Home#ScaleFreeSummer, Emotional Eating, Food 101, Healthy Eating, It's All Mental, My JourneyWhat Does “Recovering” From Emotional Eating Feel Like?

In talking about #ScaleFreeSummer, I brought up my belief that successful weight loss is all about a mind, body, and soul connection where you must work diligently to undo all the habits and beliefs that allowed you to gain weight. Central to that – at least, for me – is my emotional eating problem.

woman eating

I accepted, a long time ago, that I’d never be cured of my condition. I’d always know what it feels like to eat certain foods and certain kinds of foods in excess. I’d always know the feeling I’d get from the binge. I’ll never forget the fact that the feelings I got from binge eating made me feel better about myself and the things around me. I’d put myself in situations that left me feeling trapped, and I was self-medicating through food.

I had to come to terms with that, and it is a painful thing to have to accept. When, for years, you look at yourself, unsure of what happened or what’s happening… that first day that you look in the mirror with the knowledge that you did this? It does two things to you: it makes you want to cry, and it makes you want to fight. And, while I think it’s okay to cry, I think it’s more important to want to fight: fight for yourself, fight for your livelihood, fight for your family. In all meanings of the phrases.

I could’ve chose to cry about how my emotional eating problem affected me, and I could’ve chosen to wallow in it. I could’ve chosen to feel paralyzed by the pain, and how “blind” I was to what is “so obvious.” I could’ve even chosen to call myself a failure, an idiot, any of that. All of that.

I didn’t, though – not because I felt “empowered” by the information and was raring to go, but because I’d developed a curiosity about my condition and what it was doing to me, for me, and inside me. I inundated myself with information about emotional eating, habits, and anything that contributed to my habit. By sheer virtue of being nosy, I had bypassed the self-loathing that I probably should’ve felt, and started down a healthier path.

Even today, I know that I’ll never forget those feelings, but I’m armed with information, now. I place a high value on consent through informed judgment, meaning that I make as many choices as possible mindfully, ensuring that I have thought about the benefits and consequences before I leap. Not because I can’t trust myself in this way, but because I have to learn how to trust myself in new ways. I have to develop trust – something that’s a lifelong process – and I have to give myself reasons to trust my decision-making ability. I have to give myself reasons to believe in recovery.

Because you never forget what it’s like to binge, or benefit from binge eating, you never stop being on guard in some way. For a long time, I couldn’t look at an Oreo or a Verona cookie without becoming angry at it for what it did to me, but I came to terms with it – there are people in this world who can eat those cookies and not attach a bunch of baggage to them. The problem that I needed to focus on was with my relationship with food, and that was all that I could control.

None of this changes the fact that those cookies are trash, and the way they are engineered – high sugar, little nutritional value, excessive amounts of everything, little to no protein – made it easy for me to binge on them. I had to also accept that there’s so stuff that I just can’t eat, and food literally crafted to be irresistible – bound to be stuffed to the brim with sugar, fat, and salt, three things that adversely affect recovering food addicts – had to fall squarely on that list. So, I embraced clean eating and gave up processed foods completely.

I had to really re-think my philosophies on eating. Why was I snacking? How much was I snacking? What was I snacking on? Why did I choose this quantity of food to snack on? And, if I was snacking in excess, am I snacking, when I should really be having a meal? I had to accept that a lot of my food choices were based on marketing, and not my actual thoughts and feelings. I had to learn to listen more to my body and mind – was I uncomfortable with the amount of food on my plate? Did I get too much? Why am I eating it all, if I have too much on my plate? Why did I get this giant stack of cookies, instead of the one or two that’d actually whet my appetite? The same reason that people fill the entire toothbrush with toothpaste instead of using the singular dab they really need – companies encouraged me to overconsume their products, so that I’d go and buy more of that product sooner.

I also had to learn that, yes, one can binge on high quality foods, as well. If I go to [insert high quality bakery] and get a fresh chocolate chip cookie with cask-aged bourbon chocolate chip chunks, organic fine pastry flour blended with almond flour, fresh hand-churned butter from local New York State cows, raw demerara sugar and I don’t eat it mindfully… I’m still screwed. I had to learn that high quality isn’t a green light to go HAM. High quality is something I should strive for because low quality is, essentially, dangerous for me. But there will never be a green light to binge. On anything. Ever.

The food isn’t always the problem. Sometimes, it’s the motivations that I take into eating that are the problem, and I needed to accept that. That acceptance proved to be more powerful than I ever could’ve imagined. It empowered me – yes, now we talk empowerment – to take control. It empowered me to find the healthy spot between mindfulness and obsessiveness, and to be diligent in my self-awareness without developing another disorder along the way. It gave me the thing I needed to understand that, though it wouldn’t be easy, it would be possible to overcome. That’s why, a little over five years from the start, I can say that I’ve not only kept off every single pound of fat I’ve lost, but I’m even building my body anew and going on completely different adventures with what I’ve learned along the way.

Recovery is hard work. It is stressful, it is daunting, and you wind up going it alone most times because people don’t understand how to support you. But nothing – nothing – beats the feeling of being able to look yourself in the mirror, say “Yeah, but I’m okay,” and mean it. Even to this day, when I look in a full-size mirror, I smile. Not because I look good, but because I’m a fighter. No cookie or goldfish can take that away from me. Ever.

Do you have an emotional eating addiction? Are you supporting someone through one? Did you overcome your binge eating problem? Share in the comments below, and inspire someone. And, if you’re bold, meet me on the #ScaleFreeSummer hashtag and share your story with me there too!

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and crtified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because lol why not.

20 Comments

  1. Jayde July 22, 2013 at 12:12 PM - Reply

    I used to binge maybe 3x a week when I was in such a big hurry to lose weight because I was starving myself and I used food as a cure to deal with anxiety. Since I started therapy and learn about my anxiety, the overeating just decline on its own. The only problem I have now is getting myself to eat now. I cant get in touch with my hunger.

  2. Anna July 22, 2013 at 12:31 PM - Reply

    Insightful article – binge eating is so complex and heart wrenching I think lots of people, myself included, struggle with it. I love your point about high quality foods – those foods are definitely binge worthy and cost a pretty penny. I’ve noticed though, for me, overeating is the absence of emotion and feeling – it’s like mindless autopilot. Ironically, I wrote a post about this today on my blog.

    Whatever the perspective though, you’ve clearly continued to fight the good fight and have been successful at it. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Brooke July 22, 2013 at 6:04 PM - Reply

    If you can’t solve the problems that cause you stress, what is an alternative to emotional eating and bingeing?

  4. Curvy CEO July 22, 2013 at 11:28 PM - Reply

    Great post as always! This is a huge issue for me…I know for a fact that I cope with my issues by eating. While I don’t binge anymore (or, well, rarely) I would be lying if I didn’t admit to using food to soothe myself. It really is a drug – I recall reading (maybe here!) that the chemicals in our snacks and treats produce the same reaction in your brain as cocaine. (Thankfully so does exercise, so at least there are healthy ways to get “high.”) As far as overcoming the binge eating, I literally had to talk myself through it. I would ask myself, “What am I *really* craving?” and “How will I feel *after* I eat this bag of Tostitos or pint of Ben & Jerry’s?” Reminding myself of that sick feeling after binge – AND zeroing in on what was making me want to binge (loneliness, boredom, frustration, etc.) helped me to stop the binges. But like I said, I still do overindulge…I can just stop myself before I go overboard. Also, I’m taking your advice of focusing on trying to include more healthful things (instead of just taking out unhealthful things). Thanks Erika! (((hugs)))

  5. Kami July 23, 2013 at 9:20 AM - Reply

    This is a good article. When I was younger I suffered from a eating disorder and I got over it. I have been free of binge eating/ bullimia for about two years. Now I am seeing a therapist who helps me alot with my stressful issues. Lastly I am focusing more on workouts that consist of hot pilates, hot yoga or stetching so I could relax. Now I am focused on eating healthy and reducing stress.

  6. Karen August 24, 2013 at 5:33 PM - Reply

    My fave anxiety alleviator? Move. Move. Move. And move some more. Best de-stressor ever. And another? Get needles stuck in your ears and lie still. Yes, really.

  7. kelaine September 12, 2013 at 5:31 PM - Reply

    Definitely recovering. This last month has been the worst because I faced down two big demons in my life (a friend that was not behaving as a friend ought – ie being a complete bully to me – and my sexuality) but now that I’ve come to terms with both of those things I have absolutely no desire to emotional eat. I’m sure it’ll come up again at some point but for now I’m quite happy with my ability to not crawl over to the fridge every five minutes and stare into it and will something unhealthy to appear there. Or pig out on pasta (which is my bad crutch – pasta drowning in cheese). Or, here’s the worst of it, make a Parmesan sandwich because that’s the worst thing in my kitchen. That isn’t even comfortable to eat. It’s grainy and makes my mouth dry. But it was the worst thing I had because I refuse to let bad food come into my apartment, especially right now because I know I can’t handle it.

    I’ve replaced my emotional eating with more productive things. Like, oh I dunno…reading your blog? 🙂 Really though, I get so wrapped up in reading these posts that I completely forget I wanted to binge on something to begin with. Or I’ll take a hot bath or go out somewhere that doesn’t have food (but does have wifi since I’m a college kid and all). Things that keep me from being able to go shove food in my face.

    Thank you for an amazing (and super helpful at this time in my life) post! 😀

  8. LR September 20, 2013 at 4:00 AM - Reply

    I just, just! admitted to myself yesterday that I’m an emotional eater, as I ate cookies. I should eat gluten free (I paid for those cookies today) but have been under such stress, ate them anyway.

    This post is timely.

  9. TB December 14, 2013 at 9:02 PM - Reply

    Its interesting I have always known that I have serious issues when it comes to food… when something takes up 90% of your thought process its difficult to deny that there might be some issues there. I am lisenced social worker who counsels youth & children but I can’t seem toget a consconsistent handle on my binging. I really enjoyed reading your article & I realize that I’m at the completely out of control phase of my food issues addictions whatever you want to call it. Not sure where to start, I have 22 month old twins & since giving birth to them I have really not been able to get things under control. I’m definitely feeling hopeless

  10. shantae February 10, 2014 at 9:20 PM - Reply

    This artical is very powerful. I came to the admission. Sometime ago that I am an emotional eater and its always been a struggle for me to break away. I am in therapy and it has helped me process so.e things but I still have a long way to go. I need to loose about 100lbs and the task is daunting to me. I have read a lot about eating clean and organic and I know all the toxins that are in processed food. But between basically an addiction and a small budget its overwhelming. I’m thankful for websites like blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com to help offer support for those of us that are works in progress!!

  11. Kellan February 28, 2014 at 10:23 PM - Reply

    Interesting and insightful article. I’m still working on my relationship with food. While I’ve learned a lot about myself and my relationship with food, it’s been a rocky road in learning how to translate that knowledge and understanding into consistent healthy eating practices. I know how to eat clean, but it’s still also just as easy to choose a less nutritional option. Just gotta keep with it. Thanks for the amazing article.

  12. Dana April 20, 2014 at 12:14 AM - Reply

    Thank you for this article. I am an emotional eater. I have finally accepted that I am a food addict. I cold totally quit cold turkey, but find that I have little power to moderate. If I had an addiction that I didn’t have to interact with to live, I would do better. No crack addict has to just have a moderate amount of crack 3-5 times a day. I will keep fighting…

    • Akili Worthy August 26, 2014 at 1:29 AM - Reply

      Dana,

      It can help to identify what type of food addict you are. Is it sugar (candy, candy bars, sweeteners, etc), processed foods (bread, pastas, cakes, cookies, etc) or high fat foods (buttered popcorn, extra cheesy pizza, bacon, etc)

      Sometimes it can be things from each category. Make a list of your trigger foods…The ones that create binging behavior…and try to focus on eliminating those foods.

      I went cold turkey, no sugar and no processed. But now that I have so much more clarity about my worth and value eating right is much easier…

  13. sara May 13, 2014 at 3:04 PM - Reply

    This article is probably the best I’ve ever read about this subject!
    I have had problems with binge eating for 2 years maybe and I’m only 17. It developed early. I used to be a bit overweight when I was 11-12 years old. Then I lost some weight but at the age of 13 still wasn’t happy with my body. And then I started clean eating. I didn’t know then for a term “clean eating” but I knew what to cut out. I was eating like that for about 8 months, lost several kgs and was very skinny. I wasn’t happy. What I always thought is that people would love me if I was skinny. But then I was skinny and nothing changed- who had loved me still loved me, who hadn’t- still didn’t. I was frustrated. Started to eat a bit more… I can’t remember when I started binging, but in the period September- January 2013 it became, if I can say so, my lifestyle. At least once a week I’d binge. I felt horrible, weak. Everytime I’d say never again but it became a circle… As a part of my new year’s resolutions I started binging less… even if I binge it’s only when I feel really bad. I try to avoid those situations, I try to think before I eat. Sometimes I’m not strong enough, but I don’t give up. I fight. I fail. I stand up. I fail again. I’m a human. It is very hard to recover but it’s not impossible. Every improvement should count. So…I’m very happy because recently my binging has really become rare.
    Gotta keep going!
    Thank you for this amazing article! I love it!

  14. Luvmyself July 13, 2014 at 9:36 AM - Reply

    I’ve come to realize that I’m an emotional eater. It started as a child but I will end it as an adult. I’m tired of being unhappy with my body and I have to learn how to love me all over again. I don’t care what people think of me I have to care what I think of me. I came across this blog in error while searching for a nutritionist but now I believe I was directed here by God. I was seeking help and support and this website has a post for almost everything I’ve been struggling with. I will start my fist day at the gym today. I’m nervous and scared but I will push forward and knock this fear out of my head and heart. God Bless you all

  15. jdp May 10, 2015 at 2:30 AM - Reply

    what are some of the materials you read about emotional eating. I’m familiar with the work of Geneen Roth, are there any others that you would recommend?

  16. Anita January 21, 2016 at 12:10 PM - Reply

    There is also the EDA: http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org.

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