Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Case for Emotional Eating

**I should start by saying that my definition of “emotional eating” may be different from yours, and I get that for some people it really is an issue...but one that has been spun way out of control for the rest of the population.

I see everywhere how emotional eating is terrible, how it causes obesity and we all need to get ourselves under control or else we’re going to die of heart disease and diabetes and...well, quite frankly I’m surprised we haven’t just started saying people die of “being fat.” Because I’m sure in the future we’re currently heading towards, we will classify people as dying of “being fat.”

But that is another story and I’ll save it for later. The one I want to tackle now is emotional eating.

It’s normal.

Eating is emotional, it’s meant to be emotional, and I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is. We have an emotional connection to food. We’re meant to enjoy it. Good food brings us pleasure, and if it didn’t can you imagine how awful life would be?

What about the memories of baking cookies with Mom? Every time you eat a chocolate chip cookie that brings you a little closer to her and back to your childhood. Or having pizza parties in elementary school, eating cake at birthday parties, munching a bowl of popcorn at a slumber party.

We eat to satisfy a need, and part of that need is emotional. If you were just hungry it wouldn’t matter what you ate, but that’s not the case. You have cravings. When you’re sad maybe you want your personal comfort food. Sometimes you want something different because you’re bored with your usual. Yes, there are biological reasons for these cravings, but part of that is also driven by emotion.

Mental hunger is not the enemy. And for someone like me, who has spent almost half of my life ignoring hunger and learning to disassociate myself with the actual physical cues, who cannot recognize my body’s signals that I need food, and whose body is so messed up that it can’t even send me proper signals--it’s essential.

For me, emotional eating is much better than my alternative, emotional not-eating. For example, I am hungry and I am sad, therefore I should not eat because I am only “hungry” because I am sad. This is what happens when I try to eat “rationally” (or the one that’s incredibly popular these days--“mindfully”).

I have learned that my body is waaaay smarter than I am. It quite literally saved my life when I was at my lowest weight. If it can’t tell me to eat one way (physical hunger), it will tell me the only other way it knows how (making me think about food nonstop and eat even if I’m “not hungry”). And the very very small percentage of my brain that controls conscious thought tries to rationalize this behavior--hence, I’m eating because I’m bored, depressed, lonely, etc. But in reality I am hungry.

You do not need to feel physical hunger to be entitled to eat. You never need to justify eating.

It is not a bad thing to enjoy food simply because it tastes good, because you want it, to love it as more than just a source of fuel. In fact I think it’s much more disordered to have an emotionally devoid relationship with food. To see it as a chore, something to get over with and to be avoided. As nothing more than fuel, that could be replaced with anything else as long as it gave you the nutrition you needed. (I’m thinking of the Soylent experiment [], but also picking foods based on macronutrients only and setting aside certain times to eat, as if it’s forbidden anytime else--so yes [I feel haters coming on here], I think to a certain extent serious bodybuilders are eating-disordered or have disordered eating.) To be some robot that mechanically eats only when your stomach growls. For me, that is a recipe for disaster. I cannot have rules without turning into a dictator over my poor body.

I tried Overeaters Anonymous a couple times, and although I know they mean well I’m glad I stopped. Even though my reasons for leaving were wrong (I just did not want to recover), I don’t think it would have led me to a happy remission. I left more certain than ever that I had no self control for eating pans of cookies at night, thinking that my problem was bingeing when in fact it was restriction.

We cannot demonize food and refuse to let it have power over us. We have to accept that it does, and that it has that power by necessity, evolutionary necessity, and that by trying to manipulate our bodies otherwise is causing us to evolve in a whole new way that is making international headlines that are, in fact, demonizing food. Do you see the cycle? (And my lovely run-on sentence?)

It stops here. Control comes from letting go. So I eat emotionally, and that is fine.
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