Saturday, 1 September 2012

Emotional Eating

Photo courtesy Vic [hang in there], licensed CC BY SA
I had dinner this evening at my favourite Indian restaurant with one of my dear university buddies, and the talk came around, as it is wont to do, to food and eating habits.

This friend is an amazing, smart, beautiful woman, with cheekbones to die for, and huge eyes - - your typical nightmare.  Even worse, she's an accomplished and talented entrepreneur, a woman who has taken control of her own destiny.  She is wonderful, a genuinely warm and giving person, and she's one my my oldest and dearest friends.

However, as we discussed food it came out that she is an emotional eater, who is prone to binging on ice cream when she feels low.  We did not have dessert (our usual routine) because she was concerned that the gulab jamun would serve as a trigger food that would push her to eat more ice cream when she got home.

Of course, I am also an emotional eater, or at least I was before I began tracking my food.  As we talked, I discussed some of my past binges with food, including my notorious "nights o' popcorn", or the ever popular Ruffles + onion dip + Joe Louis cakes.  I used to be able to eat a lot of these foods in one sitting - - for example, an entire bag of Ruffles and container of dip plus 3 or more Joe Louis cakes, or a huge bowl of popcorn with 1/2 cup of melted butter and at least 2 cups of shredded cheese.  When I was feeling low I would head for the popcorn ... or when I was stressed ... or bored ... or sad ... well, you get the picture.  I was the queen of emotional eating, and my stomach was big enough that I could only fill it with a truly monumental quantity of food.  A North American quantity of food, if you will.

But to be honest, I haven't binged on food in quite a while.  I haven't even had cravings for popcorn or potato chips in a long time.  Months, in fact.  I was even at a party a few weeks ago where chips were the primary snack, and I didn't have a single chip.  I just didn't feel like eating chips, so I did not eat any.  Knowing that I was tracking my food intake meant that I would have to trade 1/4 of chips for other, healthier, more satisfying foods, and I was simply unwilling to make that trade-off. That is a very new feeling for me, because in the past I would have spent most of the afternoon surreptitiously trying to eat more chips until I was full (which of course seldom happened).

Since I have started working out, and more profoundly since I began tracking my food intake, I have noticed that my cravings have stopped.  Well, not to much stopped, as become more predictable and manageable.  I no longer feel at the mercy of my cravings.  I know I am weaker at night, so sometimes, when I feel particularly vulnerable, I stay at the office and work a little later so that I can go immediately to bed when I get home (on these nights I eat dinner at the office).  I know I have an oral fixation, so I chew gum rather than eat when I am feeling vulnerable.  I drink water, keeping myself well hydrated.  It all helps.  My relationship with food is much less emotional, and much more cerebral nowdays.  And taking the emotion out of it has significantly reduced my cravings and binges. 

My friend really wanted me to tell her that her occasional binges were ok, that her behaviour was normal.  I told her what she wanted to hear, even though I was not completely honest with her.  I told her that I binged, and ate multiple ice cream sandwiches at a sitting, which is the god's honest truth.  What I did not mention is that I have not done that for a very long time. 

This does not make me a better person than my friend, or a more enlightened eater.  I am just more aware of what I am putting in my mouth, and why, and I am using that knowledge to make different choices.

I know that I am one serious binge away from undoing weeks of work, so I try and avoid that disaster by not bringing my favourite trigger foods into the house.  I am not made of stone, nor do I have the iron discipline of ... well, someone with iron discipline.

I am just trying to get into some positive habits, and positive habits take time to become entrenched.  My attitude is that if I take care of each day, the weeks (and months) take care of themselves.

Sometimes we all need a little help.  Tonight I made my friend feel better by acknowledging that her food cravings were normal.  And I tried to help her by shunning dessert.  Hopefully she will feel better tomorrow.


  1. Maybe you can try encouraging her to join MFP?

    For me, it's pizza. If there is pizza in the house and I'm binging, I will eat piece after piece until it's gone, often after putting barbeque sauce or ranch dressing on it. x_x I haven't been on MFP long enough to tell, but I think tracking should help.

  2. Tracking certainly has helped me, but I do not think she is ready yet, unfortunately.