Struggling with emotional eating?
Zombie eating? Boredom eating? Or maybe you’re just someone who never really thinks about what you eat? I see all of these eating habits in my clients every day, and I absolutely struggled with these habits as well.
When I first started on my weight loss journey, I used MyFitnessPal as a way to count my calories and bring a sense of control to my diet. I decided that it was ok if I ate an entire box of cookies (which I occasionally did!) as long as I logged it accurately in MyFitnessPal. The results were great! I started to think about what I was eating, make better food choices, and I really began paying attention to everything I put in my mouth. For the first time in my life, my binge eating completely stopped. I gained a newfound sense of freedom with the help of MyFitnessPal, and the pounds started dropping off.
I thought I had found the key to staying thin forever, when at the very end of my weight loss journey, my ex-husband told me he was gay and had been cheating on me with men for the entire 8 years of our marriage and engagement. You can imagine the horrible shock I experienced, and after our quick divorce was finalized, I started taking whatever steps I could towards putting my life back together.
In the midst of the pain, my binge eating came back full force – with or without MyFitnessPal. I logged every single bite again. I tried to plan meals, portion out my snacks, and keep “trigger” foods out of the home. I did everything I could, and nothing worked. The pounds started to creep back on until I finally started to do something that I had never done before:
“I listened to my emotions.”
I paused when I was about to stand in front of the cupboard and eat my way through it. I paused as I was about to open up the cereal or the ice cream or the cheese puffs. I paused. I didn’t stop. I just paused and took a breath.
Then I would rewind. I rewound my steps, my thoughts, and my emotions. I rewound to the last thing I was doing, person I was talking to, or whatever I was watching on TV. I took a moment to rewind the time to see what this sudden need to binge was all about.
And then I would identify. I identified the emotional trigger (or several triggers) that brought me to that cupboard – the place I looked to for comfort, for relief, and to pacify my pain. I identified the emotions that I was trying to soothe, and then I gave them voice.
I spoke my feelings. I spoke my pain. I spoke my anger, my shame, my guilt… I spoke about my years lost in my marriage, my anxiety about starting all over, my fears about new relationships, and my embarrassment about not knowing sooner. Sometimes I would journal. Sometimes I would say the words in my head, but I always gave the emotion a voice.
I started to notice patterns. I noticed that every time I texted with a new potential guy that I was suddenly “hungry.” I noticed that every time I had to interact with my ex that I started wondering what was in the cupboard. I noticed that every time I worried about money, I wanted some ice cream.
Then the most amazing thing happened: by giving voice to the emotions, the “imitation hunger” started to go away. It didn’t work every time, but it worked most of the time. That’s because it wasn’t really hunger at all. It was simply the way I had dealt with emotions that were too overwhelming for me my entire life: I would pacify the emotions with food until they were soothed and I felt better.
But I never felt better for long. My emotions needed to be heard. They needed to be voiced. They needed to come out, and once they did, I was able to process them and live more authentically me. I was able to live truer to myself and what I was deeply feeling. I was able to process my shame and live more fully.
Now I teach my clients to pause, rewind, and identify when they are struggling with emotional eating, zombie eating, and boredom eating. The process can be painful, but if you’re brave enough to face your true emotions that are masking themselves as hunger, the results will be more freeing than you can imagine.