Right off, I’ll ask you. What is emotional eating? In a world where you can search Google for anything and get a massive amount of answers you would have thought I’d know. And I did and I do. I know that binge eating is a disorder and even has an acronym [BED]. There are sites and posts about eating when you are bored, stress eating, comfort eating, eating at night and of course, binge eating. They all seem to know exactly how to stop. Lists and lists of why we do it and how to end it. Medical information from clinical studies and research institutes that has been posted, linked to and sited in posts all about how bad it is. Stories about a made up person for sake of relatability.
No one thinks eating when we’re not hungry is good.
Those posts are great and all. It’s good information. But in all likelihood, it’s nothing new to you. I mean seriously, would you be googling it in the middle of the night with an over stuffed belly if you thought, yeah, this is fucking awesome! No! You’re unhappy. You’re now feeling worse than you did before you ate, your body feels like a truck load of shit, you’re embarrassed and frustrated. You might have just binge ate a pint of ice cream, standing in front of the fridge no less. And if you’re like me, you probably were in a similar situation last night!
You woke up this morning and said it was going to stop. And yet here you are. It’s late afternoon, you had a good lunch, dinner will be in a couple hours, you just go home from work. And where are you? Bored and eating… standing in front of the cupboard. Because when you’re binging, there is no reason to sit down.
Oh, and let’s not forget that candy bar you got from the break room vending machine to inhale without tasting, is this what stress eating is?
Eating when we aren’t hungry; whether stress, sadness or boredom isn’t a cliche.
The woman with a quart of ice cream because her boyfriend broke up with her is a classic. A sexist view of women, no doubt. this was the first image in a search of ‘women comfort eating’.
The top results for a Google image search of ‘men comfort eating’ focus on two things; a business man with worry on his face in front of a computer or an over weight guy with shirt untucked, big belly and an over stuffed plate of food.
If these images actually represent emotional eating then it’s not being taken seriously, or understood.
Emotional eating isn’t only for women.
As a boy of the 70’s and early 80’s emotions were discouraged. Feelings were for girls. That is literally what I was told and I’ll bet you were too. This idea that binge eating could be anything more than just being hungry and wanting something would be a foreign notion then. “Just stop eating if you don’t want to eat” is what I would have likely heard. That would have been if I had the courage to tell anyone about my… feelings.
If I were a fat kid, remember this was the 70’s, I would have been told to stop eating so much and get some exercise. The funny thing about being told not to eat so much, was that no one would have actually been seeing me stuff my face. It would have been assumed, as I was over-weight. And no one would have cared about why or how I might be using food to comfort something lacking in my life. Like I said, I was a boy and feelings were for girls.
Today we are supposed to think of ourselves differently. And many of us do, we take the time to accept our feelings and search out answers. The problem is that the 12 year old kid from the 70’s is still the foundation of our learning.
Couple that with the fact that when you search for answers or support it is dominated by articles by, for, and about women. I don’t want to go too deep into this as emotional eating is a tough fight for everyone. Add to it that women are body shamed at a higher rate than men and I get it. Although, I have certainly been shamed for being skinny for most of my life…. a tale for another post perhaps.
But it’s true, just like parenting, emotions and men still do not mix well. At least in public and outside our most trusted confidants…. maybe, but most likely, it’s still kept inside.
When I was young.
I remember as a lonely teenager, on hot summer nights go to Carvel and getting a full quart of vanilla ice cream with cake crunch and eating the entire container on the walk home. I recall having this need to eat an open package of chips to its completion. It was almost as if finishing the bag was a job. I say that because in this binge eating there was no real enjoyment. I just needed to get this finished. It felt the same way with that ice cream. It could be like this with any food actually.
An interest in sports, specifically running and bike, and a naturally fast metabolism is all I believe that stood between me and obesity.
Now. I’m a reasonably fit, active, fifty plus guy & I don’t look or appear like the guys in those images.
But I do eat when I’m not hungry, constantly. No matter how much I try not, there I am, at the fridge, in front of the cupboard or binging late night on the last of the ice cream. One of my day time standards, I work out of the home, is walking around the house as I ‘think’. These trips will continually lead me upstairs to the kitchen. There I’ll grab a few grapes, shoveling them into my mouth while standing at the fridge. A handful of chips, eaten right at the cupboard. A pack of crackers with cream cheese smeared on if I’m feeling ambitious and to convince myself that this will be a lunch substitute. For this, I’ll stand at the counter.
This is absolutely not a healthy relationship with food. But is it emotional eating? I ask because, honestly, there is no emotion when I’m doing this. At least I don’t think there is. I’m just… well… eating things I am neither hungry for or physically need.
I never intended for Half-Life to be an informational site. Sure I’d post links to things I’ve found. But this site was about me, opening up, letting you know that many of the things we go through as men in their fifties and believe we are alone on, we aren’t.
It’s a tough battle and I know one thing. Stopping emotional eating is not as simple as most of the posts would lead you to believe. That doesn’t mean they don’t work or are a waste of time. There is absolutely good, solid information and ideas. For me however, they are just not the answer. But they are a foundation of understanding, so check them out.
What’s really bothering you?
If you’re going to stop comforting yourself with food you’re going to need to understand just what needs comforting. You can’t just replace the food with something ‘healthy’ or stop with will and might alone. I said earlier that I don’t think I am an emotional eater because I don’t feel anything when I’m eating. But how true can that really be?
As I’m wrapping this up I am coming to realize one thing about myself and my relationship with food. Whether it’s getting up from my desk to graze at the cupboard. Or a late night bowl of cereal. Or a fist full of grapes at the fridge after dealing with an unruly child. The food provided a delay. From a task or emotion. It let me put off what needed to be done or faced. Even putting off going to bed, because when you fall asleep tomorrow will come all the sooner and who knows what we’re afraid of then.
So for me, again, I’m going to make the commitment to myself, and now you, that I’m going to stop. Earlier in the year I wrote a post about waking up earlier. Maybe in the short term I need to employ a similar strategy. But for the long haul, I need to look at facing things and understanding who I am a little better.
For you, I hope this helps and take a look at the links I’ve provided. I’ve cut through the noise and narrowed it down to a few posts I’ve found helpful.