I recently spent a few days with a lover, in which we shared some amazing meals, drinks, nourishing conversations, cuddle time, and sex.
During our time together, I noticed that I was naturally vibing so high that I was craving light healthy foods, finishing each meal feeling energized instead of sluggish, and feeling satisfied after only a few bites of each thing we split.
Since I’m a believer in intuitive eating, this food-habit-shift was interesting to me, but it held no moral judgement of being good or bad.
Then on the last night when my lover was about to leave, I found myself feeling extremely sad and deeply heart-heavy. We shared tears and grief about the fact that this time together was a temporary oasis in our otherwise separate lives, and I found myself dreading the onset of skin hunger and loneliness that I’ve come to associate with the last year of traveling while single and solo.
On that last night I spent an unusual amount of time searching for the right place to eat dinner, feeling unsatisfied with everything I came across, and irritable. It’s no wonder of course, since I was searching for comfort food, but the kind of comfort I really sought doesn’t come in the form of food.
When I finally settled on a type and place to eat (pho) we sat down, and I immediately wanted to order everything on the fucking menu.
I recognized this gentle push to stuff myself as a coping mechanism, designed to help me escape my sadness, and I made the conscious choice not to fight it. We split a few dishes, and I ate until I felt heavy, sleepy, a little uncomfortable, and a tiny bit numb. It felt right, and appropriate, for my physical heaviness to perfectly mirror my emotional heaviness.
The next few days I felt that urge often, and I found myself craving sugar, carbs, and fatty salty, heavy, comforting things. On a small scale, I was grieving. I was letting go of something intangible: a hope, a wish, a longing. I let myself feel the feelings, and I also let myself eat all the comfort food.
You can call this emotional eating, to be sure. But the term “emotional eating” has such a negative connotation in mainstream culture, as if a person’s emotions should have nothing to do with their eating habits. That idea is nothing more than a diet-culture ideal, and I fundamentally disagree with it. Our food choices and emotions are linked, whether we like it or not, and “emotional eating” is not a dirty word.
Was I not “emotional eating” when my lover was in town? I was eating in a way that reflected my heart’s feelings of lightness, pleasure, and joy, so I would argue that I was eating emotionally.
Why is that kind of emotional eating acceptable, but it’s not ok to eat when we’re reflecting sadness, discomfort, anger, or loneliness??
Oh yeah, I remember. It’s because of diet culture, fatphobia, and the fact that we’re all socialized to believe our main goal in life should be to make our bodies as small and lean as possible. **major eye roll**
Trying to force myself to eat light and healthy, when my body wanted to feel as heavy and full as my heart was, simply wouldn’t have been appropriate. It wouldn’t have been any more appropriate than it would have been to force myself to eat three full meals per day while my lover was in town and I wasn’t hungry.
Trying to fully separate emotions from food is nothing more than a bullshit “weight-loss trick” sold to us by the weight loss industry, who is deeply invested in making us feel ashamed of our current weight, afraid to gain more weight, and guilty that we can’t lose weight.
How many times have you thought “food should just be fuel”? Now think about what the goal of food just being fuel would be. Is it to live your true best life and thrive as a complete human being? Probably not. Most likely, the goal is to “stop emotional eating” so you can lose weight.
Even people who practice intuitive eating sometimes fall into this trap, thinking that eating intuitively means eating only to the bare minimum of “fueling the body,” and not one bite more.
It hurts my heart to think that a person could find themselves trying to diet or restrict themselves from the comfort and appropriate heaviness that food can provide under heavy circumstances. Think about what everyone intuitively does when there is a death– they bring food! Food is so much more than just “fuel,” and I believe it’s a mistake to try to treat it as such.
Personally, I am deeply grateful that I had so many opportunities to soothe and comfort myself recently with heavy, grounding food as I processed and released my grief.
Let us take a look at this quote from the fabulous Ellyn Satter, whose definition of “normal eating” says it perfectly:
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be under-eating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”
This is the kind of relationship to food I subscribe to. Striving for “perfect” when it comes to food is always going to set you up to fail, struggle, feel guilty, and obsess, both because no such thing exists and also because food is about so much more than just physical fuel.
That’s not to say you should always use food to numb yourself and your feelings, of course. If you find yourself stuck in that chronic habit, it’s definitely worth looking into.
Food should never be your only tool for managing your emotions! You also want to be able to safely identify, tolerate, and express your feelings without the use of food.
But our feelings and our food are inextricably linked, and trying to override that fact in the hopes of supposedly “being healthy” (aka maintaining or losing weight) is both impossible, and unwise.
Food for thought. 😉