I Used Food to Self-Medicate

Finding a healthy coping mechanism is tough when food is so delicious.

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October 2014 — After coming back home from a temp job, I came back into my designated room and opened up the Indeed website as usual. Dinner time was approaching and I was pretty hungry, so I went ahead and opened a new tab on my laptop to order some Chinese food at a nearby spot.

This looks good….I think I’ll get that as well…meh, let’s go ahead and get this.

Somehow I just kept checking things off, rather than ordering my usual (seriously, everyone orders the same 3 items from their nearby Chinese takeout spot), I was just getting things that I wanted to taste. Shrimp fried rice, egg foo young with white rice, orange chicken, beef and broccoli. I just ‘had a taste’ for these things and threw caution to the wind. I had the food delivered because, well, I was already settled in at that point.

My food arrived and not even 5 minutes later I was going in. I went from dish to dish quickly. Too quickly. I wasn’t thinking about the pressure of finding work. I wasn’t thinking about my shame from losing my job. I wasn’t thinking about the discomfort of not having my own place. The only thought going through my mind: This is so good.

It wasn’t until after I had eaten nearly everything in front of me — only a partially filled container of fried rice left — that I had sat back and taken a look at what just happened. The pain of feeling stuffed washed over me as I laid my head against the small dining table. I couldn’t help but breathe heavily, feeling like the inside of my body was at full capacity.

What was I thinking? I thought to myself with strong regret. Why did I even do that? I wasn’t even that hungry.

I love food. Always have, always will. Being a foodie is great, even more so when you have the income to continue eating out and trying different places and cuisines.

Growing up, I had a problem with greediness. I remember being chubby, but not necessarily obese. I always wanted more than my fill on meals, especially when it came to things like fruit. My sister would complain if I ended up eating most of the peaches my mom would get from the grocery store. And I remember being extremely irritated when I would try to give everyone else a chance to eat them, only for them to sit there and rot by the end of the week. The disrespect!

For most people, food is just a necessity. But for foodies, it’s an experience. When I want to celebrate something, I go out and eat. When I reunite with old friends, it’s usually over a meal. Communal eating experiences like hot pot or Korean bbq are great for bonding with friends. I never thought I would find anything negative about food. After all, it made me happy.

Emotional Eating

In late 2014, I lost my first job out of college, which took a blow to my self-esteem. I found my first job to be very difficult and overwhelmingly ‘corporate’. They teach you a lot about career searching and such during college, but no one tells you about toxic company cultures to watch out for. Even though the job was mind-numbing and overwhelming, I was willing to stick it out. So it was a rude awakening when I worked for almost a year before that same company cut me loose.

Though I appreciated my aunt allowing me to stay with her for cheap rent (honestly the cheapest rent I’d ever have), I really didn’t want to be dependent on family forever. I longed for independence but now I was in a place where I was relying on temp jobs until I could find a permanent position.

The story mentioned above took place not too long after finding temporary work. The whole incident took me aback when I was able to sit down and really think about it. Well — more like lay down in agony while thinking about it. That night I had trouble sleeping because of how hot I was getting; my body was trying its hardest to digest all that unnecessary food.

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It was like I couldn’t control myself. The mousy voice telling me ‘Hey, that’s enough, let’s stop eating’ couldn’t compare to the booming voice of dopamine flooding my brain. I pretended I couldn’t hear my stomach telling me to stop. I enjoyed the flavors and wanted to keep enjoying it. I didn’t have to acknowledge or process my feelings. I just had to keep eating.

I did have a couple more incidents like that, but they would dissipate until some odd years later. After I had gotten a better job and after I had moved out of my aunt’s place.

Emotional Hunger Strikes Again

Summer 2017. I was at a point of stagnation in my life. I wasn’t particularly sad, nor particularly happy. It was as if I made the decision to exist, and not much more beyond that. I found myself wanting so much for my life, and yet not finding the strength and determination to get it.

In hindsight, what I was feeling wasn’t uncommon, especially in ambitious millennials like myself. Even so, I felt intensely alone.

Things weren’t going well in my business, I was having a dry spell in my writing, and a guy I had been seeing strung me along for three months before deciding that he didn’t want me. I knew this sadness would come to pass, but the events still magnified my existing feelings of failure and inadequacy.

On that unproductive Saturday night, I reached for my laptop again. I hadn’t had dinner yet; there was food in the fridge and yet I was ordering out again.

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I was so determined not to cry over my circumstances. I was so determined not to go complaining about my problems with everyone. I’m not a victim, I would say to myself, I’m not a victim. This doesn’t deserve my tears.

Yet somehow it deserved my physical pain and nausea?

3/4 of a large pizza, cheesy breadsticks, leftover basmati rice from the previous night’s meal. I was stuffed. And I knew in the morning I would regret bingeing.. But I wasn’t crying, and that was enough for me.

Facing Myself

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Spring 2018 — Things were going pretty well. I hadn’t had another bingeing incident and believed myself to be emotionally stable.

I was on a health kick at this time. In an attempt to boost my confidence and shed some pounds, I started changing the way I ate. No more late-night snacking, no more giving in to my cravings, no more high-carb meals, etc. Given my family’s health history of hypertension and diabetes, it made sense for me to start paying attention to those things.

But, like any other lifestyle change, I wasn’t always consistent. Sometimes I’d forget to prepare my meal shake in the morning, sometimes I would eat something fattening right after eating a filling salad. You know, normal stuff.

Then one night I found myself extremely upset. The weirdest thing about my bouts of anxiety is that it causes me to take one single happening, blow it up into something huge, and create crazy scenarios in my head. A couple of weeks before this moment, I had yet another romantic mishap that I won’t get deeply into. Mainly because it wasn’t what I was (directly) upset about.

I painted a scenario in my head, forever being unwanted, forever undesirable, forever alone. I had never seriously desired marriage. Not because I didn’t “believe” in it, I just didn’t believe in it for me. I hated the moments where I did believe in it for myself, for it usually led to great disappointment.

No, I think to myself, I’m not thinking about this right now.

I rushed to my kitchen only to remember: There’s no junk. I had been on a health kick for the past two months, and I lost 10 lbs at that point. The sugar-heavy snacks and carb-loaded meals were replaced with vegetables, meal replacements, or unsalted almonds. Still, I munched on carrots and popped almonds as if they were pills.

But there was nothing.

No mood-elevating serotonin, no calming dopamine. What was even worse, my shrunken stomach was already satisfied with my dinner prior to this; somehow I couldn’t handle more than a handful of almonds. The once mousey voice kept ringing in my ear: Put it away.

Tears slowly streamed down my face as I finally came to the realization that I was going to have to feel my feelings. The tears wouldn’t stop even as I put away my healthy snacks. Not knowing what else to do, I wiped my face and called it an early night. I’d deal with this in the morning.

Finding Healthy Coping Mechanisms

The biggest thing I learned about myself during these on-and-off binging incidents is that when it came to dealing with intense emotion, I was on the side of avoidance. But anyone can tell you that avoiding and ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Just like a balloon pops when taking in too much air, our mind breaks down when we take on too much burden.

I had to admit when I woke up that morning — free of indigestion, shame, and discomfort — I knew I did the right thing. But I was scared that I wouldn’t avoid it the next time. After all, the only reason I even avoided it this time was because I lacked my usual food-coma inducing supplies, and my food budget went into actual healthy groceries.

Over time I’ve been able to exercise more self-control, but I’ve also utilized other ways I can cope with my strong emotions.

  1. Seek Guidance — For some people, it could be a therapist, for others a higher power. For me, I realized that during these times I had fallen off non-routine prayer and studying scripture. It’s different for everyone, but I know that this relieves my anxiety tremendously.
  2. Talk it Out — It may have been pride or the idea of being a burden that stopped me, but being able to talk out my frustrations with a trusted confidant has been huge. Though talking it out may not always come with a solution, it definitely helps with easing the worry knowing that you have someone who is willing to genuinely listen and be there for you.
  3. Eat Clean — It’s pretty obvious that what I was eating didn’t help me at all. Eating copious amounts of unhealthy food may have made me feel calm at the moment, but the day after I would always regret it. If you’re like me and prone to eating your feelings, at the very least make sure you’re stocked with more healthy options. Having a healthy diet leads to having a better mood. You’ll also be less likely to develop an addiction to food.

I’m definitely still a foodie, that isn’t going to change. But there’s a time and a place for everything. As well as portion size.

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Raven J. James

Writer | Entrepreneur | Blogger | Dreamer | Pro-Oxford Comma; Feel free to check out my blog at