The Myth of Emotional Eating

I'll be brief and I'm not gonna sugarcoat this, because I love you. And I love me. And I've already spend years and years perfecting eating in shame, chronically dieting, binge eating and listening to everyone else, except me, when it came to my relationship with food. I've done all this, so you don't have to. You're welcome :)

If we ever hope to break free of food rules, diet culture and body image issues, we need to be willing to redirect and see things differently. Amen? 

I'm assuming (sorry) that somewhere, somehow, you learned from someone's Great Aunt Beverly that Emotional Eating is something to be avoided, ashamed of and even punished for. 

The act of putting a Milky Way or a Ding Dong (does anyone eat those anymore?)  in your face because you're stressed is somehow a reflection of who you are and how you have no discipline and you're ruining your life. 

First of all, it's not true. It's not true. Again, it's NOT true. 

The problem is not that we are emotional eaters; the problem is us confusing 'emotional eating' with 'shameful eating'. 

Let's explore the difference...

 

I AM AN EMOTIONAL EATER WHEN I...

* eat when I'm bored

* eat past the point of fullness because the meal taste so good

* eat when I'm not hungry, so that I don't miss out on family dinners or outings, where everyone else is eating

* think about food/plan my next meal while I'm eating a current meal or have just eaten

 

Now, watch for the subtle but distinct difference between

Emotional Eating and Shameful Eating:

 

I AM A SHAMEFUL EATER WHEN I...

* eat when I'm bored...and consider myself to be "bad" for it. 

* I eat past the point of fullness because the meal taste so good...and I feel compelled to exercise and burn off what I ate or I promise myself somewhere deep inside that I will never do this again. 

* I eat when I'm not hungry, so that I don't miss out on family dinners or outings, where everyone else is eating...and I end up bingeing because of my belief that if I eat when I'm not hungry I have failed intuitive eating/willpower/listening to my body perfectly. 

* I think about food/plan my next meal while I'm eating a current meal or have just eaten...and I am unable to find pleasure in my present meal. In fact, I feel distracted, displeased, anxious or irritable until my next meal. 

Friends. Not only is Emotional Eating not the enemy, it is NECESSARY, because food is love. It is comfort. It is meant to be pleasurable and deeply enjoyed- why else do we have taste buds?? It's like, why would we thousands have nerve endings on our genitalia if sex was ONLY meant for procreation?? It's the same. And also I wanted an excuse to mention sex stuff. 

Our relationship with food is complex and fascinating and infuriating and dazzling. Take my advice, just for today: (Did you even ask for my advice?) Be proud, so utterly proud, of your ability and your desire to eat with your emotions. To be connected to the earth, its bounty and the people who inhabit it, in such a special way. That's all you need to do today. 

You with me? Yikes? Hallelujah? Meh?

With love,

Erica 

The Importance of Waffles & Ice Cream

"Ya'don't haafta pull so hawd!" Grandma loudly informs me, in her heavy New York accent. Everything inside the pullout-freezer drawer jolts and slides forward, making a slamming sound against the front of the freezer. I quickly grab 2 waffles from their box and the pint of ice cream. I accidentally slam the freezer shut. I wait for Grandma to react. No reaction. She's busy talking to my Mother about the idiot at the post office. Safe.

I don't like the feel of cold things on my hands. I don't like my hands to be wet or damp. I'm quickly reminded of this as I hurry to get the 2 frozen waffles into the toaster oven and the ice cream on the counter. I set the timer for my waffles...tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick...my Mother laughs, reminiscing about their days in the Bronx in the 50's, with the nutcase Uncle who lived upstairs and the dog that attacked him...tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick...Grandma talks about the gal she now goes to at the beauty parlor and how lovely she gets -what hair she has left- to stand up and look presentable...tick tick tick tick tick tick...I stare at my waffles, my eyes lost in the long, noodle-shaped orange heat lamps. DING! I barely touch the waffles as I scoot them on a plate, careful not to burn myself and I place one, no, three scoops of ice cream on each.

It's our first night in New York, which means Mom and I are briefed on who's getting married, who's had a Bar Mitzvah, who got divorced, who's pregnant and who's literally lost their mind in the last year, A.K.A. who is "not well", to which Grandma flings her hand in the air, raises her eyebrows, lowers her eyelids and says, "fuhgeddaboudit, she's nuts!" 

Yes. This is my favorite; sitting at the kitchen table with my Mother and Grandmother, talking shit about people. Me, my teeth warmed by waffles and chilled by ice cream (NEVER allowed in our house) and my Mother with her coffee & frozen Mandel bread, (also, NEVER allowed in our house.)

It's so late, but I don't have to go to bed because there's no school the next day because I'm on vacation. And I'm not tired because I'm on California time. Because I'm a California Girl...with New York blood and a New York groove and a New York (very) Jewish Grandmother I absolutely adore...

 

A while ago I wrote a post called, Why Can't I Stop Cheating on My Diet?, I mentioned an article written by one of my personal and professional heroes, Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, where I graduated from a few years ago. (I totally just plugged FOUR things in ONE sentence. Is there an award for that?) Anyway, the article describes Three Types of Cravings; Supportive, Dispersive, and Associative. For the purposes of this post and my super-descriptive awesome story, we'll talk about the latter of the 3, Associative Cravings.

Associative cravings occur when we yearn for a food that has a rich, deep, and meaningful association with our past, much like waffles & ice cream remind me of my Grandmother, who passed away 2 years ago. It's almost like my taste buds step into a time machine, where not only do waffles & ice cream remind me of my Grandma, but, in a way, they are my Grandma. By surrendering to this kind of craving we can visit our past, and re-live feelings that may bring their own special healing moment, regardless of the nutritional inferiority of the food. Biology and nostalgia can make a fascinating and almost mystical meal.

It's easy to demonize, try to control, shut down or even hypnotize our cravings away (I tried that years ago. It was total bullshit. True story.) I'm no longer interested in ignoring that which biologically, and in many cases, spiritually calls out for me to pay attention. Cravings ought not to be curbed. They need to be listened to, heard, honored, and, dare I say, celebrated! Trying to control your appetite? Fuhgeddaboudit!

So, here's a (FUN) exercise for you if you need some help celebrating your cravings:

Tell your story associated with a particular food (or type of food) you've craved, like I did above. It can be a poem, a Haiku, a sonnet, a painting, a drawing, a song, whatever! Just tell the story. Re-live it. Celebrate it. For reals.

Some things to keep in mind when you're storytelling:

*Who does this food remind you of?

*Where were you when you would eat this food?

*What was happening in your life then?

*What feelings (happy, sad, displaced, aloof, angry, overjoyed, etc.) did you experience when you ate this food?

*What are your beliefs about this food now? How do you classify/label it? (healthy, unhealthy, clean, not clean, must-burn-off-now, I'm allowed to eat it when...)

Email me your stories! I'd be honored to read them (and *maybe* with your permission, feature them on this here blog). erica@whatseatingericajacobs.com

With my whole heart,

Erica

 

Trying a New Couch

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"You've done this before", he says, as I make it a priority to hand over the $150 check, first thing. "Yes, I know how this works", I say, as I slip my flip-flops off and plop onto the couch, knowing how to make myself comfortable. He's handsome; mid-forties, jeans, Navy Blue sweater, nice smile...wedding band. Here we go, I think to myself. He situates himself in his leather office chair and looks at me, ready to catch my first sentence on his clipboard. I feel the tears coming, I bury my face in my hands and struggle to get the words out:

I mutter, "I'm the angriest Yoga Teacher I know."  And with the click of his pen, he begins to take notes...

I've been "couch surfing" since I was seven years-old. In the last twenty-one years, I've seen fifteen female therapists. With the exception of the therapist I saw just after my dad passed away,--who saved my life and in many ways, set me up for adulthood--none of them could really see me or really know me. Therefore, none of them could really love me and deep down, I preferred it that way. Oh, and just a little tip: A therapist's advice can only be as current as their outfit. So, outdated wardrobe=outdated advice. Trust me. You're welcome.

Anyway, it has never occurred to me to see a male therapist, probably because I've never had healthy relationships with men, my dad included, even though we were very close. I'm very tense and anxious around men. I was molested when I was thirteen, fourteen and fifteen and I've had physical and emotional affairs with several married men, for which I have never forgiven myself. Because of this, I'm extremely uneasy around husbands, specifically. It was not my looks or even sex appeal, if I have any, that landed me in those situations, it was my loneliness, my vulnerability, and probably my wit. Chronologically, I was very young when these relationships affairs took place, and I subsequently learned in those moments that all men cheat, I am not to be trusted with them and I am not worthy of a good one. I also learned that men really just want one thing from me...although technically, I learned that in high school.

On the other side, when I am around husbands that clearly love their wives --my friends' husbands, especially-- I'm always reminded that THAT love is reserved for everyone else, except me. A shame washes over me each time I witness that love; a kiss on her head, a passing joke between the two of them. I'm both grateful and sad those husbands would never choose me. When I think of the wives whose husbands I had relations with, all I've ever wanted to say is, I'm good now, I promise. I was young and broken and I'm sorry. And I wish you knew. I wish you would have stopped it. And how did you not know? Would I know?

I feel my cheeks heat up and my head starts to spin, as I so desperately want to empty the contents of it onto the floor, only retrieving the thoughts, experiences and wisdom that can make my pain go away. "Are you sure you're angry?" he asks. I peer over my tear-soaked fingertips and squint my bloodshot eyes, confused. Is he seriously challenging my feelings right now? "I've known you for three minutes, Erica", he continued, "and what I'm really getting a sense of is not anger...but sadness." I register the word; Sad. My limbs loosen and my skin feels thin. I close my eyes and nod, fully embodying the saddest Yoga Teacher I know. "Yes", I whisper, my voice breaking. "I'm sad. I'm so deeply sad."...

I've always picked boys over men, when it comes to dating. They're easier, they're safe. I was in a relationship with a boy for two years; my first and only real relationship. And although he was "safe" in the way I needed him to be, I never felt whole or right. If there's one thing I've learned about myself, it is that I will except that which is easy and safe for a while, sometimes too long. But eventually, I'll trade it in for that which is difficult, scary and very necessary, because secretly, I want to be with a man; a true King, who's criteria it is to be with a Queen and understands that distinction. I yearn for a man who challenges me to be the most sovereign, the most strong, the most sexy, the most embodied woman I'm meant to be, because he deserves that and deep down, so do I. Boys don't require this of women, but men do, and that terrifies me. So, naturally, off I now skip to the nearest handsome, preferably married, confronting male therapist, in the hopes of figuring it all out.

He's writing a lot down, I'm giving him a lot of information. I know how to make myself understood. "Erica, how do you think I can help you?" "What do you need from me?" I know he knows the answer but he wants me to say the words myself. (They do this all the time.) I stare for a long moment at the carved wooden folding blinds behind him and take a breath. "I don't know. I don't know. Well, I know I need to try something new," I say. "I know I need a male therapist to help me understand my relationship TO and WITH men. I've been told by many therapists that I'm 'too good at therapy' and others have said I should be a Therapist. I don't need to be stroked. I don't want to be validated. I don't want to feel like I'm outsmarting my shrink. Also, you're wearing a wedding band and that makes me nervous and I don't want it to, anymore."

Before I know it, fifty minutes have passed. "Erica, this is a great place to start", he assures me. I breathe a sigh of relief, as I'm afraid he'd reject me. We decide Fridays at 12:30 will be my slot. I thank him and yes, I hug him. As I head for the door, a tiny smile, unrecognizable to anyone but me, swims across my mouth, and a small glimmer of hope fills my chest as I send a silent prayer to my future husband: This is all for us. And I'll be ready for you, soon. 

Because I'm a counselor, a writer, a teacher and a truth-teller, by vocation, it is literally my calling AND my job to heal and speak my truth so I can help others heal and speak their truth. I think of the Tony Robbins and the Brene Browns of our world, whose job it is to do their part in their life; to explore the dark and hidden truth of themselves and fully embrace who they are. It's their job to keep growing and overcome what keeps them awake at night, because if they don't, the world suffers. So I realize I can't not do this. I can't not take action and responsibility for myself. Life hurts for me right now and some days I really just want to throw in the towel, pull up the covers and not participate. But I have no choice but to do the work like it's my job, because, frankly, it is. And I'm not quitting any time soon.

xoxo

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an open letter to twenty-eight

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Dearest Twenty-Eight,

In the deep, dark quite of my living room, I hear the clock in the kitchen. It counts down the remaining fifty-eight minutes of being twenty-seven.

I'm hardly ready for you; my phone has 20% life, clothes are unnecessarily scattered everywhere. Dishes are piled in the sink, DVDs of Seinfeld, Girl Interrupted and The L Word, are just...on the floor. Things are not where they're supposed to be, twenty-eight. I'm not married, I don't have children. I'm a writer and I'm not even wearing the right outfit to type this letter; it doesn't scream Carrie Bradshaw at all!

The thing is, Twenty-Eight, I was conceived mid afternoon, on the bedroom floor, after a huge marriage-threatening fight. (I do love drama). And forty-two blissful weeks later, on a Tuesday in 1987, my 7-pound ass was hauled via emergency C-Section into a culture driven by numbers, data, facts, conclusions, deadlines and fear. In many ways, Twenty-Eight, you're a ticking time bomb; not yet thirty, but dangerously close. Most 28's in my culture are expected to have it figured out. We are to be financially stable and independent, settled in our sexuality and secure in who we are. We ought to know our purpose and our passions and the difference between the two, because there is a difference.

Since the human body has its own rhythm--which we audaciously deny on the daily--so much information can be gathered every 365 days in a human's life. On a physiological level, predictions can be made about the condition of the body as we age; metabolism, bone health, reproductive ability, etc. If I die tomorrow, a skilled professional would be able to tell I am around twenty-eight, more or less by the stern end of my fourth rib, the length of my bones and my teeth. That's a beautiful and often helpful thing, but it would be hard to determine how I felt as a human being. Was I happy? Did I feel complete and secure in my purpose? Did I show and receive enough love? Did I pay my own rent? I mean, I was twenty-eight, after all. Interesting how age can only predict, depict and determine so much and yet we allow it to define who we are, by setting so many deadlines. This isn't a bad thing, it's just what is, for today.

Twenty-Eight, getting older hasn't been the hard part for me, growing up is. As a grownup, I've had to make very hard decisions and judgements. I've told the truth when I really didn't want to, and I've lied when it was my only option. I have to constantly be humble and realize things about myself that aren't favorable, but helpful to know. I've walked through shame, grief, fear, heartbreak and hopelessness. It's not all bad though, Twenty-Eight. Concurrently, I've really surprised myself, as a grownup. I've shown myself grace and a willingness to be here in a way I didn't and couldn't as a child. I have friends who seek me out and think of me all the time. I have a loving, smart and very strong family. My Mother has become my favorite person, thank God. I've cried so many tears of joy and I have much to celebrate, each and every day.

Twenty-Eight, I just really want you to know you are NOT a deadline. You are just a point of reference, like a mall directory, and I'm glad you're here. Of all the numbers so far, you feel the most fun, strong, powerful and enlightening already. You don't scare me...but let's be honest, you haven't demanded anything of me today, other than to receive and really taste all the love available to me. I know things only taste as good as the time I take to absorb them, so I promise to stay present for the next 16 hours. Yikes.

So maybe I am ready for you, sweet Twenty-Eight. For you are proof that I've kept air in my lungs, food in my belly and more than enough love in my heart to sustain me thus far. My dishes might be piled high, I might be single and I don't make 60K a year. My clothes may not make it back neatly where they belong anytime soon and the scattered DVD's won't get re-racked today. But that will come with age...right?

Love,

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The Red Circle Philosophy

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If I marked 2014 with an emblem or logo, I’d choose a Big Red Circle.  As a shape, circles represent wholeness, protection, initiation, mobility, all-inclusive unity, everything. Circles characterize revolutions around the sun as we waltz through rhythms of time. With not-so-primitive understanding, we saw our first circles; our Mother’s eyes, the moon, the sun, the dots in the skies as stars, and realized even beauty can be spoken in a circular language. As for Red, Red is high energy. It excites our senses and motivates us to take action. Red is the color of physical movement, and it awakens our life force.

Clearly, I’ve had quite a year.

As the Director of My Gym, a children’s fitness center, I have the incredible pleasure of connecting with over two hundred children and their families. And I mean the WHOLE family; parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nannies and distant cousins, twice removed. I also know and remember all their names, as if I've known them for years. I witness first steps and hear first words. I smile as parents sing “I'm a Little Teapot” with a sweet hint of nostalgia. I encourage my students to wonder about the world around them. I inquire about favorite sea animals, biggest fears and silliest memories. I hearten imagination, patience and kindness. All of this happens within the Big Red Circle in the middle of the room. From this circle, I am consistently challenged and inspired to see the world through a different lens. Its heart work, but someone has to do it.

If you've been following my blog for the past year, it should come as no surprise to you I'd die to speak at a TED conference. TED is a non-profit global set of conferences, welcoming people from all walks of life to give short, powerful talks. TED operates under the slogan: "Ideas Worth Spreading", and it’s no surprise TED’s logo is indeed a Big Red Circle. Ironically, if all I need is a Big Red Circle, something powerful to say and a willing audience, it appears I've in fact given about 1,152 TED talks this year. (I wish you could have been in my head during the 15 minutes it took me to calculate that.)

Cool story, Erica. What's your point?

For 2015, I challenge you to find YOUR Big Red Circle; that place where you are forever changed and enlightened. Find the spot of genuine intimacy and memory-making where you feel most comforted, tested, inspired and needed. In so many ways, I have found my circle and I wholeheartedly invite you to find yours. And to me, THAT is anIdea Worth Spreading”.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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