Food Can’t Hug You Back: Lessons in Emotional Eating
Posted Apr 21 2011 4:00am
Before I tell you anything else, let me tell you about my relationship with Pop Tarts.
For at least four years, those little toaster pastries were the bane of my existence. Why? Because they were my personal favorite binge food. Whenever I felt stressed or lonely or sad, I’d tear into a box of them, furiously clawing away at the shiny silver wrappers.
I couldn’t stuff them into my mouth fast enough.
My relationship with Pop Tarts clearly exemplifies the way that I have used (or, more accurately, abused) food in the past. Whenever I was faced with an uncomfortable emotion – say, I was worried about an upcoming meeting or apprehensive about a difficult social situation – I found myself cramming cake or cookies or brownies into my mouth at lightning speed.
But Pop Tarts were my favorite. Particularly the Brown Sugar Cinnamon kind.
Of course, my weight climbed higher and higher in response to those binge eating episodes, which only made me more miserable than I already was. What am I doing? I thought. Why do I keep going back to the kitchen pantry again and again and again?
The truth is that I was a full-blown, out-of-control emotional eater. McDonald’s was my comfort and Dairy Queen was my solace. The easiest way to distract myself from whatever uncomfortable emotion I was feeling was to eat and eat and eat until I couldn’t focus on anything except the pain in my stomach.
I preferred that pain, I guess.
Eventually I decided that I didn’t want to keep living my life from binge to binge. I was tired of hiding secret stashes of candy in my desk or claiming I needed to buy milk when I was really buying chocolate éclairs. Where did that get me, anyway? No where except right back to Dunkin’ Donuts.
I finally admitted to myself that food couldn’t solve my problems. It couldn’t keep me company when I was lonely. It couldn’t give me a hug when I was sad. I needed something more.
These days I’m happy to say that I don’t reach for the cookie jar in the face of anxiety or the ice cream scoop in the face of stress. Instead, I’ve learned a bunch of other coping strategies that are much healthier and way more effective. Like exercising my body to release tension and frustration. Or journaling to cope with anger and irritation. Deep breathing when I feel nervous, and novel-reading when I feel overwhelmed.
Some of these options may seem obvious, and yet how many times do we dismiss them in favor of a trip to the refrigerator?
The good thing about emotional eating is that there are ways to overcome it, a fact of which I am living proof. There are plenty of practices to do and exercises to complete that can teach anyone how to use food for sustenance rather than for comfort.
We all know that life isn’t easy. There are plenty of curves in the path and bumps along the road. These days I’m learning to navigate those curves and bumps all on my own, no Pop Tarts required.