Let Food be Thy (Emotional) Medicine
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, said "Let food be thy medicine." I am sure many people would agree. If you are an emotional eater, I believe that learning how to eat food in moderation allows one to better handle their emotions in general. If you eat when you are sad, or eat to continually be happy, when you have to moderate your food consumption, you are indirectly learning how to better manage your emotions - so it is quite possible that food can be an emotional as well as physical medicine. I will give you a simple example from my own story.
In February 2014, my clinical supervisor, Joanne Greenham, passed away. Her passing was expected, after a brief struggle with a very serious form of cancer. However, I was still very sad. I went to an impromptu memorial for her organized by a number of my friends. The event was bittersweet, as was seeing friends I had not seen in a long time. When I came home, I remember saying to myself "Damn it to hell, I'm sad and I'm pigging out". I picked-up the phone and ordered a large Pizza Hut pizza and one of their large dessert cookies.
This unplanned indulgence occurred about 18 months into my weight loss. I was probably down about 75-85 pounds, and by that time, I had a very good handle on myself and my weight, and had incorporated planned binges into my weight loss, so I knew that one unplanned indulgence wouldn't throw me off my plan, as long as I continued to eat well and exercise going forward.
However, I had a realization as I was eating my Pizza Hut pizza and cookie. Pizza Hut to me is the lowest form of junk food. That is, it is really awful, almost vile stuff. It just doesn't taste good and is not well-prepared. I also tend to feel really sick afterwards, and I suspect that to be a sugar and/or carb coma. And the day after, my stomach spends the whole day acutely reminding me of my indulgence the day before. If I want pizza as an indulgence, there is so much better to be had (I was going to post a link to those better alternatives, but the irony of posting a pizza recommendation on a weight-loss blog is too much. Despite all this, for some reason, maybe once every year or two there is something about Pizza Hut that makes me want to indulge and I suspect it is a link to my youth, where I really enjoyed deep dish pizza with my family on occasion.
At any rate, as I am eating this not-good tasting pizza to cover-up my sadness a realization hit me - "SO THIS IS WHAT IT'S LIKE TO TREAT MYSELF BADLY WITH FOOD!" I almost had an out of body experience as I had this realization. I looked down upon myself, eating this bad pizza to address my sadness, and even though I was not at risk of relapse or putting on any appreciable weight as a result, I thought "Is it really worth it to eat bad-tasting food, and feel bad the next morning and throw-out a week's worth of exercise in order to cope with my sadness?" At that point, I realized that I needed to better handle my emotions so as not to cover them up with food. Though I had binged thousands of times before to cover up my emotions, this was the first time that I actually experienced what it was like to treat myself badly with food. And to be honest with you, the realization was an amazing gift.
The notion of treating myself badly with food grew much further in my mind - I think for the first time in my life I realized what it was like to put myself in a bad situation to hurt myself on purpose, or put myself in a bad situation without regard for my broader life's goals. At that point ,not only did I realize that I could not do that with my body any more, but I could not do that in other areas of my life. In that regard, food was my emotional medicine. By having an insight about my eating and emotions and linking it to my overall welfare, I was learning how to heal myself by eating well. And that is a theme I think that is very important for emotional eaters. Emotional eaters will learn to heal themselves, by learning how to better manage their eating and food intake - in other words, they can let food by their emotional medicine.