A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss: How I Overcame Emotional Eating

May 2, 2013  |  

The other day, someone said to me, “Erika, I eat a lot whenever I’m anxious, stressed out, or need to sleep… how do I combat this?”

I considered it an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics, emotional eating.

First, understand that using food – because, yes, you’re using food the same way you use drugs – to elicit certain responses from your body is unhealthy. You’re sacrificing your health for the sake of your emotions, all because you may struggle with coping in healthy ways. It’s not healthy, not sustainable, and ultimately risky.

Second, understand that “eating a lot whenever you’re stressed or anxious,” and being aware of the fact that you purposefully overeat when you’re feeling stress or anxiety, is basically textbook emotional eating.

From WebMD:

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.

2. When you are eating to fill a void that isn’t related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream, and only that food will meet your need. When you eat because you are actually hungry, you’re open to options.

3. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the food you crave; physical hunger can wait.

4. Even when you are full, if you’re eating to satisfy an emotional need, you’re more likely to keep eating. When you’re eating because you’re hungry, you’re more likely to stop when you’re full.

5. Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt; eating when you are physically hungry does not.

The reality of emotional eating – and I’m speaking from personal experience – is that a person copes through food when they have no other way to cope and don’t understand how harmful it is to cope with life matters using things instead of problem-solving techniques. If you have no other way to handle the fact that your boss is a total jerk, but you know that that pint of Ben & Jerry’s makes you feel better, even if only for a moment, you’re going to get that pint no matter what it says on the nutrition label. Plain and simple.

I spent a good portion of my life eating emotionally, binge eating and suffocating my emotions with sugar. I’d keep a stash of those sugary Starbucks drinks under the side of my bed, ready for me to down them all whenever I felt upset. I kept candy in my purse, in my closet, in my desk, always at the ready whenever I needed a pick-me-up. I made sure I was always stash-ready.

You see, it’s not enough to understand that “it’s wrong to overdo it on the oreos,” because the problem extends beyond simply the “weapon.” Though bingeing on the Oreos can make you gain weight, it’s the habit that’s the problem, and the habit is “hiding from problems in junk food.” Give up the bingeing on foods, and you might replace it with an equally problematic habit like shop-a-holic-ism, alcoholism or nymphomania.

It wasn’t until I truly learned what the phrase “coping mechanism” really meant, that I could be free of my destructive habit.

A “coping mechanism” is a tool that you use to help you combat stress and anxiety. For me, my coping mechanism for winding down after a stressful day is yoga. For many others, it may be a bubble bath. For many more, it may be writing. You might decide to try chamomile tea for rest and relaxation. It could even be a mid-day meditation, or just taking 10 minutes to give yourself the opportunity to regroup after a stressful event in order to sort out your feelings. All of these things make a difference.

To my dear reader, I would strongly advise you to do some soul searching. Check out the book, The End of Overeating by David Kessler, and understand why you’re so engendered to this particular habit. Do some thinking about what kinds of coping mechanisms would help you find better ways to calm down and sleep. Most importantly, if you feel as though you struggle with doing this on your own, don’t feel afraid to reach out to a professional to help counsel you towards finding the coping mechanisms that’d work best for you. It’s not only important in regards to your weight, but your overall physical and mental health. As I always say, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is a trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching who also chronicles her own 160lb weight loss journey on the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Hit her up on Twitter, or check her out on Facebook.

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