We have all probably found ourselves in a toxic relationship at some point in our lives.
A relationship that turns us into someone we are not, that fills our hearts with negative energy and self-doubt. A relationship that makes us act against our values. A relationship that brings out the worst in us.
For some, that relationship is with a person or place. For me, it is with emotional eating.
I have battled emotional eating my whole life. I truly cannot recall a time in my life that I didn’t feel tempted to turn to food in times of sadness, celebration, joy or frustration. Food was my reward for surviving or thriving….and my emotional eating deeply contributed to my younger years being spent overweight, unhealthy, unhappy and with a negative relationship with food.
But, like any toxic relationship, you come out on the other side a little wiser. You find light in the darkness and grow as a person because you have weathered the harder times. Now 35 years old (and I say my age loud and proud), I have a much healthier relationship with food and my body has found its beautifully healthy weight now that I nourish it with real food instead of stuffing it full of chocolate chip cookies to stifle whatever emotion I am currently feeling. But beyond eating real food and not finding solace in a bowl of takeout lo mein, I have learned so much from my life long struggles with emotional eating.
I am not sure if emotional eating is an addiction or a habit, but all I know is that The Emotional Eating Beast is asleep inside of me most days. “Most” being the key word. Somedays, (usually when I have had the worst possible day at work, my daughter is fighting me tooth and nail about everything, and the traffic on my commute home as me seeing brake lights for miles) TEEB wakes up roaring and I start to think about how nice a giant bowl of ice cream would be as a reward for me for surviving the day in one piece. Those are the days that I realize I will never not be emotional eater. Because that TEEB will always be living inside of me, waiting for a weak moment. Waiting for an emotion I don’t want to feel.
“I will never not be an emotional eater.”
And while there is nothing wrong with the occasional bowl of ice cream as a treat, there is something wrong with eating a bowl of ice cream to make you feel temporarily better. That bowl of ice cream probably would have made me feel better for about 15 minutes after finishing it. But then, when the sugar buzz wore off and the chocolate wiped off from the corners of my mouth….the emotions I was treating with that bowl of ice cream would still be there…just as strong as they were before. And I was right back where I started. Actually, worse. Because I would not only be feeling whatever feels I had before, but then I would also be feeling guilty for emotionally eating. And a bit of self-loathing to boot. It would just get super ugly from there, I would start thinking about another bowl of ice cream, and the cycle would repeat itself.
I eventually figured the fact out that emotional eating doesn’t actually solve anything. The bills won’t magically get paid because I ate the cookies. That fight I had with my husband wouldn’t resolve itself because I inhaled a bag of chips. And that bad day at work will still feel just as yucky after I chugged that glass of wine. It finally dawned on me one day that those emotions would still all be there after the food buzz wore off. So then, what was the point of emotional eating? I needed to find a better way to deal with the big emotions that were driving me to eat in times of stress.
It was then that I learned to pick up a journal instead of a brownie and start writing when times get tough. Or to go for a long walk or run and let the endorphins naturally ease my stress. Or cry a good ‘ol ugly cry until I felt like all that frustration or disappointment didn’t feel quite so overwhelming. I learned to address my feelings head on instead of covering them up with a food blanket. These new methods of processing my feelings were actually productive ways of working through my daily ups and downs….no cookies or guilt required.
“I learned to address my feelings head on instead of covering them up with a food blanket.”
The transition from “emotional eater” to “emotion embracer” wasn’t quick, easy or rather pretty. But as I started to recognize my emotional eating ways and triggers, I was able to start replacing them with healthier habits that actually DID make me feel better. And while I will likely never shake The Emotional Eating Beast that lives inside of me, I know now not to heed to his whiney roars. But instead, listen to what I am feeling and learn from those emotions.
Have you struggled with emotional eating? How have you dealt with it? Share in the comments below.
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TAESHA is a wife, mother, and teacher based in San Diego. She aims to use her website to inspire people towards a healthy lifestyle through her family-friendly recipes and tips. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.