Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Dealing With Emotional Eating

Q&A Wednesday: Dealing With Emotional Eating

by Erika Nicole Kendall

First and foremost, I need to wish my Mommy a Happy 21st Birthday! Love you! 🙂

And now, onto the serious business:

Q: How did you deal with your emotional issues on your journey? I struggle w/emotional eating.

At first, I didn’t realize what was happening.

Let me explain.

Once I realized that eating healthier – leaning more toward fruits and veggies – was the path to weight loss for me, it didn’t matter what was going on in my life because I had finally figured out my achilles heel. So I bought up all the veggies that I knew I liked, first and foremost, and just ate those (or those in some big dish) to satisfy myself.

What ended up happening, for me, was that I couldn’t emotionally eat because I didn’t have access to the foods I used to emotionally eat anymore. It wasn’t until after I had started researching emotional eating that I realized what had happened. In fact, I remember the moment my then-boyfriend and I broke up – my daughter and I were baking muffins, and once everything was said and done, I took the muffins out of the oven, stared at them for a very long time… handed my daughter a muffin (what can I say? The baby likes her muffins.) and put the rest in the fridge, where they remained for a week. Untouched. They eventually went in the trash.

For me, emotional eating was a result of my inability to cope with my surroundings. I retreated into food because it allowed me to do so, free of judgment, free of fear, free of obligation… it felt like a free fall. It was like being able to close my eyes, take a bite and feel like whatever problem I was facing would fade away. It was my own self-induced cloud nine. The problem with this, as I’m sure you can see, is that food doesn’t – in real life – make problems go away. When the sugary haze is faded and you’re left with reality to contend with, your problems are still staring you in the face. And since you still didn’t cope with them, you’re still left with the choice to either deal with the problem or retreat into the ice cream again.

I remember being 21 and pregnant with Mini-me, and being so afraid. It wasn’t like I knew that I was an emotional eater – I don’t think many people are aware that they are, but I’ll come back to this – I just knew that emotionally, I was stunted. Like, something was holding me back. I spoke with my sorority sister then, who was a psychiatrist. She just told me flat out – you just need to start dealing and learning how to cope. I was like “How do I do that?” I mean, I barely knew what she was talking about, so she was gonna have to give me more than that.

Nah, I got no love. “Google. Amazon. Something. Do some research.”

I know that seems cold, but people around me know I love a reason to go do some research. Besides, information that I find on my own just seems to feel more valuable to me. So… off I went. Searching for information on developing better coping skills, and how to develop a routine that works best for me. How to learn how to protect myself and my emotions, because if I let anyone or anything linger for too long… I’m going to be bruised to that point where I’ll emotionally eat, and be perpetually angry. Two things I really don’t want in my life.

From there, I developed a plan that allows me to deal with issues head on, relieve my stresses and maintain positive energy that resonates in who I am and everything I do. It’s made me a more blunt person, yes, but it makes me effective. It makes me quick-witted. It keeps me on my feet. It also forces me to address issues as they arise, and quickly squash them. I do mean… quickly.

I’ve been forced to develop a stress management plan. When I have an issue, I write down the immediate problem, and I backtrack – in ink – to the cause of the problem, then I address that first. (I no longer have to write it down, but the plan is still the same.) If it is something I can address immediately, I do. If I have to wait, I accept that and I move on to the next pressing matter. The serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, the wisdom to know the difference. Say it, but live it, too.

The stress issue is also an important part of weight loss in and of itself because stress plays a direct part in your body’s ability to function properly:

Once upon a time, in a land not very far from your home… lived mankind. No fast cars, no shiny structures, no skyscrapers, nothing. Just man.. rock… and animals.

See, this worked for man because his only task was to hunt wildlife, and gather his kill for his family. That was his responsibility. His purpose was to bring the salt and fat from the animal to the family. Not work, not bills… just hunt. Because life was much simpler then, this was man’s sole source of stress.

One day, man could not hunt. Every time he threw his spear, he’d miss his prey. He just couldn’t catch SQUAT! His family was to go hungry and he just… he couldn’t take it. The stress started to build up inside of him.

Because stress about the inability to eat is the only source of stress for man, his body became used to the eventual chain of events. His body knows: Lots of stress = lack of food coming in. How did his body react? His body decided to hold on to what it had – by way of diminishing the amount of energy his body could exert all at one time, by way of making sure his body took a very long time to lose weight, by way of making sure it held onto every pound and fat cell it could. This bodily reaction would only further compel man to step up his hunting skills… why? Because he didn’t want to feel that way! He didn’t want his family to feel that way! He had to get his caveman hustle on! When man was finally able to tackle that antelope or whatever-what-have-you, the fats and salts in the meat were sooooo satisfying that they would cure man of the bodily reaction to stress.

Compare this to emotional eating.

It really is a dangerous cycle.. and it multiplies if you embrace and accept additional stresses because of your weight. In other words, if you are feeling intense outside pressure to lose weight, it compels you even further into emotional eating. This is why shaming doesn’t work. This is also why I don’t listen to society’s pleas about what my body should look like. It’s my body. I do what I want with it.

This is also why 95% of all weight loss success stories eventually turn into failures, because we over-simplify and minimize the psychological aspects of weight loss and wellness altogether – you have to be conscious and aware in order to successfully slay the dragon. It’s not just “lose the weight and it’s gone.” It’s “lose the weight, ditch the habits that brought it in the first place, get your head together and devote time to yourself to ensure that you keep it off.” If that involves getting therapy, then by all means. Do it. Not like having a therapist is anyone’s business but your own, anyway.

That being said, I don’t think emotional eating is something you can ever be “done with” if you’ve ever been in the throes of it. I do believe it operates like an addiction and, when faced with a situation that formerly would incite an episode of emotional eating, I may encounter the decision to “emotionally eat” or “deal with it.” The only difference between then and now is that I know the benefits of “dealing with it” far outweigh any benefits of “emotional eating,” and I know that “dealing with it” allows me to win. Every time.

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rissa October 27, 2010 - 11:20 AM

THIS is the type of post that i love. the nitty gritty. not really the what (even though i LOVE all of your posts and have learned ALOT)but the why, and next the how. this is my issue. i eat because i feel crappy (inside and out, especially the inside) ALL the goshdarn time and my sugar highs give me a few minutes of happiness. I know that as soon as i can conquer that aspect (well as you say cope) then i’ll be able to handle everything else. i’ve tried not having the junk in the house, so i dont have any crap to turn to immediately so i will end up eating less crap but on those really bad days, i’ll hop my tail in the car and make a run to coldstone or mcdonalds. so this is more confirmation that i really need to learn to deal with my issues in an effective and constructive manner. its so hard though because it’s a cycle. sorry for basically reitterating everything you typed, but i felt this post to my core. thank you for being you ma’am.

KindredSmile October 27, 2010 - 11:21 AM

I’m sitting here in damn near tears because I *just* had the “coping” conversation last night with my daughter’s father. He was all “you don’t handle stress well” and I’m like “Fck you mean? I’m still here, right?” and then I realized that that was the best I had to offer. Wearing my apathy like a badge of honor, waiting for some big moment that’s never going to come. This is a problem and your article only cemented it further. Thank you.

eye-shuh October 27, 2010 - 11:35 AM

Great article! I am definitely an emotional eater, but I’ve been trying to replace my craving for candy and chocolate for other comforting things I enjoy like a nice cup of Earl Gray tea. I still cave sometimes, but thinking about how great it feels to sit back with a cup of hot tea and it’s flowery aroma makes it a lot easier for me to make the choice between tea and an unhealthy binge.

Marsha October 27, 2010 - 9:33 PM

What a great post. Thank you for this. I’ve never read an explanation for why stress eating can affect weight loss like that one! Very interesting. I am definitely a stress eater. Right now, I’ve been asking myself this question before I eat something unnecessary–Is this the smart choice? It’s working at the moment, but I’m not sure I can “out think” this problem. I just want to feel like I can take control of this part of my life!

T.R. November 3, 2010 - 4:16 AM

Great post. Personally I’m in the throws of some serious emotional eating right now. I definitely need to find a coping system that works for me.

On a side note read the article on Marie Clare regarding the food bloggers and checked them out. They do seem to be obsessed about food and exercise which is different from what you do which is educated and give out information and allowing the reader to take what they need and leave the rest without obsession and shame.

Erika November 3, 2010 - 4:39 AM

Thank you! It takes time, but it is SO worth the emotional investment. SOOOOO worth it.

As far as MC goes, I don’t know… I don’t think that’s something you can gauge from a blog, especially when there’s interest for that kind of content. A blog of a certain age comes to gain a readership that has expectations, you know? They want to read about healthy dishes and exercise, so they blog about that. It’s not likely that they’ll blog about kittens and frustrating days at work because their readership will treat ’em like they jumped the shark, you know?

Besides, I know people who run anywhere from six to twenty miles a day because they train for marathons or have turned what they love into a professional career.. so even if it DOES seem obsessive, its appropriate for them, you know? I took the MC article personally because if I talked about how much time I spend working out or detailing my food intake, I’d be accused of obsessing about food and exercise… on a blog where food and exercise are the primary topics. How strange, lol. But thank you a ton for the vote of confidence, that means a lot to me! 🙂

Arnita July 6, 2011 - 7:20 PM

Erik…you so hit the nail on the head with this one. It took me some time to discover, understand and admit that I am an emotional eater. I’m glad that someone understands what I am going through. You and your blog rock!

Janice April 28, 2012 - 9:29 PM


Thank you so much for this post, your blog and openly sharing. It’s definitely encouraging and comforting! I have been overweight and battling binging all of my life. I can honestly and proudly say I have gotten better but your post shed light on something that never occurred to me before. The ability to cope and manage stress. I have started taking steps to do this intuitively but didn’t realize what was missing. I’m hitting Google hard tonight!


Tawanda C. November 28, 2012 - 11:30 PM

I have to and will share this post with others who, like myself, are an emotional eater. This post is so dead on in my life right now. Im walking and jogging & trying to get my health(primarily for diabetes and weight loss), but to no avail this weight isnt coming off as easy as i though it would. I know it takes a while to come off. As like you are , im also a researcher and like to find my own information..it just does something for me and i can say i found it out for myself. I have researched ways to lose it and even tried a detox cleanse. Im going to keep going because i want to live and hopefully results will show sooner more than later. This post was so authentic and continue with the good work! 🙂

Maureen January 9, 2013 - 3:32 PM

I just found your site and I love all the content. I am a 51yo woman that has battled my weight all my life…still do. Emotional eating is my biggest enemy…one would think that I have figured it out by now, especially as a Life Coach for others with weight and other life issues.
The unfortunate thing is that my hubby and I both love to eat…he is also an emotional eater although he won’t admit it. I enjoyed your article and will reread it so I can get my head back where it needs to be. I don’t want to lose a ton of weight, just enough so that I can feel better about myself. Thank you!

Carli Fierce January 10, 2013 - 6:38 PM

Girl, I’m at work and I almost stood up in my chair and screamed “AMEN!” Whew, thanks for making me feel normal and explaining what it REALLY means to cope with emotional eating. You give me hope…

Viv October 4, 2013 - 1:49 AM

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. You really captured what emotional eating is about and I could completely relate. I really liked what you said about developing a plan that means dealing with issues head on. This is a great approach.

Loraine October 4, 2013 - 6:36 AM

I Love your blog! I have been working in this company for 8 years, the past 3 years I started gaining weight until I realize I have gained 80lbs for 3 years. I hate my work, I hate how people being treated in my company, but I never got a courage to quit since the pay is very good. It’s become a habit to eat right after I get home while watching tv.. it’s so comforting after a long sucks day in the office. So I decided to quit start exercising and eating in the right way.

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