I’m embarrassed to admit this, but there’s something I need to get off my chest.
When I first wrote this piece below, it was four years ago. Four whole years ago that I vowed to get a handle on my emotional eating.
I was convinced that by putting it out there, saying “hey, everyone, I stuff my gob in secret, whose with me”, my cover would be blown. I’d be outed as a closet emotional eater. Things would have to change.
Reading back, you can hear the conviction in my voice. I’m like a cheerleader with candy striped pom poms, and a mantra:
No longer will sneak into the pantry when I am bored, procrastinating, happy, sad, angry, nonchalant. No more sitting alone in a drive thru carpark, secret squirrelling away fries. I’m happy. I’m enough. I’m going to be an amazing role model to my daughter and show her that you don’t need gobbing smackfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar to navigate your every move.
Here’s the actual kicker, I’m still grappling with it. Every. Single. Day.
Hear Bec talk about it on the latest episode of The Well:
I still catch myself in the pantry, halfway through the Jatz, wondering ‘what am I doing‘? I sneak the kids leftovers. I go to the fridge at the first sign of trouble.
Some of the stuff I’ve done, scoffing, eating stuff in my room, hiding things, worried my husband would find out, there could practically be a CSI Pantry in my house.
But now, I have someone else holding me to account. The Well podcast is forcing me to go back there and deal with it. Robin Bailey (her relationship to food is entirely different to mine but still as fraught) and I are on this crazy little journey we call “how to get your shit together without eating your way out of it”. And it’s dark.
Our modern relationship with food is so distorted, so conflicted, that we need to find a way to grapple that control back without resorting to extreme measures.
(Spoiler,we have strategies now. We’re not perfect but it’s better than pom poms and high kicks).
Because it’s so often never about the food. It’s always, ALWAYS a coping mechanism.
The full episode is an absolute cracker. A Jatz cracker, smothered in peanut butter and eaten in secret if you’re me, and utterly avoided whatsoever if you’re Robin. Because turns out, emotional eating doesn’t necessarily mean binging. It can be deprivation, too.
And read up below on three-year ago me. Bless her sticky, shameful fingers.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Last week, I saw myself at Coles. Well, in the carpark outside to be exact.
I was loading groceries into my boot when I saw her. A woman, a mother, thirty-something years old, sitting behind the wheel of her blue Honda Civic silently eating what looked like a Snickers. And it was the look on her face — not of enjoyment or pleasure but numbness – that caught me. Caught my breath for just a moment. Because I used to do that — secret eat — nearly every single day.
I am what you would call an emotional eater. For the last 30 years, stuffing food into my cake-hole has pretty much been my coping mechanism for everything.
My best friend will be in town this weekend! WOO! I’ll celebrate by eating two of my daughter’s Tiny Teddy packets! I have to finish those edits by 10am tomorrow? Pass the leftover lasagne. Ava’s starting her first day at kindy and doesn’t know a soul. Excuse my while I stand at the fridge and eat a cheesestick, last night’s fried rice, and six spoonfulls of Nutella. Okay, seven.
If I’m scared, bored, depressed, nervous … yep. I eat. I’m a non-discriminatory eater.
For years, you could take a look through the hidden zipped compartments of my handbag and without fail see the glimmering pink of a Turkish Delight wrapper. Under my car seat? It wouldn’t take CSI to find a rogue fry as evidence of my I’m-just-going-to-tune-the-world-out-and-eat-these-hot-chips moments.
Not surprisingly my weight has fluctuated by three dress sizes over the past fifteen years.
I've tried to go all Oprah on myself and figure out why I behave the way I do. Was I just, er, greedy? Possibly. Food obsessed? Entirely possible. ( You know those people who casually remark, "I totally forgot to have breakfast this morning." Yeah. I'm not one of them. I have never 'forgotten' to eat. Put it this way, I haven't been hungry since 1984, the year I did the 40 Hour Famine).
Are eating disorders genetic? Post continues after video.
What I have always known is that food is my drug of choice. Potato chips are my heroin. Where others reach instinctively for the glass of wine, a cigarette, or take their credit card for a whirl around Witchery, I'll soothe my soul with a spoon and a jar of peanut butter. Which is why this passage from Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman, struck a chord with me:
People overeat for exactly the same reason they drink, smoke, have serial one-night stands or take drugs...
No—I'm talking about those for whom the whole idea of food isn't one of pleasure, but one of compulsion. For whom thoughts of food, and the effects of food, are the constant, dreary background static to normal thought...
In this trancelike state, you can find a welcome, temporary relief from thinking for 10, 20 minutes at a time, until finally a new set of sensations—physical discomfort and immense regret—make you stop, in the same way you finally pass out on whiskey or dope. Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration.
Moran's words (combined with visits to a nutritionist and me reading I Quit Sugar and Sweet Poison over and over) were enough to inspire me to finally get a handle on my eating habits. Plus, you know, it's hard to secret eat with a three-year-old in the house. They are TOTAL snitches. Ava is not averse to greeting her kindy teacher with "Mummy ate all the Freddo Frogs" while I'm in the background making the universal STOP TALKING sign behind the kindy teacher's back. It's like living with Cindy Brady (who was such a dob-artist she wouldn't be out of place on Homeland).
Listen to the full episode of The Well on iTunes or here, where Robin Bailey also admits she has a bad relationship with food:
But more seriously I started to realise that Ava is soaking it all up. Watching her mother comfort eat her way through life. She's learning from me that you navigate your days - the joys and the anguish and even the boring bits - with a jar of peanut butter in your hand.
There are many legacies I hope to leave my daughter. But I've finally decided eating Kitkats in the car won't be one of them.
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