It Started with Toast: Overcoming Emotional Eating


It started with toast.

At the end of 2018, similar to the end of every adult year of my life, I knew I needed to button up my diet.  That’s my casual way of saying I needed to stop overeating and skipping workouts in a way that left me crying in my closet in the morning when my pants wouldn’t fit anymore.  I’m convinced there’s some point in a woman’s life, for me — my mid-thirties — where a morning routine consists of pushing aside all of the pants that used to fit or “will fit once I start dieting again” or “they may fit again, someday, but I have to keep them, I paid $110 for those and they’re from Banana Republic” to get to the pants you don’t really love but know you can actually sit down in without having to unbutton them on your way home from work.

I’ve typically been an all or nothing person.

I’m either eating clean — subjected to a life of chicken breasts with asparagus, or I’m bringing donuts to the office followed by a chipotle lunch and a pizza dinner.  I’ve never been good at swimming around in the middle of that, or the middle of anything, really.  In my family we’re either in or we’re out.  We’re achieving or we’re quitting.  We’re winning or we’re losing.  We’re dedicated or we’re over it.  We want it now or we don’t want it at all.

That way of thinking works well when you’re achieving static goals.  You want to write a book?  Okay . . . you either write it or you don’t.  You want to apply for a new job?  You either applied or you didn’t.  You want to save a certain amount of money?  You’re either saving or you’re spending.

But, food.

I’m now convinced the “all in or all out” mindset doesn’t work because eating is not a one-time situation.  We’re not practicing for a big game or big deliverable or big publication.  We have to eat.  We have to eat daily.  We have to eat multiple times a day.  And we do this forever and ever, Amen.  And living an “all in” or “all out” mindset just simply doesn’t work well, at least for me, on something I’m going to have to do roughly 3-5 times a day for the rest of my life.  Because, parties.  Because, celebrations.  Because, macaroni and cheese.  Because, emotions.

So I made the decision on December 28, 2018 that going into 2019 I was going to simplify what I was consuming — mentally and physically.  I was not going to chase one more goal, achievement, publication, photography opportunity, blog post, and insert the name of anything else I do until I can physically feel my best — or at least moving in the direction of “my best.”  I was not going to attend my own book launch party for a second book one day but secretly feel sadness because I don’t feel my best.  Achievements are great, but health is most important.  And because health requires a constant state of nurturing, it’s easier to dismiss than an achievement with a tangible outcome and a shorter deadline.  And in the words of my very healthy husband, “I have to stay healthy to keep up with all the commitments I’ve made.”

So, I simplified.

I stopped listening to the million podcasts I typically listen to on personal development.  I decided, I’m a good and driven person and at this point, I don’t really need more advice on how to be a high achieving individual.  I picked 1 podcast, “Losing 100lbs,” as the only one I’d consume right now (more on that later).  I stopped watching a lot of YouTube videos on personal development.  I stopped pressuring myself to post a blog post weekly.  I paused promoting Little Red Bird Press for a minute.  I decided to not prioritize social media posts.  I didn’t schedule photography photoshoots for a couple months.  It was just me and a goal of getting a handle on food so that when I pick those back up, I could feel amazing.

Getting a handle on food for me meant one thing . . . understanding and overcoming emotional eating.

I haven’t taken the time to look up a formal definition of emotional eating, but the Brooke description of it is this:

“The urgent need to (over)eat to enhance, hide, or mask moments driven by emotions.  Oftentimes done out of revenge, boredom, and/or the need for comfort.  Identifiable by all consuming thoughts of eating with an obsessive mindset of obtaining specific foods.  Commonly justified with “this one time won’t hurt,” “I deserve this,” or blame justified with ‘this is how I was raised.’  In the absence of food, the emotions being repressed will come to the surface in full force.  Also, tears.”

Alternate definition:

“Can I get some queso with these chips and salsa?”

I started listening to the “Losing 100lbs” podcast which in simple terms is a sassy southern lady who has lost 100lbs and has a goal of teaching every woman how to overcome emotional eating.  If you’re offended by cussing, this isn’t the podcast for you.  She provides a ton of tips on mindset, but the underlying theme is this gray area I’m always hesitant to live in.  She doesn’t provide food plans or workout plans, she talks exclusively about our mindset around food.

Having been an “all in” or “all out” type of person, when I think about breakfast I think it’s either egg whites and oats if I’m “all in” or it’s donuts and iced white chocolate mochas if I’m “all out.”  A somewhat healthy middle ground that is sustainable had never really been an option.  Simply because it wasn’t “good enough.”  As if eating a donut every day of my life was “good enough.”  At least when eating a donut I had the back-up story in my mind that I wasn’t really trying so it’s no big deal.  I wasn’t really failing because I wasn’t really “all in.”

The podcast host says if you can’t figure out why you keep eating these foods, or “storm eating” as she calls it (commonly referred to as “binge eating”) — then go a couple days without it.  Skip the donuts or the pizza or the ice cream or whatever the thing is that you urgently feel like you need on the daily and just sit there with your emotions.  Yeah, painful.  Very quickly you will realize why you’re reaching for that food.  “It’s not fair, everyone else is having it,” “I don’t want to make my coworkers feel bad because they brought this in just for me,” “Well, I had a really stressful work day,” “I’m avoiding doing that task that I don’t want to do,” “I’m bored,” “I don’t want to think about (insert anything that is bothering you).”

She also suggests just starting with one thing that you can make just a little better, and then you pick something else, and so on.  She calls it “leveling up.”  Level up your choice just a little, and if you find you are cheating, then go back to what you were doing and pick something else until you’re ready to come back and level up that original thing.  She also says “don’t do anything you’re not willing to do the rest of your life” — so don’t start some sort of short term diet that will have you gaining the weight back in a few months, and more importantly, never address the emotions driving you to make those decisions in the first place.

So, I started with toast.

I would’ve never made toast at home.  Why?  Well, isn’t bread supposed to be bad for you?  Of course.  So, I traditionally didn’t buy bread at the store.  But, I don’t actually like or make the time to have a healthy breakfast . . . so, donuts.  It sounds so illogical, but it was the path I was doing.  And I would replicate that with all my other meals throughout the day.  Long day at work?  Sure, Mexican food it is, and it’s not Mexican if you don’t leave miserably full <<raises a chip covered in salsa in solidarity.>>

So I went to the store and didn’t just buy bread, I bought the fancy yummy looking cinnamon bread.  I wasn’t out to win “healthiest breakfast of the year” awards.  I was just out to “level up” one thing.  I decided if I changed nothing else, I would at minimum turn my donut/Starbucks habit into peanut butter toast, and when I was ready, I’d “level up” something else.

And eventually, I “leveled up” lunch.

I “leveled up” dinner.

I “leveled up” snacks.

I “leveled up” my exercise.

I “leveled up” my mindset by allowing foods I actually like to be a part of the plan and not aiming for an unrealistic life of only salads and no carbs to be my destiny.

Short of sharing my entire food log from the end of December (because a large part of addressing emotional eating is making food plans and journaling every day), I have continued to “level up” meals and my exercise.  I had to get over the “this isn’t good enough” on my workouts and let go of my former figure competitor pride and just move — which was often home workouts in pajamas because even putting on workout clothes that no longer fit and driving to the gym felt blah.

After a little over two months, I’ve lost 12lbs.  No specific diet, no specific workout plan, no specific goal by a certain date.  But a lot of processing the emotions behind my food choices.  If you’re an emotional eater and you take away the food — well — you’re left with just your emotions.  It becomes a very eye opening experience where you realize the problem you need to address isn’t the double chocolate donut, but rather the emotions behind what’s driving you to that donut.

I feel excellent.

I love cinnamon bread toast.

I feel ready to go back to my creative goals.

<<pushes larger sized pants out of the way to get the smaller ones>>