Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mar. 18: Emotional Eating

It seems like the world is programming us to be emotional eaters. Think about popular culture: in nearly every chick flick, the skinny blond sadly grabs a spoon and a gallon of Ben and Jerry's out of the freezer to bemoan her love life. What they don't show is the ever-widening butt of people who indulge in this habit.

I think emotional eating is somewhat a newer issue. 75 years ago, there wasn't the ready access to prepared food that there is now - you couldn't go to the grocery store and grab a bag of chips and a gallon of ice cream like you can now. Between the addictive chemicals in processed foods and the abundance of sugar making your blood sugar go up and down like a yo yo, is it any wonder that bingeing has become a pattern behavior?

One way to help combat emotional eating is to go back to the beginning of it. Do you remember when you first began to binge to make yourself feel better? I do.

When my first child was 6 months old, my husband at the time and I moved way out in the country to this beautiful old farmhouse. We both loved it. What I didn't expect was that the fighting between us would lead to him taking off with the car for 3-4 days at a time, leaving me alone and isolated with a baby for company. We didn't have long distance service on our phone and my family all lived 1000 miles away. I did not have one single friend in the local calling area. I got more and more depressed. To make matters worse the only thing in walking distance was a little convenience store about half a mile down the road. I remember doing my husband's laundry and scrounging enough change from his pockets to equal about $5. I would put the baby in the stroller and trudge down the highway to buy BBQ potato chips and candy. My step was lighter on the way home; I couldn't wait to get home and stuff the food into my mouth as fast as I could. I gained about 30 pounds this way.

After that, a pattern was established. I dealt with stressful situations by numbing myself with food. I ate my way through my unhappy marriage and my subsequent divorce, I ate my way through a stressful job and when my beloved father became terminally ill, I really chowed down. Each stressor brought with it a certain food in which I took comfort.

Here's what I learned: through research about what I was eating, I discovered that certain food additives trigger responses in the brain. Briefly, they give your brain a boost in serotonin, the chemical that is lacking in a depressed person. Unfortunately it's only a temporary effect, triggering the urge to eat that food again.

Keeping a very detailed journal is what helped me get over emotional eating. You have to delve back to the very origin of it. Did you start doing it as a child because you saw your mother doing it? Was there a certain circumstance that occurred, triggering the beginning of this unhealthy cycle? Once you identify these triggers, you can begin to recover.

Since I began this journey I have definitely had serious stress in my life. My teen daughter moved in with her dad. My business bottomed out. Money is definitely in a shortage. However, not once have I turned to food since I made my personal discoveries. Before any and all of these things would have sent me diving headfirst into a bag of Doritos.

So today's exercise: When is the first time you recall bingeing because of unhappiness?


  1. Great topic, Daisy! I have experienced issues with emotional eating as well. Clean eating has helped me significantly with it, but I still feel like it's a struggle. I know it's a process though and there's no doubt in my mind that someday (soon I hope) it will be a thing of the past and no longer something that I fear. You are truly an inspiration for being so strong and conquering your emotional's helping to keep me motivated and strong! :)

  2. Kayla ~ I'm so glad you stopped by! It's definitely a struggle but tracing it back will help you immensely! Use your blog or a personal journal and just think back to the genesis of the problem - you will get such clarity, and through understanding it you will overcome it!