How can I break up with food?
June 2, 2013 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Food is nourishment and a source of pleasure for everyone I know. For me, food is those things as well as being deeply, unhealthily tied to emotional satisfaction, happiness, self-love, etc. How can I stop having food be an emotional crutch? Snowflake details inside.

This obviously ties in with my family: my mother communicates love through food, specifically making and sharing food and watching you eat it. Like a lot of people, though, she also has a deeply complicated relationship with food and would/will talk about being "bad" when she ate "bad foods." I internalized the shit out of this attitude and it's left me, in my mid-20s, with a moderate binge eating disorder and a really unhealthy relationship with food even when I'm not bingeing. I eat almost all meals alone in my room; I'm obese (not morbidly, 225 lbs on a 5'6 frame) because of that bingeing. Dieting/low carb/whatever is hard because of past challenges with food restriction in high school, and really it's just the flip side of this crazy food response (I'm "good" for not eating "bad foods"). When I feel anxious, I binge to ground myself. When I feel happy, I eat to celebrate. When I feel sad, I eat to soothe myself.

So what can I do to have a healthier relationship with food? I'm in therapy, though there's anxiety, relationship, and depressive stuff that also takes up a lot of time. What has worked for you? Even an incremental change would be helpful. I am sick to death of thinking about this.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
There are two books that I know many people find helpful: Shrink Yourself and The Emotional Eaters Repair Manual. The latter has somewhat of an emphasis on the role of your parents in this, so you may find that helpful.
posted by blub at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2013

Maybe try redirecting your love of food into something more healthy? Like cook really elaborate meals full of vegetables and lean protein. I have a heavier friend who did this and she made some really beautiful healthy meals with colorful vegetables. There's tons of healthy cookbooks you can check out from the library.
posted by bananafish at 2:12 PM on June 2, 2013

I have struggled with exactly this problem all my life, and I'm a similar starting weight (a little bigger and a little shorter, though). You are right to pinpoint restrictive diets as the flip-side of food craziness. The Fat Nutritionist's advice helped me a lot to formulate a more normalised food response.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:22 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Books by Dr.Judi Hollis and Geneen Roth are quite good, if you're not put off by the sometimes New Agey stuff in them.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:49 PM on June 2, 2013

It would help to find activities to replace eating when you are having the experiences or triggers you mention. Then it's a matter of knowing yourself and your moods well enough to see the triggers coming and put your back-up plans into action. It takes -a lot- of practice, but it's doable. Coping mechanisms are very personal, so I don't know if what works for me would work for you. There was a post on the green recently about different coping mechanisms for feeling sad - here.

There are a variety of posts on dealing with anxiety, tends to depend on what is causing it, here, here, and here.

Haven't been a lot of people asking how to deal with celebrating, but you could be the first! I like to celebrate by playing videogames while watching a movie and reading tumblr all at the same time.
posted by Dynex at 2:51 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you feel the urge to eat something pause and ask yourself what it is you are really looking for. Are you bored, lonely, cold, tired? Then work on solving what the problem actually is.
posted by mani at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You come across as grounded and aware of your triggers. You know that when we abuse food, we are allowing *a thing* to get the best of us, causing bone-deep unhappiness. Food is only fuel and if you put it on that level, you may be able to replace it with something else you love to either elevate your spirit or celebrate. Like somebody said, you don't overtop your car's fuel tank, do you? I come across as putting down a bunch of platitudes but thin shapely me got to this point when I realized that I can only "use" so much food. When I hear the siren song of between-meals crap, I jump to my feet and block that call with something I want to do, or even create an errand or chore I need to do immediately. And remember, you aren't a dog, you don't need a food reward (my favorite slogan, heh).
posted by Lornalulu at 3:29 PM on June 2, 2013

Google The Daily Diary of a Winning Loser by Sean Anderson. He has worked through these issues in great denial in his life. Read his archives.
posted by gd779 at 4:02 PM on June 2, 2013

Books by Geneen Roth are the only things that have helped me, with a side of Leo Baubuta's habit practice. Please memail if you want a buddy in this journey.
posted by gentian at 4:14 PM on June 2, 2013

Basically you like food because it gives your neurons dopamine and serotonin. The best way to get over it is to find some other way of getting the same fix. Exercise is good, but dieting is probably not going to work because it hasn't worked till now and it's a form of self punishment that is only temporary.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 4:14 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really like Geneen Roth's writing on emotional eating. I just visited her website and it seems she's turned in some weird "spirituality" direction in her most recent work, but don't let that turn you off. You might start with some of her earlier books: Breaking Free from Compulsive Overeating and the Why Weight? workbook would probably be where'd I'd suggest you start (a lot of her other books are more narrative/memoir oriented).
posted by drlith at 4:17 PM on June 2, 2013

Lots of good recommendations here. On a more practical level from day-to-day, i would recommend going through your fridge/cabinets and throwing out any foods you know you'd go to when you binge.

Then go out and get yourself some 'healthy' snacks (not gross health food but like... carrot sticks and apples and things like that) so that you have something to go to and reenact the behavior that doesn't have as much of an adverse affect on your health.

One of the things that got me out of the emotional eating thing (or at least made my trigger level higher) was to stop buying that much junk. It's much easier to remove temptation than avoid temptation.
posted by softlord at 7:38 PM on June 2, 2013

Basically you like food because it gives your neurons dopamine and serotonin. The best way to get over it is to find some other way of getting the same fix.

Seconding for truth. This is why people gain weight when they quit smoking too. You have to find other pleasures in your day to day and actively pursue them.
posted by fshgrl at 9:25 PM on June 2, 2013

nthing Geneen Roth. I haven't read any of the newer spirituality stuff.
posted by woodvine at 6:33 AM on June 3, 2013

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