I love quiet, mid afternoons. Currently I have a cup of coffee in my hand and these two adorable banana muffins courtesy of Minimalist Baker. I added some blueberries into the mix and it’s juice have dribbled all over the muffins when it was in the oven. The muffins are so soft, naturally sweetened from the banana- that it reminds of these huge cafe size blueberry muffins that I used to get from Costco when I was living in the States back in elementary school.
There’s a story behind these huge blueberry muffins. About once a week my family used to go out to buy a pack of the chocolate muffins and a pack of the blueberry muffins. Before I would head over to the bus stop for school, I would reheat one of these muffins in the microwave and impatiently wait for them. I would then, with a tissue on one hand, take these warmed, soft, gooey blueberry dribbling muffins away with me to the bus stop and delightfully bite into them.
Sometimes, when I come back home from school, tired in the afternoon, I would share a muffin with my little brother. Or we would get one each if we were really hungry, the blueberry or chocolate, so we can get a chocolate half and a blueberry half each. Then we would just have small talk or laughs over these muffins. Sometimes these conversations would take place at night too, just before we headed to bed.
When I was in my recovery, there was a period where I went through emotional binge eating. I didn’t know that it was called that until I actually realised that I wasn’t eating because I was hungry. I was eating to fill up an emotional void. In this post, I had written how my recovery was a journey of opening up my heart, and going back to redesign what was hurtful traumatic memories for the better. I didn’t want to be left with emotionally ridden scars. Because then the pain would still be there. and that’s not true healing.
The poet Rumi says that ‘the wound is the place where the light enters you.’
Time and neglect had closed up my emotional wounds. However, the pain and sorrow were still there. Revisiting the wounds opened them afresh. I didn’t want to be left with emotionally ridden scars again.When the sorrow is still there, the lesson has not been learned. Click To Tweet
When I think about these memories, I did not want to feel pain and sorrow. More light and love was needed to change these traumatic memories into good. I wanted to feel its goodness. I wanted to reach a point when I look back, I would be able to smile and embrace that these events happened not to hurt me, but that it was for good.
As I went through the process of emotional healing, and really coming to terms with how the two family divorces, physical, emotional, verbal abuse impacted me- a lot of intense emotions started coming up that I didn’t know how to process. There was grief, sadness, anger… At the same time I was beginning to practice eating properly again. For 2 years or so I had found comfort in restricting my food intake as an illusion of control, to prevent hurtful things happen to me, and during my recovery process, I went through a period where I had turned to food as a source of comfort.
This is where the muffins story comes in. My controlling nature wanted to keep these feelings that seemed to just flow out in tight, little, boxes. But of course, when a heart has been closed off for so long, it’s natural to feel uncontrollable emotions. I found comfort in foods. Specific foods in fact. Such as blueberry muffins for instance. Digestive cookies from home. Or chocolate granola bars. Or oat crackers.
The blueberry muffin reminded me of the laughs, the comfort of the heartfelt human connection.
The digestive cookies reminded me of the feeling of being protected of safety, of warmth, of healing. Because when I was young, I used to have these cookies dipped in warm tea and eat them when I was feeling under the weather.
The dark chocolate reminded me of my mom. She loves dark chocolate. Including her love for coffee, I too inherited her love for dark bitter chocolate.
Whenever I felt the intensity of these uncontrollable emotions, I find myself mindlessly medicating in these foods because of the feelings from the memories I had surrounding the muffin. cookies. chocolate.
It wasn’t the food I was really hungry for. It was the emotions I felt surrounding it.
This realisation did not hit me one night I find myself surrounded by an empty box of cookies, chocolate wrappers and not knowing how they were empty in the first place.
We all have our own food stories. Food is comforting, nostalgic. We collect these memories surrounding food all throughout our life. This understanding though is key in stopping our own self destructive patterns of escaping to food whenever we feel unpleasant emotions.
So if you have been emotionally eating your heart out, these few simple tips may be of benefit for you!
1. Eating (real) food for physical hunger.
Physical hunger is different with emotional hunger. Physical hunger is when you feel an emptiness in the pit of your stomach, you feel slightly light headed and unable to concentrate. Emotional hunger is when you’re suddenly feeling the INSTANT need to comfort yourself. Maybe you were having a rough day, and suddenly you’re craving for that chocolate ice cream. Again, it’s not the ice cream you really need, it’s the feeling of happiness associated when you feel eating the ice cream.
So, check in with yourself. Are you (really?) hungry? Or is it a deeper emotional hunger that you’re craving for? Learning to differentiate this was one of the first things I learned to stop my binging pattern.
I then found other things to comfort myself with. Instead of eating chocolate or cookies, I would go take a long bath, or go for a walk, or paint, or go talk to a friend. In doing these things, I learned to be okay with feeling sad, mad, angry, or depressed. It allowed the pain to flow (just as it needs to) and wash over me. I learned that if we have the heart to feel happy, we can also have the heart to feel deep intense sadness. And that’s okay. There’s no need to run away when we feel unpleasant. Feeling these feelings is only a sign that something underneath needs to come up and be healed. I allowed myself to feel the feelings I didn’t let myself feel back when I went through the divorce or abuse. In allowing it to flow naturally, it helped me grapple with the event, accept that it happened, it was not anyone’s fault, and take what I learned from it.
Whenever I felt hungry, I also made sure I was eating real foods. Plenty of protein, vegetables, carbs, a real balanced meal. I also made sure I was staying present with the meal and not thinking of anything else besides the fact that I was enjoying the food that is nourishing my body.
2. I can have this again.
Sometimes, when I actually let myself a cookie or that piece of chocolate. I feel this need to HAVE IT ALL. Have you ever felt like that? Like you can’t stop just at one, you need to finish the entire package. After having not properly eaten in my anorexia, my body sometimes feels afraid that It will no longer get fed. So it sometimes have the urges to finish everything in its sight.
In my binging moments, I find myself not able to stop at just one cookie or bar. So whenever I find myself having foods that are comforting to me, I check in again with my emotions. Am I having this as a source of comfort? Or am I just feeling like I need a snack? If I find that I’m emotionally eating, I tell myself, ‘This food will not feed your emotions. Place the cookie (or whatever I was eating with) down and go do something that you know will heal your emotions).’
I also tell myself that I can have this cookie / chocolate / croissant again. It will always be available for it and it is not a ‘forbidden’ food. All food is neutral. It is only our judging mind that places labels on what we ‘should’ or ‘should’ not eat. I had to get out of that mindset of having ‘safety foods’ and foods I avoided.
3. Stop. Drop. Leave.
Another mantra I adopted was this STOP. DROP. LEAVE. Whenever I felt myself midway or the urge to binge that was so strong. I would stop what I was doing, drop it, and get myself out of the space / room I was in. I would go into another room and not be harsh on myself. But tell myself, that it’s okay, there’s no need to get hung up on that cookie you ate and get things back in perspective.
I practiced the above three mantras continually. With time, the urge to binge lessened. I learned to properly deal with my unsettling emotions and traumas. Gradually, as I worked through and took in the lessons I learned, the wounds healed.Our food stories are entirely unique. Food can be a celebration, a source of comfort, happiness. But we cannot let it be the medication for our sorrowful pain. We need to let love do its true work. I learned to look at these painful memories from the perspective of love and eventually what I saw was not the pain and sorrows any longer, but of only the lessons that came from these experiences.
I hope that these tips are helpful. Do you have your own tools in breaking free from emotional eating? What are they? Share with me and others, feel free to leave a comment below!