What to do if you’re an emotional eater?

If you’ve ever struggled with any eating disorder, you’re certainly no stranger to overwhelm.

From the social stigma to the excruciating awkwardness of hearing friends and relatives discuss your weight, from the abundance of online and offline tips and tricks, instructing you what to do and not to do if you want to tame your beasts, to the impossibility of knowing all of your triggers, it’s a God damn jungle out there.

And if you happen to be struggling with an eating disorder that doesn’t show on your body all that much because of your ninja skills to swing from starvation to binge eating and to elegantly disguise how tormented your relationship with food often leaves you, you’re really screwed. Because even if you build the courage to share your struggles with someone, you’ll often find even your closest people in disbelief. And before you know it, you’re actually making an honest effort to explain why you are indeed feeling like crap.

Why?

Why even bother?

Why even try talking to anyone about what it feels like to be absolutely unable to have a normal meal like a normal person without that annoying feeling of uncertainty creeping up on you? Uncertainty about whether or not that very meal would trigger a whole day of binge eating that will push you into deep self-hatred. Uncertainty about whether or not the very fact that you’re stressing over the simple act of eating is pushing you into sympathetic nervous system dominance and is thus slowing down your metabolism and inhibiting nutrient absorption.

And even if you do bother – where should you begin? If you’ve been in the loop for more than a few years, you’ve asked yourself a billion questions by that time.

And if like me you’ve been in the loop for well over a decade, you’ve tried every trick in the book, have improved and then got worse again a million times, what is left for you to do?

I am a binge eater. That’s my jam. I can have the most inspiring, wonderful, and harmonious relationship with food for weeks and even months, and then something would happen and would catalyze a period of binge eating that would leave me feeling completely powerless. And, for the love of God, I do know that I am not at all powerless. I do know that it does all depend on me. I do know that ups and downs come and go, that food is my weakness, and that I will probably always have a more complicated relationship with it than the average person. And still, none of this actually helps when all hell breaks loose.

An emotional eater’s relationship with food is a journey. It’s always a work in progress. It’s not like there’s a final destination for you to reach. You’re always on the go. Sometimes, you’re pretty aware where you’re headed but other times it’s all cloudy and confusing and you lose your way.

My own journey has been an emotional roller coaster. It’s been confusing and unpredictable. For a while I’ve been spotting certain patterns, though.

My food addiction is certainly not my problem – that I’ve known for a while. It’s the perceived solution to pretty much any problem that comes my way. The dots that I’ve connected recently are about what generally triggers my binge eating episodes.
I’ve realized that for me, food is a lot about fear. It’s about avoidance. It’s about insecurity and lack of confidence. It’s about distraction.

I’ve realized that my urge to binge wakes up when I’m faced with a challenge – for instance, an exciting, yet a scary project that I’ve no idea how to go about. A project that’s important to me but I have very little control over. Something that I associate myself with on a very deep level. Something that raises the stakes. And when I’m faced with something that’s so important to me, yet my confidence is shaky and I don’t perceive the situation as one, over which I have control, I reach for food. I reach for food because food is what I can control.

It is ironic and yet it makes perfect sense.

I don’t have it all figured out just yet. I don’t have a formula that works every time and helps me avoid those episodes. But I know accepting that “that’s who I am” is just the easy way out. Because it’s not who I am. None of us were born an emotional eater. Something somewhere triggered a mechanism that pushed us to transform food into a metaphorical solution to our problems. Which it clearly isn’t.

So what do you do if you’re an emotional eater that struggles with binge eating episodes and feel like you’re failing? Be kind to yourself. And be curious. Don’t let the urges define you. Stay mindful and ask questions – when do those episodes come? What triggers them? What manages to distract me and help me avoid them? How often do they occur? How long do they last? Is there anything common between the triggers? Is there any damage control available to me? Like choosing to go for a walk instead of stuffing my face or starting to write about those urges before succumbing to the temptation.

Emotional eating is no fun. But it’s a damn good teacher. It’s there to tell you something and it’s not that your appetite is just huge and random.

The question is: are you ready to listen?

Sofia Yotova

Inspiration.Passion.Humility.

I am the CEO & Founder of Foodie Boulevard – a disruptive organization that explores the role of food beyond the plate as foundational long-term strategy for personalized healthcare and wellness.

Our mission is to develop solutions that help our audience use food as an interactive educational tool, a powerful epigenetic factor, and a healing mechanism for people struggling with eating disorders.

I am a published author, blogger, lecturer, and workshop organizer. I am a certified Eating Psychology Coach by the Institute for the Psychology of Eating in Colorado and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Ambassador.