Fitness Friday: discomfort food

I originally wrote this essay back in July 2013, so the stresses I enumerate have passed. No surprise, however, they’ve been replaced by new ones! I’d like to think I’m in a better place when it comes to recognizing my emotional and mindless eating. Still, I thought with some dusting off this piece would fit in nicely with my Fitness Friday feature. 

Troutman tweet

We took our thirteen-year-old car to a local mechanic for an oil change. When we picked it up, the garage owner announced that the cam shaft synchronizer was causing that high-pitched noise I’d been hearing. An aftermarket replacement part and the labor to install it would run us over $300.

This stressed me out, so I ate.

This dire news turned out to be a false alarm. (We drove seventy miles to our friend’s garage where he fixed the squealing noise with an $8 bottle of engine cleaner and informed us that our model doesn’t even have a cam shaft synchronizer.) Still, this vehicle has been the source of other headaches, tears, and needed repairs to parts that actually exist therefore sucking money from our bank account. We decided it was time to replace the car.

This stressed me out, so I ate.

Peter is not one to let grass grow under his feet or to let the oil stain grow on the garage floor, so we immediately began visiting car lots. We debated about purchasing new versus buying used, mulled over what make and model would be reliable and fuel-efficient, hashed out what features we needed versus wanted, and pondered how much car we could really afford.

This stressed me out, so I ate.

We found a used car that cost a little more than we had saved, but was in good condition and had features we both wanted and needed. Because it was more than we originally budgeted, I had to apply for the first car loan I’ve had in ten years.

This stressed me out, so I ate.

Right now, as I sit here at 1:00 am typing this story because I can’t sleep, I want to eat. Am I hungry or bored? Anxious or depressed? What is the allure of entering the darkened kitchen to open cupboards, to stare at the half-empty refrigerator shelves or to peek into the freezer in the hope I will find something to consume?

I am an emotional eater. When I searched for the tweet that I posted above using the phrase “eating my feelings,” there were too many results to count, and it took some serious scrolling to find the one I saw a friend re-tweet last week. Apparently, I am not the only person to seek comfort in food. Of course, the existence of the phrase “comfort food” should have been my first clue.

It’s seductive to call it “comfort food” or “chocolate therapy” or whatever other euphemism is in vogue. I’m not judging other people who eat to feel better. I’m just reminding myself that eating to excess, especially when I’m not even hungry, doesn’t make me feel better.

A few weeks ago, I fed my anxiety ice cream for supper. While it tasted good in the moment, I almost immediately felt sick to my stomach. The only positive I can think of from the situation was that I took the time to enjoy the flavor of the ice cream. Usually when I am “eating my feelings,” my consumption is completely mindless. I don’t realize what or how much I’ve eaten until an empty bowl or a pile of crumbs are all that remain. When all that is left is the torn packaging, I’m still bored, awake, worried or unsatisfied. It’s not comfort food – – it’s discomfort food.

As much as I might prefer to be a person who loses her appetite in times of crises so that I can drop a few pounds, I need to recognize that such behavior isn’t any healthier. My goal is to enjoy food that doesn’t make me feel bad. I don’t want to feel ill, and I don’t want to feel guilty. I want to nourish my body with a variety of healthy foods without eating too much. I can’t do that when I binge eat. I want to experience interesting flavors. I can’t do that when I shovel food in without thinking.

Going forward, I need a bag of tricks instead of a bag of chips when I feel the urge to eat my feelings.

What strategies do you use to avoid emotional eating?

6 thoughts on “Fitness Friday: discomfort food

  1. I haven’t been an emotional eater unless boredom is an emotion. I have been so guilty of eating when I am bored. And I will overeat, especially if it is one of those rare times I am watching a program. I have found I cannot watch a show or a movie without stuffing my face in the process. So now, I cut out cable and watch a movie on really rare occasions. Unfortunately, you can’t cut out your emotions.

    My mom brought up an interesting “diet” that doctors originally were against, but are now not(?). It’s called fast and eat. One day you consume only 500 calories, the next day you consume no more than 2,200. And you alternate that every day. I haven’t tried it, but it tricks your metabolism just like you would trick your muscle memory in workouts, and word is you shed pounds.I have to look more into it, but I wish you luck on finding answers to emotional eating.

    PS. that featured image you used looks delicious. I’d maybe be only to eat two bites, but yum! 🙂

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  2. I have eaten my emotions my entire life and write about it often. I’m taking a more cognitive therapy approach to kicking the habit, but damn, it’s hard. My strategies: keep busy first of all. Remember, you can’t just take the food away – you need to replace it with something else. So when you’re worried or anxious, you need something to replace the chips. Go for a walk, write, watch a show? Something else to numb the anxiety. The food is dopamine; no more, no less. Look for dopamine substitutes. But when I know I NEED the food for self-care, I pick up healthier junk food alternatives that I can munch on. Popcorn, frozen fruit pureed into ice cream, etc. Sometimes you just need to mindlessly munch so plan ahead and find a better alternative. That’s my strategy. Good luck!

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    1. I try to remind myself how I’ve felt in the past after eating comfort foods. I can’t count how many times I’ve been disappointed by a Dairy Queen Blizzard. I always think they are going to taste better than they actually do.
      This evening, craving something sweet, I indulged in some strawberries. They were so tasty. DQ just can’t compete with that.
      Thank you for your advice and insights.

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