Leeeeet’s talk about emotional eating.
When people talk to me about eating disorders I am quick to let them know that I’ve had ’em all. Anorexia. Bulimia. Compulsive exercise. Body dysmorphia. General freakiness around food, numbers, and tabulations that don’t exactly have a name, but also aren’t exactly “normal”. I have struggled with food and my body in every way possible. From starving to binging, I know just exactly what it’s like.
Despite this, something I haven’t talked so much about is emotional eating. It’s not because I’m ashamed of it, or because I think it doesn’t feel important. It’s just that emotional eating is just so fucking normal, so culturally ingrained, that it feels strange to wax poetic about it. I feel that most people, in some way, eat emotionally. Holiday dinners, birthday cake celebrations, going out to dinner on a date, bringing casseroles to the gathering post-funeral. These are times when messages are directly conveyed via food and because we have been in these situations again and again and again, they are habit. Food is many things, and a conduit for feeling is definitely one of them.
While in recovery, I generally had a lot of judgements about myself and my food. I judged my inability to just “be really healthy”, instead letting various restrictions whittle me down to a bag of bones in an inconvenient husk of a body. I judged the rage I felt when I couldn’t get on an elliptical machine every single day. I judged the purging, how disgusting and violent it seemed. I was a feminist for fuck’s sake. What was my head doing in the toilet?
Paradoxically, I also had a lot of judgements around the actions that were necessary to take in order to physically recover. For every time I chastised myself for my restrictions, I also felt waves a disgust when I consumed sugar, oils, breads, or baked goods. I judged when I couldn’t deadlift more weight on a particular day. I judged overeating, even without the purging.
Slowly, I began to realize that I was truly setting myself up for failure. I was a perfectionist about my recovery, as I had been about my eating disorder, and truthfully, it was keeping me from restoring mental clarity, fixing my overtaxed immune system, restoring my metabolism, and just generally having a cool life. I was keeping myself in eating disorder jail even in my recovery, and- lucky me- I realized that in order to truly feel good and in order to completely recover, I needed to change. I let myself off the hook with occasional overeating, I took months of only walking and doing yoga. I stopped weighing myself and I stopped counting calories and I stopped generally being such a dick to myself. Basically, I unlocked my own cage.
I’d love to say it was beautiful and I felt 100% satisfied and free, but that’s just not life. It waxed and waned, as most things in life do. My body changed a lot, and very quickly. I still didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, but I did generally have a free-er and more full life, which was enough for me, even if just for a minute. (Nothing is perfect, in recovery or out. Body feels are usually constantly shifting for most people, but especially for those in recovery).
The past two years have been super transformative for me, because after loosening my reigns and staying there for awhile, I took the next step in my recovery. First, I just tried to learn to eat and to restore my weight. Next, I put effort toward learning to actually like myself, which is where I believe the big shifts happen. My goal became not only about my body, but also about my mind. I wanted to feel proud of my accomplishments and to assume that on a base level, I was a good person. The more I practiced eating enough with eating mindfully, the more I listened when my body said yes, the more I figured out about what foods actually work for my body (as opposed to what foods I thought should work for my body)- the more I felt actually good. In turn, I also started to like what I saw in the mirror. My metabolism returned to what felt normal for me (with consistency around eating enough years. This change doesn’t happen over night.) Today, I genuinely like and respect what I see in the mirror, which is nothing short of a miracle.
Despite the peace and satisfaction I feel with food and my body, I’ve felt something uncomfortable creep up in the past six months or so, and that uncomfortable thing comes from good ole’ reasonable and normal emotional eating. Peanut butter is my one true love, for reals, and I had found that the way I was eating peanut butter was making me hate it.
Let me explain: When I was restricting, I had a mortal fear of fats. I did not eat peanut butter for most of my 20’s, and when I did add it in, it was by the carefully measured teaspoon. When I finally gave up the crutch of measuring, I had a complete and total peanut butter liberation, eating it happily and with abandon. On apples, on carrots, in smoothies, whisked with some rice vinegar and tamari as peanut sauce. I loved that I felt free to eat this food that I had so feared, and let’s be real- I loved the way it tasted.
Even with all the love, I noticed something unpalatable happening over the past few months. I was stressed out about work. I was stressed out about passing my personal training test (which I did!) I was stressed out about planning my wedding, getting my training in, being a good friend, recording my podcast, and the upcoming move to Portland. I was stressed about what relocation meant for my identity and my life and my finances. I was stressed out about the details of just about everything and my stress marched me, pretty much on a nightly basis, straight to a jar of peanut butter.
There is something about slicing up a nice crispy apple, spooning some peanut butter onto a saucer, and slowly enjoying the awesome goodness that plant-based snacking provides. There is also something about standing in your kitchen at 11PM in your pajamas, feeling exhausted but somehow unable to sleep, and dipping your finger again and again into a peanut butter jar, eating it really quickly. One thing is extremely pleasant, and the other feels straight up bad. I bet you can guess which is which.
The gist of this story is that I started eating so much peanut butter before bed that my stomach was hurting. I was tossing and turning with a gut ache, and returning to the peanut butter jar-thinking just a little more would help me fall to sleep. My relationship with peanut butter- something I loved!- had turned into something that was stressing me out. On top of all my other stress. When I was just trying to soothe my stress.
My body is curiously smart and curiously consistent. Although I was going through more than a whole big jar of peanut butter per week, my weight stayed the same, and my clothes continued to fit. I was uncomfortable with what peanut butter was doing to me not because it was making me gain weight (which I think is important to say given my history) but because eating it all bleary eyed until my guts ached just seemed like a punishing move on my part. Emotionally eating peanut butter wasn’t the celebration of birthday cake or even soothing like ice cream after a bullshit day. It was sad, and annoying, and taking the joy out of something I loved. And so, with great hesitation, I decided to take a break. From my beloved peanut butter. For thirty whole days.
Despite being a very even-tempered, let’s-find-the-middle-way health coach, I can still be prone to black and white thinking when it comes to myself. When I do something, I do it with enthusiasm (ahem, crossfit) and when I don’t I have tended to have a “never again!” attitude about it. Taking a break seems like a simple and obvious reaction to a scenario that was making me uncomfortable, but I have to say, I am impressed that I thought of it for myself.
I’m not having peanut butter now because it has occupied an uncomfortable role in my life, I am going to take a month to utilize some other coping tools (writing-in this blog even!, meditating, reading, etc.) , and then I will likely have peanut butter again. How novel! How simple!
So that’s what’s new lately.
Here are some things that have informed my decision:
And with that:
How do you cope with stress?
Seriously, please tell me! I want to learn your skillz.
I am motivated by women and I am motivated by queer people. I am motivated by the struggle I had growing up identifying as both, how sad and stupid and small I felt for many many years, months, weeks and days, until at some point I put a barbell into my hands and I said no. No more. I am confident and I am big and I am smart. I am more than what I have learned that I can be.
I am motivated by the idea that I am a part of a paradigm shift. I am a part of the not-so-radical idea that I am strong in my biologically female vegan body. I do not need a dick and I do not need a steak.
I am motivated by teenagers. By watching them awkwardly navigate their changing bodies and by hearing them apologize for themselves and by watching their tenacity. I build my body up and nourish it properly because-lo and behold- at 31 I am adult enough to realize that teens are always watching. Whether or not I realize it, I am an example. I take the position seriously.
I am motivated by watching my muscles pop. By hard work and early wake ups and calloused hands and then the visual result of such action. Hello traps. Hello visible crease between my hamstrings and my glutes, hello so many back muscles I never fucking knew existed. Nice to meet you.
I am motivated by the low hum of a completely clear brain after a metabolic conditioner. By being out of breath, finished and on my back, staring at the ceiling, with no thoughts at all. It’s quite a contrast to my constantly racing brain and it is serene in a way I haven’t found elsewhere.
I am motivated by the memory of myself at less than 100 pounds, on a frame that needs far more to survive. I am motivated by thoughts of the years I spent with my head in a toilet wondering how I could be doing this. I am motivated by love and compassion for that person. By constant affection and care-taking for that soul that felt so lost, by the promise that those things will never happen again. I made big mistakes and I made them for a long time, but I’ve got myself now.
I think of that person and I tell her I love her.
That I will only grow stronger and smarter and more compassionate with myself.
That above all, I can trust myself to take my own hand.
So, holy shit, a lot of wonderful things have crossed my web browser lately, and I want to share them all with you.
I feel ambitious today! I’m going to give you a huge wallop of links. I am going to give them with limited commentary, because there are just SO MANY, and the fact is, I bet the titles will pique your interest more than my opinions will. BUT first things first, and that first thing is Feminist Lisa Frank :
Jesus Christ. My emotional pre-teen girl boner has POPPED for these images, and will continue to do so, from now until forever, every single time I look at them. Thank you feminist Lisa Frank, Thank you.
And now the rest of the links:
Do you remember the Nickelodeon toy run? I hoped, I prayed, I DREAMED of winning the opportunity to go buck fucking wild, running up and down the empty halls of Toys R’ Us and filling my life with the pure unbridled joy that is TOYS. I kind of always thought maybe no kid actually won, maybe it was all a hoax. It was super fun to read that I was wrong!
Hey. So. Lots of times, our parents hate their bodies. Our grandparents hate their bodies. Shit, I bet our grandparent’s grandparent’s might have hated their bodies. This article reminded me that today, right now I have the opportunity to stop that train. I love my body so that all the kids I come in contact with can love theirs too. PARADIGM SHIFT, THATS WASSUP.
Dropping out of high school saved my fucking life, and I have never once for one day regretted it. If the train of high school feels fast and brutal, you can get off. It’s okay. I love you.
This is so, completely, 100% TRUE. Tricia Martin-Owen has been a peaceful and compassionate voice for as long as I’ve known her (almost eight years ago this happened- an event that was thrown especially for me at such a horrible time in my life, this post still brings tears to my eyes). It is wonderful to see how Tricia’s compassion continues to spiral outward, but now seems to be going inward as well. YOU GO GURL.
The more I delve deeper into body politics, the more I know there is still so much to learn, so may ways I can stretch my understandings of how ALL people deserve to love the body in which they are housed in. I am feeling deep gratitude to this article for helping me to push my boundaries and understand issues of representation with a bit more complexity.
There is nothing-and I a mean NOTHING- I love more than getting shit DONE. This guide is a great help for just that.
Last thing! Rise and Resist has a third episode out now, in which Holly and I discuss body image, self-esteem, changing your workout routine, involving your partner in your fitness, accepting your body at any size, and delicious delicious SNACKS. You can find that episode Here.