As much as we would like to think maintaining a healthy diet is simple, we would be lying to ourselves.
My own fitness journey has been filled with ups and downs. There are times when I would feel my discipline slipping and I would begin to binge eat or “ate my emotions”. I was stuck in a cycle of punishing workouts, stress, binge eating, and inevitable weight gain. Something I now see as yo-yo dieting.
Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. Most men and women have more emotional attachment to food then we realize. This is what I call disordered eating. This is something I believe goes beyond medically diagnosed eating disorders, but emotional eating is just as detrimental and harder to diagnose.
How to Identify
Perhaps the largest challenge is recognizing the signs of emotional eating. For me, I begin to think about food when I am bored or inactive. At darker times in my life I found myself ALWAYS thinking about food. I also had certain friends or work colleagues that would encourage unwanted snacking. Often times, it was so subtle I never realized how many extra calories I was eating.
Now you may say, “Well that is why I track what I eat.” This is true. Tracking is a great way for you to see just how much you’re eating in a day, but for me, tracking was stressful. It made me obsessive and gave rise to more unhealthy obsessions. If I went over my calorie goal, or ate something I wasn’t supposed to, I was riddled with shame and guilt.
There were other times I wouldn’t enter a food item in my journal, because I didn’t think the extra scoop of peanut butter was worth noting. I had a terrible habit of mindlessly eating. I would get home from work, eat dinner, go to the gym, clean, and then eat before I went to bed… even when I wasn’t hungry.
How to Heal
Recognizing and combating emotional eating habits is not an easy task. It takes time, attention, and dedication, however, it is an amazing opportunity for you to get in tune with your body!
I was able to come to terms with my issues when I stopped feeling shame and guilt. I began to be honest with myself. I stopped justifying eating that treat or that additional handful of nuts. How did I do this? I began to practice intuitive eating. This simply means I ate when I was hungry and didn’t eat when I wasn’t. This sounds simple enough, but it’s harder than it seems.
Intuitive eating requires you to listen to your body and identify your hunger cues. When I wanted food, I really had to sit down and think, “Am I really hungry? Am I bored? Am I stressed?” By making the effort to mentally identify why I wanted food, I was able to allow myself freedom. If I realized I wanted food because of an emotional trigger, I would get up and find something else to occupy my mind.
This is not an easy process. It’s something I still have to work on every single day. However, I refuse to be a slave to food any longer. I refuse to let my emotions get the better of me. I want my relationship with food and my body to be a positive one. An eating disorder is no small thing. It’s a serious issue affecting too many men and women.
By reminding our bodies how to eat intuitively, we can break the chains surrounding our relationship with food. We can learn to appreciate food as fuel, find other passions, and more ways to enjoy life.