I wrote and rewrote the intro to this post at least 10 times. Normally on FBG we’re pretty lighthearted and don’t take anything too seriously. But, today I’m going to switch it up and get emotional on ya. That’s right, today we’re talking about something really, really personal: emotional eating.
I have my own emotional eating story. Like many, I’ve struggled with emotional eating from time to time. (In fact, almost everyone emotionally eats whether you’re happy, sad, bored or lonely—at some time or another.) My issue ironically began in college after I became a certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor. After dealing with some personal issues along with the pressure of a tough class schedule my senior year, I began to overeat. If I was tired from staying up late working on a project, I’d eat for energy. If I was trying to avoid writing a paper, I’d eat to procrastinate. If I was feeling alone, I’d eat so that I didn’t notice. And it became a really bad habit and coping mechanism. Then, to compensate for the overeating, I began working out even more, teaching three to five group exercise classes a week in addition to my regular workouts. I felt the pressure of needing to look fit and trim, and, in many ways, my new profession spiraled me into not a textbook eating disorder per se (thank goodness) but definitely disordered eating.
I continued like this for years. Gaining and losing up to 10 pounds in a month’s time and generally being pretty obsessed with food and my weight. As a fitness professional, I always knew it was jacked up and I would NEVER tell a client or friend to go on like I did (we all know overeating isn’t about the food), but I kind of turned a blind eye to it. As a fairly proud person, I put up a good front of total body confidence, too, so most people in my life had no idea I was so consumed with it. They just thought I was healthy! Oh, the irony.
My “wake-up” call was when I got engaged. (God, this sounds like an Oprah show…) I immediately went into a panic about what my body would look like on my wedding day, and I knew that I could not go on like that. Life—and my WEDDING DAY—was about more than body imperfections, and I literally could no longer devote as much mental energy to obsessing. So, I privately made an appointment with a dietitian who specialized in emotional eating. And, dude, this lady changed my life. She helped me to really see my reasons for eating and helped me to get out of my self-destructive behavior. She also reacquainted me with my hunger, as I was way out of touch with it, and helped me to deal with my guilt of taking a day off of exercise. My dietitian was a huge believer in Intuitive Eating, which is a program and a book, and I have to say eating intuitively (or basically according to your true hunger and your body’s needs) totally changed my life. Although, I will say that I could not have made the changes I did without my dietitian. I needed someone to talk to and to be accountable to. Staci, you rocked my world to a gentle calm.
So why am I telling you all this? For two reasons. First, I know many of you struggle with your own emotional eating, and I don’t want you to ever feel alone or think that the FBGs are perfect. We are far from it. Second, I recently read David Kessler’s (former FDA commissioner, so he knows what he’s talking about) book The End of Overeating, and it addressed so many memories from my overeating past. The book is seriously chock full of research on the science and business of overeating. And by business, I mean the food industry purposefully creating menu items that load sugar on top of fat, which can create a drug-like high in consumers. (No seriously. The high is similar to heroine, he says.) This state can be addictive (again, heroine) and cause what Kessler calls “hypereating,” where willpower goes out the window and all you can think about is potato chips. The book has some great tips for how to overcome this, such as setting eating rules (for example, “I don’t eat fast food,” instead of debating whether or not you should stop for an egg-sausage biscuit on the way to work) and paying attention to your thought processes and realizing that you can reverse your bad habits. I wish I’d read this book seven years ago.
These days, I still have a slip-up every now and again, but it’s not something I beat myself up over, and I certainly never feel bad for taking a day off from my workouts. I heart off-days. I eat all foods in moderation, eat according to my hunger and actually enjoy food. Life’s too short to over (or under) eat. —Jenn