I Don't Eat My Sadness — I Eat My Happiness, Too

Let's remove weight from the conversation.

photo of author Becca Stokes courtesy of the author 

I have eaten so many delicious things. I will eat so many more. Salty, creamy, juicy, sweet, warm, and cold — I grab what my tongue and throat, and stomach seem to want.

I think of nutrients after the fact. Sometimes I check my tongue for cracks because I read somewhere once that can be a sign of diabetes. No cracks, so I keep eating. 

I take part in emotional eating. You've seen my kind portrayed on film and television screens. You've seen emotional eaters sob into half-bolted containers of pad thai. You've seen dumped chubby girls singing along to torch songs, using their ice cream spoon as a microphone.


You know what it looks like to eat your feelings. I hate that phrase "eat your feelings." It conjures up an image that's all wrong. 

RELATED: 7 Ways To Stop Emotional Eating 

Do emotional eaters eat when they are sad? Oh sure, I've definitely done that. I guess that's where the image of a woman sad at home alone with her cats and Ben and Jerry's for company came from. But the problem with that to me is that "sadness" is just one feeling.

When you're an emotional eater, you don't have the internal history of a person who eats to live. Healthy, normal eaters feel happy and smile. They get a promotion and cheer. They get mad at a boss and go for a run. They have a fight with their boyfriend and say things they'll regret later before walking out of the room.


Normal eaters, you do this because it is how you have always done things. You have a feeling; you cope accordingly. Sometimes it's not the healthiest impulse (slinging back a shot after a long day, head banging at a rock show to blow off steam doing your cervical spine no favors), but it's what you do.

You have tools in your arsenal. Emotional eaters don't have a toolbox to pull coping mechanisms out of. We've got one all-purpose response to every possible situation: we eat. 

It's the only thing that scratches that itch. We've tried other things. My mom was always adamant I find ways to "reward" myself that wasn't food based and I couldn't do it. If I won a swim meet, I wanted a pastry from the place by the pool. If I got good grades, I wanted a package of Now and Laters. I was potty trained with candy. 

Am I sometimes a sad fat woman at home crying into my ice cream? Oh, sure. But more often than not I'm also a happy fat woman at home crying into her pizza, or her second serving of pie. I get excited and I eat, I get angry and there will be a cheesesteak in my future. That's just how it goes.


Not all of us emotional eaters just eat because we're sad and pathetic. If that was the case it would be called sad and pathetic eating. 

I've made a long of changes in the course of my life, and one of them was to become mindful of food. That means exactly what it sounds like: I'm not restricting, but I am paying attention to what I eat, when I eat it, and why I am eating it, and even just doing that has helped me manage the way I use food as succor, support, and strength for every single occasion.

But I mean ... I'm also fully eating crackers right now because I'm feeling a little bored and twitchy today. So there's that. It's a process. 

RELATED: 5 Reasons Why Emotional Eaters Can’t Stop Eating Sugar


Why does the distinction about emotional eaters eating when they feel ANYTHING feel so important to me? I guess because if you just think we "eat our feelings" of sadness, you're continuing to support the stereotype that people who are fat should only feel two things: sadness and shame.

Many people out there have issues with the way in which they eat and their own relationship to food. That doesn't make any of those people sad or shameful. It makes them human beings just like everyone else, eager to figure out the best way to get through life relatively unscathed. 

I'll never forget commuting home one day and sitting down beside a man when a seat opened up. He was a big guy, and I'm a big woman. The second I sat down I became aware of the feeling of the flesh of my hips pressing against him. I wasn't comfortable.

RELATED: The 8 Mindsets That Keep You Stuck In The Cycle Of Binge Eating


I was about to stand up when he said, "Damn, eat less or don't sit," not quite under his breath. I did stand up, and I tried not to make eye contact. Some days you wanna get into it with someone about their worldview, but other days you just want to go home to your cats and your books and a hot shower, ya know? 

Thinking about this encounter as I walked home from that particular subway ride, it struck me how it never even occurred to that man that I might not be comfortable, either. That I might be planning on standing up myself because I don't relish strangers being so close to me.

Nobody really stops and thinks that a fat person might want to stand on the train instead of sitting because it is simply more comfortable! The assumption is, that you're fat, you do emotional eating, and you love sitting. It's a way of thinking that's so pervasive ANOTHER fat person had no problem using those stereotypes against me. 


If I'm eating, it could be because I'm sad. But it could also be because I'm happy. Or because I'm bored. Or because I'm hungry!

When you spot me in your row as you're walking down the aisle of the airplane, please know that I too am fighting an urge to roll my eyes and say "great" when you approach our row. My weight, my relationship with food, and my right to exist free of persecution from strangers and friends are not correlated. 

If you wanna get mean, rip into me for being a cat lady, though to be honest, even that is weak. (I've only got the two — it's my boyfriend who has three, y'all.) Let's remove weight from the conversation. Let's see what flicking the off switch does. I think everybody would be pleasantly surprised. 

RELATED: What You're Really Craving When These 5 Triggers Cause You To 'Eat Your Feelings'


Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer and editor who covers relationships, pop culture, psychology, and news for Newsweek, Psych Central, Bustle, and more.