Now, it’s not uncommon in any way to be an emotional eater. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common issues with how people eat out there. You get very specific attachments to types of food throughout your life, and these become engrained in you forever. Unless you take the time (and incredibly difficult effort) to change them, they’ll only get stronger and stronger. So today, I want to share with you my weaknesses for food, why, and how I formed them, and my thoughts on how I can approach it all.
I have three very distinct memories from childhood in relation to food: first, it was when my grandmother would bring over sour cream latkes (if you don’t know what these are, just think white flour, egg and sour cream, pan fried, with sour cream on top… wowza!) and my brother and I would compete to see who could eat the most. They were about 3-4 inches by 3-4 inches, circular shaped, and I would consume 30+ in one sitting, no matter how much my stomach begged for forgiveness. Second, was when we were sick as very young children. My mother would allow us to have MacDonald’s breakfast after we visited the doctor. I remember loving it so much that I would longingly stare at those magical golden arches every time we drove by. That was the only time we were ever allowed to eat there. Third, was when I was in middle school and would go over to friends’ houses. They would have things like cookies, crackers, candy and other goodies stocked up, while we never had anything even resembling that at our house. I would just lose all control and go to town on their sugary and salty snacks. It was like I was storing it all in my belly for the few days I would have to eat fruit and veggies at home before I could get back to their house to eat more!
Looking back at these three memories, I can see something very interesting: desert food, and highly processed food, was so outlawed to me that it was like a super-gift each and every time I was allowed to have it. So what did this turn into as I grew older? Well, in high school, I found out that with more responsibility in when and what I ate, I seemed to gravitate towards finding these “outlawed” foods because now I had the ability to get them myself. And when I was able to drive, well, holy cow! MacDonald’s and me were inseparable. After baseball games I was known to get 3-4 burgers, super sized fries and soda, and then have an ice cream or apple pie thing. I would have that meal at least 4 times each and every week during the summer. Between games I would enjoy a large sandwich or burger, then wash it down with 8+ free-refilled soda, then pick up another soda, a couple gatorades and some snickers and chips to have during my next game. So yeah. I ate like crap. But I didn’t know any better. I knew my mom wouldn’t be the happiest camper about it all. But she wasn’t around to tell me NO, and I was a big boy who could make my own decisions!
Crap food was my reward for being free to make my own choices. When someone else made choices for me, I wasn’t allowed this stuff. So, of course the floodgates would open later in life. This reward soon expanded to become something that I psychologically needed to feel good. It’s a pretty cut and dry concept: if you reward yourself with something you enjoy, you’ll do more and more to receive said award. The only problem is, food is a necessity in life, and when you get hungry you are faced with a choice: either eat clean, healthy, good food; or, eat fake, unhealthy, crap food. And what happens when you don’t actually understand what the difference is? Well, you eat the food that you learned was the best tasting and gave you instant satisfaction. So, all of a sudden I’m a junior in college, stressed, confused, trying to have fun and allowing my emotions run how and what I ate. When I was happy, or doing good things, I would reward myself with “good” food. When I was sad or depressed, I would make myself feel better with the same “good” food. And that’s how it went until I was a whopping 245 pounds of not so solid, chubby wonderfulness!
Today my habits have changed drastically. The most important thing was learning first what food actually was (if it come directly from nature, it’s probably food). Next it was how to consume it intelligently enough to properly fuel my lifestyle. But the habits that I formed through 21 years of my life still haunt me, less and less each month, but still there nonetheless. Even tonight, as I returned home from training a client to finish up this post, I found myself overcome by my dark food habits. I was at Whole Foods picking up a few odds and ends for my cooking spree tomorrow. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been going through some emotionally difficult issues, and I could feel that overwhelming urge to calm my sadness and insecurities with what I grew up understanding would do so: sugar. And it didn’t help that one of my favorite bakeries; Sticky Fingers (just check out the site!) was selling cookies and brownies. So, I enjoyed a couple of each as I walked the 3 miles back to my house. Did I feel better? Hell yes I did! Did I help myself, and the growth I desire to be a better person? Not in any possible way. I gave in to something I know I honestly don’t want in my life. My stomach feels bloated and uncomfortable, my throat is clogged up, and my brain feels a little fuzzy. I don’t like that feeling. The few minutes of enjoyment was not worth the way I feel now, or the way I’ll feel in the morning.
I am still in the process of learning to overcome these emotional attachments that I’ve created in myself. I don’t have any definitive answers for you, and for that I am sorry. I am merely sharing this all with you to cause some form of thought within yourself. How do YOU see food? What are YOUR attachments and weaknesses? In my being able to be open and honest about my problems, I know I can pursue the things I want with a clearer mind. If I can share my struggles, and openly share the process I have for overcoming those struggles, I believe I can genuinely fix them from their absolute core. If you have a process, share it. If you don’t, be honest with yourself and learn to create and use one. If I didn’t have one I would still be an unhealthy fitness wannabe, right on the cusp on “getting it”.
True change can never happen if you don’t start from deep within.
I hope my ramblings inspire a little thought. And as always, I am here to bounce ideas off of, to discuss (even argue if need be), to answer questions, to help and to support.
Never Stop, GET FIT.