GUEST POST! Meet the author. Molly is a teacher currently tutoring privately outside of Boston. She loves working with kids and helping them build their confidence in and out of the classroom. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, writing and singing.
You can find her writing on her blog, Pink Skittles, as well as featured in Thought Catalog, The Mighty, Vocal, and Women for One. Molly has been on her own journey with healing her relationship with food through Intuitive Eating and is passionate about sharing her experience, strength and hope.
For a long time I felt like I had to fix my emotional eating. I identified as an “emotional eater” and that to me was something to be ashamed of and fix. What I’ve learned over the years is that using food as a way to cope with or celebrate emotions is absolutely okay. Eating is an effective coping mechanism and only becomes problematic when it is your ONLY coping mechanism.
Often we look outside of ourselves for someone or something to dictate what to eat and when to eat it. The idea of looking inward for that guidance is a radical one. To suddenly allow yourself to eat and do whatever you want is freeing but also terrifying. You kind of flail at first. You eat everything that’s been off limits because that’s naturally what your body is going to want and guess what? That. Is. Normal. A lot of problematic emotional overeating comes from restricting ourselves from certain foods or behaviors.
When you have experienced a long history of dieting there are deep rooted ideas about what foods are good and what foods are bad. What behaviors are good and what behaviors are bad. I am here to tell you that foods do not have a moral compass and you get to choose which behaviors work for you. There is zero shame in eating a cookie after dinner in the same sense that there is zero shame in eating a salad for lunch. One does not make you better than the other. However, years of being surrounded by diet culture makes that very difficult to process and internalize. It can put you in an endless cycle of overeating, feeling shame about overeating, and overeating to avoid feeling that shame. Realizing that it’s okay to eat whatever you want and giving yourself permission to do so is revolutionary. Eat the fucking cookie and move on with your day.
You should not feel like there is something wrong with you if you are eating at times of high emotion. To cope, to celebrate, whatever. Food is meant to be enjoyed and I think that’s something that gets lost in the mix. In making these big blanket statements and restrictions we actually create more trouble for ourselves. The more I tried to control this “thing” the worse it got. It was a lot easier when I let go a little bit and was open to the idea that emotional eating is not all bad. There is this misconception that if you try and eat a cookie at night and can’t help but eat 7 than you have a problem. When in reality the problem could just be that you are hungry. Sometimes it really is that simple.
When I started working with a nutritionist and understanding how to properly fuel my body I realized that the reason I was eating so compulsively at night was because I wasn’t eating enough during the day. It is so easy to blame ourselves and think we are doing something wrong when in reality our bodies are just asking for what they need. Understanding that there were physiological reasons why I was reaching for Cinnamon Toast Crunch at 11 PM was life changing. I am not a terrible person, I am a hungry person.
Emotional eating for me today is one of many coping mechanisms. One thing that helped me was to create a list of go to coping skills I can rely on and including eating on that list. It helps me to see visually “Okay, I have more than one way of dealing with this, which one feels right to me right now in this moment?” Not automatically relying on food as my coping skill has made me much more aware of my emotions and naturally stopped me from overeating in those times. Choosing to eat when you’re feeling overwhelmed is very different from compulsively eating when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
I also use emotional eating as a guide post for myself. If I find myself stuffing my face to the point of feeling sick there is probably something deeper going on. Recognizing that is a very valuable tool. It allows me to see where there may be some work to be done. Eating a slice of cake to celebrate your birthday? Great. Eating an entire cake over the sink until you feel miserable? Not ideal. There’s probably something deeper going on. We can often use overeating as a way to cover up our problems and recognizing that allows us to figure out the REAL problem and deal with it.
At the end of the day, it is a lot simpler than we sometimes make it. Food is food. It is going to fuel your body. If you eat too much food you aren’t going to feel good. If you eat too little food you aren’t going to feel good. Sometimes a bath does wonders for a bad day. Sometimes a scoop of ice cream works better. One is not more ideal than the other. So eat the cookie. Take the bubble bath. Call your friends. Love yoself. As long as you are making a conscious choice and honoring YOU in that choice, you are absolutely killing it.