Posted by: jude49 | July 17, 2013

True Confession: I Was An Emotional Eater

Hello Everyone!

It’s difficult to admit, but I have come to believe that I was an emotional eater.  The good news is that I am aware of it…and to quote Dr. Daniel Siegel, “to name it is to tame it.”

Working on my degrees, i started to eat at night.  For many years after I finished my degrees, I experienced insomnia off and on.  When I couldn’t sleep, the first thing I thought of was eating!  In no time flat, I was in my kitchen quickly stirring up muffins, cakes, homemade ice-cream.  At least, everything was homemade…  My way of rationalizing.

I do eat good food.  My diet is composed of fresh fruit and veggies, beans (lentils, etc), fish (salmon, tuna, and chicken)…all good food.  I am making mindful choices about WHAT I eat.

It was HOW I ate that was not mindful.  I could bake a cake and within 20 minutes, I’d devoured at least half of it.  I paid little attention to how much I ate.  It seems as if I wanted to eat it as quickly as possible so I could eat more.  After I ate it, I felt it sitting in my stomach like a lump.  Not the most comfortable feeling!

As I have thought about why I was eating this way, a memory relating to my family-of-origin surfaced.  My mother was a cook and baker, par excellence!  And I mean a REAL cook.  At one point while working for Brigadier General Penhale and his wife, she had the honor of cooking for Mayor La Guardia,of New York City.  He was so impressed that he insisted on meeting the cook, my mother.

But I digress…  When I was growing up, there was always dessert.  Dessert was a treat, and those of us who did not eat our meal missed dessert.  The portions were reasonable (although I didn’t think so at the time!).  Two or three cookies, one piece of pie or cake was the norm.  Seconds were rare.

Numerous times I would return from school to the aroma of fresh baking.  My mom, though, wasn’t all that eager to share her freshly baked goods, especially cookies.  Wait until dinnertime was the usual annoying response.  She would often complain that she didn’t spend the whole afternoon baking for us to gobble up her baking in one day!  I can understand now…cookies take time to bake.  But her negative energy and comments were off-putting for me.  I dreamed of coming home to a mom who would gladly put freshly baked cookies along with a glass of milk in front of me and sit down and chat.  My dream never materialized.

My mother took her mission to keep her cookies, especially the Christmas delights, hidden.  She found the most extraordinary places to hide them.  When my parents left for an evening out, the hunt was on.  Although my siblings and I didn’t find all the cookie tins, we found some.  We took great care in extracting one cookie for each of us and became quite proficient at stacking cookies.  It’s quite an art!

Years later, I discovered that my mother had a sweet tooth, and I finally understood why she always wore the freezer key around her neck.  She started putting many of her baked goods in the freezer once we acquired one.  We always had to ask permission for a sweet; our requests were rarely granted.  When they were granted, it seemed that mom was giving away precious jewels.  I mean, they were just cookies!  But they seemed something more to her.  Her own childhood was one of poverty, and she was rarely appreciated by her own family, particularly her mother. It was the dirty 30’s, 12 children, a father who generously bought rounds of drinks for his friends with his paycheque…There was never enough.  I’m sure the impact of those years carried on to us even though we weren’t poor and there was certainly enough.

When she was in her 60’s, she admitted that when we were children, she used to go to the freezer, choose some sweets and eat them while we were asleep!  I was appalled.  And I was mad.  I’m sure she ate more sweets than her children!

When she lived in a nursing home late in her life, she begged us, usually my sister and me, to bring her cookies and candy which we did.  I resented buying her candy and seeing her eat it so freely.  Often, she would become ill.  It brought back painful memories.

I remember feeling anger that she should receive so much candy.  I think I was jealous.  Growing up, buying candy was very infrequent; potato chips, ginger ale and foods like hot dogs and hamburgers were reserved for birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and camping.  Even then, there was a fixed limited supply.

I wondered if my “jamming” down too much cake at one time was a response to my mother’s control over my sweet intake.  Or, was I eating too much cake because there were some emotional holes in my own personal life that need addressing,?

What meaning did I make of this?  I found some unresolved issues with my mom.  After resolving them, I  started to cut back on my sweet intake and learned how to eat mindfully.  I began chewing my food more slowly, enjoying its texture.  Eating mindfully is a journey…one step at a time…proceeding towards  growth, processing my family-of-origin issue(s), and knowing I will sometimes struggle with the urge to stuff as much cake down my mouth as I can in one sitting.  Now, though, I know the reason for that want, and I no longer have that hole I need to feed with food.

Have you had an experience such as mine?  How did you handle it?




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