Having emotional eating issues means that you are orally fixated. People like us, love to chew, suck, lick, slurp and consume. But when we try to eat less and choose only healthy foods, we might look for something to fill us up besides food.
Are substitute “fixes” like gum, mints, and flavored drinks OK? Or are they a GATEWAY DRUG to the ooey, gooey foods we really crave?
Food Is Not The Issue
There have been times on my emotional eating journey when I thought to myself, “it’s okay to have a stick of gum, mints, sugar-free candies, or a flavored drink” because they don’t come with a hefty caloric price tag.
You may have heard me talk about what drives every emotional eater. It’s PEP: we use food as a pain killer, an escape from fear, and as punishment for guilt. Gum, mints, and flavored drinks are relatively benign in the hierarchy of what you could be ingesting… and if that’s your worst indulgence, you’re doing pretty good! But, even if something is sugar-free (and therefore “guilt-free” and yummy) it can still be detrimental to you because it’s still just an escape.
When I was a kid, I used to love to bite down on pencils. You know those yellow #2 pencils with the pink eraser… I would put the whole pencil in my mouth and bite down. That crunchy feeling was so satisfying and I would do a sort of corn on the cob thing with the pencil, biting every angle, until the whole pencil was covered in tooth marks. I LOVE to put things in my mouth and bite down. It’s a way for me to soothe my pain. When it came to food, if I ate a little, I always ate too much. One bite always, always led to another.
Why Sugar-Free Treats Can Cause Problems
People often use sugar-free sweets as “acceptable” substitutes when they crave sweets. I’ve done this myself. The problem is that as an emotional eater, there’s no such thing as “just one,” whether it’s good for you or not.
- They’re just like peanuts. Chips. Popcorn. You can’t have just one. But you’re not craving the foods themselves. You’re craving escape. Relief.
Even when you’re nibbling on something “guilt-free” or healthy, you’re still distracting yourself from feelings. Trying to escape feelings always backfires. The feelings aren’t going anywhere. There are only two things to do: face them (the only way to move past them) or bury them. Either you deal with the feelings, or the feelings deal with you. Emotional eaters bury them with food but feelings never stay buried for long and they will chase you until you face them. Something always triggers the feelings and <poof> here they are… and you have to choose between facing them and burying them.So even if you intend to have just one piece of gum, the minute you’re done with it, you want another just to keep the feelings away. It doesn’t matter if the substance you’re ingesting is healthy, neutral or unhealthy… too much of anything is a bad thing, and you’re not addressing the underlying cause.
- They don’t fill the void. That’s why sugar-free treats are gateway drugs. If you keep “using” sugar-free snacks to run away from your feelings, you’ll be back on the “hard stuff” (food, especially sugar, carbs and fat) before you know it if you refuse to deal with your feelings. Substitutions always lead you back to the real thing.Running from pain is a never-ending chase. The feelings will always catch up, always haunt you, and you will need stronger and stronger “drugs” to cope with them. Unless you deal with them and get them out of your head once and for all.
- Artificial sweeteners have physical consequences. They are fine in moderation, but moderation is not in the emotional eater’s vocabulary. They can actually make you crave more sugar, they are addictive, they give you gastric distress and gas, and frequent long-term consumption may cause cancer.
“Feel, Deal, Heal”
Freedom from emotional healing is a daily practice. It’s challenging to get in the habit of allowing yourself to feel your emotions… face them… and learn from them. Ultimately it will contribute to your well-being because feelings are really wonderful guides that alert us to problematic ways of thinking!
Feelings are an opportunity, an invitation to learn something about yourself. But if even that isn’t enough to make you want to deal with them…
… think of it like this: you brush your teeth as a way to maintain your gorgeous smile.
- The icky feelings of morning breath alert you that your teeth need brushing.
- Faced with that feeling (which doesn’t feel nice at all), you have a choice. You could grab a breath mint and go about your day, but pretty soon you’ll be reminded of your morning breath again, and reach for another mint, and so on and so on… the plaque on your teeth never gets cleaned… and… (yuck, let’s not go there).
- OR, you could face the morning breath dragon, brush your teeth and deal with the problem that your feelings alerted you to… and relax, knowing that you haven’t just swept the problem under the rug but you’ve solved the problem. Your breath smells great and your teeth are sparkling clean and you can break the cycle of reaching for breath mints.
To heal your hunger, you need to be willing to stop and face yourself and what’s going on inside. Gum, mints, flavored drinks, candy… these all stand in the way of healing your hunger.
This daily practice of self-awareness and facing your pain, fear or guilt, is not hard forever. Just in the beginning. Every day it gets easier and the whole process becomes easier when you’re supported within the Heal Your Hunger community. We ‘get’ you. We have all been there, we are all dealing with emotional eating on an ongoing basis, and we support each other in healing.