Home Emotional Eating Ending Emotional Eating, and The Transformative Art of Self-Care: The Dangers of Auto-Pilot

Ending Emotional Eating, and The Transformative Art of Self-Care: The Dangers of Auto-Pilot

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. Read part 1 here.  Read part 2 here. You are now viewing part 3. View part 4. View part 5.

But what is “auto-pilot?” It’s the “cruise control” of decision-making. It’s your mind choosing the path of least mental and physical resistance, the path most familiar to you, to achieve an end goal. It’s the thing that allows you to tie your shoes and hold a conversation at the same time – it allows you to complete tasks without them requiring much mental effort. It also works against the recovering binge eater when, in a bout of unhappiness, it guides you right back into the path of those old, unhealthy habits.

In the midst of all the fun and games in Miami, I woke up at 7am and darted out to my old stomping grounds. I’d missed the sunrise I’d originally hoped for, but I’d genuinely needed to be in this space. Miami represented some of the most transformative moments of my life – cutting the umbilical cord from my mother, discovering the hustle of entrepreneurship, losing weight, meeting my husband… so much of it changed me for the better. In the midst of everything that’s taken place over the last few months, I’d felt like I needed to reconnect with the person I was prior to moving to New York City.

And, it was appalling.

As soon as I set foot on my old running path, I cried. The way I used to train, I don’t anymore. The way I used to feel, I don’t anymore. The way I used to commit to myself and my various practices, I don’t anymore. I’d given up so much of what made me happy – obviously, an adult thing to do – that I’d forgotten what my original happy used to feel like. Instead, I’d chosen many of the things I’d originally given up – restaurants, alcohol, fancy pants-ass pastries – for my sources of happy, unknowingly slipping back into the habit of looking for outside resources to neutralize conflict in my life.


That’s part of what makes it so necessary to talk vaguely about self-care, instead of specifically about binge eating disorder and what it does to you. It’s part of the reason why people who quit smoking will sometimes gain weight: people swap one addiction with another frequently, in my mind, because they’ve yet to develop a vast enough array of coping mechanisms to carry them through to the other side of the conflict, the “you’re okay now” side.

That Miami path brought me to tears. Good ones. I thought about the time I called the cops on the scumbag who dropped firecrackers on my dogs from the top floor. I thought about the night I ran almost 17 miles up and down the coast in one evening looking for Sala, who’d escaped from Eddy’s leash earlier that night. I’d thought about all the times we’d walked to the grocery store, loaded Mini-me’s stroller up with groceries and then schlepped it all home together, sweaty and grinning. Being active was a part of our every day lives – we ate it, slept it, and loved it. Was it an addiction? No, because it still sucked, but we saw it as a necessary part of life and we treated it as such. Besides, training is a little gross. You’re sweaty, you’re short of breath, it hurts, but damn if those runs/walks/schlepps weren’t the healthiest sources of endorphins I’d ever had in my life.

Well, besides [safe] sex. At least I’m honest.

I thought about how much of myself I’d sacrificed in this entire mess. I needed to micro-manage everyone and everything – even with a completely capable and competent partner by my side – to the point where I never left Mini-me’s side. We stuck by each other all day, every day. This was fantastic for her, but awful for me. I needed time to destress from it all, and I needed to give my partner time to contribute to her healing much like I did. Both could’ve happened simultaneously, but I had to be a jerk about it all. People who need to micro-manage every little detail are rarely relaxed people. They also are least likely to be maintaining healthy sources of self-care. How could you? You’re busy micro-managing everybody down to the roots.

When I think about this particular breed of familial micro-management, I think specifically about black women and how we’ve been long understood as being “the mules of the world.” We’re expected to shoulder the responsibility solely and, upon an almost-emminent failure, are forced to singularly shoulder the blame. It is rare that any major effort can be pulled off by one person on their own, yet it is often expected to us. And, all too often, many of us wear the “strong black woman” label with pride, a badge that we brandish to make us feel better about our struggles. It’s behavior we teach our children, and pass down to them tacitly through example, if not outright by demanding they “get over it” because they “have to do the work anyway.”

It’s rare that we tell them “It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s okay to cry. And, when you get over to the other side of it all, I’ll be there to help you pick up where you left off.” It’s rare that we tell ourselves that, too.

So, how do we tell ourselves that?

Next week, we’ll discuss how big girls do cry, and then they become problem solvers.

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1 comment

Angel June 5, 2014 - 8:05 PM

WOW! I read the first two articles, but THIS article made me teary eyed several times as I read through it. I recognized a while ago that I was an emotional eater, however I never equated it to an actual addiction. I’ve worked (professionally) with drug addicts and know all too well the “triggers” that cause them to relapse. But I never thought of myself as an addict, although when I stop and think about it, anytime I’m frustrated to tears, I throw all nutrition/fitness to the side and I grab my food faves to comfort me. I didn’t realize that I lacked the skills to cope with the thing(s) that caused me pain. And I’m probably the first person to take care of everybody else and neglect myself. I’ve done it for years and never realized that my emotional stability was suffering for it.

I could go on and on but I’ll stop here and just say THANK YOU! I’m so appreciative that I “stumbled” upon your website. I was totally on the internet looking for something completely unrelated to nutrition and there you were. God bless you for your efforts in assisting other black girls as well as girls and boys of every race achieve their goal of living a healthy life!

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