Emotional Eating: The Pen is Mightier than the Spoon

runnersRunners will tell you what a high it is to “enter the zone.”  For anyone who hasn’t had that experience it is when the person running is in perfect harmony with their body and mind as they run.  So perfect that for many it is a form of meditation where that pesky little voice in your head shuts up and you experience a quiet, peaceful state of bliss.  You cease “thinking about” the fact that you are running – you become the act of running.  You become one with your run.  Many runners will tell you that they’ve had experiences where they “come back to consciousness” after running a few more miles than they’d planned. 

Unfortunately, you could take the above description and apply it to what so many of us experience when we engage in emotional eating – except in that case we’re in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the spoon hitting our lips with a nice chunk of Rocky Road ice cream, mesmerized with how wonderful it feels when that soft creamy cold stuff floats down our throat.  And many of us don’t “come back to consciousness” until we’ve eaten the entire carton (and maybe even move on that leftover lasagna.)

Of course when it comes to emotional eating we don’t want to “become one with our spoon.”

spoonUnlike the runner the goal isn’t to lengthen the spell of our food induced bliss – the goal is to break that spell before we become bloated with both food and the inevitable sense of guilt and worthlessness that follows us after an episode of emotional eating.  And that guilt and worthlessness is also what can send us back to the refrigerator – because the act of eating shuts that that voice up until we “come to” again.

A vicious cycle.

Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Eating

When we engage in emotional eating it can seem we are almost literally “swallowing” our feelings.  Instead of coping with these feelings we choke them down so to speak – and it should be relatively obvious to us that these aren’t “good feelings” because if they were we wouldn’t be so desperate to do something (eat) that blocks them out.

feelingsOur bodies process the food we eat by turning it into energy.  When we eat too much food our body processes it by storing it as fat.  What’s interesting here is that, emotional eating is a way of processing our feelings.  When we engage in emotional eating, what we’re really attempting to do with that bowl and spoon is process our feelings; especially feelings that make us uncomfortable or hurt us.  It may sound weird, but from where I sit emotional eating is a process that actually stores those not so good feelings as fat.  And this means emotional eating doesn’t accomplish what we want it to accomplish.

Emotional eating is way to distract ourselves from processing what we’re really feeling.  Emotional eating, in my opinion, is a form of denial and denial is a psychological defense mechanism humans use to protect themselves from things we think can hurt us.  If we deny our feelings by burying ourselves in a pile of mashed potatoes it should follow that those feelings won’t be able to hurt us or make us uncomfortable about ourselves and our place in the world.  But we all know that isn’t true – we just end up feeling worse.

The next time you feel the urge to drown your sorrows with food – try picking up a pen instead of a spoon or fork.  Here’s a technique you can put into play:

Make a deal with yourself.  Tell yourself you can eat anything, and as much, as you want but you’ve got to write it down before you eat it.

For example, you write down “I am going to eat a cup of ice cream.”  And you do.  Except you want to get that blissful feeling back after eating it and you want to eat another cup of ice cream.  But before you have that second cup you write:  “I am going to eat a cup of ice cream.  This is my second cup of ice cream.”  And, if you decide to throw out the whole notion of “eating a cup” and want to just start eating straight out of the carton – write that down.  “I am now going to eat all the ice cream in the carton.”

The above has saved me from an emotional binge too many times to count.  What this technique does is “pull you out of the zone.”  Being in the zone works for runners looking to increase their distances – but the last thing you want is to be in the zone when you feel an emotional binge coming on.  It works for a couple reasons:

You reduce your stress.  When you make this deal with yourself where you can have what you want but have to write it down first your level of stress is almost guaranteed to go down.  In fact, many times I’ve actually stopped before I started simply because that reduction in stress helped me cope with what I happened to be feeling at the time.

It wakes you up.  You can think of this technique as your “snooze alarm” when it comes to emotional eating.  Sometimes we hear the alarm and jump right out of bed.  Sometimes it takes few snooze alarms before we pull ourselves up and get ready to face the day.  Same with this technique.  Sometimes you’ll wake out of the emotional eating zone after writing down what you’re going to eat before you even eat it.  Sometimes it might take a couple snooze alarms.


2 thoughts on “Emotional Eating: The Pen is Mightier than the Spoon

    • Thank you for your comment. I don’t run anymore due to sciatica (but on good days I can “wog” – kinda half walk, half jog) but, from my past experience, it sounds like you are “hitting the wall” – which usually comes just before entering “the zone.” One suggestion is to bring a small timer with you. When you hit that wall set the timer for 5-10 minutes and keep running. When I was running this is how I was able to increase my distance and, quite often, enter the zone. You will also quite likely be very surprised when that timer goes off and you’re not only still running, but “forgot” about setting that alarm 🙂

      Having said that I also want to encourage you to keep a running journal (if you aren’t already.) Keep track of where and when you ran, how long you ran, and your distance goes without saying – but also keep track of how you felt before/after/during your run – record all your feelings, not just the physical ones. Running releases all sorts of “feel good” hormones that can put us in “the zone” well after that run is over. Journaling gives such great feedback and encouragement and we get that from the most important person when it comes to attaining and sustaining healthy weight and fitness – ourselves.

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