Taking Up Space versus Emotional Eating

Diet and pop-psychology pundits define “emotional eating” as using food to comfort ourselves when we’re upset or stressed, even if we’re not hungry. They suggest we replace eating, under those circumstances, with other ways to comfort ourselves. This makes sense to me in principle, but last week another way of expressing the concept came together in my mind. For me, emotional eating is what I do when I’ve tried to take up more space in my life and feel frustrated or anxious instead of gratified. The relationship between taking up space and eating was new to me. (Except in its physical sense!)
Taking up space in life means asserting your needs, expecting them to be met, and doing what it takes to make that happen in a constructive way. Obviously, asserting yourself and following through can sometimes lead to obstacles and fears as well as to rewards. A while back I listed, just for fun, ways in which I’d like to take up more space. I tried to dream big, but my list contained a surprising number of small convenience items that had been bugging me. One was fixing my three leaky car tires, which needed filling every time I was at the gas station. Why should I put up with that?
The service station guy said I should come on in. But he didn’t have time to look at all three of the leakers right then, so he asked me to come back in two days. Frustrated in the day’s mission, I bought and ate a bunch of chips and pop with my lunch. I felt entitled to a treat.
I don’t always resort to food when I’m frustrated. I’ve become very aware of that urge, and I can often deflect it. This time it took me by surprise, but the triviality of the frustration (waiting two days) made the chain of events easy to see. My resolve, directed at having a specific need met, lost its direction and zoomed off at random. The goal and the motivation were no longer specific (fix the tires because I want a reliable car). They were vague (do something that is just for me).
The connection between the desire to assert and meet my needs, and the urge to eat, is clearer to me than the concept of emotional eating for comfort. I don’t need to comfort myself; I need to assert myself, take up more space in life, define my needs and meet them. In fact, extrapolating maybe too far, are we infantilizing ourselves if we assume we need so much comfort? We’re not babies. Maybe what we feel isn’t a need for comfort; maybe it’s bottled-up energy. We can try to channel that energy into achieving what we want, even if it’s something as small as fixing the tires or making ourselves a healthy meal.
Seeing this connection makes me want to ask myself in the future, when I have an uncharacteristic food craving, “What constructive thing can I do to assert my needs and meet them, instead of eating half a bag of Ruffles?” Maybe some of the time I’ll come up with a good idea, accomplish something, or make an exciting plan.

5 thoughts on “Taking Up Space versus Emotional Eating”

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  5. Fran:
    Now you’ve got me thinking. And I realise this explains my frustrating “why did I just eat that?” much better than “for comfort” ever did.
    Thanks you for your insight!
    Paul

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