Dealing with emotional eating, or why I am trying to be more like Mamie.

I have, as far as I can tell, a lifelong history of eating when I am sad. When I am angry. When I am frustrated. When I have the blues. When I am bored. When I am excited! When I am celebrating! When I am discouraged. When I am overwhelmed. When I am tired. These last three — discouraged, overwhelmed, tired — are the hardest ones to tackle. I start to ruminate. I have a storyteller inside my head that loves to second guess past decisions and catastrophize the future. Loves to tell me that what my frantic imagination can come up with is, in fact, the incontrovertible truth.

I come from a long line of worriers, at least on my mother’s side. (My dad approaches life more like Alfred E. Neuman: “What, Me Worry?” He is almost 90 and is still going strong; he has the sharpest memory in our family so maybe he is onto something).

My sweet little mom, on the other hand, would bring home the gold if worrying was an Olympic competition. So some of my tendency to ruminate might be genetic and some might be learned. But some of it really, I think, is a bad habit.

Every time I chose to eat over a feeling instead of doing something more proactive I got just a bit worse at dealing with negative emotions. I think I started feeling like worrying about something was the same as doing something about it. I have done this over and over, year and year, decade after decade. It’s like I have become addicted to the rumination and then addicted to the food to soothe myself. This isn’t easy to look at or admit, but I know it is the internal work I need to do to keep making progress.

I am putting a lot of energy into getting more skillful at dealing with worry and negative emotions, and here, so far, is what does seem to work for me.

Exercise. I am like my dog Mamie: a tired dog is a good dog; a tired body, for me, leads to a “good” brain. I’ve tried more Zen approaches: Yoga, mediation, centering prayer, meditative walking…they seem to work in the moment but I don’t stick with them. I think I just cannot quiet my monkey mind. I am having more success with tuckering my body out, which in turn, calms my thoughts. Plus I feel empowered, and get stronger each time I do it.

So yes, exercise, but also just getting up and just moving. Sitting too long in front of my computer or the television seems to make me feel glum and anxious.

Talking about this with a few trusted people who seem to get this on a deep level. Yeah, they’ve been there.

Even if I am not actually talking to someone about my feelings I am listening to podcasts or reading about weight loss success stories. I need to hear how others have gotten through this.

Eating helps a lot. By that I mean not going crazy long periods without food, because then I get, well, more crazy.

Writing helps. I joined the most wonderful writing class, led by the kind and talented Alyse Sweeney. Much more about this in a future blog, but here is a link to her website if you want a preview:

And you know what else has helped? Seriously, crying. Sometimes the discharge of a good little private boo-hoo keeps me out of the kitchen. Sometimes I have to just sit with feelings, knowing that nothing is as fast acting as a brownie for pain relief. It works for a few moments, it does. But then I have the original feelings/issues to deal with, and I have weight of the extra calories. Plus, I get the bonus of feeling crappy about myself.

I feel uncharacteristically confident that I can get better at soothing myself without food. I am changing this habit: not perfectly, not always but trying to be perfect just gets my mind spinning again anyway.

So if you are reading this and you want to share how you avoid eating over worry and uncomfortable emotions please post a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “

  1. This post is brave and honest. Thanks, Jen!

    Your post reminded me of a habit I have when I’m about to start a new writing project that is public and/or revealing, such as starting a new book in my Scholastic days, or creating my website a few years ago, or sometimes currently when I blog or write a talk. I notice that I suddenly become RAVENOUS.

    It’s as if the nervous energy pumping in my veins lifts me from my office chair and into the kitchen, where I can’t seem to get food in me fast enough. But it’s not about eating to feel full. It’s the repeated activity of eating – so a bowl of popcorn, or grapes, or chips is ideal. It makes me think about how smart and sophisticated and clever we are — the part of us that does anything not to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Fascinating.

    Hey, thanks for the Write to Glow shout out! 🙂


  2. It makes me think about how smart and sophisticated and clever we are — the part of us that does anything not to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Fascinating.
    Well said, Alyse, and nice reframe. We are really just trying to do the best we can.


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