The exam was a week away. I had been studying for this for months, I was only going to get one shot at passing it, and the pass rate was 80%. Boy oh boy was I stressed. I snapped at my partner, I kept zoning out when playing with my toddler, and I had the unfortunate habit of thumbing through textbooks in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep if I couldn’t recall every single fact I might need to know.
Did I reach out to my friends and family? Did I get out in nature? Did I get active? Did I prioritise sleep? Did I do ANY of the things that I preach to manage stress in a healthy and effective way?
I started eating junk food instead. Lollies, chocolate, chips. I craved any fast-absorbed simple carb. This is totally natural, because carbs are involved in the production of serotonin. Much like dopamine, serotonin makes you happy. Likewise, chocolate contains certain alkaloids that also raise serotonin levels.
So you see, that candy I was munching on was serving a purpose for me. I was using it as a tool to cope with my stress. Was it the best tool to use? Not at all. But it was a tool nevertheless.
And that’s the thing about emotional eating that a lot of my clients don’t realize. They come to me seeking a way to stop feeling so out of control around food, but they haven’t acknowledged that the food is actually serving a purpose for them. They’re not crazy and they’re not addicted to food. There is simply a benefit to their binge eating.
Once this clicks, it becomes a whole lot easier to navigate the emotional eating experience. I was eating to mitigate the stress I was feeling. A lot of my clients do the same thing, or they eat because they are lonely, or to cope with any other negative emotion they may be feeling.
In short, the food is being used as a tool to regulate emotions.
We can’t simply take away that coping mechanism without putting something in its place. The answer to binge eating isn’t to just stop buying junk food or to fill up on vegetables. It’s to put more tools in the toolbox to cope with the negative emotions. When you have other ways to deal with it, you don’t need to rely on food. Then the binges naturally get fewer and farer between.
If you find that you’re an emotional eater, or you have clients who are that you would like to help, I’ve put together an email series to kickstart you on your journey to food freedom: the 7-Day Emotional Eating Detox Plan.
Each day you’ll receive a comprehensive email lesson straight to your inbox to give you the knowledge and tools to break free from emotional eating patterns and foster a healthier relationship with food. It’s totally free and honestly, I could have used it when I was studying for that exam.
I knew I was using food in a way that wasn’t very healthy but I didn’t do a thing about it at the time. I just popped Malteasers in my mouth till I got an ulcer. I crunched on chips till I felt sick. And I had so many lollies I broke out in pimples.
I passed the exam, but it’s laughably ironic that it was an exam in lifestyle medicine!