Can exercise solve the emotional eating black hole?

Can exercise solve the emotional eating black hole?

I have always been an emotional eater. If I was feeling bad I would commiserate with food. If I was feeling good I would use food as a treat for whatever achievement I had managed, or if it was the start of the weekend, or if I had just finished work or if I managed to roll out of bed without stubbing my toe or if the jug boiled fast or if I found both my shoes .... I was clearly a very upbeat person because I could celebrate so many facets of life with food! :)

For those of us addicted to food for comfort when we STOP using cake to push down our feelings or cease using chips to flood our depression or put an end to drinking litres of coke to drown our sadness I have to think - well ... where is that depression or sadness or melancholy going now that we are not jamming it down into ourselves.

It has to be bubbling back up to the surface right? There is nowhere else for it to disappear to - its not like we can simply poop out sadness. Hmmm...a little too graphic? :)

And I am not saying this because I am dealing with something like that at the moment but sometimes I wonder if those occasional black and grim days we have when food seems like it might be the only thing to save us...I wonder if that is simply the emotion making its way to the surface now we are not weighting it down with food.

And I am addressing this more to emotional eaters like myself because for people like me, food was like a crude antidepressant . The more I ate the less I felt, the less I felt the more I ate until I was in a food coma and nothing was touching me emotionally.

And when I see it this way it makes sense that the end of the work day, when my mind is not occupied by work and I am faced with dealing with things like my emotions, its not surprising that this was the time I would reach for chocolate or chips or cake to push them down.

So where is all that emotion?

Because right now I am feeling calmer and more "together" than I have in a long time.

I am exercising more and I am doing a greater variety of exercise and I feel like this has really helped me to process feelings and disburse a lot of the rubbish that has been hiding deep down.

That connection between my mind and body that is growing stronger seems to be helping me deal with things in a more even tempered rational way.

It almost feels as though my mind is starting to find emotions and instead of dwelling on the bad ones or ruminating on the poor decisions I have made or agonising over what could have been it is instead sending them to my body to be processed and disbursed as I exercise my way through them.

Or perhaps exercising hard puts me in a bit of a zen state where my subconscious can process emotion much more easily than it used to...

I know this probably all sounds a little out there but its the only logical way I can see that those emotions that we buried under food are now being dealt with.

I couldn't say that cycling is going to completely erase every bad feeling or power walking up massive hills will cancel out feeling bad but I think exercise truly does provide a kind of therapy for me by allowing me to not only mentally but also physically start to process my emotions.

What do you think? Has exercise become a sort of therapist for you?

P.S. And as a side note? Wow - I have SO much more respect for cyclists than I did a few days ago. I watched a guy cycling up a pretty decent damn hill his morning that I would not even consider at my level and all I could think was "Whoa - his thighs must be on fire - I can't believe how fit he must be. That is AMAZING!" instead of "Bloody cyclists - get out of the way would ya?!".

Interesting how things can change so quickly :)


Featured Content

Join the NHS Weight Loss Plan

Join over 40,000 others on our 12-week diet and exercise plan. Keep motivated to develop healthier eating habits & get more active.

Get Started!

Featured by HealthUnlocked

26 Replies

  • Hi Dave, currently suffering from insomnia in freezing scotland. Your post is very true exercise def helps you deal with stress and emotions. It gives you the feeling of having achieved something but also of genuinely feeling like your taking care of yourself :-) I lost a lot of weight three years ago n successfully kept it off due to exercising regularly until I was ill last year and couldn't exercise and I def used food as a comfort and unfortunately gained a fair amount in a year. In the past six weeks I've worked really hard on getting myself back into exercise and have to say it's improved not just the figure on the scales but my frame of mind didn't realise how much my body/I was missing exercise!

    I think it's all about being taking care of yourself and being kind to yourself. Don't think your post is way out there think it's just a reflection that your in a good place right now :-)

    P.s just for ref I have given up caffeine and had one americano today #insomniaitsalearningcurve

  • Ha ha - I have switched to decaf and have one place nearby that can make an Americano thats just like "real" coffee.

    Apart from that is tea for me - which I know has caffeine but it doesn't seem to play havoc with me as much as coffee :)

  • After tonight it will be decaf all the way Dave so looking forward to my six year old waking up ! Lesson learned ;-0

  • Good morning Dave, really interesting post.

    I now think that bad food - processed! over salted! sugar laden! full of additives! etc probably contains mood changing toxins ie it was causing as well as alleviating distress.

    So why is exercise miraculous? It flushes out toxins. I feel so well for hours after a good swim or weightlifting. Like you say it is very meditative, providing time to think, listen to music or a good book, get into a zone and really focus. It is social ( that has been fantastic for me). It also has transformed the way I feel about my body.

    So good food and exercise do make it easier to process emotions. Reflection, blogging, diary writing and the insights that others share on this site have all helped as well.

    Am so glad you are cycling. Cycling is fab - great way to start the day. Just heading off on mine now. you mention hills, it is much easier to walk up a hill using a bike as walking stick!!!


  • I am reading a book right now called "Salt, Sugar, Fat" about how the food industry is making food like heroin - incredibly addictive.

    "it is much easier to walk up a hill using a bike as walking stick"


  • I concur with both Gonti and Yoyo. I also relate to you. 100%. Being an emotional eater, a feaster with binge tendencies, saw me put on 2.5 stone in 18 months due to circumstances, some good some not so.

    I would attempt to curb it during that timescale because I knew I was spiralling, but it was only this Easter when I started to combine both nutrition and excercise that I managed to stick at it.

    I have to acknowledge I have an addictive personality and that I am a bit of a fragile pot; writing out my anxieties is helping the balance if I don't manage to get to a workout class or go for a run. Keeping the old food diary also keeps things acknowledged, if not always under control!

    Your posts are the best I have read on here, for their openness and sense of humour; I SO totally get the 'yay I found both my shoes I will have extra Nutella on my toast!'

  • Thanks thats really nice of you to say and I think an addictive personality often goes with the over eating territory.

    *points at self* reformed gambler, ex-alcoholic, quit smoker and former nail biter... if something feels or tastes good then having more must be better and having even MORE must be BETTERER! :)

  • Yup, until you are awake in the wee small hours, tummy ablaze with acid, sweating and feeling sick...

    I come from a strong genetic line of addiction and am currently working out ways I can keep 'stable' for life now, and not just a month :)

  • I think that exercise definitely helps our emotional state - I know that if I go through a lazy patch and stop going out for walks, then it will affect my mood.

    I suspect that part of the 'therapy' also comes from having something positive to focus on, with exercise, using this forum, researching information about diet etc. It's probably a subconscious feeling that you are in control, and therefore not dwelling so much on what you may have in the past ?

    I know for me, my comfort eating probably manifests itself due to boredom. I work at home, therefore can be quite quiet during the day - which leads to fridge raids. I also used to look forward to trips out (i.e. to get shopping etc), so long as it would involve a stop at a cafe for coffee and cake - sometimes that would be the highlight of an otherwise mundane day ! Slowly trying to break that habit (a cup of tea only now !) and try other things to turn to when boredom strikes :-)

  • "subconscious feeling that you are in control"

    SO true - I really do feel at my best when I feel as though I have control of what I am eating and am not just letting every whim and mood swing determine what goes in my mouth.

  • Hi Dave, my eating is also affected by my emotions, I'm a stress eater in that if I'm happy and relaxed I eat healthily, if I'm feeling very down or highly anxious about something i don't feel like eating much at all, but it's when I've got a constant drip feed of what I think of as sub-acute stress that I make bad food choices and graze on high calorie snacks. I lost a stone earlier in the year then hit a stressful 3 month patch, however this time although I stopped counting calories and losing weight, I didn't regain the stone I'd lost, and I put this down to a combination of having gone cold turkey on sugary junk food to get rid of the cravings (unpleasant couple of weeks but so worth it) and increasing my exercise which had fallen by the wayside. I used to love ice skating but had to give it up due to arthritis in my feet, and used to walk for miles with my dogs, but they got old, my lovely German shepherd cross died last year, and my elderly greyhound can only manage a half hour stroll now. It was really hard but this spring I started walking again without her on my days off work, I give her a little walk first then set off on my own. I have to have a goal - this spring it was walking the Worcester and birmingham canal in sections. Getting into a rhythm whilst walking feels like it's the key to clearing my head and into a stress free zone, and I'm sure it is making a huge difference to my ability to deal with stress at work and home. I read an article recently by a man who had section hiked the entire pembrokeshire coastal path who said it was like taking the top off your head and blowing it clean with fresh air! Over the summer I've been walking my friends dogs because she broke her foot but it's nearly healed so I'm looking for my next walking goal for the autumn. It's always great to read your posts while I'm drinking my tea in the morning, always something to laugh or think about, keep them coming! 😀

  • Morning banancake. I have just chuckled over my own breakfast I love that expression "taking off the top of you head and blowing it clean with fresh air. " exactly how I feel. Hope you find a new walking goal

  • " I started walking again without her"

    This made me a little sad :( I was house sharing with someone who was terrible at walking her dogs so I became Dad to the dogs and in a strange and awful coincidence Scarlett passed away due to old age and the other ate something- some kind of bait we think - and his liver shut down and he died within days of Scarlet.

    Getting out and walking without at least one of them bouncing along beside me was very hard for a few days I have to say.

    And like Gonti I also love that image of blowing your brain clean with fresh air - it is so easy to "get" what he is saying.

    Glad you enjoy my posts - as things change for me I must say I am enjoying scribbling them down and thinking about them - another form of therapy for me.

    I guess its my version of blowing my brain clean :)

  • Another good post Dave. I think exercise is part of the answer. Another element is that you are getting out into nature.

    Emotional eating is often done indoors and in secret.

    Nature is a big element in recreation or re creation!

    Exercise and contact with nature together. The sun, the wind the rain and fresh air all combine to be your therapist!

  • "Emotional eating is often done indoors and in secret"

    That is so true - exercising outside is the complete antithesis of that dark underbelly of emotional eating really.

  • Exercise and getting out into the big outdoors, what could be better for the spirit? As well as all the health benefits others have mentioned, I have come across a couple of recent scientific studies which suggest that being surrounded by nature (trees, grass, plant life, insects, streams, ponds etc..) eases depression and reduces mental health issues. Let's not forget too the uplifting effect of breathing in fresh air!

  • SO true - and to me it feels like so many more possibilities open up as yo stride along feeling at one with nature. We get so disconnected from it all really.

  • Totally agree Dave. Patients in hospitals recover more quickly if they have even just a picture of the great out,ve managed to get hurt to join you on your walks too!

  • "Patients in hospitals recover more quickly if they have even just a picture of the great out doors"

    I never knew that - how amazing ...

  • In answer to your question about how exercise fills the black hole left bare by breaking with emotional eating, I think there's a few factors.

    For me, exercise takes time, which I have to commit to in order to keep it up. You end up spending time thinking about/planning to do it too.

    It's also an achievement. For me, even to be out there running 3x a week, whether the runs are bad or good, still feels like such an achievement.

    Next, exercise is harder on a full stomach or with indigestion etc, I've learnt this the hard way. So it's an extra incentive to be 'good', e.g. the night before a run, so that's 3 eves every week that I absolutely have to stay off the alcohol and keep my dinner light.

    I also agree with Caree about being out in nature. As soon as I'm on the canal path I'm among birds, narrowboats, lots of water, blackberries and budleia. I get this hit of nature at least 3 times a week now :)

    Exercise is addictive too. You can set goals and be competitive about it if you choose to. This is great for addictive personalities. Is it a coincidence that after years of trying to seriously moderate my wine habit, I finally managed it as a result of doing couch to 5k?

  • Everything you have said makes so much sense.

    And isn't it great to not be ashamed or embarrassed about an addiction for a change and instead be quite happy about shouting it to the world! :)

  • Yep, and these are all things I've been able to talk to my bf about too, finally. There's no missing that I've started doing a whole load of exercise these days, a pretty visible addiction :)

  • Hi Dave, I have been dealing with this problem this week. Got so angry in work I just wanted to go home and stuff my face. It's not about quality but quantity of food. I was so frustrated with myself as I have been doing this for nearly 7 months now and I thought I'd got rid of these feelings.

    I managed not to break but I too wondered what I am supposed to do when I feel this way. I do walk and it is nice to chat with my hubby when I do away from the TV but this doesn't shift those overwhelming feelings I have in work when I am desperate to get home and stuff. I guess it is the same when people give up smoking but often they then turn to food - argh!

    But I guess I didn't break so this should tell me that I don't need food to make me feel better, those feelings will just pass given time - and a good bit of whinging to anyone who will listen :)

    I am glad that exercise is helping you with your feelings. Hopefully that with the positive feelings you are getting from taking back control of your eating and losing weight you will can avoid the need to emotionally eat!

  • I believe I can relate.

    I've only been doing this for a week, and I have cut out most processed food and refined sugar, but added lots of fruit, veg and water....and I have already felt the difference. My head is less......fuzzy? I am able to orgsnise my thoughts better and process information easier - and therefore begin to deal with my own feelings and emotions.

    I too would find any 'excuse' I could to shovel in anything nice and tasty, and after long day at work, I 'deserve' to be able to shove a frozen pie and chips, or a pizza in the oven...but I now recognise that it was an excuse. All week, I have cooked meals for my family and a separate meal for myself, usually a healthier version of what they are having, and its NOT been hard to do.

    Personally, I can't comment regarding exercise - I'm not ready to go public yet, so I am confined to exercising at home, and even then it's quite a sedate effort so far (but I'm toying with the idea of borrowing my daughter's bike to go cycling in the evenings - after dark!!!), but it is commonly known that excersise helps to lift your mood, either from the release of endorphins, or the pure and simple feeling of "I did it!!!"

    Finally, I have to say that you appear to be a rather inspirational dieter and have a wealth of knowledge that I am yet to discover.....good to be following you, sir!!! :)

  • Interesting read and I agree with what you have said.

  • I have to agree to a certain extent! I didn't post this week a big gain, down to my hormonal bloats again ( they happen every now and then) , 5 1/2 lbs it said!?

    I get very down by things all seems to have settled now, 2 bad days, I just think why bother at times like this.

    Hopefully things will love o for good a few months on?

You may also like...