I know I said yesterday that we’d talk about food sensitivities today, but that post needs more work (it’s a complex topic!), so I thought today we’d talk about emotional eating.
I would guess that most of us do some emotional eating from time to time. And I know that for myself, anyway, it can become a stronger temptation when life gets more stressful than usual. But to determine how much of a problem emotional eating is for you right now, consider how many of the following are true for you:
- I eat more or junkier when I’m stressed, angry, or bored.
- I often turn to food for comfort, reward, or just to perk me up.
- I eat more of my favorite foods and with less control when I’m alone.
- When I eat something I shouldn’t, I say “Oh, well, I’ve blown it anyway,” and give into eating more.
- I feel bad about how much I let food overpower me.
- I sometimes have to (or imagine having to) make excuses for what I’ve eaten, if someone sees me.
If you found yourself nodding “yes” to most of those questions, let me first of all say: GRACE! This post is not about beating you up, or encouraging you to beat yourself up! Chances are, you’re doing enough of that already. I hope the following words will be an encouragement to you. Know that it’s written from a fellow stumbler, with great empathy and, I hope, humility.
(Warning: There will be faith language! I hope that doesn’t offend you, but that’s an integral part of my story, so to not include it would be untruthful.)
Where does emotional eating come from?
Some of us operate largely unaware of the emotions that are driving our cravings. If you grew up in a home where addiction, raging, manipulation, or other unhealthy patterns were the norm, you may have a difficult time naming or even being aware of your feelings.
Whether during childhood or later in life, many of us, at some point, became accustomed to stuffing and ignoring our feelings, because that was all we could do at the time. Not recognizing our feelings makes it harder to be aware of how they’re connected to food.
All of us may find ourselves at some point in adulthood using food to escape current feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, or frustration. If you’re in a stressed-out relationship, stuck in a job you hate, have lost a relationship, are in a cold or struggling marriage, are at the end of your rope with a difficult child, or are helplessly watching someone you love get sicker and sicker, you may find yourself eating in ways that you know are unhealthy.
I experienced this several years ago. My mom’s Alzheimer’s was picking up speed, my dad’s health was beginning to fail, one of my kids was having significant struggles, and our marriage was in one of the deepest trials we’ve been through. At the same time, God felt further away from me than He had since I first returned to Him in earnest. And I found myself turning to certain foods at certain times of the day to comfort me and “perk me up.”
I also still struggle with boredom eating off and on.
So I sympathize if this is where you are today, and/or if you’ve been stuck here for a long time.
Grace and hope
No matter where you are today, there is grace and hope.
Grace, because you were not a bad person for coping with things that way. You were handed more than your psyche was meant to bear, and you coped with it the best you could with the only options that were available to you at the time. So please look on your younger self (and yourself today, too!) with grace and compassion, and don’t hate yourself for responding the way you did/do — doing the best you know how at any given time. God sees the hurts and frustrations and sees you with grace and compassion. (Hebrews 2:18) He is close to the brokenhearted!
Grace because you are just human, and humans do human stuff. God loves us anyway. He loves you anyway.
I also want to offer you hope. Hope because you’re not alone, and you needn’t solve this alone. Healing is possible.
Hope because your resources are different now, and you have perspective and experience that you didn’t have then. Also, your brain is physically different than it was when you were a child and young adult. Young brains have a very difficult time connecting today’s behavior with tomorrow’s consequences. But now you have a grown-up brain that’s capable of making those connections, capable of learning to think in new ways. And with help, you can transform the way you think and feel. (Yes; you can!)
I also offer you hope because I have seen this transformation happen: I have seen this kind of healing in myself, and in someone very close to me. I have seen this loved one mature from someone who could not name their own feelings to someone who is not only aware of them, but has learned to deal with them in new, healthy, useful ways. Healing from this is possible, but it takes time and it takes help.
Our healing took time, and it took multiple avenues — this is normal and to be expected. As much as we wish for it, there’s no magic bullet, no quick fix.
I’ve benefitted from godly, professional counselors; from mentors who’d been there; from learning to understand God better by spending time in His Word; from prayer and surrender to God; and yes, from prescription medication. Ultimately, it was God who healed and changed us, but we took part in His work by using the tools that He provided us.
You’re not alone!
Please don’t try to do it on your own! Search for a wise counselor until you find one you can trust. Ask friends to pray for you. Ask God for mentor(s) and friends to come alongside. Ask Him for daily grace, and the eyes to see it.
If you’re in the Wichita, KS area and would like reference to some local therapists, please email me.
If you’d like to do some work on your own or with a few friends, you might consider working through one of Barb Raveling‘s books. I’ve been through her The Renewing of the Mind Project, and found it extremely helpful for learning to break the old patterns of thinking, and learning new ways to process your stress using scripture. That book was more general; this one has the same principles but focused on emotional eating….
Freedom from Emotional Eating – This 8-week Bible study contains 40 daily lessons that will help you 1) break free from the stronghold of emotional eating and 2) let go of those negative emotions that rob your joy. One Amazon reader said, “It was not what I expected AND it was very different than anything I’d done. Other diets say ‘Don’t believe the lies you tell yourself.’ Easier said than done. But Barb’s book explains why and how to stop believing these lies.”
If you didn’t read yesterday’s post about your relationship with sugar, the books listed there may be helpful as well.
(Note: Book links will take you to my Amazon store, where I get a small percentage of the total with no additional cost to you. But I really am recommending these books because I believe them to be helpful!)
The bottom line
A lot of weight-loss books focus on what to eat. Others focus mainly on why you eat. A diet that restricts what, when, or how much you eat will only do you limited good if you haven’t addressed the emotional factors that drive your eating. However, a book that focuses on the thoughts and emotions associated with eating will do you limited good if you’re still eating foods that set up a craving cycle or are otherwise unhealthy for your body. I think that a one-two punch of working on what you eat and also working on why you eat is probably necessary for most of us. I know it has been for me!
Did you miss the beginning of the countdown? Start here!
I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other health professional. You should always check stuff out for yourself!