Home Emotional Eating Ending Emotional Eating and the Transformative Art of Self-Care: What Does Freedom Look Like?

Ending Emotional Eating and the Transformative Art of Self-Care: What Does Freedom Look Like?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Last week, Mini-me took a brand-new bottle of lotion, and squirted it all along the wall, behind a dresser. We didn’t figure out what happened until Ed walked in her room, and promptly slid across the floor like a Temptation.

We were furious. Lots of fussing ensued, coupled with copious chores and, of course, being grounded for the day.

She actually didn’t mind the chores, and accepted that having to clean her mess was a given. But being grounded? This was a violation of her human rights!

And she let it be known. Later that evening, after busting her for trying to hang out outside of her bedroom, she went to her notebook and penned a few notes… and plastered them all over her door.

I’m not going to lie. After she went to bed, I laughed – heartily. I laughed loudly. I snapped a few quick photos of the display – there was also a “Wanted!” poster offering a $900,000,000 reward for my and Eddy’s capture – and proceeded to go on pretending I never saw it. After several Black Panther Junior jokes later, we both agreed: we all do need freedom, even if we’re not all being held captive by the same thing.

Is there such a thing as freedom from emotional eating? It all depends on how you define freedom.

One of the complicated things about emotional eating is that you’ll never forget that feeling you get when you overindulge. You’ll never forget the rush of dopamine, you’ll never forget that moment where you’re so overflooded with “good” feelings that you’ve forgotten whatever drove you to bingeing in the first place. You’ll never forget the process and how it consistently rewards you with that dopamine rush every… single… time.

And you’ll rarely – if ever – think about the fact that your body will need more and more and more every time to get you to that emotional peak, as your body builds up its tolerance level to the point where your current consumption level stops being “enough” to get you there. You’ll rarely, if ever, think about all the salt in the food you’re consuming, and how it contributes to that bloat that makes you feel sluggish and tired all the time. You’ll rarely, if ever, think about all that sugar and how it contributes to the health of your heart and your blood pressure. What’s more, you’ll rarely – if ever, at all – think about how bad you feel after the binge session is over. You’re ashamed, embarrassed, sometimes humiliated. You’re glad this happens when you’re alone.

In those moments when you’re so stressed out that you set out for your “fix,” you’re not giving yourself that moment to think about all of that. You’re not thinking about any of that. You just want a vacation from whatever is putting pressure on you. You want a few minutes of peace. A food coma can give you that, even if only momentarily.

We mistakenly think of freedom from emotional eating as being able to take a giant eraser and scribbling across the pages of our diaries, and moving on with our lives as if this part of ourselves never existed. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that this isn’t the case.

My past as an emotional eater is a part of me – it is a living and breathing component of my history, my memories, and the fabric of who I am. It helped me, in a roundabout and backhanded kind of way, through some of the worst parts of my life. It also put me in absolute dire straits emotionally.

What do we always say about history books? We say that the past always predicts the future, so know your history, right? We say that we need to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to ensure a better future, right?

Why would it be any different with emotional eating?

Our histories are rich with lessons, if we are willing to be strong enough to look back into them. I completely get it – looking back at our past bouts with emotional eating brings about shame, embarrassment, and sometimes it makes us feel the pain we were trying to escape in the first place. But when we look back at the “moment before,” the moment that led us to feeling like we needed this kind of getaway, we realize where we went wrong, and where that freedom truly lies.

Freedom from emotional eating looks like forgiving ourselves for our past mistakes. It looks like understanding – it’s empowering to say “I know that this is how I once tried to self-medicate myself, but I know better now. I understand more now, and I am growing. I’ll make mistakes, but I will always try and strive to do better, to learn myself and what I need, and will love myself and cheer myself on every step of the way.”

Freedom looks like creating a space between the moment you’ve been triggered with stress or anxiety, and the moment when you make your move for your chosen “fix” food. Why do you need to create a space? So that you can tell yourself, “This is the moment where I would’ve otherwise went for the vending machine. Instead, I’m going to go outside and get a minute of fresh air.” Creating space in the moment gives you the opportunity to catch yourself before you engage in the habit. Remember – you’ll never forget how “rewarding” it was to indulge, and because of that, you’ll always connect the feeling of stress with this kind of “reward.” Creating that space gives you the opportunity to win. And, you will.

Most importantly, freedom from emotional eating looks like being able to walk around without a cloud hanging over you from shoulder to shoulder. It looks like taking control of your emotions – it looks like being able to feel things like stress and pain without “the inevitable.” It looks like knowing there’s a light at the end of every dark tunnel, and in that space you’ve created, you allow yourself to feel those feelings, calm down on your own, and move on.

An hour or so after Mini-me put up her signs all over her bedroom door, she tore them down. I joked to Ed that she was trying to hide them before he came home, and we’d agreed we wouldn’t mention that I saw the signs, or that I’d sent him photos via text message.

The next morning, Mini-me woke up and came out to the living room, asking us how we were and how we slept.

“What did you dream about, Daddy?”


I turned to look out the window. It seemed to be the only place where no one could see me struggling to not laugh.

“Yeah,” she slid out carefully.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I casually let out “Yeah, because we all need freedom.”

“Yup. We all need freedom.”

An awkward silence filled the room, until she finally spoke.

“I know you guys saw my signs. I made them when I was really angry, but I tore them down after I thought about it for a while.”

Amazing what taking a little time to think can do.

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Erin September 1, 2014 - 11:52 PM

I’m a white girl, but your site could be the answer to my prayers.

Anne September 25, 2014 - 1:20 PM

This is an EXCELLENT article! Very timely for my life right now. Great depth in intellectual and emotional knowledge. Plus it is well written!
I’ll be back!

Grace October 22, 2014 - 6:04 PM

Thanks for this.

K January 25, 2015 - 2:05 PM

This is a good article

Annette January 26, 2015 - 1:18 AM

“Amazing what taking a little time to think can do.” So true!

Evelyn January 26, 2015 - 3:05 PM

Great writing, Erika. Thanks for all your work.

Comments are closed.