Filling Another Void: Emotional Eating Edition

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve been starting to treat my favorite comfort foods like I used to treat booze: just one won’t hurt, another one won’t hurt, one extra bite won’t do anything, this bite won’t do any more harm than the last, I’ll just work it off in the gym, is anybody else eating as much as me? etc. etc. I’ve written about trying to eat more healthfully in my sobriety and I was successful for a short bit, but it seems like I’ve started slipping down that slope again. Once again, this is something that I feel overwhelmed trying to confront, but I know I will have to do so eventually. Why can’t I just be normal?

Eating was my first drug, and it started when I was young. I noticed my belly starting to blow up when I was as young as 8 years old, and I remember standing in front of the mirror as a young child, completely confounded by what was happening to me. I poked at my tubby tummy and wished that it would disappear. At 8 years old, I was already starting to feel down about myself because of my weight. And of course, as an irrational response, I ate my feelings. I did this for years, all the way through my early high school years. I savored the greasy school lunches, the after school snacks big enough to be a meal, and then dinner itself, usually followed by some kind of dessert. All the while, I tried to sneak my mom’s diet pills and occasionally went on restrictive diets that felt like putting myself through death.

Eventually, exercise and bingeing/purging took over the excessive eating. That was followed by a cigarette addiction, and then after turning 21, alcohol addiction.

Usually when I drank, I tried to moderate my calories as best I could, in order to minimize the damage I was doing. I tried drinking only diet coke + vodka, for the biggest bang for my buck (and the smallest bang to my belly). When i started drinking craft beers, I tried restricting my calories to around 1,200 a day, if not less. I exercised through hangovers. I counted calories on and off for years. Eventually, I found the Paleo diet and clean eating, which taught me to take a healthier approach to food, viewing it more as fuel and less as fun.

But on some level or another, the emotional eating/disordered eating patterns remained. Even when I was eating Paleo, I obsessed about food and keeping my macronutrients within the recommended ranges. I beat myself up for going over my carb limits. I pinched at my belly fat while sipping at my beers and shoving cheese curds into my face on a “cheat day”. I baked Paleo cookies and muffins and bread and inhaled them like I would any other normal sweet treat. I drank hard liquor to try to keep my calories and carbs down.

I bent myself backwards, forwards and side to side trying to manage my weight and my waist while making sure I had “room” for my booze.

When I finally kicked alcohol this past summer, I gave myself a free pass to indulge in those comfort foods that I’d normally restrict for special treats, knowing that treating myself would help take the edge off. I promised myself a month of eating like a garbage disposal, and then I’d get back on the healthy eating wagon.

But then a month passed, and two months passed. I was still eating more than I wanted. I still craved sugar like the devil. Three months passed and I started making some progress – buying and prepping meals for the week, drinking boatloads of water, going for runs and lifting weights when I could.

But as the weather turned colder and the stress of school, work and a difficult relationship situation started to build up, I found myself returning to my old habits of freely consuming whatever comfort foods I craved. Typically, this would be a carb-loaded breakfast of bagels or donuts, chocolate snacks, a big sandwich or burrito for lunch, more snacks, and then pizza or a quesadilla for dinner. I’d start telling myself that I should probably skip the mexican restaurant for dinner and start making more things at home, but my decision-making would be quickly overpowered by the mere thought of my favorite mexican dish. And I’d try again to convince myself otherwise, but at that point, my mind was already made up.

These days, I find myself scarfing up my food, rather than savoring it. I eat quickly and with purpose. It’s almost like I feel like I need to consume what I have before anyone else can take it. Which is fucking stupid, by the way. Nobody is going to try to steal my barbacoa quesadilla. The food isn’t running out any time soon.

So why?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I tend to eat more emotionally when I am feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or lonely. And I’ve felt a combination of all four of those things at multiple points during this sobriety journey. Some days I’m just fine and I feel perfectly content eating an avocado and some cheese for lunch. Other days, all I want is the biggest, greasiest slice of pizza I can get my hands on.

The question now is this: do I try to work through this on my own, or do I seek help? I don’t have much money for therapy as it is, and there’s no way any kind of program would work for me. I know there has to be a way to stop emotional eating in the same way one might quit drinking, or smoking, or shopping, or gambling. But how does beating that secondary (or primary?) addiction work?

I guess I’ll have to do some research to find out.

Day 143

9 thoughts on “Filling Another Void: Emotional Eating Edition

  1. Rachel Doesn't Drink Here Anymore says:

    Same. I’m going through the same thing. I was treated for binge eating disorder in grad school, and thinking back, even though I drank too much sometimes, bingeing was really the “problem.” I finally kicked that…and then the drinking became the thing. But addiction is addiction, I think. I’m thinking I need to get to the root of it, and that is: What emotions am I trying to blot out when I’m eating a pint of gelato? Same as when I drank (and really never ate ice cream)? Yep, what is the answer to the ever-present drive to fill the void? What do I really need? That is the question.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hurrahforcoffee says:

    I’m also eating like an Olympic gold medallist! In the beginning it was ok but now I’m starting to feel the same self-loathing I used to feel when I drank. I think I’m going to try quit sugar, I remember when I was on a sugar free diet I had massive amount of self control over my appetite. Sugar is addictive too isn’t it?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. sobersuitsme says:

    Same. I don’t know what happened was not eating sugar for the first 45 days or so and boy am I making up for it! Pure butter shortbread cookies cannot be eaten fast enough. This eating like this is making me feel like I am on tender ground. Feeling like I am drinking again in some way. Yet comforting. Arrrrgggh. It is also the holidays and dang those once a year cookies are DELICIOUS! Gotta go easy. At least I am aware of it. I like the question “what do I really need?”. A hug? Connection? Time outside? Rather than reach for those cookies, what do I really need? Thank you so much for sharing. It feels good to know we are not alone in our struggles and our successes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • okayishness blog says:

      “Feeling like I am drinking again in some way” – yes! This is how I feel, too. I know I am using food right now to ease some sort of discomfort or anxiety that I have. Holidays make it that much harder for sure. But yes, it is so nice to know that I’m definitely not alone in this frustrating new ordeal. We’ll make it, I’m sure of it ☺️


  4. tiredoftreadingwater says:

    I’ve eaten tons of junk too recently, stacked back 7lbs fairly quickly. I also drink coffee addictively if I’m not careful. I think the same ‘hole in the soul’ lies under each of our addictions but working out how to fill it is one of those huge human questions. Thanks for sharing, take care 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tori says:

    I am exactly the same. The way I eat now is scarily similar to how I drank. Sometimes I can eat healthily for a few days, the weight starts to drop and I decide I haven’t got a problem after all and go back to stuffing down carbs. I don’t know how to deal with it. I have been hoping it would naturally settle down but at 245 days it’s not happening. Not sure what to do next?

    Liked by 1 person

    • okayishness blog says:

      Yep, I’ve been dealing with the same mindset. I’m not certain what needs to happen next, but perhaps beating this type of addictive eating will take the same types of tools used to beat drinking? For me, I may need to stop using food as my sober treats haha 😉


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