How to Cope with Emotional Eating

(TW: Eating, Food, Body Image, Counting Calories, Body Dysmorphia)

Like many teenagers, I felt the powerful effects of body dysmorphia. Looking back, I was entirely healthy and looked completely normal, albeit a little taller than my peers. I always felt like I was severely obese, and always struggled with perceptions of myself. Whereas others were quick to take photos of themselves, and do wonderful things, I was always shy from full body shots, and I always wore a t shirt whenever a swimsuit would have to be worn.

I was suffering really badly from the idea that my body was against the norm and I was the dreaded ‘f’ word. But when I got older and suffered from depression, eating really got out of hand for me. In times where I felt empty, I used food to fill up the pain and sadness. Because I couldn’t really get out of bed at these times to exercise, my weight really began to rise rapidly.

And as I sit writing, I realised I spent my slimmer years thinking of myself as so overweight that I didn’t even appreciate that I was my ideal body weight all along. Whenever I felt sad, I would eat something that I knew would make me happy, and the more I was focusing on anything that I could use that would make me feel somewhat alive.

Eating your weight in ice cream may feel like a quick fix, but in all honesty, it made me feel worse. My confidence shifted, and eating was like a personal form of therapy, that didn’t matter because it didn’t feel like the number on the scale was moving much.

But as I got help to deal with my mental health disorder, I realised that I wasn’t eating well anymore, I’d allowed myself to become a binging, emotional eater. I’d eat all the time and thinking about and living with food was always on my mind. I wouldn’t skip a meal, it would be a sort of ritual to eat at every mealtime, even when those around me weren’t. I think this was when I first realised I was out of control.

I found I could eat gargantuan plates and still find myself longing for food within the next few hours, and honestly it sucked. I found myself unhappy every time I looked in the mirror, and I never took a single photo of myself out of shame. So I decided to cut it off from the source and go all in with my recovery from binge eating.

I guess you have to understand the difference between nourishment and eating because you’re bored / unfulfilled. I didn’t understand the difference, I figured my body needed the food as soon as hunger struck, so I would then eat. But your body might not need food every second you feel like eating.

So I began feeding my body only when it really needed it. And that means listening properly to your body cues. Sometimes, I might not eat breakfast because I’m not hungry that morning, so I’ll eat a bigger lunch instead. Sometimes I’ll eat later in the evening, depending on when I feel like it and my body is telling me that I am in fact hungry.

I also chose to eliminate any temptations from the house. So things like crisps, biscuits, cake, literally the unhealthy products that I’d find myself eating in the space of a couple of days. You can actually find so many healthy snacks, in your everyday life that will make you feel naturally full. I swapped crisps for rice cake and homemade dips, I swapped half sandwiches for lettuce sandwiches, I swap chocolate biscuits for sugar free ones, all these alternatives really make the world of difference.

And if I do feel like I’m going over the edge, I drink water, eat my rice cakes and maybe an apple, and I don’t feel quite so hungry anymore. I’ve gone from snacking on well over two-hundred calorie snacks to around 80 and I find myself eating more the second time around then I did before.

Honestly, going cold turkey on a lot of products has really helped me feel more at ease. I think having a large amount of temptations in the house really often led to relapsing, especially when I had a couple of drinks in my system.

And I think it’s important to note that you still deserve treats when you’re working against emotional eating – it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means that the next day you have to work a bit harder to keep on track. It’s really easy to slip up, and get back into the toxic cycle, especially when you get the taste back into your mouth, but it’s about controlling the urges to go off the edge, that will really make you succeed.

I might not be losing weight as rapidly as others, or I might not be incredibly restrictive at times. But I feel more healthy then ever, and I haven’t had a setback in a while now, even though temptations look me in the face everyday. It’s about feeling that food isn’t a coping mechanism to deal with other things, and that no matter what, you can break out of the pain and have a more positive relationship with what you eat.

Published by Heather Dalgleish

21-year-old journalism student. Author and illustrator for In Full Bloom Magazine

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