When people think of emotional eating, they might think of someone drowning themselves in their sorrows over a pint of ice cream or stuffing their face with some other delicious treat after a really stressful day. I also think that many people think that they aren’t emotional eaters themselves because they can’t see their own behaviors for what they are and also they think they have a good handle on what they are eating.
Well, I don’t don’t know how many people I am actually describing in the paragraph above or if I am just describing one person, myself.
Yes, that paragraph pretty much summed up my original thoughts on emotional eating. In fact, it really wasn’t even on my radar as something that might be a problem for me until about 12 months ago. And, not until about 6 months ago, did I even label it as emotional eating.
I have ALWAYS loved sweets, mainly cookies but also candy. I remember buying all kinds of different candy on the way home from school and eating it as I walked with my friends. I would eat more when I got to my friends’ houses and, I would eat even more when I got home. On a daily basis I would probably go through 2 of small bags of candy a day plus whatever other treats were offered to me at school, and the houses of my friends (usually brownies or cookies). Now, this might not seem like a big deal to many because a lot of middle school/high school kids eat LOTS of sugary snacks but, I needed to start here because I believe that it set the tone for things to come.
In my twenties my taste buds matured a little and I kind of ditched candy and went to baked goods. It really didn’t help that I worked at a coffee shop from the age of 19-26. I would eat 2-3 pastries a day and then go home and eat whatever sweet things I had at home, usually cookies.
I also want to state, that I never hid any of this from anybody. I was never ashamed of consuming large amounts of sweets, I was actually kind of proud, like “look what I can do and not gain any weight.”
Yes, it didn’t help that I was a skinny kid on top of it all. I never ever had a weight problem and I think that this is one of the main reasons that I kept eating all the sweets. If I wasn’t gaining weight, well, then I must be healthy. I told this lie to myself for a long time.
I basically went about eating this way with no guilt until about a year ago.
So, what made the light bulb go on that there might be a problem with the way I was eating? Well, it started with trying to get back into shape and becoming much more aware of my eating habits.
I did have other not so good eating habits and after the birth of my second daughter I cleaned up a lot of my diet. I cut out fast food, I started eating a lot more vegetables, and I really started eating more balanced meals that fueled my body. The one thing I kept going back to though was the sweets.
I tried a lot of different ways to cut them out; I tried Paleo treats, I tried healthier versions baked at home, I tried cold turkey, I tried treat free days a few times a week. NOTHING helped. It got to the point where it didn’t even matter if I didn’t purchase any treats at the grocery store for the week, somehow I would get my hand on some kind of a treat. Special trips to the grocery store, a stop in at Target or a coffee shop, there was always a way to get a treat in there, I was kind of like the treat hustler. If there was a will, I would find the way.
As, I read over that last paragraph, I am thinking, “how did I not see that this was a problem?!”. I really didn’t even see it as a problem.
MY EYES WERE FINALLY OPENED
Well, I kept on fooling myself until I was listening to a podcast one day about emotional eating. My eyes were opened and I was shocked that this applied to me. The points that stuck with me the most were 1) emotional eating is not just associated with negative emotions, it is associated with all emotions 2) emotional eating isn’t just a shameful “behind closed doors” kind of thing, it can happen in the most public of places and to the most care free of people 3) and probably most importantly, it is much more wide spread than I thought, most people actually have some form of emotional eating but probably don’t even know it.
What I learned from listening to this podcast is that emotional eating can happen (for example) when we are enjoying time with friends at a party or restaurant and there is a bowl of popcorn or chips in front of us. The next thing we know, that bowl is empty. We all were eating, we were all enjoying time with one another, there was no shame involved. Now, this form of emotional eating is probably pretty harmless and probably pretty wide spread in terms of those who it applies to. What happens though when you start to take it further? When every emotion you feel becomes reason to consume some sort of treat? That’s the boat I found myself in.
I was happy so I needed a treat. I was stressed from a long day with the kids so I needed a treat. The kids were being “good” so we ALL needed a treat. Turns out that EVERYDAY you have feelings/emotions (what?) so everyday was another reason for a treat.
I knew at this point that I needed to do something to get control over what I was doing. I was no longer in control of choosing when I would eat a treat and I was starting to feel some guilt about it which I knew was a big red flag.
WHAT I’M DOING NOW
I still have issues with emotional eating. Not once in awhile, not once a week, but every single day. I feel like I got over a major hurdle though when I actually realized what I was dealing with.
I have only just begun to go through the process of change.
It isn’t just a physical change (stop eating the cookies!), its a mental shift & change (why are you eating these cookies right now? how are you feeling about eating these cookies? how will you feel AFTER you eat these cookies?).
Yes, I’m trying to get into the habit of asking myself questions about my treats instead of just mindlessly consuming them, I won’t lie either, it’s been hard. Sometimes I remember to do it and have an internal battle between my head and taste buds and sometimes I forget to ask the questions all together and next thing you know I’m already three cookies in.
I have also tried writing things down when I start to have thoughts about wanting treats and though I seem to do good with this, I rarely remember to do it.
I guess you could say I’m still a MAJOR work in progress. I have really good days where I am incredibly mindful of what I eat and I only eat until I’m full and then I have other days where I just let emotions take over and my mind has no chance.
I plan on taking this emotional eating thing one day at a time. I have no short term goals that I will “beat” this or “overcome” this. I’m rather thinking of the long term and how I can co-exist with it.
I am right now just thankful that if I am presented with 4 cookies, I can eat three of them in a (hopefully) mindful manner and leave the fourth one on the table. With emotional eating, just like anything else in life that you want to see lasting results in, you must take it one step at a time.
My only advice to anyone wanting to break the emotional eating habit is to be more mindful. This sounds so silly and so easy but to be truly mindful you have think about the problme every time the problem is presented to you. Yes, keep your mind “full”, don’t go blank and get mindless, be completely aware of what you are feeling and doing. It is a process and it is going to take time.