I’m Brittany and I used to weigh 260 pounds. I’m just about 5’3 so that was really heavy on my frame. I am a chronic emotional and over indulgent eater. It’s something I still wrestle with. A pitfall of my personality, upbringing, our societal norms or maybe a combination of all three.
I’m the oldest of seven. With a full time working mom we grew up on heavily processed, cheap, readily available food. Food was a reward, a celebration, and something we used to comfort on bad days. Family feud? Time to have a carpet picnic and fill our bellies with pizza, candy, and ice cream. Did well at a recital? Slurpees and Taco Bell! Family party? Drink as much soda as you please!
Back then we didn’t know that food could hurt us. Food was simply, food, right? But it was in those early years that I began to form some very dangerous habits. Habits that would stay with me for quite some time.
I was classified as obese at 15 years old, over 200 pounds by my late teens, and tipped the scales at 260 in my twenties and graduated to the morbidly obese category.
I tried many diets throughout the years. Read lots of books, binged health documentaries on Netflix, and actually succeeded in losing a bit of weight several times but it was always the same story. After a few months I’d fall off the wagon and after I fell off it no matter of willing myself to get it together could get me back on.
I Stopped Letting My Emotions Dictate My Choices
Like everyone else I’ve been through some rough patches. I lived states apart from my family, I went through hardships in my marriage, I lost three babies, I battled depression and isolation. Then there were the in’s and outs of every day life, 6 pregnancies in 5 years, losing and gaining large amounts of weight continuously, and trying to keep the house clean and keep my sanity with three tiny humans running around.
I could maintain any diet throughout the day but after I put the kids to bed all bets were off. Ice cream, soda, chips, candy, fast food, frozen pizza, things I kept around the house “in case of emergency”… I knew it all had to go because every night became an “emergency”. I was an emotional binger. I’d eat my feelings instead of talking about them.
Food made me feel better, but did it really? Can something that makes you feel better in the moment but makes you hate yourself the next day really be making things better?
I wish I could tell you that I have some quick and simple plan that you can follow and be rid of your emotional eating but this disease is so much deeper than some quick blog post fix-it.
In January 2017, I resolved to start making meals at home, stop eating processed foods, and simply eat real food. No counting calories, no macros, or Keto, or whatever the next fad was. People lived for thousands of years just eating real food without suffering the obesity epidemic that we have today. It made sense to me that if I just ate stuff from the earth, in modest potions, I could lose weight.
And I did.
But there’s an emotional aspect to weight loss that gets overlooked in a pretty before/after photo. Everyone wants to know what you’re eating but the more important question I think is “how did you break the strongholds and addictions in your life, concerning food?”
Breaking the Addiction
I was a sugar addict and by sugar, I don’t just mean ice cream. Sugar is in EVERYTHING processed. Bread, chips, salad dressings, diet bars, meal replacement shakes, heck, even in PROTEIN POWDER.
I knew that in order to be successful, I needed to have a safe zone. A place where I could go and not be tempted. I made my house my safe zone. Anything that was a stumbling block, even if it was a healthy item, it was not allowed in my house. My husband wasn’t even allowed to hide stuff for himself because I would go looking for it. It’s embarrassing, but I would! I would look for his hidden stash and then I would sneak some or sometimes just eat it all. You guys, I was an ADDICT!
You wouldn’t keep heroin in the house with a heroin addict. So for me to beat this, I got my whole family on board and we kicked processed food together.
In January 2017, I dedicated myself to this lifestyle change whole heartedly. I had a planner where I wrote down my weight each day, what I was eating, and how much water I was drinking. I also wrote down my weekly goals, monthly goals, and six month goal. This helped me stay accountable to myself.
But ya’ll, I had some NIGHTS! I generally did fine throughout the day but nighttime was hard. I was conditioned to eat while we were watching TV after the kids were in bed. There were evenings where I had to have my husband turn off the show and I had to go to bed early because I could not stop obsessing over food. I don’t have any easy remedy for this. It’s something you really have to white knuckle. Drinking water sometimes helped but sometimes it didn’t.
I’d complain to my husband about how I was starving after just eating a snack thirty minutes before. I wasn’t really starving, it was just the conditioning. It was just the withdrawal. They say that sugar is 10 times more addicting than heroin. And I can attest ya’ll, I went through WITHDRAWAL.
There were tears, there was anger, I remember trying to bargain with my husband one night telling him that if he really loved me he’d run out and grab me a cheeseburger and a milkshake. I actually got so angry with him after he told me no that I refused to talk to him the rest of the night and went to bed early.
As humiliating as that is to share, I want to share because I want you to see. This was an addiction. I would not behave that way, I don’t behave that way, I had to learn different coping mechanisms, different ways to handle my emotions because food was no longer an option.
A Different Way to Cope
I am not an emotional person outwardly. Big emotions are difficult for me to process, so I didn’t. I’d eat them instead. When I was twenty-one, I got “let go” from a job that was very important to me. Outwardly I was fine but inwardly I was devastated. I didn’t talk about it, I just accepted it and “moved on”. But not dealing with those emotions left my body to manifest them in other ways.
“Brady, the kids are driving me crazy. Bring home pizza.” Translation, ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t think I can make dinner tonight.’
“I’m really sad tonight. I need a milkshake.” Translation, ‘I miss our baby and I can’t handle this grief.’
I was fully aware of what I was doing. I just couldn’t articulate myself. It was easier to say that I needed food than to say that I needed help. When I really really needed help.
Part of my weight loss journey was figuring out new ways to deal with my emotions. Being more transparent about my feelings with my husband. Figuring out new ways to handle stress and feeling overwhelmed. Surprisingly, a lot of my anxiety, exhaustion, and stress began to fade after I altered my diet. I can actually feel a shift in my temperament if I begin to eat poorly now.
Processed food alters your brain and hormonal chemistry. For me, it makes me feel more anxious, tired, and angry.
Poor food choices were actually making me more emotional.
Something that has really helped me in having lasting success, is not completely ignoring my cravings. In the past, when I attempted diets that were severely restrictive, I’d fall off the wagon in a big way. After falling off, I didn’t really feel like there was any reason to get back on because it wasn’t sustainable for me.
This time I allow myself to have sweets in modest portions. There were weeks where I’d eat a handful of chocolate chips mixed with a handful of nuts every night and I’d still lose weight consistently. Friday nights are our dessert night and I make some kind of yummy, healthy treat, that satisfies that “treat” craving.
I’d like to say that now that I’ve found better ways to cope with my emotions, I don’t have the desire to eat my feelings anymore but that’s just not the case. It’s something that I have to be mindful of continuously and now that I’m in a healthy weight range, I do indulge from time to time. But I’m always careful because it’s a slippery slope when you begin adding tigger foods back into your diet.
I experienced this last year during the holidays. I put on 10 pounds of holiday weight and just thought “Who cares! I’ll take it off in January”, but it wasn’t that easy. It’s hard to get back on track when you hit a detour. It took me till March to get my act together and finally take off that ten pounds.
I’m glad for the experience though. I’m much more weary of indulging like that now. It’s just not worth it.
Are you an emotional eater? What are some of the things that you do to refrain from eating your feelings?