I don’t often venture on this blog to the subject of emotional issues, but as we talked this week earlier about making better food choices for our bodies I can’t help but feel that I need to address the elephant in the room: emotions and food. For many, food is definitely an emotional subject. It’s easy for me to say “Eat healthier – it’s better for you.”, but when you’re super stressed out and needing a quick fix before you lose it, it’s not so easy to avoid scarfing down a bag of Oreos (my personal choice for emotional bingeing 🙂 ).
I spent years self-medicating with food. In order to deal with my parents’ divorce I started munching on chips, candy and pop on a regular basis. This soothing habit carried me into my adult years where food became my go-to drug for any type of emotional or stress-related issue. Because I’ve always worked out and am small boned, my emotional food binges managed not to affect me weight-wise until I hit my 30’s. Since then, it’s been an up and down 10-40 pound battle, thanks to me using food to deal with stress. I’d go for periods – sometimes 4-5 years – of being at a healthy weight by keeping my stress-related binges to a minimum, and then I’d fall off the wagon. I went through all of the denial reasons (I don’t REALLY eat that much, I’m better than most people, I just love food, blah, blah, blah) as I struggled with my periods of weight gain and the self-condemnation that often comes with it.
This year has been a turning point for me, however. For a number of reasons, I’ve been able to largely put behind me the desire to binge away my stressors. Part of the reason is because I’ve finally learned to love myself unconditionally (through study of the Holy Bible and really getting a handle on God’s unconditional love for me). Part of the reason is because I’ve learned through that love to stop and think about the ramifications of scarfing an entire bag of chips, learned to envision how that would make me feel tomorrow, and learned to pick a healthier choice like celery sticks or blueberries because of it.
Much of the reason we choose junk food over healthy food is because of the physiological effect certain foods have on our brains. The crunching that comes from eating chips is a stress reducer. Sugar gives us a temporary natural high in our blood sugar levels and therefore in our emotions, so we turn to sugar to feel better quickly, ignoring the fact that the dramatic drop in blood sugar that will occur shortly after the “high” will likely make us feel worse than we did before. When we experience a stressful day, situation, or whatever, we often simply want a quick fix to feel better, to gain relief from both the physical and emotional effects of stress. A bag of chips or a package of cookies does that quite nicely, however the after-effects aren’t always so pleasant. I like to call it a junk food hangover. I don’t drink alcohol, but I had my fair share of it (and probably more) in my twenties. The hangover one gets from junk food (after they’ve learned what it feels like to eat healthy on a regular basis) can often be similar to a hangover from an overindulgence of alcohol. Pain, fatigue, nausea and headache all set in, at least for me, after I’ve attended an event where an abundance of processed foods are on the menu.
I think a big part of learning to eat healthy and make healthy food choices over not-so-healthy ones is about learning why you eat: learning what stressors trigger your charge to the kitchen for the bag of chips. What are you feeling as you head for the junk food? Are you feeling scared? Insecure? Rejected? Then the job begins of re-training your mind so that you learn to accept yourself just as you are, just as God accepts you. God does not by any means approve of all of our actions, but He certainly does love us unconditionally regardless of them. People reject you because of your actions, but God does not. Once I learned that and began to accept that truth, I learned to start loving myself as Christ loves me – unconditionally. At that point, others’ rejection of me – or my rejection of myself due to a perceived or actual failure – no longer mattered because I knew my God loved me anyway.
Once I got that truth down into my soul (through intense study of His Word) I no longer felt the need to turn to food to deal with fear or stress. Instead I learned to turn to Christ – the author and finisher of my faith.
The point I’m trying to drive home here is that for those of us struggling with food issues, the key to healing lies in self-acceptance and your willingness to love yourself – just as you are. How you get to that place may not be the same as how I got there, but I can promise you; it’s a wonderful place to be.
And now that I’m there, making healthy food choices is SO much easier. I want to eat well now because I want to do what’s best for my body, because I’m worth it. And you are too. 🙂