How do you eat your feelings
March 12, 2018 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I have depression, am a social eater and just got dumped. Help me convince myself that food is good.

Social eater meaning that I literally only buy groceries if I believe I will eat the food with someone. I am super proud that I made broth in my instant pot the day after the very traumatizing, sudden breakup on Saturday: I woke up and slapped it together from from a chicken we ate together Friday but I've barely been able to sip at it, even though it's packed with nutrients and easy. I've been flipping through delivery options for like an hour now and food looks nice, I guess, but the idea of eating sounds gross as hell, and always does if I'm eating alone.

I also can't really afford to order out, not with a fridge full of stupid food. It's not just being dumped (that makes it worse, of course, since the food I have was all plans for us to eat together), I'm always a bit codependent about food consumption. Eating seems...pointless, boring, disgusting unless another person is there enjoying the meal too. Is this related to how I used to binge eat when I was depressed as a younger, plumper zinful? Probably, but that motivation is all gone now. Swerved too hard to the left, I guess.

I sound like a sad sack and am explaining this poorly. Sometimes delivery is enough to get me to eat alone, since I have a human interaction associated with the food. I have no problem eating at restaurants alone when I can get motivated to go out and when I have the money.

Yes I know therapy. But in the immediate: I should eat food in the next couple of days, I get headachy and stupid if I don't and I have tons of grading to do. What motivator gets you to eat when you simply can't? It's stupid that I won't even walk 2 blocks and get a delicious pile of fried chicken, let alone 10 feet to eat a fucking carrot.
posted by zinful to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
Response by poster: oh I would invite friends over (obvious solution!) but 1) nobody wants to hear me moan about this dude dumping me, I've been silent about this broken relationship for a few months now because everyone got sick of hearing about it and 2) I don't have very many friends (like, two?) who live close enough to eat with me anyway.
posted by zinful at 7:56 PM on March 12, 2018

For now I suggest you treat eating like your job and make a schedule for eating for the rest of the week, including specific times and food. It doesn't matter if you are inspired to eat, you just do it according to the schedule. If necessary, set yourself reminders on your phone. When it's a scheduled time for a meal or a snack, don't think about it, just eat what it on the schedule.

I also find that smaller, more frequent meals work better for me when I'm feeling like you do.
posted by mcduff at 8:07 PM on March 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Well, do you have access to cannabis? It's an excellent appetite stimulant, not to mention many people find it helps them keep a more even keel emotionally, even when they're not actually stoned. If I really just did not want to eat but knew that I had to, that's where I'd turn.

I'd also give myself permission to go get the most delicious, most indulgent food I could think of (for me this would be a pint of high-quality ice cream) and eat as much of it as I wanted, regardless of how healthy it is. Anything is healthier than starving, after all.

Alternatively, if it sounds better to you, you could go for something super bland and palatable like rice with butter, or bananas, or yogurt. Something requiring minimal preparation that you can just unthinkingly swallow for the sake of the calories. Maybe you'd prefer that route.

You know though that you're throwing up a lot of roadblocks for yourself here that aren't really necessary, right? The food in your fridge is connected to your old relationship, you can't afford to order out, you don't want to invite friends over, etc. You need to recognize that you're talking yourself out of doing something that's literally necessary to stay alive; this is not just a lack of interest in food, but actual self-destructive behavior. I think you're going to have trouble dealing with this issue if you don't face it for what it is.

Gently, your whole approach to eating seems a little disordered. You only buy groceries if you're going to eat the food with someone? Eating alone always sounds gross? That's no way to live your life. Being a "social eater" is not like being a social drinker; sometimes you need to just eat, whether as a self-indulgent pleasure or just to fuel and replenish your mind and body. You don't have to get there today, but it sounds like something you should probably explore and work on, whether with a therapist or otherwise.

In the meantime, try to look at this problem as your depression tricking you into hurting yourself. Sometimes it helps to think of depression not as a condition or a diagnosis, but as a separate being that coexists with us within our minds and tries to manipulate us into harming ourselves or giving up on things before we even start them. Sometimes we need to tell our depression "Not today," and make an conscious decision to do the thing anyway even if the thing sounds like it sucks. In the short term, this may be one of those times.

You don't have to eat perfectly, but you do have to eat. Think of it as an unpleasant but very important chore that you must do several times each day. It's work, but you know how to work. Get it done.

You can do this. I sympathize; I have depression too, and I have my own issues with food. But you know you need to do this, and I know that you can. You're a smart and resourceful person, and you can figure out a way to make this happen for yourself. You can do it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:33 PM on March 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

I have a terrible time eating after breakups or deaths. And other stressful times. Terrible. A few things that help me:

- A schedule, with a meal plan that can easily be mixed and matched to my whims, but that can be precisely followed if I'm in "need calories and don't care to eat" mode.
- Permission to eat what I want and change my budget a bit if possible to buy things I WILL eat. You say you can't go out to eat, but can you afford at least some new groceries? If so, try things that are full of protein, appealing to you, and really easy to prepare. Stuff like candied almonds, good cheese, crackers, hummus, tuna, baby carrots, peanut butter - stuff you can get nutrition from that doesn't actively make you gag (trying to come up with foods that sound good is a real challenge, but coming up with foods that don't sound too disgusting is possible, at least for me when I'm in this situation). There is a reason that eating a bunch of ice cream after a breakup is a trope. Definitely get ice cream. Your favorite flavor.
- I let myself watch TV while I eat. Pop into metafilter chat while you're eating, or find another online group that you like participating in (maybe Ask, maybe another) and read and/or make comments there while you eat. I do this a lot while eating.
- Kindness toward myself. Food is hard.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 8:45 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Heat up the broth, put it in a mug with a handle, put a little salt and pepper in it, and sit in front of Netflix and sip until the mug is empty. Do that again tomorrow at least three times. Just eat things you can tip into your mouth from a mug in little sips. Finish up the broth and the other perishable stuff in the fridge, and then buy some very easy things like canned soup and V8 and mixed nuts. I wouldn't be worrying about balancing your diet or cooking things or savoring anything or trying to convince yourself this is a pleasurable experience, just swallow three mugs a day of things with calories and vitamins so that you don't get headaches and feel worse than you have to.

PS: on second thought, you might feel better if you tossed that broth, given that that was a chicken from your old life? I am impressed that you had the wherewithal to make broth, but if the broth makes you unhappy, you absolutely should throw it away and not feel bad about it or about throwing out anything else in the fridge that seems daunting. Now is not the time to beat yourself up for not cooking the turnips. Feel free to purge the fridge and get easy, emotion-free food.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:54 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Set an alarm on your phone for each of these times: 9am, 1pm, 5pm, 9pm.
Then for each time, add two more alarms- one 30 minutes before, and one 15 minutes before.

So for each of those 4 times per day, you will hear 3 alarms: at 8:30, 8:45, and 9am, and so on.

The x:30 alarm should be labelled- "it's almost time to eat... start thinking about food & head to kitchen."
The x:45 alarm should be labelled: "make some food."
the x:00 alarm should be labelled, "eat the food."

At each of those four times per day, you need to eat something the size of your hand, and it must include some protein.

A bagel with cream cheese, a bowl of cereal with nuts on it, a chicken breast, a slice of pizza, an apple + a banana with some peanut butter, a salad with cheese, a bowl of berries and yogurt.... etc.

You need calories or you'll get more depressed- low blood sugar causes sadness.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:59 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

If it would help, we could Skype eat socially.

Also, fuck carrots. This is not necessarily the time to be virtuous. Maybe a little Debbie oatmeal cream pie would motivate you? Or ice cream? Or an apple?

Or perhaps you could try seamless, especially if you have a saved order like beef with broccoli or a really satisfying sandwich.

Do you happen to have neighbors that you have a nodding acquaintance with? Perhaps you could drop in on a neighbor with a pie or a plate of cookies? Eating a cookie with a neighbor is probably weird in your city, as in most American cities, but not so super weird that people would not understand the impulse to bake and share. Especially if you just said, "hey, broke up with the dude, had an urge to bake, I can't possibly eat all these cookies. Please help me eat cookies!"
posted by bilabial at 9:04 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I sympathize. No need to feel bad about this, I think some of us are just wired that way. I would pick one thing, like the most nutrient dense boring food in your pantry (something like eggs, bananas, beans?), prep a big bunch of it (like, boil a pot full of eggs, rinse/add pepper and salt to a bunch of beans). And then make yourself eat a small amount (like a boiled egg or a good handful of beans or a banana) every 2 hours. The timer sounds like a good idea - think lf it not as ‚a meal‘ but as a health thing like brushing your teeth or taking your vitamins. Just get sufficient calories in there, until your appetite returns and your depression subsides a bit. No need for ‚proper‘ meals or meal planning or cooking right now. No need for food to appear ‚good‘ right now - just get it over with.

Broth and carrots won‘t take the edge off anyway, feel free to dump them.
posted by The Toad at 9:12 PM on March 12, 2018

FaceTime or Skype dinner call with a friend who lives out of town might meet that social aspect? Or a call on speakerphone, with someone who's amenable to talking while you're eating or holding a conversation while you're both eating? Setting a laptop screen at a place setting and viewing some talking head close-ups is something you could try, too.

Seconding setting a timer and eating small amounts in the short term.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:57 PM on March 12, 2018

If you really just need some kind of human interaction around the eating, I bet "please talk to me for a minute while I try and eat something" is not the weirdest request people on a helpline have ever heard. You could choose a phone helpline, or maybe even this text message helpline. Note that you seem to fall pretty squarely into their definition of crisis:
First, you’re in crisis. That doesn’t just mean suicide: it’s any painful emotion for which you need support. You text us at 741741.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:58 PM on March 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

yeah video chat with someone to eat together. like bilabial, i don't mind skype-eating with you too. or -

This is also kinda what Twitch's Social Eating channel is for. You literally watch someone eat (live!) while you eat too.

When I first heard about the Social Eating channel I thought it was kinda weird that people would watch live videos of other people eating but I guess there's enough demand for this kind of thing that it's actually become its own category on Twitch.
posted by aielen at 10:27 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think this is why muk-bang became a thing, what you're dealing with is not uncommon!
posted by yueliang at 10:52 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Er, can you pull some kind of end-of-semester student-teacher conference thing at a common area on campus? Then bring a sandwich.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:44 PM on March 12, 2018

Perhaps listening to a conversational podcast (the sort that's a group of friends talking, sometimes about a defined topic) would help scratch your social itch. Me, I tend to watch tv when eating alone, I like to watch "reality" shows like diy renovation stuff or things with interviews or the news while eating, which now that I think about it is a lot more like having folks around for a meal than watching a narrative show, which I tend to reserve for other times. Skyping folks is a good idea - if I called my mom and was like "hey Imma put you on speaker, tell me about all your illnesses and the family gossip and the minutiae of your days while I eat this sandwich" she'd absolutely oblige. Do you have anyone who just talks and talks and never shuts up? Now is their time to shine!

A while back a big deal was made about shaming folks who do other stuff while they eat, which is, imo, bullshit. If listening to an audiobook or watching an engrossing movie or hell, eating forkfuls of pasta salad while shooting evil robots in an MMO with your other hand is what gets you eating, do it. You're dealing with a bunch of stuff right now and your brain is actively fighting itself. You need basic caloric intake to get through this. Consider buying some Ensure or other meal replacement drinks and making the deal with yourself that you've got an hour to eat actual food or you'll drink an Ensure. Either way, you'll be putting something in yourself, at least.
posted by Mizu at 3:23 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some food pantries and kitchens will let you get a plate towards the end of the volunteer shift. If not, you could bring a packed lunch. The people getting food would probably be happy to have you join them, especially if you explain that you’re lonely. Other volunteer opportunities will include a break where you can eat, and you can bring enough to share.

Skype eating is more convenient, but if it has to be in person, volunteering is an option.

Don’t worry about the what. On the scale of health, anything is better than nothing. You don’t need to optimize what you eat until you get to the point of reliably eating at all.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:47 AM on March 13, 2018

I'm that friend who was tired of hearing about your relationship, and the actual breakup was always going to be an exception even if you hadn't been giving "me" a months-long breather. Give 'em a call.
posted by teremala at 5:50 AM on March 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

If the podcasts / TV suggestions aren't enough to get you eating, please give your friends a call. One or both of them. Tell them that you got dumped and that you're struggling to take care of yourself. They'll be happy to help.
posted by AmandaA at 7:11 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

One time, after a very bad break up, I ate instant noodles and drank Ensure almost exclusively for about two weeks until the dark clouds began to lift a little bit. I also ate bananas sometimes. I suggest that you pop into the drug store on the way home from work today, grab a 6-pack of Ensure and a basket full of instant noodles and just eat that stuff for the next few days. Once you’ve run out, you can ask yourself whether it feels ok to start thinking about other food options, and if not, grab another round of Ensure/noodles. Your dark clouds will eventually lift, too!
posted by rodneyaug at 11:37 AM on March 13, 2018

Seconding Ensure or other premixed meal-replacement beverages, so it feels less like "argh i'm eating alone this sucks" and more like "i'm thirsty, let me sip on this chocolate shake". Hopefully that will get you over the hump until you have some emotional distance and can deal with the eating alone issues from a place of more clarity. Best of luck.

You might also try 'mukbang' videos on Youtube. Yuka Kinoshita is my favorite. They are literally videos of women eating food (and lots of it) and talking to the camera. Nothing else. They are specifically targeted towards people that want the experience of dining with another person but don't have the time / energy / social network to arrange it
posted by ananci at 11:56 AM on March 13, 2018

It looks like I do things backwards from most people here but I'll tell you what works for me, in case it helps: When I'm unhappy the idea of my favorite treats makes me miserable, so I try to eat something healthy. I remind myself that it's important to eat for sustenance and that I would probably feel a little less miserable if I could get some food down (I am a hangry sort of person). Then I have some fruit or salad or oatmeal or something. I like to save the tasty indulgent stuff for when I'm feeling good enough to enjoy it.
posted by ferret branca at 5:15 PM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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