Emotional eating set the tempo of my life. I am going through a stressful time in pandemic times. While I am unemployed, I have to pay back a student loan and need to find as soon as possible a bread and butter job. On the other side, I would like to feel happy and fulfilment work, something that I never experienced, for many reasons, in 3 years in Berlin. But then, my rational inner voice keeps repeating to me that I need to be responsible and what matters right now is to have good financial health despite my mental health and well-being. To make matters worse, I have stressful neighbours, either yelling at each other or putting on music as loudly as one could almost think they were at the Berghain. (I let you find out what it is).
I stuck in a never ending cycle
I ask myself so many questions, I am stressed, I (over)-eat to relieve myself from stress and negative emotions. And then, I look at myself in the mirror, I hate my body, realizing I pilled on the pounds and gained love handles. Something that repeats itself over and over again and I keep refusing to accept my body.
I daily eat my feelings, I adapt my food habits, something habits that take root in my childhood, as I grew up by being exposed to domestic violence and started to crave sugar.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is an eating disorder where food consumption is rather based on feelings than hunger. Whenever you have negative feelings, you use food to relieve you from such feelings. But are negatives feelings affecting emotional eating? Not according to many studies focusing on the impact of positive feelings on emotional eating.
Not only people with excess weight are struggling with emotional eating
Although the first Western studies published in the 1950s connected overeating, obesity and emotivity, the research community became aware later on that emotional eating can affect all types of people. However, the research community has to improve its work as few studies focus on non-overweight and non-obese people. I find it super important to have more studies on emotional eating in diverse ways, make studies with diverse groups, according to ethnicities, races, social classes, body types, with or without eating disorders.
According to the “emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviors and concerns” study, women affected by emotional eating, with non-excess weight are regularly fasting or practising sport. Motivation to maintain a good image of their bodies takes over to regulate their weight, by adopting a healthy lifestyle and paying more attention to eating habits. Nevertheless, the limits of the study must be kept in mind, as the participants were Caucasian women with higher educational backgrounds. To date, I have not found a study targeting exclusively black or racialised people with non-excess weight.
For years, I keep eating my feelings
As I didn’t find any study, I will use my situation as an example. I used to regularly practice sport until 16, then I became less active. My metabolism was working as an athlete’s one until 24. At that time, I didn’t gain weight as living in an environment with physical and psychilogical abuse, I easily starved myself daily. I ate less but was craving sugar.
Studying in Italy was such a load off my mind but I was still suffering from depression. During my stay, I went from deprivation to excess. I was spending my time eating sweets, pastries. Although delightful, the voracity took over and plunged me into an unhealthy relationship with food. In the grip of emotional eating, I couldn’t realise I was it. The next year, I move out to Germany, and I’m torn between a healthy lifestyle and junk food. I kept gaining weight and find comfort in food.
Being in a toxic and abusive relationship, my overeating was always greater. It is a vicious circle I couldn’t break: negatives emotions are regular, my consumption of food is excessive, greasy, sweet, the dopamine coming on, leaving fatigue and irascibility later on. At this step, hunger could no longer be perceived. My mental health is better now but body dissatisfaction is getting the better of me and I am once again doing sports intensely, paying attention to what I eat, depriving myself of food. And the pandemic is not helping.
Emotional eating in pandemic times
The Covid-19 changed radically our lives. We adjust to a ‘new normal’ that tends to go on and on. The pandemic has also changed our food habits. A series of studies were published on the MDPI, a publisher of scientific journals, addressing several themes involving the multiple effects of COVID-19 on eating habits. In Italy, during the first lockdown in 2020, 57.8% of participants said they felt anxious about their eating habits, 55.1% said they ate more to feel better. In the United States, the study on covid-19 and eating habits in the United States found that there is a strong causal link between stress and emotional eating for 73.6% of the participants. I can related in the results, since I have a much more anxious relationship with my diet, going from restriction to excess, once again.
How to make a difference with emotional hunger and physical hunger?
We don’t know if we are hungry because it is physical or if because it is compulsive. According to Healthline, we can find a few things to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
|Physical hunger||Emotional hunger|
|It grows slowly over time.||It occurs suddenly or abruptly.|
|You crave different types of food.||You crave certain types of food.|
|You feel full and you take it as a signal to stop eating.||You can binge on food and not feel full.|
|You do not have negative feelings about food.||You feel guilty or ashamed to eat.|
Regulating one’s emotions to regulate one’s hunger?
By not knowing how to find a balance between your emotions and food, you can quickly suffer from food dysregulation, fall into emotional eating and fuel eating disorders. There are several methods of emotional regulation two of which are often referred to in studies, the reappraisal and the expressive suppression methods.
One enables us to learn how to tame our negative emotions and make us see things in a different way, realistically and not forcing into positivity. For example, if you lose your keys, you may panic, get angry at yourself, call yourself stupid all along and keep all your negative emotions and thoughts inside. But if for example you say to yourself, that it can happen, that you will find a solution, that you can go to a friend’s house while things are getting better, or that this is an opportunity to do something you haven’t done for a long time, then you use the method of reappraisal, influencing emotions and thoughts. The other method will be used to suppress emotional expressions. For example, a stressful event happens and you give off a calm expression. This method is used once the emotions are there and you need to be able to manage them.
Opinions differ on their effectiveness, but in my opinion, effectiveness is a very abstract notion I do not find so important. I think it is important for us to choose the right method to help us with emotional eating.
My last words on emotional eating
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