Home Emotional Eating Ending Emotional Eating, and the Transformative Art of Self-Care: What is a Coping Mechanism?

Ending Emotional Eating, and the Transformative Art of Self-Care: What is a Coping Mechanism?

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. You are now viewing part 2. View part 3. View part 4. View part 5.

“What the hell is a coping mechanism?”

It is literally, exactly what it sounds like. It’s a method for relieving oneself of stress in a healthy, non-self-harming way. Binge eating as a form of stress relief isn’t harmful because “it can make you fat;” it’s harmful because it reinforces the pattern of addiction – seeking out external stimuli to serve as a release from stress, as opposed to dealing with stress head-on. It’s harmful because it results in a person unable to cope with the world around them, retreating and hiding in substances that not only cause heart disease, type 2 diabetes and worse, but also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. You eat, feel good, and each time you eat it again, you need more to feel the same high, because you were desensitized to your “regular dosage.”

The book Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss puts it very bluntly: “[…] the brain lights up for sugar the same way it does for cocaine.” All the processed food in the world is looking to help you hit that bliss point, that point where you lose your ability to keep eating until you reach, well, bliss. To quote Moss, “The world’s biggest ice cream maker, Unilever, for instance, parlayed its brain research into a brilliant marketing campaign that sells the eating of ice cream as a ‘scientifically proven’ way to make ourselves happy.”

If only we knew the additional consequences that came alongside that happiness. These brands know it, but we don’t.

In this very moment, I am laying with my laptop across a hardwood floor, completely dejected, completely fatigued. 2014 has been a rough year – not just for me, but for my daughter. In fact, the roughness for her has led to absolute stress for me, as parenthood in general is wont to do. The need to learn self-care in a healthy sense – learning how to cope with situations that do not go your way – is vital for a child, but can never be taught if their parent never learns it. It’s hard to convey healthy manners of coping if I, personally, am constantly running to hide in a bag of Fritos/a joint/a few beers/a glass of wine/an extensive shopping trip (regardless of whether or not the bills are paid) instead. Learning to cope with emotions by managing them instead of running from them or drowning them in manufactured levels of serotonin and dopamine is a trait that should be passed down from parent to progeny yet, because we are all struggling, it doesn’t happen as often as we think it does (or should.)

(It should also be noted, that when people speak of “addiction running in the family,” I believe it is likely that the family all passed down the habit of drowning problems in outside resources, as opposed to addiction being a genetic predisposition. In other words, in my mind…it’s an avoidable consequence.)

I cannot share in explicit detail what my daughter is going through, but let’s just leave it at “she needs a very involved level of care from her loved ones.” The time that this takes is intense. My husband is taking off time from work, I’m taking off time from work, grandparents are coming through, everyone. The energy that this takes… is extreme. But she needs it, and we gladly oblige. We’re all giving everything we’ve got to her, and don’t worry – it’s working. A happy, healthy child is roaming the streets of Brooklyn, treating the scaffoldings and the benches as her personal playground.

This has been no easy feat. We’ve all sacrificed heavily for her, as we should. This also means that our own self-care had suffered greatly. My own goals have suffered greatly. My own methods of self-reflection and self-restoration – two things I desperately need especially in the wake of traumatic experiences – have fallen by the wayside. I did so willingly for my child, but I am now suffering greatly mentally for it.

In light of all this, I felt immense guilt going back to Miami for the conference. I needed to be there for business, sure, but most importantly I needed to be there for me. Going weeks without being able to run, months without being able to lift weights or do a consistent routine, inconsistent time on my yoga mat – the three things that I’d used to relieve stress, release energy, and decompress naturally – had done virtually irreparable damage to my ability to think clearly. I snapped on people – my husband, included – frequently for minor infractions. I became resentful of everyone and everything for being in my way. I became resentful of myself for knowing that all I really wanted was a freaking cookie. I became even more resentful of myself for being so stupid as to think a freaking cookie was all it’d take to make everything go away, be “normal,” and make everyone happy. But it wasn’t stupid – it was, in all actuality, a reality I’d known for years, and would always know. That cookie brought those hormones that made everything feel better.


It’s a fact I’ll never forget – something likely to be accurate for just about every binge eater. You’ll never forget the food that made you feel better, if for no other reason than the fact that your road to healing includes admitting as much. You’ll always know just how much you need, you’ll always know just what feeling you’re looking for, and you’ll keep indulging until you get it. And, in times when life is stressful to the point where you are literally obligated to not leave your house – much like I was – there will always be that voice in the back of your mind calling out to you, compelling you to walk to the fridge, the freezer, the cabinet. And woe be unto you if you find that thing you’re looking for.

When self-care is lacking, alternative means of self-soothing become that much more tantalizing. It doesn’t have to be as serious-sounding as my particular issue. It could be an especially complicated all-nighter-esque project. It could be a bill that crept up out of nowhere – hospital bills, anyone? – and now puts you much deeper in the hole than you were prepared for. It could be anything – when you don’t check in, you check out, and checking out is English for “auto-pilot.”

And that auto-pilot will always direct you to the easiest resource for self-soothing, usually lurking right on top of your fridge.

Next week, we’ll discuss the complexities of “auto-pilot.”

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Ny June 9, 2014 - 5:20 AM

I love the way you write! I needed this.

Angel June 13, 2014 - 5:09 PM

ahh you let me breath a sigh of relief.. ty for your words.

JustMe3 March 28, 2017 - 4:18 PM

You are inside my head. Sometimes it just takes the right delivery. You are delivering.

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