I am a recovering emotional eater.
I overate when I was happy…because I was happy and I deserved to celebrate! I overate when I was unhappy…because I was unhappy and I needed comfort!
I always wanted to eat. Nachos, egg rolls, fried rice, cheeseburgers, french fries, steak fajitas, hot fudge sundaes, pizza rolls, biscuits and gravy, potato chips, country fried steak, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, popcorn, Coca Cola. God, this list makes me sick just writing it out. No real vegetables or fruits. A bunch of fat and sugar.
Sometimes I thought that’s all I was. A bunch of fat and sugar and failures.
I always had a strange relationship with food, but everything augmented while I was a college student and experienced some traumatic events that led me to be diagnosed with PTSD.
There are distinct food memories for every season during the manifestation of PTSD and episodes of depression and anxiety, just like some people would have for scent or sound:
Baked alfredo tortellini in the dining court with my RA friends when times were fun.
Homemade tamales from that one RA who visited his grandma over Christmas break.
Queso from a jar and tortilla chips all night when I stopped being able to sleep.
Pieces of sushi with my ex-best friend when she told me I wasn’t who I used to be anymore.
Growing up, I didn’t weigh myself consistently, but I know I gained at least 40 lbs. The people who hurt me didn’t put the food in my mouth, but I turned to it as a source of comfort.
There were several things that helped me find strength to work through my emotional eating, truthfully too many to name. But reading a book called “Women, Food, and God” by Geneen Roth was certainly one of the catalysts. Her voice found a companion in my spirit, and she helped me to realize these truths:
“Treat yourself as if you already are enough. Walk as if you are enough. Eat as if you are enough. See, look, listen as if you are enough. Because it’s true.”
I started facing my emotional overeating almost three years ago. I wish I could say it has been easy, but it hasn’t. I wish I could say I instantly lost the weight and started running half marathons, but I haven’t.
But what I can tell you is this: I discovered an unknown strength within me. I found nutrition books, workout buddies, accountability partners, and a trainer/nutrition specialist. I am no longer afraid of failing. I still love food; I just have a healthier respect for it. Not every day is somehow a justification for a feast. And most importantly, when I’m upset, I don’t “need” a whole bag of potato chips.
Over the weekend, I ate a tamale. It wasn’t a big deal to anyone around the table except for me. I hadn’t had a tamale in six years because it was too strongly linked to a person from the past. This weekend, I ate one. It was as good as I remembered. It made me think of that person for the briefest moment when I first tried it. But then you know what? It just turned back into a tamale again. A really delicious one at that.
This is the first time, in a long time, that I don’t feel like I’m full of fat and sugar and failures. I feel like I’m full of perseverance and drive. And probably vegetable juice. That stuff is my jam.
To read more about “Committed,” a series focusing on sharing stories and continuing the conversation about Mental Health in Student Affairs, check out this post. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #SAcommits. Thanks for reading and supporting your colleagues!