Food Cravings: Taking Back the Power

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In the previous chapter I told you that for long years of my life, emotional eating and food took the place of some very important parts of living. For example, I had few meaningful relationships with other people, and when I moved away from them, I seldom stayed in touch. My most meaningful day-to-day "relationship" was with -- food.

In this chapter we'll talk about what helped me to take back the power that food cravings had over my life and eventually lose 60 pounds.

First, let's talk about that power. Then I'll explain how I was finally able to escape its grip.

What are your favorite foods for an emotional eating binge? Some of mine were pizza, cake, and ice cream, washed down with lots of soda. And just about every day after work I'd rush to get my fast-food fix, consisting of a bacon cheeseburger, big fries, and a shake, before going home -- to dinner!

Even as I ate all that food, I despaired of ever understanding why I did it. I only knew that once a craving began, I couldn't think of anything else but the food until I got it and ate it, as fast as possible. Of course, almost as soon as I was done, I felt physically and emotionally awful. But I knew another craving would come, and I'd do it again.

While a craving had me in its grip, I was stuck, a slave to the overeating and the weight gain that came with it. I never knew when my thoughts about food would begin to gather and focus in my mind, until a pizza or a Big Mac was all I could think about. If I didn't swallow it now -- now! -- in my mind a black hole of nothingness stood waiting to swallow ME.

I know how that sounds to people who aren't emotional eaters. But if you're like me, then you know the feeling. I'm talking about the black hole, or "void" as I've heard it called, that blots out everything but getting food, in an emotional eater's mind, as a craving tightens its grip.

When I first stopped to think about and examine my incredibly powerful food cravings, I realized that I'd experienced this void as a constant threat. It WAS waiting to swallow me if I didn't get the food "in time." I hated it and wanted to pull it out of me.

But as I continued to work with my therapist and learned more about it, I began to see my void as something quite different. It was a kind of "blackout" of my life that happened whenever a craving took control. But my life was still there; I was simply missing out on part of it while the craving had me in its control. Yes, I was stuck in emotional eating and fat. But slowly I came to realize that on the other side of the "void" that kept me from living all of my life, my whole self was waiting to be born.

I stopped hating the "void," then. I realized that it was part of me, so hating it meant hating myself. That was something I was no longer willing to do. Also, the "void" was part of my protective shield of overeating and being fat that had helped me to keep my life going for so long. I learned to love and respect the courageous woman I was during all the years when I needed to overeat and be fat. And I found I could love this part of myself, too -- and begin to let it go.

And that's what happened. Over time, the therapy I received helped me gain confidence in my natural self and my abilities, so my self-esteem improved. I began to feel more comfortable with other people, and I found I was spending less time craving -- and eating -- food I didn't need.

"Feeling more comfortable with other people." I can say that here a lot more easily than I could do it, at least at first. I took my first step toward becoming more comfortable with myself in relationships with others by joining a group of other women who were seeking to understand and change their emotional eating. They were wonderful! I also began accepting party invitations and actually going to the parties, instead of excusing myself at the last minute as I'd usually done. Simple steps, yes -- but big ones for me.

That was a couple of years ago. As I continued to work on replacing the false comfort of my emotional eating with the joy of making friends and pursuing new interests, my food cravings and the "void" came less and less often.

Most important, I was no longer at their mercy. When a craving loomed, I could see it as a signal to think rather than a command to eat. It was a signal that the newly empowered person I'd become could still feel vulnerable and unsure of herself at times. When that happened, my cravings and "void" came racing to the rescue, as they had done so many, many times before.

Only now I no longer needed them. I could choose to think instead of eat when a craving came along. I learned to say to myself then, "What part of the Whole Me, the part that still is scared sometimes but that I've been able to bring out into the open, can I visit now, and comfort, and reassure?" These days, just stopping to think like this is usually enough to help me see that I really can handle whatever situation I'm in. And it reminds me that emotional eating doesn't handle anything.

I like the thought that every time I do this -- for I still have occasional thoughts about overeating, and probably always will -- I'm saying goodbye again, with love and thanks, to my emotional eating.

It was there when I needed it. But now I'm here, all of me.

And that's enough.


What Are Your Food Cravings Like?

To learn more, ask yourself:

  • Do my food cravings follow the steps described in the article? If not, how are they different?
  • If the "void" described in the article is part of my food craving experience, how big a part is it? What do I think it could mean?
  • How do I feel if I can't eat the food I crave as quickly as I want to? How much of what I feel then is based on things I know are true (such as hunger or stress)?
  • Does the craving go away on its own if I don't eat the food? If not, what do I do about it?
  • How would I describe my "relationship" with food compared to my relationships with other people? In general, which is stronger?

Show Sources

SOURCES: WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Healthy Eating." Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, nutrition consultant; author of Stealth Health: How To Sneak Nutrition Painlessly Into Your Diet. Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, nutrition consultant; author of Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's alone and have not been influenced by WebMD.

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