So as a woman, I can definitely say I’ve dealt with emotional eating for about 20 years of my life, 16 of them unconsciously and the latter 4, consciously. When I realized I was using food to deal with life and emotions, it threw me into a vicious cycle of wanting to end it, while completely resisting it as well. I was so driven and fired up to try to figure out why I was repeatedly eating my frustration, anger, sadness, stress and even my happiness, that it completely turned my world upside-down.
So what exactly is emotional eating? Well, it’s eating in response to our feelings instead of eating in response to physical hunger symptoms indicating a need to satisfy our appetite. Certain emotions can trigger certain cravings. When we are sad, stressed or angry and we are used to using food to make us feel better it feels like that food is our “best friend”. That is, until after we have finished all the cookies, ice cream, chocolate, candies, fast food and cupcakes and then feel completely fat, bloated and guilty. Before we ate all of this food, there were a few minutes while buying it at the store where a scenario played out… something like this:
Trigger: Bad day at work, the boss yelled at you for something that wasn’t your fault.
Trigger: Fight with your partner or a break-up.
Trigger: A stressful rushed day and not enough time to eat proper meals. Blood sugar has officially crashed, cortisol levels are high and the body wants sugar NOW.
Trigger: Walking around temptation all day, giving in once and then continuing with the “well I already messed up so might as well just keep it up for the rest of the day” attitude.
Trigger that took me a while to discover: Consuming foods full of GLUTEN, sugar and MSG. After eating these foods, I would instantly get this feeling mentally and physically of “oh my gosh that tastes so amazing”, this bliss would continue for five minutes and then I would want to eat everything in sight plus whatever else I could get my hands on. It was like these foods would throw me into a relapse of emotional eating without me really realizing what it was. Hence it taking a while to figure it out. MSG, is one of the worst. More research and studies are showing that the hormone Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, may act on the “pleasure centres” of the brain, driving us to eat more of the refined foods like cakes, cookies, muffins, fast food because we remember how good the first few bites taste, and how euphoric it made us feel. So when I would eat foods with sugar, MSG and gluten, I would feel happy, on top of the world, until about 10 minutes later when the feeling transformed into a need to binge. Learning about this really helped me to understand why I felt that high and had such intense cravings.
There are many other triggers of course, but there are a few examples that you may relate to. So after the initial trigger, it’s a matter of choice. The emotional eater will decide they deserve a reward for their bad day to comfort the negative emotions they are feeling. And so, ideas in the mind start forming about what kind of foods they will buy at the store. It probably works a bit different for everyone, but this is how it was for me. I’d experience a trigger, and then as soon as I could, I’d find myself at the store loading up a basket with all my favorite “cheat” foods that I didn’t normally eat. I was in heaven as I bought all the cinnamon buns, muffins, ice cream, cake, pastries, chocolate…whatever I desired. The negative feelings disappeared momentarily and now I was excited. The food was my temporary “best friend”, a numbing agent, until later of course, when it gave me a terrible headache, stomach ache and pain from over-indulging. Then I hated it. All the negative emotions came back tenfold and I was even farther behind than I felt before I bought all the food. And to top it all off, now I felt fatter too. And this disappointed me.
So around I would go through these vicious cycles of emotions, blood sugar roller-coaster rides and digestive upsets. I’d ask myself, “Why the hell is this happening to me?!” Well the universe sure gave me my answer. Experiencing all of this gave me the opportunity to learn the in’s and out’s of what physical, mental and emotional implications poor quality foods have on the body, and how having a psychological void is the icing on the cake that can create the perfect storm for cycles of extreme binging and deprivation.
A note on the role gluten would play in my emotional eating & food addiction. Attempting to cut gluten out of my diet was extremely difficult for me. I believe this was because I was addicted to it. After I ate it, I would feel a short “high” and feel completely numb to my emotions. It was always easier to give in to the intense cravings than to try and fight them–they were so powerful! There would be days where I would try to avoid consuming gluten, but the cravings would take over my brain until I got fed up and gave in. After noticing that this was an issue, I started doing some research about gluten and the potential for it to be an addictive substance. I realize I am just one person but in recent years, I have been seeing and hearing more information suggesting that gluten, especially when found in wheat, could be addictive. This idea has been coming up more and more in food addiction circles and it has been compared to the addictiveness of white sugar. Its effect on the brain drives you crazy without it, and after you eat it, feelings of depression, sadness, anger, frustration and irritability can take over for days until it clears your system. When I was detoxing from sugar and gluten (yes, detoxing!), I was plagued with feelings of nausea, flu-like symptoms, feeling sweaty, feeling irritable, stomach aches, fatigue and the list goes on from there. This is not normal, nor is it okay for people to be unconsciously dealing with.
After going through this so deeply for so long I figured out how to recover and enjoy food to nourish my body while dealing directly with my emotions. I now feel such complete freedom! It’s a joy and it’s so very fulfilling for me to now have created a business where I can help support other women going through similar struggles with their own relationships between themselves and their food. This relationship we have with ourselves and our food can be very sensitive, intimate and vulnerable, but nothing feels better than opening up about it and sharing with someone what we are going through. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off the shoulders—a relief. Now I eat what I like, but I have found healthy, whole-foods ways to make my favorite things like banana bread French toast or chocolate pudding.
And on that note I am excited to announce that my first Gluten, Dairy and Sugar-free Cookbook titled “Amber Approved” will be out December 10. I look forward to sharing this book with the world and creating many more. So now I see why I was dealt this deck of cards, and I’m playing it to my advantage now to help support as many people as I can to take control over themselves and their struggles, and the love/hate relationships with food so many of us deal with.
To read the full version of my story and my breakthroughs from emotional, compulsive, binge eating and food addiction click here http://nourishthislife.ca/my-story/.