The Big White Elephant in Your Heart…Emotional Eating
To tell the truth, I never thought when I started my journey of living healthy, that I’d have to face my Big White Elephant. I honestly thought I was starting a new way of living, and would simply eat clean and then release weight. Not for one second did it cross my mind that I would have to face my deepest secrets and hurts.
I am lucky to have two loving parents who showered me with love and over-protectiveness since I was four. I cannot remember much of my early years before I turned four, but I assume I had a normal life. When I was four, my brother of 16 months drowned in the swimming pool at our house, and yes, I was caught up in the chaos of that afternoon and the days that followed, but I never really understood what was happening. When I was seven, my sister was born. Most of the attention went to this new baby, a miracle child, and I started to look for love and attention in food. I am NOT saying my parents didn’t love or give me any attention; but going from being an only child for three years to suddenly having to share my parents’ attention with a cute little baby was challenging, to say the least.
Some days school was also a struggle. I am till this day grateful for some of my teachers. The people who had the most and best influence in my life were my Kindergarten, Sub A (Grade 1), Standard 1 (Grade 3), and Standard 5 (Grade 7) teachers; two primary school headmasters; and one high school headmaster, who taught me to never ever give up. As a young child of ten years old I ended up getting psychological help because of one teacher. My emotional eating continued throughout my school years. I was always the one who weighed the most in my class, and not the sporty type, which also led to me feeling left out in my family. Everybody were great at netball, athletics, tennis, and rugby. I was good at eating. Eating my emotions away.
People can also contribute unknowingly to your emotional eating. Most of my life, when I met people, they remarked that I just looked like my grandmother whose names I carry; she was a big women and farmer’s wife with a big heart, whom I loved dearly. But I certainly didn’t want to be compared to her in my teenage years. Being trapped in an abusive marriage also contributed to my emotional eating; it was my way to feel better, feel loved, and feel that I was okay.Emotional eating is like riding a roller coaster. Sometimes in life, you get the straight track. Everything is fine, you enjoy life, nothing can upset you, and you even have courage to start a diet. You are on top of the world, and everything is under control. Then you hit the incline. Things go wrong in your life. You struggle financially; you are caught up in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage; you lose your job; you cannot have children; your parent(s) are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or cancer; you feel so alone. The only way you can feel better is by eating. Eating anything, not just “bad” foods. Anything can be comfort food. It doesn’t have to be sweets, chocolates, or cake. It can be ordinary food, like bread or pasta. It can be a second helping of lunch or dinner. It can be that slab of chocolate, packet of Simba chips, any meal from KFC/McDonald’s, or ice cream you secretly bought on your way home and either devoured there and then in your car or hid to eat later when everybody would be asleep.
We know that what goes up must come down. The decline…the guilt. You realize what you did: You tried to feed an emotional hunger with food. It didn’t work. You feel guilty, because you just sabotaged your diet; because of these emotions, you do the only thing you think will work—eat to kill the guilt. In fact, you know it doesn’t work, but you are too scared to dig deeper, to find the root of the problem and face it.
After my divorce and everything that happened in my life, I still had not learned how to deal with the ups and downs of life and continued to be an emotional eater…until almost three years ago. I finally faced the root of my problems. I still face it from time to time. I will not lie to you and say as soon as you find the root and cause, everything will be okay. It is like being an addict, regardless of whether you are addicted to alcohol, drugs, smoking,or emotional eating. You will have to learn to say NO and never get on the roller coaster again. You can’t define what will happen to you in life, but you can define your reaction to it.
The biggest mistake we make is to try and feed an emotional hunger with food. But it can’t be remedied with food; in fact, overeating will only bring us more pain rather than the self-acceptance we truly crave. It took me 34 years to learn that I am a unique person in my own right. I am in no competition with anyone. My sister, my family, and I are all different from each other—but we love each other, regardless.