Comfort and emotional eating: My history
I’ve been inspired to write about comfort and emotional eating by a gradual awareness that has crept up on me over the past few weeks that I can’t/don’t comfort-eat (also known as emotional eating) as much as I used to.
For the longest time, I didn’t think that I WAS an emotional eater because the connection between my feelings and food was subtle and insidious and easily masked by other factors.
But as my nutrition and lifestyle have gradually improved, the link is now more overt and recognisable when it happens.
I still crave sugar when I’m grumpy/stressed/unhappy/tired/anxious whereas before I just ate it all the time without needing a trigger. I still comfort-eat, and think I probably will until the day I die. But I do it far far less often.
Every 3 or 4 weeks I’ll give into the sugar siren call and eat an abominable amount of it. But the periods of time are stretching out longer between ‘episodes’ and more often now I can recognise what’s happening and find other distractions/diversion tactics that are working increasingly well.
Weeknight binge eating
On a week night for example when the mood strikes, I might bargain with myself and say ‘just go to the gym, and if you still really want it afterwards, then have it’. Invariably, I go to the gym and by the time I leave the urge has passed. Combined with this gradual re-programming is the convenient fact that my stomach has quite literally shrunk and I actually can’t indulge to the degree that I used to.
Take Monday night for example. A good friend of mine was leaving the country on Tuesday to fly home to the UK and we went out rooftop-bar-hopping – the kind of activity that could easily have ended with a belly full of liquor and my face in a bucket of KFC at 2am. But no.
This time I had 2 drinks over 3 hours, and our 9pm ‘dinner’ was a shared sampler plate of things like buffalo wings and crumbed camembert. Still indulgent, but the quantity was actually quite small. Halfway through this modest serving of food and I was full. Remarkable.
You may be reading this and thinking “well so what, you’ve just got more self-control now”, and then you might gaze wistfully at the horizon dreaming of the day you can exercise self-control over food. But here’s the thing. No self-control was required here.
No inner bargaining dialogue took place. Where temptation used to be, there was a noticeable lack of turmoil. I just didn’t want any more food than what was in front of me. I was 100% satisfied and 100% full. I didn’t eat the bread and I didn’t want dessert. This is a remarkable thing for me, so forgive me labouring the point. Even if I’d been ambitious (i.e. greedy) enough to order more food, I couldn’t have fit another bite in.
Stopping emotional eating: I was winning!
This is not an isolated incident. There have been a number of these situations lately that are leading me trepidatiously towards the exciting thought that I might actually be winning here. Not just winning by having my self-control triumph over my cravings but winning by not having to engage in any battle in the first place.
Rest assured there will be future battles, but for every one that I win, or even lose less disgracefully, I’m inspired with new hope.
To back this up, Tuesday morning I had breakfast at a hotel buffet. Instead of eating as much as I could of everything, for the novelty value of it, I had only tiny portions, including pancake and croissant – the types of food that rarely make it past my lips anymore, and definitely not for breakfast. It was kind of fun, but it didn’t rock my world. I was ambivalent and the food felt just like fuel.
Tuesday was on the whole a fairly crappy day. After seeing my friend off at the airport, I felt really sad and sorry for myself – the kind of day where I would have traditionally crawled under my doona (that’s a duvet for you Northern hemisphere folk) with a pile of lollies and hibernated there for the rest of the day. The kind of day where I would have assumed that food was the best, temporary comfort available to me.
The old loyal friend that never lets me down. And I started down that path out of habit – considering and then dismissing McDonalds and other types of fast food in turn – until something strange happened. I changed my mind. Instead of being hell-bent on getting to that food as my number one priority, I was just ambivalent, indecisive.
It seemed like too much trouble to Google my nearest Red Rooster or drive to my favourite lolly store and try to find a park nearby. Too much trouble?! Lollies are too much trouble?! Who is this woman, and what have you done with Gen??
In the end I settled for a small plate of dodgy food court Chinese for lunch and skipped the dessert. I went into the supermarket intending to buy an enormous tub of chocolate icecream to eat the lot, and instead came out with the tiniest tub of fat-free frozen yoghurt they had. And that was enough. 125 calories worth of comfort-food.
After all, my emotions aren’t located in my mouth. Taking solace in food has never made any real sense, even though so many of us do this. I did allow myself to skip the gym and watch trashy TV instead, but didn’t eat a week’s worth of calories in one sitting as I might have in the ‘bad ole’ days’.
Losing the desire to overeat
The moral of this long-winded story, is that I feel like I’m starting to finally, after nearly 2 years of fairly constant ‘reprogramming’ lose the desire to overeat when I’m stressed or emotionally fragile. It could be that I’m just extra focused at the moment because of the 12 Week Fat Loss Challenge I’m doing, but it feels like a mental shift has taken place. And if it can happen for me then it can quite seriously happen for anyone.
If this is you – if you’re stuck on the merry-go-round of emotional eating and you think there’s no way you’ll ever get off it, take heart. Persistence and perseverance will pay off in the end. Just winning one battle instead of constantly losing might be all the inspiration you need to show you that you’re not pathetic, or weak, or hopeless – just human like the rest of us with as much ability to succeed as anyone else.
If you’ve started down the path towards overcoming emotional eating and have tips that might help others, I’d love to hear from you! Just post a comment below.