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Have I Kicked Emotional Eating to the Curb for Good?

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

I'd like to think that the answer to that question is "yes", but anyone who's struggled with emotional eating can attest to the fact that it's a complicated issue to overcome.

For years and years, food was my go-to source of comfort--sometimes in positive ways and sometimes in not-so-positive ways. I fondly remember sampling my mom's homemade Christmas chocolates and cookies, which she spent the entire month of December making. Our house was literally transformed into a bake shop with every kind of sweet confection you can possibly imagine. I've still got my favorites, a few of which I now make for myself on another continent a few thousand miles away from where I grew up. I've also got lovely memories of Sunday dinners and long weekends at my grandparents' house, where I'd be my grandmother's little helper in the kitchen and assist her with her stews, roasts and cakes. Thankfully, my grandfather was the health nut in the family and he instilled a love of fruit, vegetables and whole grains in me at an early age. But in spite of his mostly virtuous eating habits and 6:00 am daily runs, he also had a major sweet tooth, especially for all things chocolate, and we shared many a chocolate bar together. He was my first role model for living a balanced lifestyle and although he passed away just before I turned 13, he left a strong impression on me and I still think of him often.

On the flip side, I also began to turn to food as a source of negative comfort at quite an early age. I suffered from many of the usual childhood traumas, some minor and some not-so-minor, and food was my rock, the thing that always made me feel good no matter what. My mom made a pretty strong effort to feed me a balanced diet, but I often balked at my homemade fare when most of the other kids were buying those awful school lunches. Hanging out at friends' houses with Doritos, sour cream and onion potato chips, french fries and packaged cookies and cakes was like a dream and I quickly found ways to sneak unhealthy food. I also began to develop the early stages of binge eating, where I'd gorge myself on whatever I could find in the house and learned how to cook the unhealthy foods I craved for myself.

As I got older, I refined those negative habits and, not surprisingly, was constantly battling with my weight. From the time I went on my first diet at eight until just a few years ago, my weight soared from one extreme to another. At my lowest, I carried just 108 pounds on my 5'7" frame and was so thin that I stopped getting my period until I gained about 15 pounds back. At my highest, I was over 260 pounds and was a walking health-scare time bomb. Through college and my early working years, I continued to use food as a source of comfort and these were the years when I really ballooned. Although I had often been overweight, I crossed the line into obesity in my early-20s, mostly due to emotional eating as a result of college and work-related stress and relationship woes. Although I managed to take off 115 pounds in my mid-20s, I still had a lot of negative habits to undo and didn't go about losing the weight in an entirely healthy way. I was so accustomed to my binge/restrict cycle that I felt like that was how my life was destined to be. As I now know, most of us can only live with high levels of restriction for so long and we either end up bingeing or throwing in the towel altogether and regaining everything we had worked so hard to lose.

When my weight had climbed back up to about 240 pounds in early 2010, I knew that something had to change. There were tons of diet plans out there that would help me lose weight, but that wasn't my biggest problem. I needed to develop a lifestyle that would not only allow me to shed the pounds, but that also addressed the underlying issues behind my overeating and binge/restrict cycle. For the first time ever, I didn't set out to lose a massive amount of weight in a short period of time. I hoped that by taking things more slowly, I could retrain myself to function in the real world with all of the food-related challenges it presented. I haven't always been perfect in this department and I still find being out of my comfort zone to be a challenge, but I know that I can eat out once or twice a week under normal circumstances and not have to worry about gaining weight.

The harder problem to tackle has been the binge/emotional eating. In part, by being less restrictive over the long haul, I've managed to dramatically reduce my incidences of binge eating. I generally don't feel deprived so there's less of a compulsion to overeat. But then there's the emotional hunger, which I've found actually has very little to do with physical satiety, and can take hold of you like little else. In the past, I didn't even realize that this was the source of much of my overeating, so naturally, I couldn't even begin to try to combat it. Weight management was supposed to be all about calories in vs. calories out and self control, right? To an extent, yes, but try telling that to a person who's on the verge of eating a whole jar of peanut butter when they're not even hungry.

So, how have I been able to tackle the emotional eating? Slowly, and not without my slips. A first important step was learning to distinguish between real, physical hunger and the emotional variety--and here's where being less restrictive has been key. I believe that if you're following a super-low calorie diet, it's almost impossible to tell the difference between physical and emotional hunger. By generally being more satisfied with my meals, I can tell myself that the sensation I'm feeling for more food is not true hunger and I'm often able to ride out my urges. How? Often by distracting myself. I get out of the kitchen and away from the fridge and table. I come on SparkPeople, I chat with friends and family, I watch a movie, I get moving and out of the house--I do something, anything to get my mind off food. And as much as I try not to be overly dependent on exercise to keep my weight in check, it does help. The endorphin release from a good workout and the sense of peace and relaxation I get from a yoga class or stretching session does me a world of good and seems to give me extra motivation to make healthier choices.

Practice, in my case, has also made perfect (well, almost). Instead of throwing up my hands and giving up each time I've slipped--and I've sometimes slipped badly--I've picked up the pieces and moved on. Gradually, over time, my slips have become fewer and farther between and much less intense. I don't expect perfection from myself any more and I know now that we don't have to be perfect to be successful. We just have to be consistent about getting ourselves back on track and back to our usual healthy habits. I was also fortunate enough to have quite a long stretch in my life with relatively low stress where I was able to really focus on developing and ingraining my healthy habits. That way, when difficult times came, and they eventually did, I was in a much better place to stay the course and not relapse into emotional eating.

As some of you may know, I've experienced some personal turmoil the past few months which came immediately after my summer holidays where I had put on a few pounds. I'm convinced that if I had been in that situation just a few years ago, it would have marked the beginning of the end for me and I would have embarked on yet another downward spiral. But something's been different. Not only have I not regained the weight, I've actually lost almost all of my extra summertime pounds. Under more ideal circumstances, I probably would have had them all off by early October, but I consider it a huge triumph that I've fought tooth in nail against a potential backslide. Until yesterday when I took a much-needed break, I had a 92-day streak of logging in here at SparkPeople--my longest ever! Those 92 days included many where the last things I wanted to be doing were worrying about food prep and exercise and healthy living, but I stayed connected and didn't give up even though I was often far from perfect and had many more slips than normal. I had some pretty bad moments during that 92-day stretch and was filled with more self doubt than I had experienced for quite some time. But, as time has gone by, things have slowly started to calm down and I'm finding my healthy habits are easier to stick to again. My urge to overeat at night is slowly dissipating, I'm more consistently making better choices. I'm finding it easier to comply with my goals. My overall resolve is becoming stronger and I'm beginning to feel more confident again. And I've learned that it's okay not to set lofty goals for ourselves during these times. Just staying the course and remaining connected to our support systems is enough. I feel as though I've ridden out the storm and that there will be smooth sailing ahead, at least for a while.

If you're still with me and have actually read all of this, thanks. If you've been riding out the storm with me the past few months, through my ups and downs and mini tantrums, please know that your support has been life saving for me. And if you're currently going through a rough patch and are feeling hopeless, please don't give up. I know it may sound trite, but this journey really isn't about how well we can do under perfect circumstances, but how well we're able to hang on with all our might when times are tough. I'm feeling like a super hero today and not because I reached a weight goal or ran a marathon, but because I know I've got true grit. And that, perhaps more than anything, gives me the confidence to believe that I actually have, however imperfectly, won the battle against emotional eating.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thank you for this blog. It was very encouraging since I was having a stressful day and didn't think I could stay the course. emoticon
    1563 days ago
    I just happened across this blog of yours and it really spoke to me...in too many ways to list. Thank you for sharing your story, as I'm sure it has helped many more than just myself. I've added you as a sparkfriend :)


    1565 days ago
    True grit indeed: it's not about behaving well when things are going well, but when they aren't. And all of us go through rough patches of varying intensity and trauma: but how wonderful to have broken that pattern of "comfort eating".
    1570 days ago
  • BRADMILL2922
    As usual, you speak the truth that many of us have gone through in our lives. I know I can relate to those up and down times. I can relate to those feelings where I turned to food as my rock. Those are the days that I look upon now and can find strength. I know I have been to that low and don't want to go back to that place. Yes, we have slip ups because we are not perfect but because we had those low days, we know to head the other direction when we feel it slipping. You are a strong woman that has been through a lot with your journey. It is so great that you are able to share your trials and tribulations with everyone here on SP!
    1571 days ago
    Bookaphile recommended your page/blog to me, and I'm so glad she did! I am in the midst of strengthening my resolve and moving past a backslide for the umpteenth time. Thanks so much for sharing your journey, I'm feeling more hopeful after having read this.
    1572 days ago
  • KANOE10
    Bookphile and I both loved your statement. ...this journey really isn't about how well we can do under perfect circumstances, but how well we're able to hang on with all our might when times are tough." This is so true. It is not about being perfect, but how we recover and get on track when we are not perfect. Being compassionate with yourself and not feeling guilty, but instead finding steps on how to get back on track takes incredible strength. You have done a wonderful job of riding out the storm and finding your way back into healthy eating. You have grown stronger from these past days. You are a success with your discoveries about emotional eating.

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    1572 days ago
    That was probably the most suitable blog for me to read today. I can relate in so many ways and, as always, I admire your honesty and your strength. I think you've done really great through both the easy and the difficult times and your shared experiences give lots of hope for success to many of us.
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    1573 days ago
    Hank you for being so honest and daring to be vulnerable. Many of us will be able to identify with at least part of what you have shared. And therefore to know there is hope. And that we are in good company.
    1573 days ago
    This is a terrific blog and I sure hope it gets wider readership. You are truly an example of what SP is all about and I appreciate your sharing such personal thoughts with us. Thank you for your support and your example. Best wishes as you continue on your journey.
    1573 days ago

    Comment edited on: 12/1/2013 10:42:55 PM
    Fantastic and inspiring blog. emoticon
    1573 days ago
    Love this blog and you Tina! You are an amazing person and I think part of your success stems from the fact that you are so reflective and open about your process, your journey, your ups and downs. I'm so impressed with how far you've come and really admire you. I also long to follow in your footsteps, particularly with this area of the eating struggle.
    1574 days ago
    Excellent blog. You're a real winner. You have gained tremendous strength and wisdom in dealing with your challenges. Thank for sharing them with us. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1574 days ago
    Great blog ypu have learned so much and that will help you make the right choices
    1574 days ago
    Great blog! I sure hope you're coming through the emotional eating. It does sound like you're making progress. To me, from a year behind you!
    1574 days ago
    What a great blog, TinaJane! Like you, I've had many successes and many learning experiences that some would call failures. I haven't given up emotional eating and binge eating totally. I want to. I really do. But I also know that consistency and getting back on track ASAP are key and that I can live life at a healthy weight when I keep trying. Wish it were easier. Wish I were stronger. Wish I truly knew the optimum food for me to eat, but I know enough to eat pretty good when I'm making rational decisions. Wish I never looked to food for comfort. Wish I just wisely fueled my body. Not quite sure how to turn my wishes into steps toward further progress, but I'll keep looking. -Marsha
    1574 days ago
    There is so much strength in sharing! You have been empowered yourself with what you've written and you've empowered and given strength to others as they read this blog. Awesome!

    Right with you on the path. You're not alone.
    1574 days ago
    Thank you for this blog. I'm in a rough patch and have gained rather than maintained. I'm learning a lot about myself, and as you talked about, not throwing up my hands and giving up. You are doing great in developing true grit. Keep shining like a star! emoticon
    1574 days ago
    So INCREDIBLE, Tina!!! Yes...that desire and strive for perfection...lolol. Who the hell do we think we are?!?!? Where do we get this idea that we can ever be or do ANYTHING perfectly?!?! LOLOLOL. PROGRESS...NOT PERFECTION!
    I'm SO happy for you and INSPIRED by you, TinaJane!!! :-)
    Thank you for sharing your light and love with us here in the SPARKiverse! We are all truly richer for it!!!

    love you so!
    stephi :-)
    1574 days ago
    great job
    1574 days ago
    I'm happy to hear that you've ridden the waves of the storm and have gotten to smoother waters. Isn't it all just one big learning experience? I love moments like this where we learn new things about ourselves and what we are capable of. Keep on fighting the healthy fight!
    1574 days ago
  • DALID414
    1574 days ago
    Thanks for sharing! Your blog gives me hope because I have been also fighting emotional eating. I have a very stressful job and so does my husband. My daughter has also been stressed out over school and personal life. All together everything has been stressing me out and of course I start thinking that food will temporarily make all things better, but when I find out that I've been gaining weight I get even more stressed out. I've been trying so hard to stop this cycle and SP does help. I do need to log in more on a regular basis. I love the SP quote app that I have on my phone because most of the time the daily quote inspires me to be better. The SP tracker app is also helpful. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1574 days ago
    I hope your blog gets its due. It was an amazing read! Thank you.
    1574 days ago
    "...this journey really isn't about how well we can do under perfect circumstances, but how well we're able to hang on with all our might when times are tough."

    So very true! Way more of my life is NOT perfect than is perfect! Thanks for a really good, thought provoking blog!
    1574 days ago
    Everyone has a different story for how they gained weight over the years. My story is completely different than your story. I have never been an emotional eater. It's quite the opposite for me. When I am depressed, sad, worried, or upset, I can't eat. However, I would find refuge in bed. I am always tired. Been that way since I was little. I love to sleep. It's my favorite pastime. Whenever life got too much for me to handle, I would escape to my sweet dreams. Even now, I still tend to take a nap in the afternoon. I was never a big eater, so I could never understand how I got to be so heavy. Once I began to workout and I mean really workout, the weight started coming off. I realized that food was never my problem. It was my lack of physical activity. Even though I love to exercise, I still have to fight the urge to just be a couch potato. For example, I got up an hour ago this morning. I am currently still sitting on the couch by the fire and the thought of getting up and getting my day started is not really appealing to me. But alas, I will get up. At the very least, I will shop off some calories today! Congratulations, Tina on getting your summer weight off. Your determination is a big motivator for us all!
    1574 days ago
    It never ceases to amaze me the strength that we can derive from sharing our journeys with each other - be it our victories or our struggles, there's such strength in leaning on each other. Our emotions are what make us so uniquely human, and really define the three dimensions of our lives. Sometimes that's a wonderful thing to bask in, and at others it's awful - but with each other, I believe we have the best chances to endure the hard times, and be able to break through the other end as stronger and healthier people. I'm so proud of you. Always.
    1574 days ago
    I'm glad to hear things are going well even if you're having to fight for them. You can do this! You're one of the strongest people I know.
    1574 days ago
    No matter how long I have been at goal, I have but a daily reprieve from the obsession of emotional eating. Achieving the goal is One Day At A Time, and so is the emotional reliance on something that is, after all, the easiest path to "comfort". It will never be my first impulse to reach for the book or the car keys or the cup of coffee to get me through a moment, but it can be my second, rather than my 20th.
    1574 days ago
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    1574 days ago
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