“Emotional” Eating

Emotions are a complicated thing. They are very powerful and drive a lot of decisions that we may not even be consciously aware we are making. Eating habits are no different. From the food you eat to the amount you eat of it, emotions have a way of inserting themselves to steer your eating habits. Normally when someone says “emotional eating,” there is a negative connotation to it – however I know there to be a positive side to emotional eating that is stunningly magical.


When I think back in my personal life and the first time I remember unconsciously eating, it started in my early high school years. I would come home from school and go right to the cupboard, grab a big bowl of my favorite chips and then go veg out in front of the TV in my room until dinner was ready. I would scarf dinner down and then do my homework, go to bed, and repeat the next day. And the day after that. That bowl quickly turned into the whole bag, and then additions came along with it. Some cookies or candy, whatever tickled my fancy. I was eating way more than I needed to and not even realizing it. Eating became synonymous with hanging out alone or watching TV. I now realize the amount I ate was inversely related to how great I felt about myself.


Being a teenager was tough, I was diagnosed with depression and retreated from my family. I didn’t feel good about myself at all. Food gave me comfort when I felt lonely. It literally gave me a feeling of fullness that, in my mind, helped with not feeling good enough or feeling unloved.


This pattern of emotionally-fed eating choices continued for quite some time in my life. It wasn’t until I learned about emotional intelligence that any of this started to make sense. I participated in a few experiential based trainings and a four month leadership training that tested every single one of my emotions and the fear behind them. In my experience and with my past, the stories I have made up about myself and the fears that I have made up from those stories have driven every emotion to date. If my fear about not being lovable came up, food was there to make me think otherwise. The goal in understanding MY emotional intelligence is to be able to separate the fears from the emotions and then use tools that I have learned in this process to generate those feelings of love and comfort within myself – no longer looking outside of myself for them. Goodbye giant bowl of chips.


As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found the other side of emotional eating. The emotions you get from the experience of food. Whether it’s cooking a meal or sitting down at a great restaurant and trying someone else’s creation, eating can absolutely be a positive emotional experience. Think about it. The intoxicating smell of bacon = happiness. The crunchy saltiness of french fries = satisfaction. A warm slice of chocolate cake = love. Food is one of the only creative mediums that touches all of your senses. You can feel, smell, see, taste, and often hear food. It’s also very intimate – the food that passes all of our senses goes into your body to be broken down into nutrients that literally make your body function. Not sure how much more intimate you can get! Now add the connection part of food and how people all over the world gather for it, around it, and from it – food is absolutely magical!


When I cook or bake, I feel connected to my food and the energy that comes back into my body. It becomes a meditation or zen time for me, to be working with my hands in the kitchen and creating something that will satisfy and nourish my body. This process of cooking and baking creates a fulfilling feeling for me that from the time I’m selecting the ingredients at the store to the time it comes off the stove or out of the oven, it is my creation. Seeing a final version of something you have learned, planned and executed has always been satisfying to me. And then the delectable enjoyment of eating it, duh!


It’s been this connection to my food that has helped me balance my emotionally-led eating habits. Nothing else has ever worked for me, but this process of reconnecting to the very ingredients that nourish my body has created a calm space for my emotions and food to rekindle in a healthy way.


While this is absolutely a work in progress, my emotional relationship with food will continue to be a journey. There are dips and there are peaks, there are valleys and there are plateaus, but with each step I learn something new about myself and the place that food serves in my life and in this world.