The Pit of Emotional Eating

Have you ever felt adrift in your life due to conflicting feelings? Tossing to and fro on a turbulent sea of emotional highs and lows, unable to see the solid ground of a stable shore? Everyone can say with certainty at some point in their life that they have suffered in this manner. We know that challenges arise, that stress is a part of life, that we will not always be content, and yet for many of us, we are shaken to the core when a new crisis arises.

I lived like that for much of my life–frazzled by circumstances beyond my control. And not necessarily always by big issues. It’s fair to say I have caused a lot of unnecessary stress for myself and others over the years. (I still do, but I’m getting much better in that regard, as I learn to “let go and let God,” as the saying goes. Faith has been an extremely liberating experience for me; ask me about it sometime!)

Another certainty is that stress and food are a deadly combination. I have a PhD in this one. When you can’t stuff your ears to block out fears that people are talking negatively about you, you can stuff your stomach and have a few fleeting moments of solace. When you have uncertainty about the direction of your life, you can be certain that there will be a light on under the golden arches of McDonald’s any time of day or night, or at least an open  convenience store, with its aisle of vast snack choices dully illuminated by temperamental fluorescent light. When you feel lonely, you have Mr. Pibb, Sarah Lee, Papa John, Colonel Sanders and a whole host of others who are always willing to be your friend.

This vicious cycle of feel bad, eat, feel bad is one that many people get caught up in. If you are not trying to lose weight, you may find yourself piling on pounds without much thought by chasing bad feelings with more bad feelings.  If you are trying to get healthier, emotional eating is likely to be the Achilles heel in your diet.

I’ve learned through dieting and being more diligent at confronting my emotions head-on that food isn’t meant to be a vacation from reality. At any job I’ve worked during my professional career, I guarantee you I’ve had a rough week for which I felt justified, starting with dinner on Friday, to eat anything I could get my hands on–anything salty, anything fried, anything chocolatey–anything to which I ascribed power to wipe away five days’ worth of weariness and frustration. The food debauchery would continue until Sunday morning or afternoon, when I felt I needed to get back on track and “get serious on Monday.” Sound familiar?

Not only does poor eating not solve your problems, but we know, of course, that it creates a whole host of new health problems if we keep it up long enough. Though nothing changes when we indulge in this harmful (or at best, not long-term, psychologically helpful) behavior, many of us struggle to break free from it.

If you are dieting currently, or otherwise trying to phase out bad food choices, you owe it to yourself to hoist yourself out of the pit of emotional eating and live your life with both eyes open, feet firmly planted in the present and not in the pain of the past or the fear of the future. You owe it to yourself to not use your kitchen table or favorite restaurant booth as an escape pod that takes you away from a life that will never be 100 percent perfect, no matter how hard you try. You deserve better than being a mental slave to food.

How do you start clawing  your way out of that pit? I think it starts with forcing ourselves to process the feelings that we’re experiencing, whether it’s through journaling; talking with the person with whom we have an issue, rather than burying a concern or frustration; or seeking advice from a friend, religious leader or professional, but I think each individual has to determine the best course of action. But the key is choosing a course of action and then acting. And then continuing to act when things get rough–when you begin sifting through layer after layer of fear and resentment and have some challenging revelations about yourself, when you uncover the core of whatever’s bothering you and feel overwhelmed with overcoming it. That’s the time when you’re most likely to grow and begin acquiring the mental resolution you need.

One good thing about a pit is that the light of freedom is always beaming down on you. Start the work that will lead you into that light today by examining your thoughts about yourself and your eating.

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