The first time I ever emotionally ate was when I was 17 and I went through my first real breakup. The split left me with a lot of feelings to deal with all at once: sadness, confusion, anger, and boredom (I had become so used to having someone there all the time). Without realizing it, I slowly started filling those emotional voids with eating, which impacted my struggle with weight gain and food for the next decade.
Eleven years later, I was faced with an even more difficult split. My boyfriend and I had dated for two years, lived together, and talked about marriage on a daily basis.
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When the relationship ended, I completely unraveled. Going through the breakup and everything that followed was by far the hardest experience of my life. I’d never experienced pain like that. It felt never-ending, and even when life seemed okay for a brief moment, the sadness would come rushing back, without warning, just like that. I was exhausted from how crappy I felt.
But unlike with my high school breakup, food was no longer my one and only coping mechanism. I'd spent 10 years healing my relationship with food, and I knew that embracing the pain of the breakup head-on was going to help me heal faster than if I used food to mask my feelings. I knew that if I truly wanted to heal, I had to feel it all and let myself process the experience fully.
Here’s how I figured out how to heal my broken heart without ever turning to a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (or any breakup food for that matter).
I knew that if I used food to cope, it would backfire later—I wouldn’t have given myself the chance to feel those tough emotions and truly heal. Without food to numb or distract, I had to face my feelings. And there were a lot of them! I let myself feel everything and gave myself permission to completely break down
I held absolutely nothing back with my family and friends. I made myself more vulnerable than ever by letting them in on everything I was feeling and thinking. They listened to me cry, ask irrational questions, and share my thoughts. I trusted that they could handle it, and they showed up for me big time. By talking with others instead of eating a bag of chips by myself, I learned that people want to be there for you and help you, especially when you’re going through a tough time.
I’ve always had some level of spirituality in my life, but the intensity of this breakup made me feel like I had no choice but to ask for help from a higher power. There were times when I felt so much pain, confusion, or guilt that I couldn’t bear it. During these moments, I prayed, meditated, and journaled. I asked for my fears to be calmed and to see the challenges I was facing in a calm, loving way. This brought me more peace than numbing my grief with food ever could.
I cleaned out my apartment, bought new white bedding I’d wanted for a while, invested in my favorite candles, and stacked my nightstand with helpful books. Doing this helped me feel like I had that safe haven to come home to at the end of a tough day. It was so important for me to have a comforting, nurturing, peaceful space that made me feel safe and at ease.
After the breakup, I took a week off of work, and then I got back into it. As a health and lifestyle coach, I speak with clients on the phone about their struggles and issues. These calls are one of my favorite parts of the week. During my post-breakup recovery, it was a relief to be able to focus on their lives during our conversations. Helping them work through their challenges made me realize that everyone has their own battles; we’re all in this together. It gave me some perspective.
Being loving and compassionate toward myself as I went through this process really helped me. I tried to stay connected to myself by letting myself cry hysterically when I felt like it or go out and have some fun if that's what felt right. I let the process be whatever it needed to be without feeling like I needed to act or feel a certain way. Doing that helped me come out of this struggle a much stronger person because I learned to soothe myself instead of using junk food as a coping mechanism.
Jamie Mendell is a holistic health coach who specializes in helping women lose weight without dieting. To find out more about her philosophy, check out her newest program.