Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Emotional Eating

A few days ago there was a discussion about "Emotional Eating" over at Elastic Waist and I would like to continue that conversation here.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding something but it seems to me that this theory about the dangers of emotional eating states that if I eat something believing it will make me feel good that I am living a lie and it won't really make me feel good thereby causing stress, weight gain, eating disorders and a need for intense therapy.

I just don't believe that it is necessarily true.

I do not believe that food is evil or my enemy. People do all sorts of things to avoid confronting their emotions. We use food, alcohol, exercise, gardening, meditation and sex to not confront feeling something uncomfortable. My point is that perhaps it is ok to do that sometimes. Confront it when you are ready. Until then, if you want to mow the lawn, have a cocktail, run 3 miles, or have a piece of cheesecake well, why not have all of those things? Can't I just have a piece of cheesecake without it being a symptom of some deeper psychological dysfunction?

I know that if I eat in order to repress my emotions and then eat beyond fullness, then I might feel physically uncomfortable and I might feel emotionally sad. I might feel guilty if I eat to excess. I understand that if I am eating to the point where I am making myself sick then that is not a physically or mentally healthy choice.

And yet I think that eating because it makes me feel good is under-appreciated in terms of its sensual gratification. I am offended by the idea that right eating is "eat to live" and wrong eating is "live to eat." I am a foodie. Buying, stocking, preparing and eating food gives me a thrill like no other. I think that anything that releases endorphins is good for me.

Eating delicious food makes me happy. There are numerous scientific studies on the emotional responses to food aromas and flavors. Food nourishes in ways beyond those of nutrition.

So sometimes I eat beyond the point of feeling full. I specifically say "eating beyond feeling full" to avoid saying "eating too much" which is a negative judgment that suggests having done something wrong. I think that eating beyond feeling full is something that everyone does sometimes. To some extent we are all "emotional eaters" and eat in response to our emotions, or conversely we eat in order to illicit specific emotions.

I think that if I can see how good my life is, the way that it is, then I am less likely to be self-destructive. If I label my behavior in terms of right and wrong then there is a danger of getting trapped in a self-destructive loop of self-loathing. What I mean by this is: (1) I feel like a loser so I eat beyond feeling full in an attempt to narcotize myself and stuff my emotions, (2) I hate myself for doing something "wrong," (3) I eat more because I feel miserable about being such loser.

There was a time in my life when I felt like a loser and I felt that way pretty often. I would (see #1 above) and then I felt (see #2 above) and so I would (see #3 above). The only way out for me was to slow down, enjoy every bite, and like myself more. How I found a way to like myself more is another topic for another day.


Deniselle said...

I haven't read this particular convo you're referring to, but I do think "emotional eating" has become a bit of a buzzword in the media, and it usually means something negative. It's often used as a judgement: if you eat because you're feeling bad, you're no longer eating in moderation. Or you're not eating because you're hungry, so it must be the wrong kind of eating. I like what you wrote, because you seem to appreciate food as a value in itself. I think we should strive to enjoy food and not just nourish ourselves.

Rachel said...

I haven't read the conversation, either, but I think emotional eating has been taken way out of context and is used in a more familiar, common context than it really should be used.

True emotional eating isn't about food at all, as with most food-related disorders. It's about one's relationship to food. Real emotional eating is characterized by such things as:

- Obsessive thoughts about food
- Self-deprecating thoughts following binges
- Feeling out of control or unable to stop
- An inability to recognize satiety or hunger cues
- Categorization of food into "good "and "bad" foods
- Habitually using food as a means of coping

And so on.

I think the term has been too widely applied, so that women who indulge now and then in chocolate or other "sinful" foods for example are made to feel as if their eating is out of control. In our diet-obsessed culture, what are normal food behaviors are perceived as disordered. But real emotional eating is characterized by much more complex and psychological issues than simply eating to make oneself feel good.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Regularly eating yourself sick as a way of dealing with serious emotions is probably not mentally or physically healthy. But eating a chocolate bar or a bowl of ice cream when you're down can make you feel better, because eating is something pleasurable and doing something pleasurable is a way of cheering yourself up. And I don't see the problem with that.

Corinna Makris said...

deniselle, rachel and becky,

Thank you very much for leaving such insightful and interesting comments. You have greatly added to the depth of this conversation and I really appreciate your generosity.

It is my opinion that our media saturated culture is encouraging us as a society to label ourselves in terms of our victimizations and our disorders in order to convince us that we are broken and to sell us products that will "fix" us.

It is a con game my friends. Don't fall for it. You are perfect. You are not broken. Celebrate your life every day.

Anonymous said...

Hey Corrina -

I just tagged you as part of my Birthday Celebration meme. I hope you will play along :)

Expect the Best,

Harriet said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

It reminds me of people who tsk-tsk about babies who breastfeed for longer than a few months. I can't tell you how many times I heard people say, "The baby doesn't need the nutrition anymore; it's just for comfort." Aside from the fact that babies DO need the nutrition until they're about a year old, what's wrong with a little comfort?

And what's wrong with a piece of cheesecake when you're feeling blue?

--Harriet Brown

Glen said...

I could not find the original article but I have written a few articles in my time about emotional overeating. Eating is tied to emotions but overeating is a recognized disorder that many individuals fight everyday.

Emotional Overeating can lead to other eating disorders as well as other more serious health conditions.