An Invitation to the Emotional Eater
I have so many memories of eating as a kid. PopTarts and Frosted Flakes when we could afford them, bowls of ketchup and pickles when we couldn't, ice cream, butter crackers, and the rare fried okra chicken nugget combo from the FryDaddy.
But not many of my food memories are paired with community. My sister wasn't born until I was seven, and I subconsciously knew my parents' marriage wasn't doing great. My first-grade self wouldn't have articulated it this way, but I didn't always feel safe and was often alone.
Food kept me company.
When no one was around to play with me, I ate. When I grew uncomfortable with myself or with what was happening around me, I ate. When I didn't understand how to process my life, I ate. And, y'all, that hasn't really changed.
But it's not as simple to just say I'm an emotional eater. I've used that as an excuse for too long, and maybe you have, too. I'm so [insert emotion here], so I'm going to eat until I'm either crying or unable to stand up! Yes, we've stopped setting stupid goals and none of us need to lose ten pounds, but that doesn't mean we can't tell the truth. That doesn't mean we can't dig deeper.
I'm not an emotional eater; I eat when I'm lonely. That loneliness might live in the disguise of anger, sadness, fatigue, annoyance, or general dislike of All the Things, but if I pause to honestly ask myself why I'm feeling wonky and would kill a man for a sleeve of Oreos, the answer is inevitably some form of loneliness.
What's your answer?
The easy thing is to feel shame for eating what you "shouldn't," for not having the self-control to do what you know you should. But I want to encourage you to trade that shame for acceptance. Maybe like me, you need to acknowledge that food was a good and necessary friend at certain points in your life. What we learn when we're young is hard to shake, like that crush on Jason Bateman, so it's not surprising that we keep those early patterns and just blame it on emotional eating.
We're real people, full of all the complications that come with being a person. Please acknowledge your eating struggles with kindness and compassion. Please take the time to be honest about why you sometimes eat until you're sick. Please remember that ice cream is not evil.
My food struggles are a gift, and so are yours. They're an opportunity to learn about ourselves, to acknowledge what makes us fearful and emotionally claustrophobic. I've allowed my lonely seven year-old self to be in the driver's seat, and every day I seek to remember that she is sweet and young and doesn't need the responsibility to care for my soul. It's time to give her a break.
Being an emotional eater isn't a bad thing; we're emotional people. Just remember that the sooner you lean into those emotions, honestly and gently identifying what unsettles you, the sooner you can just be a person around food.
Because there is no way we're giving up ice cream and Oreos amen.