called “women who eat mc donald’s” or “cupcake eating motivation”. We are bombarded with fitness motivation, healthy meals, the new miracle fruit, diets galore and so on. Maybe we guilt ourselves because we have impossible expectations to look a certain way or even eat a certain way. I hate quinoa, it’s not going happen in my life – I can’t even fake that shit. But the internet likes you more when you post your healthy chicken salad than they do when you tag yourself at Wendy’s.
So how do we fix this issue? I think acknowledgement is a start. If I know this is an emotion I feel, then I have to start addressing the emotion when it comes. So, in healthy moderation, I’m going to enjoy these 2-3 slices of pizza and I’m not going to allow myself to think anything else about it afterwards. “I’m eating pizza tonight”, I say to myself, and that’s it. I know that I’ve also been hitting the gym to stay active and keeping track of what I am eating so this pizza is actually not going to kill me and I won’t have to think about it or kill myself at the gym because of it. And even if I’ve missed a couple days at the gym, this pizza is still not going to kill me. It takes a lot of practice but once you’ve identified this feeling, you can combat the thoughts much quicker.
The next emotion I’ve recognized is plainly fear, more specifically, fear of not having enough or fear of missing out on a good thing. This is where I think healthy moderation comes in. I can have a cupcake, I could have 3 cupcakes, I probably shouldn’t have 5 or 8 cupcakes. But they are so good that I don’t want to miss out on filling up on them. Sometimes I order 4 tacos, instead of 2, at my favorite taco place because I’m afraid I won’t be full – which has actually never happened, I’m alway stuffed when I leave that place. Maybe I have eaten already, but we go to someone’s home and they have some food they’ve made that looks super delicious and so I eat a bunch of it because I don’t want to miss out on the goodness. In a world where most of us can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, why would we ever fear that we won’t get enough or that we will miss out?
I love food. I love good food. Sometimes I find it hard to stop because the food is so good I just want to make sure I’m stuffed before I leave the table. My heart is full when there is no more belly space apparently. Obviously this is not a healthy way to eat. We have to be able to enjoy life’s yummy treasures in healthy moderation. It’s a self control thing, learning to say no to yourself. No one feels sexy or great after stuffing themselves and that guilty feeling will come on a lot faster and much stronger when you’ve over eaten.
My next emotion is comfort. I eat just like I drink, what I refer to as situationally. I love to have a good meal when I finally get some alone time with my boo. I love to have a good meal when I finally get some alone time with myself. Getting together with friends typically always involves meeting up at a restaurant or making a meal together. Food feels good and it brings people together. But, this comfortable feeling that food gives you can also become the reason you struggle with good eating habits. I know many of my friends stress eat. And since life seems to be stressful a lot of the time, they eat a lot. I like to eat to feel good. I have found that I don’t necessarily have to be hungry to eat. I’ll eat because it will enhance the situation, like snacks on a girls night. This also makes it easy to overeat because I want the “good” feeling to last longer. Again this is a self control thing. Our body, and it’s ever changing emotions, are relatable to a spoiled child. Sometimes we have to adult ourselves and say no. If you stress eat then you will have to find an alternative way to deal with the stress. For me, I’m having to learn to simply enjoy the situation as it is – it doesn’t always require food. And if I’m not hungry, then I’m not going to eat.
My last emotion is control. For me this is a feeling that is all too familiar, especially given the stress and changes I’ve endured over the past 3 years. Food is the one thing you ultimately have total control over. Even if you don’t get to pick where you eat, you do get to pick what you eat and how much. I recall quite a few years back eating a huge pasta dish from the cheesecake factory with their little bread loaf and a slice of cheesecake every Friday night because I finally had the evening to myself and I could do whatever I wanted. Sometimes I still do this, although now I can say my food choices are a bit healthier. Food can be a freedom to someone who feels like many portions of their life are out of control. Pair this with the feeling of comfort and you are on a one way ticket to weight gain. Obviously if you are eating out of needing control, then a fix to this is not going to be so easy. For me I have to apply the same rules for every other feeling – only eating because I am hungry, making healthy choices but allowing myself to indulge a little without guilt, and being able to tell yourself no.
I don’t diet, I hate diets and I don’t believe in diets. The only true way to be healthy is to create and follow a healthy lifestyle. But, as I’ve pointed out, there can be underlying emotions that keep you off track. Pay attention to the circumstances and emotions you feel before, during, and after eating. Pay attention to how you view food in general. You may find the secrets to your own eating habits which are far more valuable than any diet plan. ❤