The other day I had a phone interview that I was incredibly nervous about. I was dreading it all morning and as the time rolled closer I found myself in the kitchen eyeing a bag of chips. Don’t do it, I said to myself. You don’t even like those chips. You don’t even want those chips.
Seconds later, I was shoveling handfuls of chips and dip into my mouth.
The reason? I was stressed. And when I’m stressed, I eat.
For as long as I can remember, I have been an emotional eater — munching when I’m anxious (which is all the time), using food to celebrate, drowning my PMS sorrows in chocolate. My entire family — along with much of the nation — eats this way to the point that it has become a joke. Instagram posts tagged #stresseating, Tina Fey shoveling cake in her mouth out of distress for the entire country, quotes on Pinterest about how familial stress drives us to eat during the holidays. It’s all super relatable and super funny, right?
Except when you’re doing it, it’s not exactly funny … at all.
Although there is a real, clinical difference between emotional eating and binge-eating or other eating disorders, there can be a blurry line between the two. Oftentimes, they actually go hand-in-hand.
For me, sometimes I feel like my whole life revolves around food. I think about what I’m going to eat for breakfast when I tuck myself into bed at night. I beat myself up when I (yet again) ignore the healthy food in my fridge and wolf down my kids’ leftover PB&J sandwich at lunch. I engage in a near-constant inner dialogue about not letting food control me. It’s quirky and funny to be able to eat an entire pizza and wash it down with ice cream and candy if you’re a stick-thin Gilmore Girl, but it’s not as adorable when you’re a 31-year-old slightly chubby mother of four, you know?
It’s pretty common to hear about drowning our emotions in food, when a hard day means wolfing down ice cream or a breakup results in a mess of chocolate wrappers. The general sentiment we have as a culture is that when the going gets tough, the eating gets going. And that’s a problem for emotional eaters who face something stressful every single day. Call me crazy, but this feels like an even bigger problem for moms like me who spend the majority of their time at home in the company of humans under age 10 and cupboards of full of food.
The temptation is always there and the “break” from the monotony of at-home motherhood is always calling.
And therein lies the real problem. I have been a stay-at-home mom for almost 10 years now. I became a mom when I was 21 and still in college. Although I worked the night shift as a nurse part-time after my daughter was born, food quickly became my coping mechanism while I was home during the day.
Food kept me awake during the 3AM slump. Food kept me going during the day when I was home with my daughter. Food was my way to connect with my husband when he finally came home from work. My earliest memories of motherhood involve what I was eating: that bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch I would eat one-handed with my daughter in my arms, the chicken my husband brought home from our local church fair, the tacos my coworkers ordered on a particularly busy shift.
Food became my escape and my only outlet for stress that I didn’t see a way out of.
Food, like anything in life that we use as a coping mechanism, can serve as a distraction from a deeper emotional issue in our lives. What are we hiding through our eating? What are we attempting to drown? What emotion are we not addressing? It’s taken me a long time, but I am finally facing how destructive my habits have become and the way I have passed my unhealthy views of food onto my children.
I have viewed food as a friend for so long that I have not been able to understand how my kids can turn it away. When they turn down my homemade waffles, refuse to eat the delicious dinner on our table, or eat just a few bites and flounce away to play, I have been hurt and angry. And I’ve felt this way from viewing food through my own lens as a way to feel happy, instead of as fuel for the body.
I dream about a day when I don’t feel like a person who lives to eat, but rather eats to live. I want a healthy appreciation of good and delicious food. I want to celebrate all the ways that food brings us together. I want to be grateful for the chance to sit down to a table overflowing with healthy food. Most of all, I want to learn to embrace food without it controlling me.
Food is not the enemy, but when I’m the person chowing down on chips as a way to deal with the stress of making a simple phone call, it sure as heck feels like it. I wish joking about food as a coping mechanism wasn’t as common. Because as a mom at home surrounded by nothing but food and mayhem, it feels anything but funny.