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. 🙂
I notice the feeling or not so good feeling I have 1/2 hour or so after eating junk food or processed food. I feel sluggish,tried, cranky, etc. When I make better choices like fresh fruits or vegs I don’t feel that way.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, Brian! I didn’t have a clue what was causing my unhappy days until I started cutting processed foods out of my diet. Now it’s all so clear.
I don’t have too much of an issue with emotional eating, but my willpower around desserts could certainly use a tune-up!
LOL, I hear you there, Amy. Sugar is VERY addicting. Once I’m off it it for a few days it’s fine, but that in between period is tough.
That’s probably why I wanted pancakes so bad last night, I think it was from an emotionally tough day. Makes sense now 🙂
That makes total sense, Kayla! And I see the same temptations often. Luckily for me, Mean Green Juice offers the same emotional benefits as sugar, without the yucky sugar crash afterward.
I really need to make better food choices but due to my schedule I do indulge in process foods. It’s so easy to pop dinner in the microwave these days. I have a bad habit of eating scrambled ham and eggs at night too…so not cool.
Yum! I was SO craving an omelet last night. 🙂 I think those busy times are when it’s easiest to grab the processed stuff, Petrish. You’re just hungry and you want food NOW – at least that’s how I feel on those busy days. 🙂
Great post. I am definitely an emotional eater. It’s just been so ingrained in my life–from childhood, when we celebrate good times, we eat something delicious. When we see friends or family or have meetings, we go out to eat. And like you dealt with your parents’ divorce, I dealt with my dad’s cancer and passing with ice cream. Like, a gallon daily. Yeah, those were bad times. It’s a tough habit to break, but remembering how good I feel when I eat well is definitely a good motivator for me.
Yes, Chela! All SO true. We are such a food centered society. We use it to celebrate, we use it to heal, we use it to cope with stress – there’s always a reason. I have such fond memories of being at my great-grandmother’s house, all of us chatting around a table of meat, potatoes, veggies and sweet treats, and because of that it’s tough not to find those things appealing.
Chocolate chip cookies are one of my favorite things in the world. They have been frequenting our house less though, which is sad but also a good thing. Money doesn’t matter much if you’re not healthy enough to enjoy it.
Have you tried my “healthy” chocolate chip cookie recipe, Mark? I know I’m probably not helping but it IS delicious. 🙂 Love what you said about money not mattering if you’re not around to enjoy it. Another good reason to eat well.
Thanks for sharing this, Laurie! I’m in my early 30s and my emotional eating problems have become worse than ever. And the weight issues are exactly as you’ve described. I’m looking forward to finding some relief.
I can totally empathize, my dear friend. Hopefully this post will help you to learn what the triggers are for you and overcome them. I’m here for you. Email anytime!
I have a very strong will power when it comes to not spending, but it’s very weak when it comes to eating. For some reason, I just can’t help myself, even though I know the consequences of eating unhealthy junk food.
Been there, done that, Andrew. I totally remember those days of chowing down nachos or cookies. And the memories still bring joy to me, regardless of the negative impact on my health, LOL. One day at a time I guess, right? 🙂
I didn’t used to be an emotional eater, but I’ve found over the past few years it has appeared in my life. When we put one of our dogs down this past spring, man, I probably had 8,000 calories extra of pure, blissful, crap over that weekend. Looking back, it did feel like a hangover that Sunday and Monday following the junk food overload.
I do recognize it though, which helps to curb emotional eating sometimes. My go to is chips and salsa. HEB makes the best fresh no preservative salsa, omg it is amazing.
I totally hear you there, Mr. SSC. I too have traded in sweet treats for organic tortilla chips and fresh salsa. You can binge without so much guilt as you work to resolve the stress in a healthier way, LOL. Blueberries are another of my go-to’s. That salsa sounds great. I’ll have to look for it up here. Last year I posted about our Chipotle salsa that we canned from the garden. That’s a recipe you need to try, my friend. 🙂
So proud of you for being able to get a handle on emotions and food, Laurie! And I won’t lie – a little jealous too. 🙂 This is something that has been a constant battle for me. I am an emotional eater and I really have to watch myself or I’d eat constantly. Unfortunately, I am not as diligent as I should be. This is something I truly need to get a handle on and you’re absolutely right that it comes from self-acceptance and understanding your triggers and most importantly – willing to make the change/commitment, which is something I have struggled with. I feel like I self-sabatoge my efforts and I need to understand why I do that to myself. And that salad looks so delicious too!
LOL, don’t give me too much credit, my friend: it still is a battle at times, but I feel like I’ve got a great handle on things compared to before this year. The other part I think we all need to remember is that ingredients such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup and MSG, which are in most foods these days, are highly addictive. Some medical experts compare them to the likes of hard street drugs as far as the addiction factor goes. I think the fact that eating that stuff makes us physically want more sabotages our efforts too, even if we’ve got our emotions and self-worth in check. Hang in there, my friend – you got this. I can see “overcomer” on the horizon for you. 🙂
Laurie, isn’t it great that eating healthy food is just the easiest way to feel better and it feels like we experience less stress and feel stronger because of what we eat.
I agree, Jayson! It makes such a big difference. Each time I’m tempted to eat junk food, I think about my choices: I can wake up and feel crummy tomorrow, or I can wake up and feel great tomorrow. It makes it easier to choose the healthy meal, you know? Have a great day, my friend!
The wife and I have turned to fresh fruit (strawberries, bananas, peaches are great) and vegetable (baby spinach, broccoli, kale … gotta love those dark greens) smoothies to kick off most of our days. A great way to start the day with lots of energy and avoid the lethargy that comes with processed foods.
Agreed, my friend! We do that here too. It’s like starting your day off with a serious boost of energy! 🙂
I used to put so much garbage into my body and not think anything about it, but then 4 years ago I went on Weight Watchers and completely changed my attitude and approach to eating. It was amazing how much it changed after just a few months of a solid commitment to it and now I find that I crave foods that are better for me and I rarely ever eat the problematic foods that I did before. They just don’t have the same appeal to me as I know how much damage they did to my body and my mind.
That is so awesome, Shannon. Ironically, I ate mac and cheese yesterday late afternoon and woke up feeling bloated (i.e. wheat belly) and just generally without my usual energy level. I would never have noticed this a few years ago. It was “normal”. So glad it’s not normal anymore!
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