This is primarily a discussion on Emotional Eating/Pleasure eating.
DISCLAIMER… I am not a doctor. I’m a researcher (aka librarian), I do a lot of research (fact-finding) then collate it (put it all together). The information listed below is a culmination of a lot of self-help health literature, some scientific journals, success stories, people I know, and of course my own personal journey. This is to help you (and me) step in the right direction, you ultimately will need to choose the path you follow and may need the assistance of a licensed/degreed individual in a particular field of study.
Okay I am going to do it I am going to talk about the dreaded “F” word…. Food. Particularly food as a means of pleasure or emotional indulgence… That’s the F word you were thinking right? (wink, wink)
Well here’s the thing, I like cookies. And that’s okay. Seeking solace in the cookies… that’s where things get a little messy. And not in the literal Cookie Monster covered in chaotic confetti of crumbs-messy either. See it’s okay to enjoy food, to have it at celebrations, and look forward to a delicious meal. It’s okay. The messy part is when the only thing you look forward to at the end of your day is that cookie or piece of chocolate. If this isn’t you, that’s awesome and I am happy for you. For the rest of us, this is why “just eat healthy” is always so troublesome.
Over indulgence comes from a place of lack, from a place of denial. Think about it. Have you ever thought, “I need to eat this not because I am hungry but because it is delicious and I don’t know when I will get to enjoy something like this again”? Or how about the conflicted statement of “I shouldn’t but you know what I’ve earned this”?
Don’t be disappointed in yourself if you have. I’ve been there. I get it. The thing is, Food, that oh so dreaded F word for many of us, is something we need to live. (IF you are a breatharian, I just don’t get you and this might not be the blog for you, just a heads up.) Food is what keeps these meat sacks that we call bodies moving and doing.
However, for many of us, it is also a source of pleasure. Many adults deny themselves whimsical delights and many of those same adults will consume food for pleasure. The thing is we are told we need to toughen up, grow up, and ultimately deny ourselves even the simplest of pleasures. Food is one of the biggest struggles for us because when we are eating for pure enjoyment we often partake in foods that are not the healthiest of options and usually consume much more than would be considered healthy. When we eat based upon pleasure more so than on need, we can cause a lot of issues to bodies. So we demonize the food that brings us pleasure, and when it is one of the only sources of pleasure for us, that makes us very unhappy.
That’s a lot of guilt and mixed messages going on there! (Warning Geeky Literary analogy in 3..2..1..) I mean this is why the dude who knocked up Hester Pryne in Scarlet Letter was whipping himself. He allowed himself some carnal pleasures and felt so torn up about it he kept smacking himself with a whip… Except most of us don’t physically whip ourselves, instead we lash out on our self esteem, and I can tell you right now, for those of you who didn’t read the book, Hester’s mystery lover was not a fun fella to be around. I am not saying that Hester’s fella should in turn start having loads of sex so that he could regain pleasure and then be a fun person to be around… I am saying that maybe he should own up and accept what he did was wrong but not whip himself in the dark, instead of cracking a whip, perhaps try to cracking a smile and maybe smell some flowers or something. (I am not even broaching the topic of how he also should have been there for his child at the very least. Also these are hardly spoilers, all I wrote is on the synopsis on the back of the book, just saying). The Scarlet Letter has nothing to do with food but it deals with guilt and pleasure and societal expectations, the same stuff we deal with food except instead of a red letter being sewn to our clothing by others, usually it’s us in the mirror shaming ourselves.
Anyway, literary tangents aside… acknowledge that you over indulged in the past. Awareness is good. Verbally whipping yourself doesn’t do anyone any good. So instead of “damn, I really shouldn’t have done that. I ate the whole thing. I am so stupid, why can’t I control myself”, try something more along the lines of “okay, I did not want to eat that whole thing. But it’s okay and I’m okay. Maybe I should ponder why it is that I over indulged”.
To paraphrase the very wise late Louise Hay, ‘thank the negative voice then move on from it’. Yes that negative voice of fear and admonishment is trying to protect you from being unhealthy and harming yourself, etc. however if your response to negativity is to seek some form of happiness or pleasure, and one of the few pleasures you have ever allowed yourself or even know is food… well then that voice isn’t very helpful. (Simple version= If yelling at yourself makes you sad, and sad emotions make you eat for pleasure, and you usually eat unhealthy snacks and sweets when you eat for pleasure, then yelling at yourself for eating poorly when you were sad is just going to keep the cycle going.)
As mentioned in a previous post, focus is key, and shifting the focus from self-admonishment to one of understanding, being kind, and believing in yourself will more solidly keep you heading towards your goals and living your best life. (Note yes some people will strive for their goals in spite of something said or fueled by anger, as a “I’ll show them” attitude, but I have found in both myself and in the minimal research in the psychology of human beings that goals that are routed in kindness and understanding have much longer lasting results than any nay-saying venom fueled voice could ever drive you to achieve.)
So yes you may have messed up and ate an entire box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting. (I’ve done this, and at the time I admonished myself soo much that what did I do?… well I opened another box. Because ‘whatever I messed up and I don’t do anything right anyway’… Sigh. It’s okay past Heather, a whole box is a little much, however it’s okay and you are going to find out that there are other pleasures than food to be had, and you do a lot of things right, you got this.) You may have done this or something similar but being unkind to yourself is not going to help. What will help is acknowledging what led you to emotionally eat and allowing yourself different, healthier, and possibly more rewarding pleasures.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: If you are like me and feel like you haven’t earned pleasure or relaxing because there are things that still need to get done such as cleaning or cooking or paying bills or errands or whatever…. You can enjoy relaxing moments even if there are things to get done, there will always be things that need to get done. (And this mentality is not reserved for those Martha Stewart perfectionist types, I have a chair that almost always has a mountainous pile of clean unfolded laundry on it and have left waaaaay more than my fair share of dishes that will be done “tomorrow” in the sink.) It is okay to accomplish the most pressing tasks then give yourself a break. So if you are not doing the thing that makes you happy because you haven’t gotten things done off of your to-do list, but you are however mindlessly watching TV, numbly scrolling through your phone, or blindly shoveling junk food into your mouth know that these actions are not accomplishing things off your to-do list either, these are a form of mental shut down, you need actual break and some part of you has justified these forms of a “break” instead of other ones. So find things that truly relax yet engage you, take the time to do the things that truly make you happy. You are allowed a break! You are allowed to be happy without everything checked off of your list!
Here’s the advice to help calm the wild roller coaster that is a love/hate relationship with food:
- Allow yourself a little bit of something really yummy every day. Have a small portion. Do your best to enjoy it when you are calm and relaxed and you are not emotionally charged or feeling numb. (Emotionally charged would be eating something because you need to relax or you’ve earned it for dealing with that mean person. Eating something unhealthy for yourself and as a response to an emotion—not as just a simple enjoyment or eating healthy to fulfill actual hunger– is a form of self-punishment, not pleasure. )
- Remember that you didn’t get unhealthy from only one moment or one day of poor choices, so getting healthy is not going to happen by eating only healthy foods and killing yourself at the gym for a day or two. (This stuff takes time.) It’s a slow but worthwhile process to health. That process can include small portioned treats if balanced with an overall healthy diet and of course some form of exercise.
- Cultivate a list of pleasures. What makes you happy other than food? Reading? Writing? Dancing? A silly you tube video? Taking a bath? You deserve love, especially from yourself so pamper yourself. If you “earned that cookie” you’ve earned a moment of taking care of yourself. Hint: I am not suggesting you replace overindulgence in eating to overindulgence in spending or any other potentially bad habit.
- Do your best to be aware of your emotions. This one is tough. Your initial emotions may be out of your control, but reign yourself in. Have a conversation with yourself. Why do you feel this way? Remember, you control your emotions. If someone has done something to you of course shame on them, but only you can allow it to change your demeanor.
- If you have trouble just thinking out your emotions in your head, perhaps you should keep a journal? You can use the notes app on your phone, carry around a notebook, jot it down on a stray envelope… whatever works just know if you cannot immediately recognize your emotions or the source of those emotions and the only thing that will make you feel better is scarfing down an entire tub of ice cream, it’s time to face the real monster and write it out and attempt to figure out what’s bothering you. (This can be a tricky and sometimes deeply upsetting process but hiding behind food or hiding in general is not helping. Think about: if you had a large colony of ants coming into your home and you saw that the source was a piece of candy on the floor, you could ignore it and block the room off with caution tape, but the ants will continue to gather and grow and then they will find more crumbs and the ants will spread. Or you could take a paper towel and grab the gross ant covered candy and discard it, sweep away the ants and possibly set ant traps about. If your ant problem is much worse then you might need to bring in exterminators… meaning you might need to see a therapist. There is no shame in seeing a therapist by the way. We all have issues, it’s when we refuse to ask for help from those that can truly provide it and refuse to help ourselves that things can get unbelievably worse.)
- Realize there is a difference between, changing your “diet” and going on a “diet”. Changing and modifying your diet means, making better choices, perhaps picking a food lifestyle that works for you, guided by a nutritionist or solid research. Going on a diet is following a fad or limiting and restricting what you can and can’t have. (Though you may ultimately modify your diet to remove or avoid foods that you know hurt you such as if dairy/broccoli always makes you uncomfortably gassy or your doctor tells you, you must remove some food such as someone with celiac should no longer eat items with gluten, this does not mean you have gone on a diet or are dieting). Best advice is don’t cut out any food group completely unless you know you have an allergy or a major issue to it.
- Focus on what you can eat. If you always focus on what you cannot have you will want it even more. (Example, the person with a hundred tv channels will always be unhappy with what they watch if they always focus on the fact that they don’t have Showtime, Hallmark, or whatever.) Could you imagine this attitude in other aspects of life? Perhaps you can. I’ve known a person or two like this, that no matter what they have they are always unhappy because they want something else. This is the grass is always greener kind of mentality and it just makes you grumpy and jealous. Focus on good. You really love a type of fruit or vegetable that you know agrees with you then eat more of it. Once again you want to be in a place of plenty not lack.
- If your emotions just make you salivate like crazy for something delicious. Drink a glass of water. You can even add some lemon or a teaspoon of sugar. Sometimes we muddle the messages from the body. A lot of times when we are very hungry we are in fact parched and need water. Then if you add navigating overwhelming emotions that you are not truly recognizing well then you now have an uncontrollable urge for cookies that cannot be stopped and probably not even satisfied by those consuming those treats despite how delicious they may be.
So what am I saying? I am saying it’s okay to like cookies and other sweets or snacks. If you keep those snacks and sweets to a small percentage of your everyday diet you will be okay. Demonizing food is not helping. Awareness is essential. Be aware when you are being led by hunger or by emotions. Be aware that there are many healthy delicious options to consume for the bulk of your caloric needs. But also be aware that it’s not a single cookie or piece of chocolate or scoop of ice cream or handful of chips that is the culprit, it’s either a diet full of unhealthy foods or an overindulgence to mask unacknowledged emotions.
I will post about simple non food pleasures and self-care type of things that might interest you soon too.
In the meantime, You Got This!
Emotional/Stress Eating (Why & how to stop)
Burn out, stress, and feelings like you cannot take a break …
https://modernmrsdarcy.com/nonfiction-summer-reading/ (Don’t take fake breaks)
How to actually organize your to-do lists
https://zapier.com/blog/stress-free-todo-list/ (This is one of the few webpages that I found that has almost everything in one place)
Non-Food Treat Yo Self…
(I hope to do a separate post on this but here are some links to get you started)
(There are lots of books about health, diet, food, and emotional eating these are just some titles that stood out)
50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers (READ THIS… I found this to be very informative however when I read it I was hoping for more self-care, non-food rewards, and non-scale vicotires. Which is not the primary focus of the book, it was more a technique guide to overcoming emotional eating which is helpful.)
Eat Your Feelings: The Food Mood Girl’s Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating by Lindsey Smith
Stop Overeating: The 28-Day Plan to End Emotional Eating For Good by Dr. Jane McCartney
Eat to Love: A Mindful Guide to Transforming Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Life by Jenna Hollenstein
(A title or two on stress in and accomplishing tasks in general)
Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp
How to Fight a Hydra: Face Your Fears, Pursue Your Ambitions, and Become the Hero You Are Destined to Be by Josh Kaufman