Home Emotional Eating Ending Emotional Eating, and the Transformative Art of Self-Care: On Celibacy and Self-Love

Ending Emotional Eating, and the Transformative Art of Self-Care: On Celibacy and Self-Love

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I’m going to work to commit every Thursday evening to writing about self-care – what it is, how you can achieve it, and how we can become better together. As this series progresses, feel free to chime in with your thoughts, questions and concerns. View the series in its entirety. You are now viewing part 8.

Ahhh, my celibacy.

People bristle at the thought of it – in fact, when I mentioned it in a blog post I’d written years earlier, many people were infuriated by the thought – and generally don’t like thinking about shutting themselves off from the potential for intimacy… that is, until I tell them that the first thing I did coming out of my celibacy was get married.

(Far be it for me to imply that marriage is the goal, the key, the who-knows-what; but what I am explicitly saying is that my celibacy gave me the mental space to figure out what I want, to realize the futility in wasting time playing around with people who were unwilling to give me what I want, and the clarity to see red flags that would stand in my way. Basically, I finally developed the clarity to figure out what I wanted and what I’d need in order to get what I wanted, which was marriage.)

In the middle of my weight loss journey, I’d experienced a painful and embarrassing break-up. I’d been in a long-distance relationship for almost two years where I was terribly selfish and tunnel-visioned, and I’d gotten the opportunity to relocate – almost 700 miles farther away from him – to do some major work. I promptly packed up my belongings and moved, without talking to him about it, without consulting him, without even making much mention of the move at all. And – rightfully so – this made him question our relationship. What does it mean, when someone you care so deeply about doesn’t even consult you about major life changes? What does it mean, when your long distance partner chooses to move, and they move farther away from you?

And, so it ended. Embarrassingly so. I made my mistakes, he made his, and it ended…quasi-amicably. And, like most self-centered and narcissistic early twenty-somethings, this came as a complete and utter damned shock to me. How could he do this to me? How could he be so cruel? So heartless? How could he leave me?

With relationships, we do what we’re encouraged to do by society. We’re told to have a partner. Be together. Have your children (inside of a maaaaarriage.) Cling to whatever raggedy relationship you can get your grubby little lonely paws on so that you can feel worthy, of worth, and loved. Because no, you’re not loved until you’re loved by someone else.

This is stressful. Feeling like you have to compromise your wants and needs for the sake of being deemed “worthy” can feel like unwanted pressure on you, especially if you still find yourself in a space where you’re single. And, if you do partner with someone and they’re not the right match for you, that’s another burden entirely.

So many of us have been socialized to not want to be alone, to never be alone, to go from one relationship to the next. How do you learn about yourself and your own needs when your focus is always on adding someone else to the equation? How do you discover what makes you happy, when you’re always focused on how happy you think you’ll be when you’re no longer single?

What’s more, how do you figure out what works best for you when you’re constantly trying to appease another living being, so that you can keep a potentially failing and flawed relationship around?

Upon my break-up, mentally, I had to keep my head together. I had the support of the “F’ck ’em, Girl” Crew to keep me from sobbing uncontrollably at the drop of a hat, and I had the good sense to keep myself busy, to keep from sobbing uncontrollably when the Crew couldn’t be reached. Because I was also in the middle of learning about my emotional eating problem at the time of the split, I knew I had to keep myself busy.

I threw myself deep, deep, deeeeep into books about emotional eating. I went for long walks. I spent lots of time thinking – sometimes, teary eyed – about who I am and what I need, and whether or not I thought I’d get it in the relationship I’d lost. I realized, after a while, that I’d never thought about what my emotional needs were and what I had to offer another person in a relationship. I realized that I’d never considered whether what I had to give would attract the kind of long-term love and support I’d wanted. Hell, I’d never considered whether or not I knew how to give long-term love and support.

And, thus, I’d come to the realization that I needed to spend some major quality time alone. I was in an emotionally vulnerable space, and I didn’t want that compromised by the oft weirdness and demanding nature of dating. I didn’t want to deal with sex within a changing body – I was vulnerable with regards to how my body was changing, and I didn’t want to be gaslighted with “Oh, you’re so beautiful,” being told something I really wanted to hear, just so that I’d be more willing to have sex with someone. I was sensitive to feeling like I was so hurt, that I feared attracting users, like a wounded animal who attracts other predators waiting to pick at its wounds once it dies. I needed to think about what it means to treat someone well, what it means to be treated well, and being alone and single satisfied that.

There is no debate that I’ve lived a hard life, and I’ve been through much more than the average person, and I’ve probably fought more unnecessary wars than I probably should’ve. One of the terms I’ve heard used with regard to people like me is “damaged beyond repair” – so screwed up that I couldn’t possibly be normal or whole again. I firmly believe that taking time to be alone and enjoy being single, being myself gave me the time to repair. I found where I needed to be to get happy.


I learned, in that time frame, that I love history. I love good history novels. I love non-fiction writing. I love philosophical self-help books. I learned that I love yoga, I love being near the water, I love trying new things, cooking, good music. I learned that I really enjoy playing in my makeup. I learned that I have a blast rollerblading. (I also learned how to bandage my knees whenever my rollerblading became a little less graceful.)

I learned that I love being near my partner without being up under them, that I’m happiest when I’m wanted and not needed, and that I need to have my alone time respected within my relationship. I learned that I can’t do jealous types, and that the behavior I once thought was cute now felt unacceptable. I want a serious relationship – not a game – and I didn’t want to invest the energy in playing them.

I even learned what I like sexually – what I want, what I need, what I like to do, how I like it done – and gave serious thought to the value of monogamy in a casual sex world with STDs flying. I gave serious thought to my own desires for casual sex – two and a half years of celibacy will do that to you – and why it was too much work right now. I realized that what worked best for me was one partner, in a committed, exclusive, monogamous relationship, where we could explore the world, history, politics, and sex together in a safe and healthy way. I also realized that, since I was very clear about what I wanted, there was no sense in hiding that. Being very clear about what my wants and needs are upfront and keeping my eyes peeled for any red flags made the most sense.

I thought about those coping mechanisms I so desperately needed, and what kinds of healthy ways I can cope. I, mainly, learned who I was outside of someone else. Instead of getting to know him, I got to know me. I learned what it felt like to love myself, and knew thereafter that love from a compatible suitor couldn’t feel any less than this.

Two and a half years (and losing approximately 130lbs) into my celibacy, I met a man who I originally identified on here as “The Mister,” mainly because I had no idea if our relationship would last. (I no longer identify Eddy as a pseudonym – I mean, I married him; he’s a fixture in my life whether it lasts or not.) He was an attractive, like-minded man, whose views on life and his personal interests were intriguing to me – a midwestern girl hiding in Miami, a New Yorker-type man? We both had a lot to learn about one another, and were eager to share. Maybe a year and a half of dating, and we were married. Even with the ups and downs of life, I’ve never been happier, more secure, or more hopeful for the future than I am now.

I don’t take for granted my marriage. But, even in writing this, I realize how much I’ve taken for granted everything I learned about myself during my time of celibacy. While I may not plan on taking another two and a half years to think about who I am as a changing woman and where my head should be, even the time at the park, time at the nail salon, or maybe even my runs and walks should be the time I use to clear my head. That me-time simply cannot be taken for granted.

Next week: We discuss the concept of me-time, and making it productive for the emotional eater.

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Marni August 12, 2014 - 1:48 PM

The key to me getting aware of emotional eating is “I am eating so what am I feeling” I had this perception that I would be feeling then eating and aware of it. Since that wasn’t happening I wasn’t an emotional eater, right? Just a big appetite. When I finally had a few brief snap shots of myself eating while in really stressful situations I could start to deal with it. BTW I am 43 and this has happened in the last 2 yrs. Clean eating helps so much with this. It’s clearly emotional if you think your hungry but won’t eat clean food…

Erika Nicole Kendall August 12, 2014 - 1:50 PM

“It’s clearly emotional if you think your hungry but won’t eat clean food…”


Faith September 4, 2014 - 10:29 PM

Great article. And I have to weigh in on your misinterpretation of damaged beyond repair because I know the blogger and context from which the term originates and why she used and others of us who’ve specifically discussed matters of concern for black women free agency use it. Firstly, it is usually applied to certain males as a means for women to identify and eliminate lesser and no-quality mates instead of getting involved with someone who could never add value. Though there are women who are also DBRs, most men are not the casualties in these scenarios. And the fact you’ve completed a huge journey is reevaluating and transforming your life (not just your body — though that is a reflection of the process) means that you are NOT a DBR. DBRs don’t even see anything wrong with who they are, what harm they cause others and have no desire to change. That is not you. You provide a lot of inspiration and practical advice that women, particularly BLACK women can use to also transform their lives. So…don’t get it twisted.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 5, 2014 - 10:38 AM

Actually, I don’t think the problem here is a misinterpretation, and I think it might be a bit disingenuous to claim that it isn’t about identifying people who’ve had a past like mine at various stages in my life, all points in time where I “saw nothing wrong with who I was.” To even defend the term, honestly, is to miss the entire point of the essay.

The fact remains, that in the same way systems and structures contribute to the things that create damage – self-hate, systemic comfort with violence, diminished financial independence, low self-esteem, dysfunction, crime; systems and structures and policy and resources – one of which is, ironically, created by a woman with a past identical to many of the people struggling with their own ‘damage’ can create healing. Change doesn’t happen overnight – I didn’t wake up one morning and say “Today, I am a new woman!” It doesn’t happen that way.

There is no excuse for identifying “certain males” as damaged because they are “lesser and no-quality mates.” I might not be marrying the neighborhood dope dealer, or the dude who works the fries, but guess what – I don’t identify him by his plight. Had I actually been turned into someone’s gang member, running drugs for people or helping rob people or any other number of things affiliated women are responsible for,
I would’ve been considered damaged… because if that’s the sacrifice you make for survival in that kind of neighborhood, and moving out is expensive since your low-paying job doesn’t pay you much, and you’re a latch key kid because your parents have to work a job that’s inhospitable to the need to be a present parent since they LOST the otherwise promising job they once had and took what they can get, guess what? You don’t see anything wrong with what you’re doing.

It is completely devoid of compassion to categorize people like this. So much of what happens in these spaces causes harm to everyone involved, but it’s often – OFTEN – caused by other harm committed against these very people. Both men and women are casualties – emotionally healthy people who aren’t legally precarious don’t make these kinds of choices. That which makes people behave this way is less about damage and more about structure. That it appears heavily in deeply urban environments and not, say, the suburbs should give you a hint as to why. The fact that my shift away from being a violent and angry began once I moved to the suburbs should solidify that hint.

Avoiding “damaged” people won’t change the fact that the cops will always consider your black sons a dangerous threat and treat them as such starting as young as possible. Avoiding “damaged” people won’t change the fact that our black daughters will always be seen as hyper-sexual animals who need to be tamed by any means necessary, not to be taken seriously when we cry out for help. Understanding what creates these situations, having compassion – not contempt – for the people IN these situations, and advocating for the changes necessary to undo so much of the lingering bad policy AND to help people who are still surviving bad policy; and being a resource to people who are trying to lift themselves out of it all, and having empathy for them when the road gets rough… this is how we make change.

By all means, better yourself and surround yourself with people who can facilitate that development. I’m just begging – literally, begging – you to change the way you talk about those whose journey is a bit darker, deeper, and more difficult than that. It changes and affects so much in how we interact with one another, how we support one another, how we embrace one another, how we vote, how we look at our families, and who we decide to help. Had I not been “helped” at points in my life, we wouldn’t even be here in this space together right now.

PS: I’m sure SOMEone out there will categorize me as a “we’re all victims of the system!” type, and they’re right. I am. I own it, and I’m comfortable with it. But also know: I find this kind of logic completely dismissive – it ignores the fact that the things around us ABSOLUTELY affect us, and black people are not superhuman. Just like women are susceptible to messaging that tells them they’re not thin enough or pretty enough, so they diet themselves down against all biological sense and comfort to lose weight; so are people told that black lives are worth less, and treat them as such and vote and think in ways that reflect the lack of compassion that accompanies this; so do black people respond to this unfavorably and so their lives are affected negatively.

If it makes people sleep better at night to dismiss the real cause and effect nature of policy in America, then hey. Whatever it takes. Just know where I stand on that.

Kimberly Chandler November 21, 2014 - 8:04 AM

I am going thru a divorce right now, my 2nd, and am definitely in need of going thru this process but cannot even fathom the idea of not having sex from time to time. It seems crazy but i know it may be absolutely necessary to become who i want to be.

Sierra Andrew May 24, 2016 - 1:14 PM

I am very inspired by your blog! I love this piece and agree with so much that you said<3 Much love.

Kenna October 2, 2018 - 4:30 AM

This is fascinating. I’ve been celibate for 4 years (shoot, as of 3 days from now) and it’s been amazing. My friendships are stronger, there’s no “will-they-won’t-they” sexual tension going on with male friends, and I’m just happier. I’ve learned what I want to do with my life, I’ve set goals, and most importantly, I know what I want in a partner and I’m not going to settle for less. A handful of my girlfriends are absolutely flabbergasted (and offended, for some reason) that I refuse to have a one-night-stand or date someone for the “benefits”. Those girls also have a string of relationships and regrets behind them that I don’t want to duplicate.

Good on you for all of this. I’m glad to see someone else take a hard line on using celibacy as a way to clear her head and center herself.

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