Emotional Eating and My Relationship with Food

Over the years, I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with food. The lowest points of that relationship resulted in weight gain, pre-diabetes, low self-esteem, and depression. Emotional eating has been a constant battle on my path to be the healthiest I can be. Emotional eating caused me to feel a sudden urge for something sweet, fatty or salty to satisfy something unrelated to hunger. Food served as my relief from issues I didn’t want to confront and became my best and sometimes, what felt like my only friend.

But what is emotional eating? According to an article called Emotional Eating vs. Mindful Eating on HelpGuide.org, “emotional eating is the act of turning to food for relief or reward than just satisfying hunger”. One uses food to deal with emotions such as stress, anger, anxiety, sadness, boredom, happiness, or loneliness. I won’t deny that I’ve turned to food when influenced by all of those emotions, even when I knew food wasn’t the answer.

Foods high in fat and sugar are usually the targets of emotional eaters. In an article published called Why Stress Causes People to Overeat in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, stress causes adrenal glands to release cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite. Once fatty and sugary foods are ingested, they produce a feedback effect that inhibits actions in parts of the brain that produce and process stress related emotions. These foods seem comforting when used to counteract stress, which ultimately leads to stress-induced craving for those foods.

Emotional eating can invoke a feeling of powerlessness around food and inhibits . But here are somethings I do to gain control over my food choices:

  • Eat a good, healthy breakfast: On days when I have a fulfilling, healthy and energizing breakfast, I’m more likely to make better food choices. Breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day for me. If I’m running behind in the morning and rushing to get to work, then I don’t enjoy my morning meal to set the tone for the day and I’d find the nearest greasy breakfast sandwich and sabotage an important part of my day.

  • Drink lots of water: I carry a canteen that holds 63 oz. of water. The goal is to drink 100 to 126 oz. of water a day. On the days I meet my goal, I’m more energy and too full to even think about food.

  • Walks around the neighborhood: Walking while listening to music or a podcast allows me to burn calories and stress after a long day at work. It’s a better option than coming home, sitting on the couch and eating when I’m not hungry. I also take 10-15 minute walks towards the end of my lunch breaks at work to get some fresh air and step away from my desk for a bit.

  • Cooking: This one may sound a weird and out of place, but cooking is therapeutic for me. I enjoy watching the dish come together more than I do eating sometimes. Besides, I get to listen to my music or favorite podcast shows and while expressing my creativity. Yes, it’s centered on food, but at least I can control what ingredients I use and how much.

  • Having friends who have similar health goals: It’s nice to have a support system, especially friends who are on a similar health and wellness path as you are. Other health buddies provide encouragement on the days I feel I may lose my way. Also, they're inspirational, keep me motivated, and hold me accountable. Watching them accomplish their goals reminds me why I go after mine.

If there’s one thing I can work on? It would be getting better at planning and tracking meals ahead of time. I suck at it. Seriously. I plan about two or three days ahead and then get too lazy to cook during the week which usually screws up my week. I’m sure there are other things I can work on that I’ll think of another time.

This certainly won’t be the last time I cover the topic of emotional eating and my struggles with it. But this is a topic I’ve wanted to cover because it’s a battle I face every day with every meal. The hardest part of dealing with it is understand and confronting why I turn to food. What does the food represent? What emotion am I feeling when I’m reaching for that cupcake or pizza? Is it temptation at work? Is it sadness? Is it happiness? Boredom? Or do I just want to indulge and move on? Or maybe I’m just hungry. It’s a line that gets blurry, but a line that I work to make clearer and clearer every day.