Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

Why I Emotionally Eat

I’m not hungry, I tell myself as I put my dinner plate in the dishwasher.

I swear I’m not hungry, I tell myself as I eye the freezer. You hear that belly? I’m not hungry.

I’m really, really not hungry, I tell myself as I reach for an almost empty carton of ice cream.

Nope, not hungry at all, as I dip my spoon in for another creamy and delicious scoop. Mmmm, cookie dough and chocolate chips. A little whip cream on top…. That hits the spot.

Why I Emotionally Eat | Fuel For Freedom
Is it just me or does ice cream taste so much better after a long, hard day?

Never emotionally eat. Isn’t that what the weight-loss articles and fitness magazines preach? Emotional eating is bad, they say.

If you eat a brownie because you’re feeling upset, you’re a horrible human being with no self control. That hunk of ooey-gooey fudge is the devil’s spawn. That ice cream cone will cause you to turn into an unlovable imp that people mock on the street. They’ll warn their kids: “Oh, honey, stay away from her! She ate chocolate when she was feeling stressed. We don’t talk to people like that.”

flourless brownines
I need these cherry brownies from Running with Spoons in my life.

We all need to eat emotionally. Having a piece of chocolate because you had a tough day is not the end of the world.

[okay, enough of the sarcasm]

Picture this: Your car breaks down on the way to work. You find out your entire PowerPoint presentation got eaten by your computer. You spill mustard over your last pair of clean pants at work. You get stuck on the freeway.

You make it home. Thankfully there’s some leftover chicken and vegetables for your dinner. Good, you think. Even if everything else falls apart, you can still be healthy. You can still keep up your diet.

You finish your dinner. Your stomach is full. But, as you sit down to catch a TV show before bed, your mind starts to wander. There might be a few cookies left in the cupboard. You can picture those chocolate chips, the soft dough, the slight tang of salt and cinnamon….

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom
To eat the cookie, or not to eat the cookie…

But, no. You’re not hungry.

Isn’t that the lie we all tell ourselves?

When you’re craving a certain food, you might actually be hungry. It might not be true hunger in the physical sense. You certainly wouldn’t keel over from starvation if you didn’t eat that cookie. Rather, there is a void inside of you that only a comfort food can fill. It might be a chocolate chip cookie, it might be a soft pretzel, it might even be fresh berries (hey, not all emotional eating is “unhealthy”!).

fresh berries
Fruit, my weakness.

Easy enough to say, as this article does, “Eat your damn dessert,” but how do you learn to accept emotional eating in a balanced way?

  1. Pause for a moment.

Take inventory of yourself. Recognize that you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Sit with it. Embrace the discomfort. Accept that you’re feeling less-than-stellar, and then eat that comfort food.

By realizing that–yes, you are emotionally eating–you won’t feel as powerless around food. You know that this bowl of popcorn can’t heal your feelings. You are merely eating it because you want to, because you’re craving it. Just like taking a hot bath or sitting down with a cup of tea, you will embrace this moment with this food not as a distraction but as part of a healing process.

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

2. Treat food as a reward. For simply living.

“Normally, I wouldn’t eat ice cream, but…”

Why do we feel the need to justify treats? When we use food as a reward for something–whether it be for our workout or passing a test or getting through a rough day–it makes our treat seem sinful. Wrong. Something that we shouldn’t normally do. When we accept treats as just treats, without needing to come up with an excuse for eating it, they don’t have the power over us. Food can be a reward, but not a reward for anything we’ve done. It can be a reward to celebrate our existence and the fact that we have the luxury to feed ourselves every day.

Assuming you aren’t eating cookies and cake 24/7, you don’t need an excuse to include a those enjoyable foods in your diet. Your single goal in life is to be happy. Not every single moment will be fantastic, but that doesn’t mean you should sabotage your overall happiness.

Go ahead. Eat that cupcake if you really want it. Or eat that salad if you’re craving that too. One is not morally “worse” than the other.

calories only exist if you count them Dove chocolate

3. Give up the rules.

Sorry, IIFYM fans. Food is more than protein, fat, sugar, carbs, cholesterol, fiber. It is meant to satisfy both physically and mentally. Food should not have rules.

If you eat a rice cake because “no calories after 7 p.m.” when you really a scoop of ice cream, you’re setting yourself up for failure. That rice cake isn’t going to give you the same pleasure as Ben & Jerry’s. You might not be physically hungry, but you’ll still end up going to bed unsatisfied and restless. You could even end up eating the entire sleeve of rice cakes before breaking down and allowing yourself the ice cream too.

Wouldn’t it have just been better to have the ice cream in the first place, regardless of whatever self-imposed rules you tried to impose on your body?

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

Emotional eating can lead to disordered eating. I’m not saying you should ALWAYS eat according to your feelings at any time of day or try to fill an emotional void with food.

Food can’t cure your problems. What I’m suggesting is that emotional eating is just like any other habit. It’s perfectly fine when done in moderation. It’s all about finding your own balance.

Neglecting to allow yourself to eat emotionally can lead to further restriction or binges. If you deny yourself that cookie for so long simply because you’re “not hungry,” there will come a point where you will break. Before you know it, you’ll be mindlessly snack not on that leftover cake and ice cream and potato chips and peanut butter…. everything but the cookie. All because you told yourself you couldn’t have a certain food when you were really craving it. Either that, or you might start swearing off other foods. If you can’t have a cookie, then you can’t have brown sugar on your sweet potato. And that glass of wine at the end of the night? Empty calories. While we’re at it, why not get rid of that dressing for your salad or ketchup on your sandwich?

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

Food can be more than fuel. We can have a connection to a certain dish that goes beyond nutrition alone. Mac and cheese like Mom made equals comfort. The snickerdoodles that Grandpa always had calms us down.

What I’m trying to say is that emotional eating should not be as feared as it tends to be.

It’s okay to be full but want your cake too.

Your turn!

–> What do you think are the dangers/ benefits of emotional eating?
–>What are your go-to foods that you crave on rough days?

–> Do you feel the need to justify your treats?

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When I Say I’m Fat…

When I say I’m fat, what I really mean is… I don’t feel good enough. 

When I say I’m fat, what I really mean is… I feel unloved & unloveable, no matter how many times you tell me otherwise.

When I say I’m fat, what I really mean is… I feel out of control. 

Failure is a bruise not a tattoo.

When I say I’m fat, what I really mean is… I feel like a failure, even if I got a 95% on that project or aced that job interview.

When I say I’m fat, what I really mean is… I’m hungry, physically or spiritually.

roast beef and spinach
Sometimes food solves the “fat” feeling. Lots and lots of food.

When I say I’m fat, what I really mean is… I’m angry or upset.

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“What’s Wrong with You?” and How to Deal with Comments about Mental Health

See someone profusely bleeding from his leg, and you probably wouldn’t try to patch it up with a Hello Kitty Band-Aid.

Watch your friend’s arm twist backward in its socket, and you probably wouldn’t call for takeout pizza instead of an ambulance.

But, when your mind starts turning on you–telling you that you aren’t good enough, that everything is out of control, that you aren’t good enough, could never be good enough–and you spiral into the dark pit of depression, you ignore it. You try to hide it.

Then you finally tell someone about how you’re feeling, and they say, “What’s wrong with you?”

Mental illnesses aren’t easily seenPulling yourself out of bed every day could be the biggest battle in your life, but no one applauds you. Ordering a “fear” food at a restuarant could make your heart beat faster than a rockband drummer after chugging a Red Bull, but your friends keep on talking about whether they should buy the green dress or the blue. Going out to a crowded movie on a Friday night could have taken you hours to finally muster the courage to say “yes,” but your mom says as you head out the door, “I thought you’d never leave your room. Why don’t you go out more often?”

We like to rely on what we can see. If we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. It isn’t real.

Hearing others discount our feelings, thoughts, and emotions then makes it seem like what we’re going through is all in our heads. Maybe there is something wrong with us. Maybe we are making it up. That is the greatest danger though.

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What Lilo and Stitch Taught Me About Body Positivity: Fuel For Freedom

What Lilo & Stitch Taught Me About Body Positivity

My friends, we have a lot to learn from the aliens.

No, not those three-eyed, green, cone-head visitors from Pluto. They might be able to teach us how to fry other planets with lasers or create buildings with the shear force of our minds, but I’m more interested in lessons of body positivity. For that, we need Disney’s cuter and fluffier creation: Stitch.

What Lilo and Stitch Taught Me About Body Positivity: Fuel For Freedom

Stitch isn’t a classic hero. He doesn’t have six-pack abs (although he can lift ridiculous amounts of weight), and he has more than a few anger issues that deter him from saving the day. However, he manages to fall in love with two girls who both break the standard princess mold.

I loved Disney princesses growing up. I wanted to be Snow White or Cinderella. I wanted to be Ariel or Belle. I wanted to marry a prince. I wanted a happily ever after.

Honestly, as a kid, I never noticed that all these princesses had the same hourglass figure. But would that really be something I would think so odd in a world filled with Victoria Secret posters and sexy advertisements plastered on every bus stop?

Disney princess unrealistic body

Disney princesses were meant to be Barbie look-a-likes. They were meant to fit the perfect mold of what a woman should look like. And their princes? Of course they looked handsome or muscular. Even the Beast turns out gorgeous in the end. Nothing was out of place.

Jasmine and unrealistic body image

Then along came Lilo & Stitch.

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Why I'm Ripping the Sizes Out of My Clothes

Why I’m Ripping the Sizes Out of My Clothes

Shopping. It’s supposed to be a girl’s best friend.

Try enemy instead.

Is there anything more torturing than picking through racks, finally finding ONE piece of clothing that you (a) like and (b) is your size, taking it into the dressing room, and looking at yourself in three full-length mirrors in horrible lighting that make your skin look radioactive? Sweaters and jackets aren’t too bad. Shorts and bikinis? A different story.

We shame our bodies because we don’t see them as “perfect.”

Why I'm Ripping the Sizes Out of My Clothes

Mannequins make everything look so flawless, so beautiful. Their size 2-4 frames have the ideal proportions. They don’t have our lumps and bumps, our knobby kness, our torsos that seem to be longer than our legs or vice versa. It’s hard to picture how that shirt will look on you when you see it hanging on a culturally desirable figure.

Sure, we can have more plus-size models and body positive ads. But will that really stop that voice in your head that mocks you when that sparkly tank top doesn’t fit just right? Sizes on clothes are powerful.

You don’t have to be XXXXL to feel body shame. You just have to have a body.

Body Shaming

Size 0 or size 2 doesn’t guarentee happiness. Looking like Barbie doesn’t exempt you from bad body image days.

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Regaining Your Hunger: Fuel For Freedom

Regaining Your Hunger

Oh, uh. There it goes again. Either my stomach was rumbling or there was a very small, very angry alien in there. Regardless, I was hungry.

I had run out of snacks, and I could tell that my body needed dinner. And big one at that. After my family found somewhere to eat, I shoveled down a pulled pork sandwich, giant pickle, a nectarine, some of my dad’s milkshake, shared fries… I’m amazed I managed to not eat the napkin.

About an hour later I realized… I had eaten what I wanted.

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Battling The Fear Foods: Fuel For Freedom

Battling The Fear Foods

Normally, I’d be rejoicing that it’s Friday. But, during the summer, weekends just aren’t as loveable as week days.

Before you throw the rotten vegetables, hear me out. During the week: there’s less people at my house, I can workout in the mornings and work in the evenings (which is the best schedule for my personal preferences), and I get to move at my own pace. During the weekends: only one word can describe my house… chaos. Between my brother’s soccer games, my sister’s musical stuff, dealing with the creature that is my other sister, not being able to exercise as much because the gym opens later and I work in the mornings, yadayada.

Weekends just aren’t the same. Anyone else feel the same way? Probably not, but you never know.

On to some Friday favorites!

Five Good Eats:

1. Gelato.

Oh, gelato… How I miss you. American ice cream is just not the same once you taste the creamy, flavor-bomb that is Italian gelato. Not to mention that you can get flavors you would never dream of. I’ve got to say, jasmine gelato is like a gift from the gods.

Italian Gelato

2. Pizza.

When recovering from an eating disorder, pizza is a common “fear” food. It’s essentially a ton of white floury carbs, slathered in sauce and grease. There’s little protein, and tons of calories. That’s why I made it my mission to not eat just one, but TWO giant pizzas in one week. (Gasp!)

Pizza Napoletana
Pizza Napoletana with anchovy, eaten in its entirety. Who could say no to pizza in Rome?

Guess what? Every bite was delicious. Not just because it was pizza which in-and-of-itself is yummy, but because I enjoyed it while with friends. Most importantly, I allowed myself to enjoy it.

Food shouldn’t be a source of guilt, but we often let it by labeling things as good or bad. When conquering any “fear” food, try to eat it with family or friends. Talking with them helps put your mind at ease. Food is not just fuel. It is soulful. Eating a special meal with special people, regardless of whether you’re physically hungry or not, helps nourish the soul.

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Once a Year, Go Someplace You've Never Been Before

When Traveling Outside Your Routine Seems Scary

Routine.

It keeps our lives orderly, neat, predictable. I like the control a routine provides: when I’m going to the gym, when and what I’m going to eat, when I’m going to work, when I’m going to relax. If one thing disrupts my plan, the whole day is ruined. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the point.

But, now that it’s getting into summer, it’s time for vacation season. We take vacations to take a break from our routine. So, why don’t the eating disorder thoughts take a vacation too?

Once a Year, Go Someplace You've Never Been Before

Traveling is the opposite of routine. You don’t know where you’re going to be, what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to do… There’s so much uncertainty. While travel can be exciting for some people for that reason, it’s enough to send people like me into a panic. Even though I’m looking forward to my own vacation this year, the idea of disrupting my schedule, making my meals uncertain, and preventing me from conducting my normal workouts send the anxiety skyrocketing.

For someone with an eating disorder history, or even just someone who has made their routine so much of their identity, travel seems “unsafe.” But, as Miss Skinny Genes says, what we mean to say is that it’s uncomfortable.

It’s uncomfortable not being sure if the hotel will have a “proper” breakfast for you, but a week or two of not getting your standard yogurt and berries won’t make your body gain or lose 10lbs. It’s uncomfortable not being able to workout, but a few days of relaxing on the beach can allow your body and mind to heal. It’s uncomfortable not knowing when you’re going to eat next, but you might actually find yourself getting to eat foods you might never get to again: real gelato in Italy, fresh seafood in Louisiana, fluffy eclairs and decadent crème brulees in France.

gelato
Would you really want to miss out on this?

To recover from any kind of disorder, being uncomfortable is necessary.

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Silencing the Inner Critic: Fuel For Freedom

Stick It to the Inner Critic

“You knew you were stuffed after dinner. Why did you eat that ice cream too?”

“Oh, so you skipped out on kettlebell swings at the end of your workout today? Well, guess today’s session doesn’t count.”

“Really? Chocolate covered pretzels is hardly the answer to finishing this project you’re so stressed about.”

No, it’s not an overbearing mom or mean roommate. It’s me. It’s the familiar sounds of the voice inside my own head.

We’re often our own worst critics. No matter what we do, no matter how others praise us, no matter what successes we have in life… all of that doesn’t matter at the end of the day when we’re left by ourselves. We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough, ambitious enough. Whatever it is, we’re never enough.

Inner Critic

When did this get to be the social norm? When did it become okay to talk kindly to and love everyone else, but ourselves?

Unlike shame, guilt comes from within. It’s easy to brush off negative comments from someone we don’t like and dismiss them as idiots, but it’s so much harder to learn to battle our inner demons. Especially in regards to food and exercise.

Everyone’s talking about their latest diet, new workout regime, or how they just need to lose that last five pounds. So we criticize ourselves when we think we “slip-up.” Suddenly, eating a doughnut at a coffee shop with friends becomes a source of anxiety. We either think we need to burn up those calories so that we can get back on our healthy bandwagon, or might as well down a can of pop and bag of chips because we’re just no good anymore.

Or, on the other hand, missing a planned snack in anorexia recovery means we’ll never get better. We might as well just give up. Or overeating at dinner means we’re going to blow up like a balloon. We’re just never going to be a “normal” eater.

Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful.

Even if no one else comments on our choices, even if everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves, even if someone tells us we’re fantastic human beings, we train ourselves to believe that one perceived mistake means we’re not good enough anymore.

The cure is self-compassion. But how do you reach a level where you can accept your mistakes and not judge yourself for them?

1. Stop restricting.

When we restrain ourselves from enjoying life–whether that means allowing ourselves to go out on a Friday night or having a cup of ice cream as an afternoon snack–we simply increase our innate desire to do those things. We unconsciously obsess about it, contributing to that self-hating talk. Research shows restriction actually contributes to guilt.

Breathe. And allow yourself to have fun. And no, enjoying yourself is not a “slip-up” or mistake. It’s freedom.

I need you to love me a little louder today.

2. Don’t buy into “perfect” advice.

I know, I know. I’m giving advice right now. But what I mean is don’t get caught up in what someone says is “right” or “wrong.”

After months reading countless books and blog posts about intuitive eating, I was overanalyzing everything. I’d feel stuffed after dinner, and think I was a horrible person. Wasn’t I supposed to stop and evaluate my “hunger level” after every bite? Why did I just scarf it all down? And why did I go back for seconds and dessert?

Maybe because I was hungry, either physically or emotionally. There is no universal stopping point. Sometimes, we going to eat less. Sometimes, we’re going to eat more. Guess what? It’s all part of life. Stressing about rules is what feeds our inner critic and leaves us deprived.

Yoda: Unlearn everything you've learned.

3. Develop a mantra.

I’ll admit, I used to laugh at those pictures on Pinterest that are endless phrases of “I am loved. I am courageous. I am…” etc. But, now, reminding myself at the end of the day that “I am strong” is enough to make me smile a little bit.

Feel guilty after a perceived “over-eating”? Start telling yourself that you are worth it. You needed that nourishment to continue doing awesome things, toget an A on that school paper, to complete those spreadsheets for work. To simply exist.

Already feeling that you’ll be missing a day, or week, or month of exercise? Start reminding yourself that you are strong. You don’t need to follow the latest HIIT workout or Crossfit WOD to prove your self-worth. Strength is so much more than what’s on the outside. Hey, taking time off to let your body recharge is often a good thing!

Whatever that voice is criticizing you for, develop a simple mantra you can tell yourself. Repeat it: at night, in the morning, whenever you feel down on yourself. You’d be surprised.

I am so proud of me.

I don’t have all the answers, as self-compassion is something I’m trying to teach myself. But it helps to remember that we’re all human. We can’t control everything (no matter how much I wish for it). We aren’t going to fly through life with no worries. But those trials are what make us stronger.

Tell that inner critic to shut up.

It’s your turn to speak.

How do you practice self-compassion?

Have any mantras you repeat to yourself?

What does your inner critic criticize the most about you? How do you deal?

Brochures for ED Help

What are eating disorders? Think you be experiencing one? Information and advice for recovery: What are Eating Disorders?

Know someone who is trying to recover from an eating disorder? Think your friend might be struggling with body image? Tips for conversations and what you can to do help: How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

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Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. More information can be found under the Resources tab!