Emotional Eating: Why We Binge, How to Recover, and How to Prevent Future Binges

“Food is for eating, and good food is to be enjoyed… I think food is, actually, very beautiful in itself.”

– Delia Smith

Let me just start by saying I am NOT a nutritionist, or a psychiatrist, or a psychologist, or any of those fancy things, and I by noooooo means have this eating healthy thing totally figured out.  I don’t even claim to have the same story or struggles as any of you reading this.  However, I do know that often times it helps me to process my own woes by reading about other people’s and how they have dealt with them.  What I am is a girl who is motivated to live a healthy lifestyle, has been focused on trying to do so for some time, and is 100% totally and unquestionably human, and thus prone to falling off the wagon in catastrophically grand ways at times.

And with that in mind my friends, we segue into my yesterday.  Life has been rather emotional for me as of late, more so than ever before, so after an emotional end to my Saturday night and a restless night of sleep, I woke Sunday morning slightly numb, dreading the required tasks of the day (namely having to visit the classroom I have left for the rest of the year, and pack up items from my old apartment that need to be put away into storage) and ready to eat some SWEETS.  Ha.  For those of you who know me personally, you’re probably going whaaaa?!?! in your heads right about now, because you know sweets are normally the last thing that I go for.  That is, unless you have been close to me this last month and you realize that yep, sweets now seem to be a daily struggle for me.

So, to sum up my food intake yesterday I would say that I had roughly 15 Girl Scout Cookies (the thin mints and the peanut butter ones of course — go big or go home ladies and gents), an old Valentine’s Day sugar cookie, a large bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate syrup and peanut butter, oh, and raw cookie dough.  Yep, you heard that right.  I bothered to mix together cookie dough at 7:00pm at night so that I could eat it and satisfy that current craving.

YAHHHH- IKES.  Typing all that out still makes me cringe.  But, because I’m a big girl and I’ve learned sometimes there isn’t any other choice, I can honestly laugh at myself for my ginormous pile of poor food choice after poor food choice yesterday.  At the end of the day as I was reminiscing over all of this disastrous intake with my mother, I came to a realization.  I acknowledged that I was eating emotionally, because clearly the wear and tear of the day and the previous one had resulted in my cravings, but my mother asked me a simple question that I hadn’t really asked myself before that.  She asked, “Did it help?”.  I paused… Did it make me feel better?  Did it calm that emotional turmoil bubbling inside myself?  No.  No it didn’t help.

But as I talked about it with her, I realized that the reason for the amount I had eaten was probably for that exact reason, that it wasn’t helping.  It wasn’t helping, so I kept having more, in hopes that maybe one more cookie would truly make me satisfied and happy.  If I would have truly stopped to realize this along the way, would I have probably stopped eating?  Yes.  Would I have probably chosen to go workout instead, knowing that endorphins are the one true thing that can really pull me out of those funks?  Yes.  However, did I have the clarity yesterday to think that way?  Nope, I did not.  Hence creating a landfill of sweets in my stomach.  There are some days when I start to emotionally eat that I am able to realize these things.  All I can do now is remind myself of them and hope that the next time the desires set in, it’ll be easier to get my brain to cooperate.

(I thought about adding in pictures to this top part of all the delicious treats I indulged in yesterday for you all to see but then I realized that a) I would have to put that food right back under my nose today in order to do that, probably leading to not good things, and b) I would be tempting you, my reader, to head out and binge yourself, what with all of the appetizing pictures, so nooooo pictures of yesterday’s food folks!)

Now that we’ve covered yesterday and why I leapt with such abandon into cookieland, we come to today.  The recovery.  As I’ve mentioned before, what we make a habit of eating is what we crave.  I especially find this to be true myself and notice it the most after I have fallen off that proverbial wagon.  It is days like today that the sweets are even harder to say no to, since I have that recent reminder of how darn good they tasted.  So, what have I done today to ward them off?

  1. I started my day off with a workout.  Often, nothing works better to remind myself that I want to be healthy and take care of my body than working out and giving it some good old endorphins.  When I’m feeling good about my journey and healthy lifestyle, the desire tIMG_0805o ruin it by shoving 10 cookies into my face is muchhhhhh smaller.
  2. I got myself a little “treat” before grocery shopping, in the form of some non-black coffee.  Normally when I drink coffee, I drink it black.  I like it black and am very against drinking my calories.  However, when I am needing a little something extra sweet in my life I will have things added to my coffee, within reason.  For example, today’s from Starbucks was a medium roast coffee with sugar free vanilla syrup and soy milk added.  Unfortunately Starbucks doesn’t typically have almond milk, but when I go to my local coffee shop, my favorite combination to do is sugar free caramel syrup and almond milk.  If this desire hits me at the end of the day instead of the beginning, I’ll go for chamomile tea with a bit of almond milk and Stevia.
  3. I headed to the grocery store to pick up some healthy favorites.  I know that for myself, one of the best ways of hitting the refresh button is by making smoothies to start the day.  I honestly love smoothies, and the fact that they’re packed with so much healthful goodness just makes them that much better.  So I grabbed some fruit and other supplies at the grocery store and headed home to make my smoothie.  IMG_0809I typically stick to a very similar recipe for smoothies, but it is easy to switch out/add ingredients depending on your mood or available ingredients.  I’m not one for measuring things when I cook either in general, unfortunately for those trying to replicate what I do, (sorry guys!) but for smoothies I have learned that if I make about a blender-full then I’ll have enough for today and the next day.  IMG_0811I wouldn’t recommend making smoothies much more in advance than one day because you don’t want it to go bad.  So, here go the estimations, aka the recipe created after the fact, for today’s smoothie:
    • 2-3 cups of spinach (tip: put a paper towel in with your IMG_0810greens to keep them from getting slimy longer)
    • 2 tbsp of ground flax (the more flax you add the more oatmeal-ish it tastes I’ve noticed, so if you’re a big oatmeal fan you could easily add more)
    • 1 tbsp chia seeds (love those suckers for omega-3’s instead of fish oil)
    • 1 cup of Oikos original nonfat Greek yogurt (I don’t like the flavored kinds, but that’s a personal preference)
    • A dash of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper (yay for health benefits you can’t even taste)
    • 1 tbsp of coconut oil
    • 1 tbsp of honey
    • 1/2 of an avocado
    • 1 cup of fresh raspberries
    • 1 cup of fresh strawberries diced
    • 1-2 cups of almond milk (I prefer the unsweetened original, but you could easily use vanilla.  The more you add, the thinner your smoothie will be)

    Remember, I like to fill my blender, so this “recipe” of sorts creates two servings.     IMG_0826                  IMG_0827 IMG_0814          IMG_0815 IMG_0823

  4. I made one of my favorite salads in advance so that I could eat it for today’s lunch or dinner.  Again, me and my recipes, I tend to just remember the “about”s and go from there, but this one a friend actually gave to me so I THINK I remember the exact amounts.  It’s called Massaged Kale Salad and is literally the one and only way I can think of that I like to eat kale.  I LOVE this salad (and it’s super simple!), but besides this salad I definitely don’t love kale (yeah, yeah health food friends, I’m working on it).  IMG_0816
    For this salad you will need a large bowl, liquid measuring cup, garlic, lemon(s), olive oil, kale and shredded Parmesan cheese.

    • 1 bunch of kale (I get the fresh, non-prepackaged stuff becaIMG_0817use you usually get more for your money and for this salad I like to chop it up myself anyhow. You want to make sure you’re cutting out the stalk—that stuff isn’t pleasant to eat—so I just fold it in half and get rid of it with one whack. Then you want to chop it up. Generally speaking this salad gets wet and shrinks up after a day rather easily. If you cut it in bigger pieces, it’ll go longer without doing that. However, it still tastes just as good and sometimes I will just throw it on other mixed greens when I eat it later in the week to make it feel heartier again.)
    • ¼ cup lemon juice (I like to squeeze the lemon in my liquid measuring cup first so I can fish out the lemon seeds without anything else in there, and then just use it as a bowl of sorts to mix in the rest of the stuff. Usually I can get enough juice out of one lemon, but depending on the lemon there’s a chance you might need another.)IMG_0818
    • ¼ cup olive oil (I just pour it right in the measuring cup with the lemon juice, bringing me up to ½ cup.)
    • 3 cloves of garlic (Chop those puppies up and toss them in.)
    • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese (Toss that in too).
    • Salt and pepper to taste (I honestly don’t usually add any and I’m a salt FIEND.)

    Then just mix up all the ingredients that you have in the liquid measuring cuIMG_0819p, poor it over the chopped kale in the large bowl, and use your hands to massage and mix the liquid all over. The combination of the garlic and lemon is quite delicious and you can always cut back on the cheese if you want.IMG_0822IMG_0821IMG_0824

  5. I am not being too hard on myself or expecting anything too drastic during my recovery process.  For example, I’ve already had a small bite of cookie dough.  Ok, ok you caught me.  It’s been more like 4 spoonfuls throughout the day whoops.  My mother put it out on the counter right under my nose and left it there for forever, come on people, what did you expect me to do?  My self control is already worn down!  But I am NOT going to let that get me down, or throw me into a tailspin repeat of yesterday.  Today is still a recovery day, with a little cookie dough thrown in and all.

Now we’re on to the last part, the prevention.  What am I going to do to try and keep those future binges away, or if they happen, smaller than what yesterday’s monstrosity was?  Well, here are some suggestions for you all that I’m hopefully going to follow, and that will hopefully be helpful to those of you who struggle like me.

  1. Don’t even bring that food into the house.  The main reason I’ve been struggling with sweets lately is they are EVERYWHERE in my house.  My family recently experienced a tragedy that has resulted in lots of gifts of food (thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has been providing for us, your support means everything).  I am not trying to diminish the wonderfulness that is the gift of food, however it has created this new ongoing constant temptation that I have to deal with.  Normally I don’t even buy such foods for myself.  If you don’t have the junk food in your house easily accessible, the likelihood that you will eat it is much less.  First of all, if you get a craving, you’re going to have to actually get up, leave the house, go to the store, buy that food, and bring it home.  All of those additional steps are going to give you a lot of extra thought-processing time, which often leads to being able to find the willpower to say no and realize it’s not a choice you want to make.  Or it might allow you to find a way to acknowledge and satisfy that craving, but in moderation.  That, and there’s also the fact that when I’m in my craving moods I’m often also feeling pretty darn lazy, so there’s no way I’m getting my butt into my car to go get anything (don’t even think about delivery, tell your mind it doesn’t exist).IMG_0806
  2. Buy healthy versions of things you predict that you will crave so you can indulge without truly indulging.  Normally I’m a salty food girl, but around that lovely time of the month, or times like now where the sweets have totally got my number and are calling my name on a regular basis, I have a go-to healthy chocolate snack that I will buy.  Vitamuffins Deep Chocolate muffin tops are where is it at folks.  Only 100 calories and lots of good old fiber, as well as other nutrients packed in.  I like to pop these babies into the microwave so I can indulge on some ooey gooey chocolately goodness when sweet cravings hit.  When searching for them in your grocery store though you should be forewarned, they’re not where you might expect them to be with other desserts.  They’re actually found with the frozen breakfast foods.  IMG_0807IMG_0808Additional healthy alternatives for me have been things involving peanut butter, such as a low-calorie fiber-enriched English muffin toasted with peanut butter and raspberries on top, or even just celery or an apple with peanut butter.IMG_0555
  3. For events you know will be food-filled and you want to avoid overeating, put on the tight pants.  I know that this might sound silly or counter intuitive, like why wear a pair of pants that is tight when I know I’m going to need room to fit my food in, but trust me it works.  Now I’m not suggesting you wear that pair that is so tight that it automatically creates a muffin top and you feel all kinds of fat and self-hatred when you put them on.  No, we want to avoid those feelings.  However, I am saying that you should wear one of the pairs that is just tight enough that you still feel slim but there’s not a lot of room to grow.  As a fitness professional, I often find myself living in leggings and all different types of stretchy clothing.  The problem with stretchy clothing is that you don’t necessarily realize when that belly of yours is growing.  Now, when I wear one of my tighter pairs of jeans, I notice right away when I am eating a meal and my stomach is getting full and stretching outward.  That little pressure of the pant line around my waist has slowed me down and saved me from an overeating binge many a time.  I personally thank that trick alone for keeping me from stuffing myself this past Thanksgiving, which is a whole other discussion in itself.
  4. My fourth and final thought on this matter is that we all, myself especially, need to get better at actually expressing our emotions instead of trying to eat them.  Whether this is talking to someone, writing something down, producing some form of art, exercising or even just crying.  Whatever it is that helps you express yourself, or feels appropriate at the time.  Usually when I am emotionally eating its because I have all of these emotions under the surface that I haven’t allowed myself to release just yet.  So, instead of always turning to food, I’m working on realizing this and releasing those emotions before I attempt to eat them away.

Good luck everyone with dealing with your future binges!  If you personally have tricks or ideas for dealing with the roller coaster that is emotional eating, please share!! Life is a gift and all we can do each day is our best (and accept that that ‘best’ is going to look different at different moments).

Hugs and love,

Maggie Mae


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