I used to consider myself an “emotional eater.” As in, I ate when my emotions were so high and life felt so out of control that I needed an outlet in which to funnel all my anxiety, “bad” feelings and low sense of power, self worth and confidence.
It’s a pretty common experience for a lot of us. Food is soothing, pleasurable and can distract us from the intensity of emotion and sensation we feel.
But the popular line of thinking is that when something seems like a problem in our lives, we often look at the symptoms as the thing that needs to change, rather than the root cause.
In the case of emotional eating, we often think it’s the eating that needs to be addressed, rather than the emotions.
As I began to really dismantle my contorted relationship with emotions and food, I realized that if I only focused on the eating, the real problem was still spiraling out of control with no other solution in sight if I took eating out of my toolbox of coping mechanisms.
The real problem was that I didn’t have the skill set to intelligently and compassionately work with my emotions.
So I did the real life work of cleaning up my emotional life. I turned toward the places where I felt insecure, unworthy and powerless in my life. I learned to approach myself in different and better ways. I found that in each place I had a “bad” feeling, the antidote was always the opposite.
For insecurity, I mustered courage to do the things that my insecurities told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t do.
For feelings of powerlessness, I did the unthinkable and pretended to be brave in the face of things that had me feel powerless. I used bravery to say no to a job offer that was offered as a consolation prize when the job I loved was being eliminated. I set a boundary with a man who had cracked me so fully open to love and passion, but ultimately was destructive and harmful to my wellbeing and sanity.
For feeling of worthlessness, I remembered that I am a child of god and that I deserve just as much as any other human on this planet.
For all these things, I had to work hard to flex these new muscles of courage, bravery, boundaries and worth.
And like all good things in life, these are simply ever unfolding layers of an onion- once the foundation for these new, good feelings was set, it is an exercise in continuing to flex these feeling muscles in bigger and bigger ways.
But in doing these things for myself, my confidence grew. I liked myself more. I believed in my capabilities and I learned, as the poet Albert Camus wrote, that in the midst of winter, I found there was an invincible summer that lived inside me.
But had I merely focused on the eating part of the emotional eating equation, I would not have built this foundation of power, confidence and an unshakable center of believing in myself and my capabilities. I would not have found my invincible summer. And finding that center of myself is worth more than any reprieve from emotional eating.
As I began to heal my emotional life, it hit me like a ton of bricks that EATING IS SUPPOSED TO BE EMOTIONAL.
Food, like water and air, is a life-force ingredient that, well, keeps us alive. If it were meant to be a mechanical, boring, uninspiring act, we probably wouldn’t do it very much. Much like sex, also a basic human drive, it is meant to be something to draw deep pleasure and satisfaction from so that we keep doing it and thus, keep ourselves alive.
Pretty brilliant design on the part of biology, if I do say so myself.
What most of us that identify as emotional eaters miss, is the pleasure and satisfaction that food can bring. When we are trying to run away from something or bury unwanted emotions and experiences through food, it becomes impossible to also take in the nutrients of pleasure and satisfaction from that food because you’re eating in reaction to something you’re trying to avoid, rather than eating FOR enjoyment, pleasure and nourishment.
I’m passionate about food taking its rightful place in our lives- no longer being something we try to control or manage, or use as a crutch to avoid dealing with our emotional lives. I want to see us embrace food, and our appetites, as a natural, normal and healthy expressions of being a living being that needs pleasure, satisfaction and enjoyment from food.
When we put down the weight of diet-culture thinking, attempts at controlling and restricting food and learn to let go of the shame and embarrassment we’ve been led to believe we need to feel about ourselves, then food takes its rightful place as an easy, pleasurable and satisfying experience.
In claiming that relationship with food, there is power.
When you can stand up and feel no shame about giving yourself nourishment, pleasure and satisfaction;
When you no longer feel shame, judgment or low self worth about who you are;
And when you can let go of the ideas of how you should eat or what you should avoid, you stand in the knowing that taking care of yourself as nature intended is your rightful place as a powerful woman on the planet.