Honor Your Emotional Eating


Today’s post is by Jennifer Joyce, who is currently a staff participant at Green Mountain.  Like so many of us, Jennifer spent too much time taking care of others, then resorting to the comfort of her best friend food at the end of the day. Only when she made peace with the fact that food does work as a coping tool could she begin to move on to develop other ways to cope.  Read on for good insight to help those of us working to manage binge eating and other forms of emotional eating.

Emotional eating and food love | Food as love for managing stressIn my search for peace with food, I have found that my central issue is that food is love – my only love. And it’s my only coping mechanism. And my only reward.

While Ellyn Satter, MS RD, describes normal eaters as people who sometimes use food for emotional reasons, the problem begins when it’s your only comfort or your only response to strong emotions.

As an executive with an online company, my life was so hectic and I was taking care of so many people, that all I really looked forward to was sitting at home on a Friday night and ordering take out.

Topping it off with ice cream. I would plan these evenings and I would turn down social plans for my favorite date. I even got into a schedule with my boyfriend of only seeing him on Saturday nights, so I could have my night alone with my best friend – food!

When I got a promotion, I celebrated by going out for a big brunch or treating myself to chocolate cake. When I was stressed by insane decisions made by my colleagues, I would treat myself to large quantities of sushi for my hard day. When I found out my brother was having substance abuse problems again, I sucked on an ice cream cone.

Over the years, I have participated in a number of non-diet programs focused on body acceptance and balanced eating. And through these programs I have been on a quest to find other comforts.

But the dirty little secret is that when stressed  or sad or disappointed FOOD WORKS BEST!

It wasn’t until I attended the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center (CEDC), that I learned that it was true. Food did work best!

In this program, they taught me to honor my emotional eating. Their philosophy is that any disordered eating is serving a purpose. First, you need to figure out what it is so you can find other ways to achieve the purpose. They had us write a letter to a habit that we wanted to stop.

The letter had to have three components:

1. Honor how the behavior served you
2. Name why it isn’t working anymore
3. Explore what you could replace it with

I was surprised by my letter.  Here’s an excerpt:

“I want to thank you [emotional eating] for making me your #1 priority, which is all I ever wanted from someone. I want to thank you for making me feel loved. And for celebrating my success each and every time with no jealousy. You are my best friend. The only who can be there and not judge. Who recognizes that I deserve to be celebrated.

The only one who I can admit my success to and not apologize. You are a comfort when the house is quiet. You give me purpose in the open spaces of my life. And you are always so easy to find and willing to be there. I don’t have to make plans with you a month in advance. And best of all you want and take nothing from me.”

For me, food unconditionally accepted me. It allowed me to express pride in my accomplishments when I felt my friends and family just couldn’t understand or be sincerely happy for me.

It made me realize that I had been giving too much over the last two years.  I never thought I gave too much because I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have aging parents dependent on me. I had a lot of me time. But I realized that emotionally my brain was constantly trying to figure out how to solve everyone’s problems.

I was giving too much at work, trying to get my marketing department  to single handedly save a technology company with uncompetitive technology. To a boyfriend who was going through crisis after crisis. To friends who struggled with divorce, break-ups, unemployment, aging parents. To a family which seemed to be swallowed up by addictions. And food was the only thing there to prop me up.

This knowledge was powerful. I quit my job of 7 years, deciding that I couldn’t save the company alone and even if I did I wouldn’t get rewarded for it. I moved to Vermont to focus on me and go through the program at Green Mountain.

I asked my family members for help in dealing with our family crises rather than shouldering it alone. And I laid out what I could and could not give in my romantic relationship.

I am not there yet. But at least I carved out the space to focus on me.

And in this journey at Green Mountain, I have found one thing that calms major stress and a ruminating mind: listening to mediation CDs while lying on the floor.  It’s even better if it rains.

What works to calm you?

2 responses to “Honor Your Emotional Eating”

  1. Mary Ann McNeely says:

    This post describes much of the emotion behind my binge eating. I have researched, attended weight loss and nutrition programs seeking a remedy for my compulsive overeating. Three years ago i had weight loss surgery, all the while fearful that i would eventually eat again. A few months after the surgery I developed an alcohol addiction…Now I am a recovering alcoholic. And, my food addiction has reared its ugly head. In the past year i have been able to focus on my eating addiction as my true addiction, and alcohol is secondary. My therapist [who specializes in alcohol addiction] stressed that all addictions come from the same place within us. So now with her support and guidance I am pursuing recovery from my eating addiction. I hope I can attend this program and begin to experience balance, recovery and self care. I have begun seeing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and she highly recommends this program. i am excited to find out more about the program.

  2. […] A different approach to tackling binge eating and another way to look at eating habits A video that uses papyrus (yuck) from the same people / person […]

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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