I sat alone and tormented on the couch at home, weighed down by guilt and disgust, not wanting to continue with the internal struggle. Feeling done and defeated by how incapable I was of escaping my pattern of compulsive and emotional eating, I noticed my thoughts turning ever so slightly toward a vague idea of leaving the mental mess behind by giving up on life entirely. Bright red flag! I think I need some help, the wiser part of me quietly suggested.
My mostly silent struggle with body image and my troubled relationship with food began around age 12, always thinking I was fat when I wasn’t. As a teen, I laid a piece of paper outside the kitchen to remind me to pray before entering. That didn’t help. At times as a newlywed, I wrote down everything I ate and showed it to someone else for accountability. It only made me feel more trapped. But since I was never anorexic nor bulimic, nor much overweight, and didn’t diet, I didn’t fall clearly into a category that I saw people getting help for.
Sweet foods were my comfort when I felt stressed, but then I felt guilty about it. I didn’t want my kids, who were toddlers at the height of my struggle, to see me eating sweets when I knew they would ask for some, so I started hiding what I was eating. I would go around the corner to eat something. I would go out on an errand and buy a treat just for myself, and then throw away the wrappers and receipt so no one would know. But I knew what I was doing wasn’t right, and I didn’t feel better as intended—I felt worse. I didn’t feel in control of what I was doing. I didn’t want to share it with anyone. My years of emotional eating left me guilt-ridden, dissatisfied, and isolated.
I had prayed about my problem for what seemed like a lifetime, but that day on the couch I finally surrendered to the call to get actual help from a professional. I had always held fearful and dismissive views toward counseling, thinking it was somehow bad to have on my personal record that I needed someone else to sort out my problems. How wrong I was! God, who had been waiting for that moment, tenderly led me to just the right biblically-based counselor who specialized in eating disorders, and she graciously, kindly, and gently led me out into the light. She helped me recognize and release a lot of distorted thinking patterns I had going on.
Do you struggle with your relationship with food? My counselor encouraged me to set the excessive, self-imposed guilt aside to see what was underneath, assuring me I could take the guilt back later if needed. I never did. Ask yourself these questions to see if you might be dealing with emotional eating or a food guilt cycle.
My Emotional Eating Quiz
- Comfort. Do you turn to food as your primary resource when you’re unhappy? Do you think about it for relief?
- Concealment. Do you hide what you’re eating from others? Do you eat in secret?
- Guilt. Do you feel true guilt after eating certain foods, even in moderation? Do you feel that your eating is somehow wrong?
- Control. Does your eating feel compulsive? Do you feel out of control with your eating patterns? Do you feel the need to stick to eating only foods you view as “safe”?
If you find you’re answering “yes” to any of these, then maybe it’s time to take a step toward freedom from disordered thoughts about food. Beyond telling God the truth and asking Him for help, is it time to tell a trustworthy friend how you’re really feeling and what you’re doing to cope? To ask for prayer?
I’ve learned to have a lot more grace for myself, like my Father God does. I know I’m never going to be perfect this side of heaven, and I’m okay with that. He’s the perfect one—I’m just following Him in my weakness and letting Him be strong. Maybe your next step is to visit a counselor who will point you to a healthy view of yourself and food and help you get free. Let me tell you, it’s 100% worth it. The freedom on the other side of my six months of counseling is breathtaking. It’s a completely different life once you turn the corner. Come into freedom and joy with me.