Saturday, February 2, 2013

Emotional Eating and the toll it takes

Emotional eating is a hugely intimate topic. I wrote a post a long time ago talking about my own issues with binge eating and I still can't quite bring myself to post it because it's so freaking personal. And it makes me feel like a failure and a fraud. So while I fully intend to post it (and soon), for now I want to talk about emotional eating from a slightly less personal level.

Emotional eating takes a lot of forms. For some, it's as simple as gravitating towards certain foods (usually carbs) when they are feeling stressed, tired or upset. For others, it's eating much more than needed, often to the point of nausea.  Others still it's secret eating, eating late at night, hiding packages and lying about what's been consumed. We do it to feel distracted, to feel happy or simply feel full when life doesn't feel like its filling us up. In the moment, our brains release seratonin so we do temporarily feel better. And then...we feel So. Much. Worse. And guilty. And ashamed. And sick. And we vow never to do it again. We might even rid our houses of junk food, or decide to eat it all so we can't binge again but without addressing the real issues, we do binge again. Or do we secret eat again. Or we do choose unhealthy crap the next time we feel down.

And the cycle repeats. 

So how to stop?  The biggest thing is addressing the why behind your emotions. Recognize your triggers and begin to formulate ways to stop emotional eating in its path. Recognize the source of stress, frustration and dissatisfaction.  What void is the food filling? Is it loneliness? (that's one of mine). Is it fear of where your life is or isn't going? (another of mine). 

Then begin to think of ways to tackle those problems. I literally wrote a list of things to do instead of eating when I feel that way. And perhaps the biggest help is using things to distract yourself from eating that actually help conquer the source of emotional eating. One of mine is calling a friend - that distracts from eating and it helps the actual issue which is loneliness and boredom. Another one is reading up on health - this distracts, motivates and helps me further my career which helps me conquer my fear that my life isn't going anywhere while actually helping my career. 

The toll emotional eating takes is evident in your body in the form of weight gain and body dissatisfaction. It's evident on your psyche as you cope with hiding the food, feeling guilty and helpless and then in continuing to let yourself down by breaking your promise to never do it again. 

It's hard but we have to separate food from feeling. Food is neither good nor bad. Food is not morality. Food is just food. Nothing more, nothing less. It won't fix problems. We have to fix our own problems. Food won't fill any voids. We fill those ourselves. It's just food. 

Have you ever struggled with emotinal eating? What are your coping mechanisms? 

(emotional eating can be part of serious mental health issues - for advice and suggestions in professional help, please contact me directly and I'll be happy to help point you to a pro!)


  1. I can relate! It's a constant struggle to stay on track, especially while flying. They served hot cookies on AA to Miami today. Neither Tim nor I said No Thanks! Need more willpower. If only we could buy that in pill form haha

  2. I know exactly what you mean. Domestically I bring salads, fruits and pre-cooked oatmeal (which I end up eating cold, desperate times) but internationally it's much harder because you can't bring much by way of fresh food across borders. Then your best bet is to find somewhere with salads and avoid heavy dressings like ranch and blue cheese. And pack protein bars or instant oatmeal that you can make on the plane with hot water.

    Willpower is important but it's also exhausting! This Monday I'll be posting about reframing how to say no to foods in a way that feels easier and more powerful, without missing out on the worthwhile indulgences. Oh I feel you on those warm airplane cookies- when I used to work at Air Canada, we baked hot cookies served with ice cream in the summer - damn near impossible to resist that smell when you're trapped in a metal tube with it!

  3. Tough one to conquer and perhaps most of us never fully successful at it. I still do it, but I'm getting better at at least recognizing what I'm doing and stopping myself most of the time. One of the keys was finding an activity that I loved doing. That alone made me feel better about myself and my life. The passion to "do" something made the temporary high from emotional eating so "meh" and the eating for fuel more important.

    1. I definitely agree that having a passion or an interest that requires fueling yourself well can really help. The more I get into bodybuilding and fitness overall, the more I'm able to stop emotional overheating in its tracks.

      The first time you're able to see emotional eating or a binge coming on before it happens is when you can truly start doing the work to stop by recognizing triggers, creating diversions and fixing the real issues that got you to that point.

      I can actually look back and pin point exactly the moment I first somewhat consciously (because really how conscious is emotional eating until after the fact) emotionally ate for the first time. At the time I didn't know but examine back now, I realize how many times I solidified for myself that food can be comfort. Now it's the journey of undoing that!