Hanging onto Emotional Eating for Dear Life?


This week, I’m rereading Dr. Anita Johnston’s thought-provoking book, Eating in the Light of the Moon, for my weekly book club/coaching group.

In the book, Dr. Johnston relates an old folk tale about a woman struggling to stay afloat in a swift-moving river. When a log floats by, of course the gasping woman grabs on for dear life.

She never had learned to swim in the faster, deeper currents. So, she couldn’t let go of the log. She was terrified she’d drown.

Survival is one of the most basic human needs. No wonder so many of us WLS women struggle with emotional eating. The deep river of emotions is something in which we have not learned to swim – and at some level that deep river scares the you-know-what out of us.

In book club, one of the women in the group shared with me she feels like she can’t survive without emotional eating. She has come to rely on it to help her cope. The idea of letting go – well, that’s unthinkable.

She is not alone. Many of the WLS women I’ve met on my journey find themselves in the same situation. They hang onto emotional eating as if letting go and feeling their emotions will destroy them, embarrass them, make them unacceptable to others, break them down, or be unbearable.

The thing is you don’t have to let go of the log all at once, never to return to it. First, learn to swim.

By learning to swim and practicing it, the log will not be your only option. You’ll still be able to grab it when you get unbearably tired or panicked. But, you’ll become a stronger swimmer over time. You’ll need the log less and less.

Eventually, you will be able to swim all over the place, even in rougher currents.

Please understand grabbing onto the log is NORMAL. I don’t know any humans who do not grab onto it from time to time. Occasionally, if you’re swimming around and the water gets too rough, or if you’re especially tired, you can still choose the log.

As a practiced swimmer, however, you won’t need the log as much. It becomes much easier to let go.

Intense emotions and rough currents can be super stressful. If you want to feel satisfied with your WLS, you can’t start your swimming lessons soon enough.

I encourage you to focus on improving your emotion-tolerance skills, or navigating your feelings, during the calm times. That way, you’ll have the skills to swim across the currents when the water gets rough.

Remember, just because you learn to swim doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself full permission to return to the log whenever you need it (without judgment).

WLS isn’t about perfection. It’s about learning self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-care. The log is one of many tools to keep your head out of the strong emotional currents, but you don’t have to hang onto it for dear life.

As I said, your best option is to learn how to swim when the water is calm. It’s possible.