I’ve been on a food rollercoaster for about as long as I can remember, but when I lost my job in the spring of 2009, the ride only got bumpier.
Feeling lost and stressed (hello, rent!), I stopped thinking about what I was putting into my mouth. Medicating my blues with food certainly wasn’t foreign to me, but as I polished off my third pint of ice cream — and lord knows how many slices of pizza — just a few days after getting the pink slip, I finally admitted it to myself: Hi, my name is Ellen, and I’m an emotional eater.
In the weeks after losing my job, I watched the numbers on the scale slowly creep up as my self-esteem quickly hit an all-time low. Although my weight has never fluctuated too drastically, an added six pounds on a 5’2″ frame is certainly noticeable. (Trust me: I’ve never untagged so many unflattering Facebook photos in my life!)
As I started to feel more and more uncomfortable in my own skin, leggings and oversized T-shirts became my daily uniform. I stopped putting on makeup and washing my hair regularly. And even though it was now easier than ever to fit yoga classes and treadmill sessions into my schedule, I negated my gym efforts with fatty breakfast sandwiches and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
One morning I woke up and ate a slice of cold leftover pizza for breakfast. And then I had another. And before I knew it, I had eaten four slices before noon! I vowed not to eat again until dinner (which I pinky-promised would be a plate full of veggies), only to find myself on the couch, polishing off a second Weight Watchers ice cream sandwich an hour later. The worst part was, I wasn’t enjoying what I was eating. It was as if I wasn’t even tasting the food. The thrill of having a “cheat meal” was gone because I was now doing it all the time!
I realized things had gotten pretty bad when I started walking out of my way to different Tasti-D-Lite locations, just so that the people behind the counter wouldn’t start recognizing me. Not that I really needed to worry about someone else judging me — I was already judging myself. Constantly.
I became exhausted by my lifestyle. (Believe it or not, sleeping in and watching trashy daytime TV gets old pretty quickly!) One day, I was eating everything in my kitchen that hadn’t passed its expiration date, and the next, I was calorie counting. It was a vicious cycle; I never felt in control. My mess of a life was starting to mirror Bridget Jones, only I’ve never been seduced by Hugh Grant, and my British boyfriend is more Ewan McGregor than Colin Firth. (Not that I’m complaining. He was the only bright light during this incredibly difficult time.)
And do you know how tiresome and frustrating it is to nod and smile politely as friends, family members and even near strangers give you unsolicited career advice on a daily basis? I was at the very last bite of my cherry Twizzler rope!
But as my mom always told me, Nothing stays the same forever. And, predictably, she was right. I finally managed to pull myself out of my food coma long enough to start getting my life back on track. I filled my days writing cover letters, reaching out to former colleagues, scouring job sites and having networking coffee dates. The old Ellen wasn’t exactly back, but she was getting there — and she was wearing lip gloss again.
Freelance work started to become somewhat regular, and when I landed an assignment at a website I had always dreamed of working for, I celebrated the only way I knew how … with food. As I headed out the door to my favorite pizza place, I hesitated. Wait a minute. So I eat when I’m happy, too?! Despite health magazines telling me I should reward a job well done with manicures instead of french fries, I carried out my mission to get a double slice of cheese, and washed it down with a can of Diet Coke.
In a small moment of success, I was feeling more defeated than ever. Eating my way through unemployment was one thing, but eating my happy feelings made me realize that I wasn’t just going through a phase. Is emotional eating something I’m going to battle with for the rest of my life? I thought. Eh, probably.
Sure, it would be nice to be able to mindlessly eat a piece of cheesecake without it ending up on my ass the very next day, but that is just not my reality. I will always have to be conscious of what I eat, and I’m starting to accept that. I now know that if I continue to wish I was a size-4 who could put away a sleeve of Oreos without consequence, I will be on a losing, destructive path for the rest of my life.
So, I take it day by day, mood by mood. Like everyone else, I do the best I can. My binges occur a lot less frequently these days, and I no longer have to hop up and down in order to squeeeeze into my skinny jeans. And now that my bank account is significantly more stable, I treat myself to bi-weekly manicures…just because.
I’m curious: Are YOU an emotional eater? What emotions trigger you to eat and what foods do you reach for?