Tackling Emotional Eating – Comfort Food as an Idol

When praying for conviction, many things have been relatively easy for me to give up.  However, there are a few I have really struggled with.  One of these is emotional eating – using comfort food as a crutch.  In this way, it has become an idol to me.  This is an account of my struggle with weight loss and emotional eating in 2016.


Depression is not new to me.  We’ve been on and off companions for decades.  I’ve tried cognitive behavioral therapy, counselling, and medications.  Of these, only medications helped – and that, only marginally.

What works great is chocolate.  Preferably milk chocolate.  Cheesecake, cheezies, and chips and dip will work in a pinch.  There is a term for this – Emotional Binge Eating.

Unfortunately, these foods (which absolutely are proven to boost “feel good” brain chemicals called endorphins) only help while I’m eating them, or shortly after.  To maintain their effect, I’d have to eat at least 5 chocolate bars a day.  Which I would do gladly, if it didn’t have negative effect.

Hence the weight issue.  My weight has steadily creeped upwards from the normal – high normal – overweight – to the obese BMI categories.  I can still see my toes, but I am not healthy.  I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to lose weight for 12 years now, and any weight I take off I promptly put back on.

I struggle with food being an “idol” or “crutch”, and yet some days I just don’t feel like I can make it through my day without it – I can’t stand feeling hungry.  But it’s not a physical hunger I am trying to satiate.

Much of my depression stems from relationship issues.  My “love language” is words of affirmation – feeling like I am doing a good job and am appreciated.  I don’t always get a lot of this – sometimes, more the opposite – and each sarcastic comment or criticism cuts like a knife.  The thing is, I am confident in my value and position in Christ.  I feel like depression and my stomach should not rule me – that Christ should rule me.  So along with everything else, I feel guilt.  Which entices me to the pantry to eat more chocolate chips.

We are broken people, living in a broken world.

It is only natural that this will hurt.  Sometimes very much.  People will disappoint us and hurt us, sometimes even intentionally and regularly.  Bad things will happen.  Our health will deteriorate.  This is life in a sinful world and shouldn’t be in any way surprising!

I wish that exercise gave me the same endorphins (it does for some people!) , or that I even enjoyed it (which I don’t! – I would rather get a filling at the dentist than do cardio for an hour…).  So for me, here I go again, trying to beat my food idol into submission.

I will try to post my progress.

Today is day 2.  I did great yesterday (day 1), passed up fast food and donuts, went for a walk at lunch (which I didn’t enjoy) and ate low-cal.  Today it’s just after noon and I’ve had a cupcake and a jelly filled donut.  However, instead of throwing in the towel, it’s better to be over my goal by 200 calories than by 1000 calories.  So I dutifully recorded them in my notebook (the only way I lose weight is by religiously tracking my caloric intake), and will try to eat a light supper.

Of note, I have found that other idols in my life have really become much less of a problem!   I do occasionally covet things, but not like I used to.  It has become easier and easier to let things go, and by being attentive to my cravings I can tell myself that – remember how I really REALLY wanted that (shirt, belt, pen, etc) a few months ago, didn’t get it, and now don’t really care?

I’m hoping to get to that same point with food, but for me, this is the biggest mountain to climb.

Weight Loss Week 1 – The Long Dark Tunnel Ahead

Well, it’s been a week since I posted about my struggle with weight gain and depression.  I did really well the first day and was at around 1200 calories for the day, went for a walk, turned down junk food.  Then it was Easter weekend (which I prefer to celebrate as Passover and its’ fulfillment), and I had home struggles and sleep changes and completely fell off the wagon.  Ate several chocolate bars, felt very low, and have survived to this point – but, 1 lb heavier.  Unfortunately, this is a pattern for me – I can get very excited and ramped up and do really well…for one day.

Attempted to start again today as a new month begins, but succumbed to chips and dip at work.  Really need to figure out a way to distract my oral fixation (I ran out of gum, part of the problem).

I had a stranger tell me this week that she herself is an emotional eater, and that she always tells people to deal with excess weight when they are still young, as it becomes so much more difficult to take it off with age.  This is something I already knew, but seem so inept to do anything about.  I feel like a smoker – addicted and aware, but unable to pull the reins in on that which drives me.  It’s the whole instant gratification despite knowing long term consequences.

So. Hard. To. Give. Up. Instant. Gratification.

We never really find out how attached we are to something until we honestly try to give it up.  Shopping, cell phones/internet, TV, smoking, alcohol, drugs, food… We think we are in control and could give it up if we wanted or needed to.  Well, a good way to find out if that is true, is to try it for a week…  Wants vs Needs are tough.  We need *much* less than we want.

This week I also have become quite uncomfortable – this is probably TMI but I feel and look pregnant.  I would probably be more alarmed by this if I hadn’t had several pregnancies already and quite loved the belly.  Unfortunately this time the belly is empty of baby (I even took a pregnancy test to check).  However, strangers (generally children) do routinely ask me if I have a baby in my tummy, or when I am due, or tell me congratulations… So often, in fact, that I am pretty immune to it.

Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.  Since I hate exercise, I’m going to have to do this the old fashioned way of simply eating less calories.  I am forcing myself to track calories as this is the only way I seem to have any sort of semblance of control over myself.  I will post them here weekly on Fridays to have some measure of accountability.  I don’t know guys, this is a tough battle.

Some days I just tell myself, well, one day closer to Heaven.

Weight Loss Week 3 – The Soluble Fiber Miracle

I didn’t get around to posting last Friday – I have been busy researching weight loss, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety…  And then I placed a big order for supplements and herbals…  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sciencey-type of gal.  I don’t jump in on fad diets and scientifically unproven alternative health pills.  However, there are some things that can be taken to help someone like me.

So now I have a plan.  Curious?

First I read an article that validated – “Despite what you may have heard, overcoming food cravings has nothing to do with willpower”.  This was empowering for me because I was struggling with the guilt of not being able to control my eating.  (Source)

People without weight problems benefit from a fully functioning system of appetite control—compounds such as hormones, peptides, neurotransmitters, and glucose that circulate in the blood and are sensed and acted upon by the brain. People of normal weight don’t usually experience frequent cravings for unhealthy foods. They simply feel hungry at appropriate times. They are also inclined to feel satisfied when they eat modest sized portions that don’t promote weight gain.

Unfortunately, when abdominal fat cells are enlarged in overweight and obese individuals, this complex system of appetite control becomes altered. The key factor that leads to this disruption is insulin resistance.

Resetting Appetite Control

Resistance to the hormone insulin sets the stage for intense food cravings. In more primitive times, insulin resistance filled the purpose of helping humans pack on the pounds when food was abundant so that they could survive during famine. Today, we don’t usually have that problem, and as a result our physiology is stuck in the fat-storing mode with an overactive appetite.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to fix your appetite control system and free yourself from excessive food cravings. Two powerful natural approaches to doing this are stabilizing blood sugar and boosting serotonin levels in your brain.

The article then lists seven ways to improve blood sugar control and insulin resistance:

  1. Eat a low-glycemic-load diet.
  2. Try a viscous fiber supplement
  3. Supplement with chromium, which is necessary for insulin to work properly, at a dosage of 200–400 mcg per day.
  4. Get a handle on stress.
  5. Ensure that you never really get hungry by consuming low-calorie snacks, such as fresh vegetables and fruit, between meals.
  6. Engage in physical exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
  7. Plan your daily menu in advance.

My major food-related problem is that I *hate* to feel hungry, and that no matter how much I eat, I never feel full/satisfied.  The soluble fiber supplement sounded like it may help in this regard.   The article recommended PGX as one of the most studied/published results.  I looked up the cost of PGX, and it would be about $50-80/month depending how many pills I would need to take to feel full.  This is a little out of my budget, so I further investigated and found that the ingredients in PGX are glucomannan (konjac root), xanthan gum, and sodium alginate – three types of soluble fiber.  Of the three, glucomannan is by far the most effective in studies (see one article on glucomannan here).  Fortunately, buying glucomannan by itself without the PGX brand name is substantially cheaper – Vitacost.com is an option.

I decided to try a little experiment while waiting for my Glucomannan to arrive – I had a bag of Xanthan Gum in the pantry that I had purchased to make homemade dish soap.  I added a scoop to my smoothie in the morning – and WHOMP!  It was so thick I had to spoon it out (like jello).  I ate it all.  Then felt like I had eaten a loaf of bread that was rising in me all morning.  (It seems I took about 2x the recommended dosage).  It kept me FULL for 3 hours!  Amazing for me.  Until my glucomannan arrives in pill format, I am going to continue with the Xanthan gum – because for the FIRST TIME I have been able to stay under 1600 calories.

Here’s my calorie counts (each day I was TRYING to follow a 1500 calorie plan..which I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to do for the last several years off and on):

Apr 1 – 2260

Apr 2 – 2050

Apr 3 – 2100

Apr 4 – 2050

Apr 5 – 1975

Apr 6 – 2275

Apr 7 – 1575

Apr 8 – 2300

Apr 9 – 2175

Apr 10 – 2000

Apr 11 – 2050

Apr 12 – 1575 * started Xanthan Gum 1 tsp with breakfast and lunch daily

Apr 13 – 1225

Apr 14 – 1475

I have also ordered some additional supplements to add in, which I will talk about next week.

I am so cautiously excited that this may actually work this time for me!!!

Weight Loss – Week 10 – Down 8 lbs and making progress

I am happy to report that the weight has started coming off and even more importantly, I have more control over my hunger/satiety!

I went off my anti-depressant medication, which I had been mostly taking as a sleep aid to treat my chronic insomnia (it had sedating properties, but didn’t really affect my mood).  I had researched it well before going on it, and it didn’t seem to have much risk of weight gain (one of my concerns with anti-d’s).  However, I did gain 10lb in a year while on it and struggled with an insatiable appetite all year.  I never made the connection (as I have had appetite issues in the past related to emotional eating and fatigue, as well as on other medications).  However, after going off it, my appetite definitely got noticeably more controllable.

I have started the following supplements (researched on examine.com):

  • Ashwaganhda – Adaptogen – anti-stress, anti-anxiety, anti-insomnia if taken in a.m.
  • Rhodiola – Adaptogen – anti-fatigue
  • Glucomannan – soluble fiber – expands and fills you up so you eat less and feel fuller
  • Cinnamon – supposed to help regulate insulin/blood glucose
  • Chromium (Chromatone) – regulates insulin/blood glucose
  • Magnesium Citrate – helps with insomnia
  • Melatonin – helps with insomnia
  • 5HTP – helps with depression, insomnia
  • Matcha (Green Tea) – anti-oxidant, energizer

Over the last 7 weeks:

  • Most days I have been in the 1400-1700 calorie range.  I was initially aiming for 1200, but this seems much more difficult for me to achieve…
  • I am not limiting treats, but am including them in my calorie counts, so I have to decide if I’d rather have a chocolate bar or, say, LUNCH
  • I increase my calories on weekends.  To about 1800-2200.  My personal maintenance caloric intake is 2200/day (based on weeks of tracking my weight and caloric intakes – I am moderately active but have a decent metabolism).  It just makes it easier to go for ice cream, or do popcorn & a movie, etc.  I figure this is going to take me months to lose 40lbs, so a couple extra months will make the whole process more bearable.  Also, I don’t want my body to go into starvation-fat-saving mode.  So it probably can’t figure out what is going on, and I look at that as a good thing. (For more info you can look up info on low calorie diets and fat storage; long term leptin levels of dieters, etc).
  • I have a pretty decent meal plan:
    • Breakfast – 150 calories – protein shake, or fruit & yogurt with 1tsp Xanthan Gum (I had some in the pantry) – or else 1 supplement of Glucomannan (450-2000mg); Rhodiola supplement; Chromium supplement
    • Snack – 135 calories – matcha green tea latte mix + 1 grapefruit or orange + Omega 3 & Vitamin D (increased absorption with the green tea)
    • Lunch – 250 calories -1/3 cup fridge oats OR soup OR salad PLUS one banana (for potassium) + Chromium or Chromatone supplement + Ashwagandha supplement
    • Snack – 150 calorie choice + 2000mg Glucomannan supplement
    • Supper – 700 calories – 4-6 oz protein, 1 cup carbs, 2 cups vegetables + magnesium citrate supplement + chromatone supplement

Supplement Review (after 8 weeks of use):

  • Ashwaganhda – May help slightly with mood stabilization.
  • Rhodiola – May help slightly with mood stabilization.
  • Glucomannan – This definitely helps me to feel fuller.  It doesn’t automatically decrease my appetite, but it helps me to be able to control it.
  • Cinnamon –  Tastes good, but I don’t know if it has any effect on my glucose metabolism.  I can’t tell.
  • Chromium (Chromatone) – Again, no effect that I can feel, but it may be helping my glucose metabolism.
  • Magnesium Citrate – Definitely helps me to sleep longer and more solidly.  This is a great one for insomnia.
  • Melatonin – Helps slightly with being able to fall asleep.  Even though I have the delayed-release formula, it doesn’t help me to stay asleep very well.  No noticeable effect with decreased fat deposition.
  • 5HTP -Helps minimally with falling asleep.  I don’t notice mood improvement with it, but my mood has been fairly stable anyways apart from some anxiety (panic attacks).
  • Matcha (Green Tea) – Doesn’t give me the caffeine buzz that coffee does, but does increase my energy the same way.  I prefer the taste of coffee, but this supposedly has other health benefits (anti-oxidant).

The only supplement that I really notice an effect from is the Glucomannan, which helps me to feel full (and not hungry as often).  This helps me to control my appetite and food intake.

Magnesium citrate helps with my sleep, which in turn I suppose helps my mood and possibly my appetite.  I have also been taking Benadryl nightly which also helps with my sleep 🙂

Weight Loss – Month 7 – 12 Pounds Down

Ummm, yeah, so as you can tell I have a problem with consistency.  I last a week, several weeks… then can’t seem to stick to it.  (Schedules, supplements, resolutions…you name it).

However, I am down another 4lb, making it 12lb total so far in 6 months which I am feeling very happy about.  At least it’s the right direction 🙂

I haven’t been taking any supplements for months now, because I keep forgetting.  The only one I notice is the Glucomannan.  Whether the others had effect or not I cannot say.  However, I am off anti-depressants and am feeling better without them than with them, so perhaps the adaptogens did their work!  My appetite has settled down and seems more manageable to maintain or slightly lose weight, which makes me wonder if much of my weight gain had to do with the anti-depressants (a common side effect from anti-D’s is weight gain).

My daughter also has also had to start on a weight loss diet.  She is only 7.  As she says, she wishes spicy chips (her junk food of choice) were healthy so she could eat them for breakfast, lunch, and supper.  Don’t we all, don’t we all.  If only fat and sugar weren’t so appealing to our senses.  In order to choose health, we have to learn to choose things that aren’t as appealing options sometimes.  Isn’t that true with our spiritual health as well?  Many times in life the “best” choice is the harder, or less appealing, choice.

In an era of pleasure and instant gratification, it is very difficult to choose the less appealing option.  And not just for food.

Just checking in, and hope to encourage anyone on the same journey to hang in there!!!