Thursday, August 30, 2012
I have been reading about emotional eating for so many years, as long as I’ve ever tried to lose weight really, so pretty much since I was 17. Since I overeat, and so many people struggle with emotional eating, I just assumed that I was eating as an emotional response too. The emotional eating chapter, in whichever diet book I was reading at the time, would have you question yourself to get to the root of your overeating. After many decades of pondering these questions, the answers look like this:
Do you eat when you’re stressed?
Um, no, well maybe? I mean, sometimes when I’m most busy I will forget to eat meals, which is unheard of, so maybe stress keeps me from eating? But there are other times when I’m crazy running around (like during the holidays), when there are brownies or cookies sitting in the kitchen, and I graze on them all day long!
Do you eat when you’re sad?
How sad, exactly? I mean if I’m watching a sad movie and crying, definitely not hungry. If I’m devastated by a personal loss or world tragedy, the thought of eating doesn’t cross my mind. If I’m upset about a conversation or argument with a loved one, I might find myself wanting something comforting. I just don’t find myself in a mental dialog that goes, “Gosh this is depressing. I know what will make me feel better, ice cream!”
Do you eat when you’re happy?
Well, I’m usually happy when I’m eating, but that isn’t what you asked is it? There is definitely a link, for me, between food and happiness. But it’s not a cause and effect thing, happiness does not create eating, but I’m often eating when I’m happy. For instance, family gatherings and parties are always sources of overeating. Feelings of celebration, ritual, tradition, and gatherings will always lower my guard and give me permission to indulge in foods that trigger overeating. But I think this has more to do with a stimulus - reward relationship than it does my happiness creating a desire to eat.
And that last thought (stimulus-reward) got me thinking hard on why I REALLY overeat. I'm overweight, so there's got to be a reason for it, and I refuse to accept that I'm so bored that I'm fat! I’m a very emotional person, and after living with myself for 41 years, I feel like I work through and process my emotions pretty well. In fact, I counsel a lot of folks in my life on their relationships and their own emotions. I’m also a very scientific person. I love science, I have a science degree, I teach science, I gave birth to two boys who love it as much as I do. Of course it makes sense that I’d find a root for my overeating in science rather than emotion. But I am really leaning more in that direction, because sometimes I feel more like Pavlov's dog with food, stimulus - response-reward.
Stay tuned for the next blog as I inquire further into my unemotional eating!