What Is Emotional Eating
Do you eat when you feel lonely, sad, or upset? How about turning to ice cream, potato chips or other goodies to comfort yourself when you’re having a bad day? Do you eat even when you’re not hungry or when you feel full? Have you ever eaten way too much and yet still feel “empty” inside? If you can answer yes to these questions, you most likely are using food to help you cope with emotions. According to Wikipedia, “Emotional eating is a form of disordered eating and is defined as “an increase in food intake in response to negative emotions” and can be considered a maladaptive strategy used to cope with difficult feelings.”
You are not alone, because I am an emotional eater. I hate to write that sentence. I am ashamed to write that sentence, but I need to be honest with you all. If I can’t be honest with myself and you guys then I won’t be able to grow and change. Healing can’t happen until we bring things to the light.
How We Got Here
This is a very difficult topic for me and one that I have struggled with for more than 10 years. I’m slowly becoming aware that I’m using food to deal with painful emotions. I was not aware of this years ago. Ten years ago I wasn’t even in tune with my emotions. I had become a master at stuffing and ignoring them, because I was afraid that I would be “overwhelmed” by them if I gave them any attention. I believed that feeling angry or sad or jealous was somehow “bad.” Good Christian women didn’t have those emotions. It amazes me how I took in the things I was taught as a little girl and unquestioningly lived my life by these understandings. When I questioned these things as a child, I got lectures about how good girls behave, so I quit asking questions.
I’m NOT blaming my parents or teachers, because they only taught what they themselves were taught. However, here I am in my fifties still struggling to deal with emotions in a constructive way. Dear reader, if you are having similar struggles I can empathize with you. How much easier our lives would be if we had learned how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way when we were little. Since we cannot change the past, we need to learn these things now. If we continue to stuff our emotions and use food to comfort ourselves, our bodies will rebel. Being overweight is no fun at all. I hate feeling uncomfortable in my skin. I have come to realize that I will never do better eating until I deal with what’s “eating me.”
30 Day Emotional Eating Journal Challenge
In order to help us figure out what is going on, we need to examine ourselves. I’ve chosen a 30 Day Emotional Eating Journal Challenge to assist me in doing this examination. It contains journal prompt questions centered about self, food and eating, body, looking deeper and looking forward. I can’t do this step for you and you can’t do it for me. We need to pull up our big girl/boy pants and start somewhere. This feels overwhelming to me and maybe to you, too. It would be great if we could encourage each other during this challenge in the comments below.
The First Day’s Journal Prompt
To get started here’s the first day’s questions: Who am I? Who have I been? Who do I want to be?
Now don’t do what I just did. I immediately thought: Who am I? A fat person. Who have I been? A fat person. Who do I want to be? A skinny person. Be nice. I wouldn’t talk to anyone that way, so why do I think it’s okay to talk to myself that way?
- So let’s try again: Who am I? I’m a mom who has nearly raised her last of six children. I’m a nurse. (Even though I can’t work as one.) I’m single. I’m a daughter of my heavenly Father and am saved by His son’s sacrifice on the cross. I am a friend. I’m a daughter of my parents. I am a sister to my sister and two brothers. I am a writer and a blogger. A person with chronic illnesses.
- Now try: Who have I been? I’ve been a wife, an employee, a home schooler. I was in an abusive relationship for 21 years. I was a person without a voice.
- Who do I want to be? I want to be a healthy, strong, vibrant woman who makes a positive difference in my world. (Let’s just write what we want down, even if our critical voice is saying things like, “Yeah, right like that’s ever going to happen!”
My hope and prayer for all of you, is that you can do this exercise without the bickering that is going on in my head. Even if you do have conflicting thoughts and emotions, write them down and look at them. There’s insight hidden somewhere in that conflict and we will find it if we keep working at it. (:
While we’re looking for insight into our behavior, we can use mindfulness to help us slow down while eating and really experience our food. One thing that I’ve noticed, is that I do way more mindless munching when sitting at the computer or television. I tend to eat at these places when I am by myself for a meal. What would happen if I sat at the table for my meals? What if we set the table and ate as a family at the table? Could I set the table even when it’s just me?
We are so talented at setting the table for special occasions and/or for guests; why don’t we treat our families or ourselves that way? Would it help us enjoy our meal to sit at the table with nice dishes and silverware instead of McDonald’s bags and plastic forks? If we slowed down and really tasted our food and took time to chew, our stomachs and digestive systems would probably breathe a sigh of relief.
So ladies and gents, clear off that dining table. We’re doing an experiment. We’re going to sit at the table to eat without any phones, tv or computers. No books or e-readers either. Soothing music is allowed. Family members who are home are invited to join us. If your family, like mine, is used to scarfing down food while on the couch or floor, I would recommend inviting them to the table instead of demanding it. Arguing and discord will not be beneficial to anyone. Remember stress and strife lead to emotional eating. (:
Are you up for this challenge? I really would like your help with this one. Please let me know below if you’re trying anything I mentioned in this post. We can encourage each other.
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Till next time, Kathy
Wonderful read, thank you for sharing this! I am far more in-tune with my emotional eating, however I still have very disordered thoughts about food; too much of anything is ‘bad’, even lettuce or chicken, I must punish myself for eating ‘bad’ food like ice cream, etc. I truly need to begin a food journal because trackers like MyFitnessPal only focus on the what, not the why! I love the practical advice you give on where to start and how to encourage others to be included. 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read and respond, Heidi. We sure can get some tangled thoughts about food, can’t we? It seems like it just should be so straight forward. We eat to nourish our bodies, but it doesn’t work that easily. I’m here to support you!
Thank you so much for this post! I think I’m going to try that journal. I struggled with anorexia for a while, and after “recovering” from that, I ended up going the opposite extreme. I now struggle with food addiction, and that’s one I just can’t seem to recover from. I’ve tried many times. For me, though, it’s not just emotional eating…that’s just one part of it. But honestly most of the time I eat just because I CAN. I get so hungry (or at least THINK I do), and crave so extremely that I just can’t stop myself. It’s like a euphoric feeling when I eat. It’s so bad. Of course, I think part of the problem is that I don’t allow myself to have a support system either. I wrote about it on my blog, but it’s one thing to write about it, and another to actually reach out and say I need support, as I’m sure you understand.
Anyways…thanks for letting me “rant” on your post, ha! It’s just always nice to find someone else to relate to with an issue like this.
Emily (a fellow Peony)
You can rant on my page anytime. (: The journal questions are hard. I’m still trying to answer question 2, but I’m going to just keep working at it. I’m having trouble with sitting at the table to eat. It’s just such a strong habit to sit at the computer or tv. Thanks for writing. It is really nice to know that I’m not alone in my food struggles.
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