Brownie Alert!

By Katie, 5:27 am

No, sorry, this isn’t a recipe post. Although if you’re looking to make some brownies, I would recommend one of these:

(Source)

Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that while we hear a lot about “emotional eating,” the actual experience of it is unique and personal; no two people experience emotional eating in exactly the same way. Some people eat out of boredom, others out of loneliness, others out of anxiety, and still others out of all of the above. What triggers emotional eating is different for everyone.

Similarly, when we overeat emotionally varies from person to person. This was brought to my attention during a conversation with my mom last week. She shared with me that she’ll often receive some kind of stressful or sad news and then find herself heading to the kitchen to help put it out of her mind. She feels the negative emotion and then soothes it with food.

Interestingly, that’s not how I experience emotional eating at all. For me, the order is reversed. 8-O

Let me explain. There have been countless times in my life when I’ve thought to myself, “Why am I driven to overeat right now? What the heck is going on?” I couldn’t trace my behavior to receiving bad news or experiencing a difficult situation. Rather, I had become so immune to my emotions that I would be driven to overeat before I could even feel them. I so effectively used food to block the stress or the anxiety that I was unaware those emotions even existed – they were buried that deep. :-(

So instead of feeling the stress and then eating, I eat (or want to eat) and that makes me realize I’m stressed. Does that make sense?

On the one hand, this can make emotional eating significantly more difficult to prevent. On the other hand, it serves as a really great warning system. I call it my “Brownie Alert.”

Basically, when I feel the urge to eat and eat and eat even though I’m not hungry, I now see it as a big sign flashing “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson Katie!” :lol:

In all seriousness, though, engaging in emotional eating – or even just the urge to do so – does help me to see that something is off-balance and it’s time to re-evaluate. It forces me to step back, take a good look at the broader picture of my life, and see where improvements need to be made. Do I have too much on my plate and need to relax a little bit? Am I stressed about work and not managing it effectively? Do I need to work on improving my relationships? Have I been ignoring my emotional wellness, my spiritual wellness?

This, perhaps, is the positive side of my struggles with emotional overeating. I now have a built-in balance barometer, in a sense. When those brownies are calling my name – and not in a healthy indulgence kind of way – I now take it as a sign that it’s time to reassess; it’s time to get back in touch with me. :-)

Do you have some kind of built-in alert system like my Brownie Alert? Something that warns you that your life has become off-balance?

AND

If you struggle with emotional overeating, do you find that you usually feel the emotion and then turn to food, or the other way around? Or perhaps you experience it in another way entirely?

55 Responses to “Brownie Alert!”

  1. Brownie alert – good term!
    I suppose I realise I’m getting mega stressed if I start getting thoughts relating to EDs, ie telling me to restrict. As soon as I feel that, I first stop the thought (very important!) and then find the problem. I’m not really an emotional overeater though – quite the opposite!

  2. Yup…same for me. Food first (usually in private, where no one can see), then the realization that something is going on. It took me forever to figure it out.

  3. I totally know what you mean. Mine would be ‘feed bag of ice cream’ alert. I had that last night, actually. I was doing the whole ‘tomorrow you’re gonna start’. About 4 TB of chocolate chips into it…I was able to drop it and walk away. I didn’t wake up feeling great this morning, but I am getting proud of myself for recognising those emotions.

    As I have written about earlier, those emotions for me are avoidance, lonliness, tiredness, or needing personal space. I know that throughout my binging days I was unable to recognise them and/or I didn’t want to admit to them…because i didn’t feel like I could deal with them. Does that make sense?

    I think it’s important to recognise that really we all emotionally eat. It’s just if we decide to use food at abusive levels of not that makes the difference.

    • Katie says:

      That makes perfect sense! And I completely agree that everyone eats emotionally…it’s only problematic when we’re actually using food to deal with emotions or cover them up.

  4. Lauren says:

    You are so wise! :) I think we all have that “brownie alert”. Mine usually occurs when I am feeling overwhelmed or depressed. Or I have the problem that once I start, I just can’t stop. Like last night, I had a bowl of cereal and for some reason I had it in my mind that I wanted another one. I just couldn’t subside this craving so I had another one and then felt bad about it. I got over it really fast, but I still hate that feeling of guilt I associate with emotional eating.

  5. Tina says:

    I think that same thing happens to me in a sense. My bigger warning system is I start doubting myself and the things I am doing. Usually, if I don’t feel good about something and take the time to look closely at it I know some adjustment needs to be made.

  6. I’m the same as you. Now at least I’m at a point where I NOTICE it and can stop the eating before it starts (or gets out of hand.) The biggest part of emotional eating for me is still the guilt I put on myself when I eat too much or at the wrong time.

  7. That’s a great phrase for it- the Brownie alert! I’m like you in that I’ll usually overeat without first feeling the emotions behind my overeating. It helps to recognize the behaviors and then take a step back to figure out what’s causing it.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Very interesting points! I must say that for me it can be a little bit of both. Sometimes i get upset by a situation and turn to food. Than other times I’ll want to eat for no reason. My husband is my alert system. When I have to urge to eat something on an impulse I tell him about it first. Like I’ll say, I want to go make cookies so bad. Then he will ask me my reason why. He’s really good at reading me, so if I come across as being emotional, he’ll point it out and it helps me to make the right choice. But I admit I still can struggle with it when he’s not able to be around to help.

  9. Sarah says:

    I love the brownie alert.

    Mine is a combination of both. Sometimes I will feel the urge to eat (just to eat) and typically on those days I eat food like hummus, peanut butter, bananas, almonds, etc. I’ve realized that those are the days that I didn’t eat enough during the day so my body is craving a certain nutrient so therefore I’m driven to eat foods that will give my body what it needs. I’m working on developing a more intuitive eating mentality but it’s incredibly difficult when you’ve been restricting and scheduling your eating for years.

    And other days, I eat because I’m stressed or upset. I hardly ever emotionally eat because I’m happy! Maybe I should just be happy all the time :)

    • Katie says:

      That’s not a bad idea! ;)

      In all seriousness, you’re so right that grasping an intuitive style of eating is very difficult when you’ve spent years doing the opposite. And yet it’s so worth it!

  10. when i get perpetually PMSy …. when i’m constantly negative and irritable. that’s my brownie alert. it’s just my own bad attitude.
    usually getting back into God’s Word and the gym are the most effective solutions for me. Some spiritual food and an endorphin rush make it allllllllllll better :)

  11. I am just like you. Wanting to eat when I am not hungry is now my red flag that something isn’t right. I do seem to experience wanting to eat in the same way as your mom does now that I am more in tune with my emotions, I still want food to soothe me but more often than not, the food comes first.

  12. I can feel a kind of “automatic” eating, where I’m almost not even tasting the food– it happens with sweets or things like chips, food items where I can eat SO much and not even realize it. I try to be more aware of this, and if I go into “automatic” mode, I try to think, Why are you really eating this?

  13. i would say my biggest alert is when i have eaten and just want to keep eating. it’s like eating had, for so long, become this comfort mechanism, so when i was eating it was “fulfulling” me. i usually try to drink some water, go to sleep, and re-evaluate when I wake up…basically because i’m usually too tired with too much stress and sleep help to alleviate that :)

  14. This is a very intersting post. for me, when I am eating emotionally (which is happening less often lately, thankfully!) it is not usually because of a big thing in my life that I need to change or assess. It might be, in a way linked to something like that, but usually it is due to something immediate. A problem that popped up at work, a stressful moment or just frustration in something that will pass. I’ve been trying to find ways to occupy my mind and fulfill this ‘need’ for comfort in different ways and it seems to be working. I also think about how bad I’ll feel afterwards and that it doesn’t help in the long run, just transfers the pain to another cause. If that makes sense.

  15. Yep – I can certainly relate!! I’ve never been that person who is like, “wow, this crappy situation is going on so I’m going to go eat a pint of ice cream.” Instead, my mindless eating is a main indication that there’s something subconsciously bothering me. Lately I’ve been much more aware of that, which is a really good thing because it forces me to figure out what exactly is bothering me! Very insightful post =)

  16. Thanks for the shout to my brownies. :) I do feel that way at times too when I get off balance – usually around that time of the month. In fact, I feel that way now and am trying to keep my hands out of the treat stash!!

  17. Robyn says:

    I always turn to the food first and then midway through mindless eating, think why am I even doing this? And then I feel guily, which then makes me want to keep eating b/c I already started. Vicious cycle, I tell you.

  18. I love that term, “Brownie Alert” –awesome!

    Anyway, my emotional eating can be two things: standard emotional eating, but also lack of eating. I guess it depends on what is going on. I do have an alarm system that realizes what is happening — and if that alarm system is acting delayed I have a husband that realizes it lol.

  19. Haleigh says:

    Insightful post! My brownie alert is never sweets. I adore chocolate and savour every bite. I can tell when I am eating for emotional reasons because I can’t keep my hand out of the chips bag. I never want chips or salty snacks on a normal basis so that is my “brownie alert” to go take a nice walk outside and think about what is really bothering me.

    • Katie says:

      Wow, that’s really interesting! I never thought of the TYPE of food as a sign of emotional eating…great point!

  20. very interesting, I never looked that deep into it

  21. your Brownie Alert idea is very interesting!!! ive been doing a bunch of reading and learning about different emotional and psycological and pysiological responses to over eating..and more recently read about how altered levels of serotonin and beta-endorphins, as well as other neurotransmitters, affect this craving response. Low serotonin in particular causes impulsiveness which makes a person driven to eat something without being able to think things through. higher levels of serotonin reduce this effect, giving the person control and less effort to avoid food triggers in both stressful and non-stressful situations! very interesting!

    xoxo <3

  22. Josie says:

    i found myself getting to the point where not being hungry was the prerequisite condition for a binge. i think i am the immune type, with feelings buried so deeply that it doesn’t necessarily take any sort of sudden stimlation to bring on a binge, just the thought, “i could eat that; it’s there.”

    i’m going to have to borrow the use of your “brownie alert,” Katie. brownies have long been my first-choice food to binge on.

  23. Like you, I often find myself going for food before I even realize something isn’t right.

  24. Dorry says:

    If I am compelled to eat when I’m not hungry, I realize perhaps I’m bored, anxious or stressed about something and I prioritize my to-do list. It helps pull me out of the moment and see a bigger perspective.

  25. I notice that usually mindless eating happens to me because I am bored not because I am truly hungry. When I used to work in an office building it wasn’t an issue but when I started working from home it was a different story. I had access to food 24-7 and no one was around. No co-worker to pop his head into my office. And I realized that if I got bored I mindlessly reached for food. I clearly remember one time being on a conference call and eating an entire package of graham crackers without even really realizing it. That was when I was like okay…I am done with this!!

  26. My mindless eating definitely comes from boredom. When I am most stressed I usually stop eating and have a complete loss of appetite. I’ve also noticed that I tend to reward myself with food. If I had a good day at work or a long run, I’ll “treat” myself to a cookie or ice cream. I also think it’s really hard to not stick with a schedule. When I was working, I was starved by lunch time and could only eat what I’d packed. But once I got home, I could just pick all night long.

  27. Arielle says:

    I usually end up eating when I’m not hungry after I’ve had a fight with my boyfriend or I’ve upset him or something isn’t going my way. It’s my way of hosting a pity party.

  28. As always, fantastic post, Katie! Very insightful! I’ve experienced emotional eating in both of the ways you mention. Like you, I had gotten to the point where I was basically numb to my emotions – I’d be especially numb when I was in the process of eating. BTW, I love how you put that, that you were “immune” to your emotions. That’s such a perfect descriptor!

    Now, if I’m not hungry but want something to eat, I do ask myself before I start eating whether I just want to eat that food because it tastes good (like you said with the brownies) or because there’s some emotions brewing that I really need to tend to.

  29. Hayley says:

    I’m so glad you brought this up! I truly think that if you can stop yourself before you start putting food in your mouth (when you’re not hungry) and ask yourself what’s REALLY going on then that is the key to avoiding a binge. Distractions, at least for me, never work. If I’m not hungry and I know I’m “at risk” for bingeing and one bite of chocolate, etc, isn’t going to satisfy me then I need to figure out what’s really going on. I kind of look at it as my body’s “alarm system,” as in – you’re not hungry, you want food, but it’s not what you really NEED. Rather than saying, “Oh let’s go take a walk,” or “I’ll call a friend,” etc (because that stuff never lasts very long for me) I usually have to ask myself, “What’s going on?” and “What is making me feel the urge to eat when I’m not hungry?” If I can do that then I can normally overcome the urge to binge. It’s when I don’t take that pause that I get myself in trouble.

    GREAT post!!!

    • Katie says:

      Love this comment! I’m the same way – distraction never works when what I really need is to get to the heart of the issue.

  30. Holly says:

    Sometimes I beat myself up because I know I’m about ready to eat emotionally for whatever reason, but I still can’t stop…I’m getting there! I’ve been reading some books that have really made me realize emotionally eating won’t solve any of your problems. So very true!

    I love how you put a positive spin on it…it’s actually a great opportunity to get in touch with our true feelings, rather than drowning them in ice cream or chocolate (like I’ve done for waaaaay too long). :-)

  31. jayme says:

    hi there, i’m coming out of the creeper closet!

    i love all your posts, but this one was particularly eye-opening.
    my ‘emotional eating’ style is very similar to yours, where i’ll have cravings x 1,000,000 and have no idea why, but its clearly from supressed stress/unhappiness.

    i need some kind of Brownie Alert system. mine would probably be a Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie Alert, but same concept.
    i like the idea of stepping back, taking a chill pill and reassessing why i’m wanting those cookies so badly, and doing something about it.

    great post! :D

    • Katie says:

      Hey, Jayme! Thanks so much for coming out of the wood work to comment – I really appreciate it! :)

  32. Lisa says:

    That sounds like me. I realize I’m stressed or anxious because I’m “hungry” or want to eat a lot.

  33. I am the same way as you. I am going to start using the brownie alert as a way of warning myself as well. Sometimes its so hard to figure out what you are trying to avoid when you use food as a way to cope and not feel whatever it is that you need to feel.

  34. I think I experienced the opposite for the past few years! I went through emotional undereating! The sadder I was, the more I would restrict restrict restrict so that I could have that sense of control.

    Now I’m working really hard to completely separate my emotions from my hunger.

    I’m glad your brownie alert is working for you! :D

  35. You know, now that I think about it, I have a hunch that the same is true for me as well! It’s when I catch myself hand-to-mouth with a bag of m&m’s that I realize something is wrong; it’s like the old saying “crying is your way of processing something that’s broken” – I think for myself, finding myself mid-emotional eating is my way of processing something gone amiss.

  36. Hope says:

    Oh my goodness, I know exactly what you mean!! Sometimes I just want to eat and eat and EAT for no discernable reason! I just want food. Now.

    And then later I usually realize why I wanted to eat so bady, and even sometimes, I still don’t figure out why I want the food. Sometimes, I just want to eat, just because food is good. I’m rambling now.

    Anyways, very insightful post! It’s nice to know I’m not alone. :)

  37. Kristine says:

    I can completely relate to your subconscious overeating to block your emotions. When I get the urge to overeat, I know that there is some emotion I’m trying to avoid. However I still have trouble identifying exactly what it is because, like you, I’ve become “immune” to my own emotions. Oy, I think it’s going to take a lot of work to get back in touch with my feelings. I’ll get there though : )

    • Katie says:

      You will definitely get there! Your awareness of the situation shows that you’re well on your way! :)

  38. I love this. I have my own alerts too, but usually the alarm bells do not go off until its “too late.” I definitely try to soothe myself with food, for sure, but sometimes I do not recognize it. WHat I am trying to do is more concentrate on my hunger level. Am I hungry? Eat, but try to make healthy choices. When I am not hungry for normal nutritious food but would KILL someone for sweets, that is when I know it is emotional. I cannot always stop it, but at least I am becoming more aware.

  39. Cara says:

    I think I’m a lot like you. I don’t feel like someone who eats out of emotions or stress – but then again something must be triggering me when I do, so maybe I’m just too quick to even bother feeling it!

  40. Cara says:

    but I’ll add – as long as it doesn’t happen too often, I’m not too worried about a little overindulging!

  41. [...] Brownie Alert when do you know that you’re gonna binge/overate/cope with food [...]

  42. [...] wrote an amazing post called Brownie Alert which talks about emotional eating and what comes first, the food or the emotion. Awesome post for [...]

  43. [...] I wrote the post on my Brownie Alert, several people commented that they couldn’t really relate because they don’t struggle [...]

  44. [...] and fullness cues, our bodies’ signals that we need more or less of something, and our physical and mental alerts telling us to slow down and explore an emotion a little [...]

  45. [...] measuring sticks, if you will. I’m talking about things like my eating habits (hello, Brownie Alert!), my desire for moderate exercise, and – yep, you guessed it! – my [...]

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