Unless you’ve been living under a rock where Oprah’s show topics don’t come into your consciousness, you’ve heard the term “emotional eating.” It, however, has never been a concept that resonated with me and my behavior. The idea of being “hungry” but not for food, also didn’t resonate. My thinking was more, “I’m hungry… for food… so I eat” and “Apparently I’m more hungry than other people.” Also, “So what if sometimes ice cream makes me feel better, it’s not like I do that all the time.”
I’m in the middle of reading “Women, Food and God.” Another book I’d heard about through Oprah that had sort of turned me off due to the title. I thought it was a Christian book about eating because you are sad, a synopsis that is almost entirely incorrect and didn’t draw me to it. I haven’t finished it to the point I can give a review but can confidently say it’s worth delving into. I got it for 7 dollars at half price books and have found it quite enlightening. While a lot of what she has to say hasn’t spoken directly to me, it has if nothing else forced me to become more aware. In that awareness I have discovered a few things.
#1: I associate food with love. I’ve never sat down to a bowl of ice cream and consciously thought, “this is love.” But it’s a clear association because it’s the first thing I go to for others. My husband’s birthday? I prepare all of his favorite foods, bake his favorite cake and make a special breakfast. I prepare meals for my family every night as a way of expressing love. I enjoy baking for co-workers and friends. I come from a mid-western culture of bringing casseroles to people who are grieving. When I think of it this way, I can see that in my mind, food is love.
#2 I eat when I’m not hungry. This I’ve always known, but when I was in “weight loss mode” rather than fight that urge, I just had healthy things on hand to nosh on. So if I was wanting to mindlessly eat, I’d eat peas. The disconnect here is that I never endeavored to figure out what I was “hungry for.” That is, I never investigated that urge in favor of finding a way to indulge it without my own judgement or damaging my health.
My recent injury was a sizable knock to my confidence. I realize that may seem silly. But the thing that made me feel powerful and strong (weight lifting) was the thing that caused my injury as well as was “taken from me” for a while. This may also seem shocking since I’m the “self-esteem queen.” But having a healthy self-esteem is like having a happy marriage. It is not without great commitment, effort and allowing for bad days without becoming complacent.
I’ve written a lot about my injury because it’s been a big deal for me. In some ways it has been traumatic. And believe me, I realize that not being able to exercise is not like losing a loved one or an environmental catastrophe. But in terms of my well-being it pulled on some old aches. I had spent 25 years with the “self-imposed limitation” that exercise and a healthy active body were not for me. That other people were predisposed to these things and more deserving of them. That I was “stuck” sedentary and unhappy with an unhealthy body. My journey with exercise from walking around the block to running a half marathon, from 5lb weights in my living room to the lone woman Olympic weight lifting at the gym was a great source of confidence for me. It freed me of my self-imposed limitations. It made me reconsider other limitations and self definitions that didn’t serve me. It was a huge fucking deal. In this context, the blow is perhaps more understandable.
As a constant pursuer of growth, I had to find a path back to that confidence. But I had to take a different path. In the end, it’s been renewing, regenerating and so positive. In the beginning, I turned to food. I found myself eating in the refrigerator. I was hungrier than usual. Reading this book made me become curious about this behavior, to acknowledge it. Before I didn’t even realize I was doing it because it’s something I’ve done as long as I can remember. It’s like returning to an old friend. It’s a habit I’ve had for so long that even if I go long bouts without it, it’s easy to not even notice when I’m doing it. Once I was able to acknowledge it, I followed the author (Geneen Roth)’s advice and just observed it. And then I noticed that it stopped.
Sometime I will share more about the avenues I’ve traveled down to get back here without my “physical goal bench markers” that brought back my confidence the first time around. There was yoga, meditation, self-reflection, energy work, spiritual work. But something amazing shifted.
I stopped having that urge. I don’t want to eat at the refrigerator. I don’t suddenly feel ravenous at 9 or 10pm.
I can remember times since I’ve been healthy that the urge stopped all together as well. But I was so hyper focused on my physical journey (what I was doing, how my physical body felt) that I missed the opportunity to learn what was going on with my hunger. This time, with all of my physical limitations I didn’t miss it.
Perhaps this will resonate with some, maybe you’re hungry for something else. But I found that I have been eating for comfort when I’m feeling insecure.
Looking back this seems so obvious to me but I’d missed it.
-I eat when I’m insecure in my relationship
-I eat when I get dumped/lose a job/feel rejected
-I eat when sense that I’ve failed
My list could go on, but I feed my insecurity with food. I no longer have velveeta and party pizzas on hand to do this with. I no longer go to more than one drive through and eat in the car (an admission I can hardly believe I just made).
This is the piece I’ve been missing. It hasn’t made a giant impact on my weight or health in recent years as I’ve been feeding my insecurity with vegetables. But I’m thrilled to both not have that urge as well as have identified where it comes from. How much simpler it will be to face the thing I’m running from now that I know what it is.
My confidence is back. I made the connection. So next time I find myself surveying my options mindlessly in the refrigerator (and have acknowledged this behavior) I can realize, “I am feeling insecure and nothing in this refrigerator is going to make me feel confident.” I can then face the insecurity and deal with the actual issue. This still requires work. Participating fully in your life requires work. But I’m excited to have a clear understanding of the root cause. To know what I’m hungry for.
This realization brings so much clarity to the times in my life that I’ve been my heaviest. It’s exciting, actually.
Does this mean that I will never bake for friends again or feel loving when I prepare meals for my family? Of course not. Preparing healthy (and hell, sometimes unhealthy) food for my family is a way that I love them. But being mindful of all the other ways I can show them love is important too. I want my daughter to have a full tool belt of ways to show love that aren’t just baking cakes. For example, this awareness means that I will not console with food. That my “go to” method of affection needs to shift.
I was telling someone today how easy it is for me to share myself on here. That the more I’m honest the easier it is to be. Whenever I write something like this, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else might understand, but someone always does.
So, my name is Erin and I’m an emotional eater. I eat my insecurities. I have a tendency that I need to be aware of to show love with food. I cannot tell you how liberating it is to have discovered this about myself. It feels like I just lost another 100lbs.
I hope if this resonates with you, you can find it liberating as well. It’s always scary to approach the darker, maybe embarrassing parts of yourself. It’s seems in the moment, much easier to suffer your behavior than examine it. But I promise, it feels so much “lighter” once you face it.