We are in the midst of a crisis we’ve never seen before. Everything has changed. Even our emotions have changed. We are in the midst of experiencing crisis emotions and therefore, we are in the midst of the crisis version of emotional eating. It is just another response to what we are all going through.
We are in the midst of a great grief and overwhelming fear. We are grieving the loss of ordinary things like gatherings with friends, going to church, holding weddings and even funerals, taking pictures of our son or daughter’s high school prom, watching our child walk across the stage to get a diploma, family reunions, birthday parties, visiting college campuses and making any major decision for next fall. We don’t even know what next fall will bring.
There’s fear going to the grocery store. If we do go will we be able to get what we need? We can’t go to a restaurant and have a nice meal and even take-out is suspect. We have to take it home, disinfect the bags, dump food on our plates that we have washed, throw the plastic ware and fast food wrappers away and then attempt to enjoy the meal.
Some have fear of not having enough money to buy food and pay bills since their jobs have been deemed non-essential. Others are afraid they won’t survive period because as essential workers, they have greater likelihood to be exposed.
Whether the emotion is anger, frustration, sadness, depression, fear, rejection, feeling like a failure, being totally overwhelmed, loneliness, isolation or sheer broken-heartedness over being separated from those we love, we have emotions that we want to get rid of.
We don’t want to yell and scream and get angry. We don’t want to cry and sob or sit in our room afraid the world is coming to an end. We just want everything to return to normal. What do we do?
Am I An Emotional Eater?
When I weighed 430 pounds, my first response when I felt any emotion was to eat something, whether there was a real crisis or not. I wanted to eat a dessert, pastries, candy bars, fast food, chips or anything I could stuff in my mouth that tasted good.
I never wanted salads, carrots or broccoli during these times of heightened emotional feelings. I wanted something to stop making me feel angry, sad, lonely, frustrated or any one of 1,000 other emotions.
Still, I didn’t feel like I was an emotional eater. When I was a child my mother had an emotional illness that caused her to have wide mood swings. Early on, I determined that I was not going to be the type of person who seemed to wear her emotions on her sleeve. I hated the out-of-control feeling that my mother’s emotions brought to our entire household.
Eating My Emotions
I was determined, though, that I would manage my emotions. It was really my Grandma who unknowingly taught me how to wrongly manage my emotions. She was a great cook and any time we went to her house we could eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, as much as we wanted.
This was true whether we went to her house for a special holiday or birthday celebration or whether I stayed at her house for several months in the summer. Food was plentiful. I would eat and my all my cares and concerns about everything would magically disappear.
I never let myself feel sad, angry, frustrated, lonely or scared. I always ate away those feelings before I let myself feel them. It was my version of Calgon, take me away.
I would even do this when I felt happy and wanted to celebrate. I knew how to make all of my Grandma’s wonderful comfort foods. When I made those it felt just like she was still there with me. It made me feel happy. It made her love feel tangible even though she had moved to heaven.
Weight Loss Journey
To date, I’ve lost over 250 pounds. When I’d lost about 200 pounds, I realized I was beginning to want to eat those foods I had made off-limits. I was afraid I was going to go back to Plan B.
I had been operating on my Plan A, which was doing things God’s way, eating healthy, exercising, getting good sleep and so on. Plan B was eating sugar and starches to keep my emotions from going haywire. I was trying to avoid Plan B, but I felt a huge pull towards keeping it in place.
What might happen if I got angry and couldn’t control it? I didn’t want to look and act unChristian so I really wanted to hang on to Plan B, just in case I needed it. It sort of sounds like an alcoholic who keeps a bottle in the top of the cabinet just in case.
That’s when I had to understand that I actually had a relationship with food. We aren’t supposed to have a relationship with food. We aren’t supposed to get emotionally involved with food. Food is for fuel. It’s not something to help ease our emotions.
Wrong Use of Food
I clearly saw that certain foods, especially those made with sugar and flour, had become a companion when I felt lonely, a comforter when I felt sad, depressed or just needed to feel rewarded, a provider when I felt needy and grief-stricken, a protector when I felt fearful and overwhelmed.
I was using food to make me feel better and try to get rid of negative emotions. However, if I try to cover up my emotions by eating more food to make those emotions go away, I haven’t accomplished anything.
The emotions are still there and will at some point be triggered again. Then, I will just go back to my own standby of eating to try to keep them quiet and keep them at bay. It is a never-ending cycle which I did not want to go back to.
A brave soul in my Overcomers Christian Weight Loss Academy group recently admitted that during this current crisis, she found herself going back to old habits and eating whatever she wanted whenever she wanted. It’s scary for us to realize that the good habits we have developed have not been totally engrained in us when confronted with a crisis like we are in right now.
Thankfully, though, she had learned what to do and caught herself on the way down. Plus, she posted to be accountable to herself, God and the group. This is critical to do when we know we are eating outside our boundaries, especially during these difficult days we are in.
We will never do this journey perfectly. Hopefully we have learned enough to know that truth is our best friend. Telling the truth, reaching out for help and being accountable will go a long way towards helping us survive this crisis.
This whole shelter in place scenario is also difficult for many. That means a lot of time on our hands so what do we do? We go back to old habits. We eat in place! We’ve all seen the memes on FB that show a person blown up like a balloon and says this is what we’ll all look like when the virus scare is over.
That’s really not too far from the truth unless we begin to acknowledge and embrace our emotions and let them tell us what we are really feeling. This may be a really a frightful concept if we have always tried to shove emotions down or not feel them.
The truth is, we are emotional beings. We are emotional because we have been made in God’s image. Jesus wept. God loves us with a relentless love no matter what we have done. He sings over us with joy. He comforts us and holds us close like a weaned child. His compassion and mercy is unfailing and never ending. He is faithful to us down through the generations.
In addition, He is a God of justice, think of Jesus and the money changers in the temple. Jesus was angry. He was righting a wrong.
I am thankful that along with losing weight, God began to help me uncover the myriad of emotions I had buried for so long. Our emotions are never really buried by eating. Overeating doesn’t make the emotions go away.
Embracing Our Emotions
We must acknowledge, identify and embrace our emotions, but we cannot do that if we are not willing to feel them. We can’t feel them if we are constantly pushing our emotions away and trying to cover them up by eating and eating and eating.
We need to recognize the emotion when it happens. Then don’t try to stop it by stuffing it with food. Sit with it. Watch it like it is separate from you and notice what it is saying to you. What does it want you to do? Is it prompting you to do something you know isn’t right?
Recognizing and embracing our emotions doesn’t mean we have to do what it is telling us to do. We are not our emotions. We can make a logical choice if we simply recognize what is happening.
If emotional eating is a problem that is plaguing you, I invite you to listen to my podcast episode 22—Emotions and Trust. Because in the final analysis trusting God is the only answer to this entire problem. To listen go here: https://teresashieldsparker.com/episode-22-emotions-and-trust/.