It is no secret that African-American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese. But instead of fat shaming and finger pointing, how many health activists dissect the emotional catalyst behind our struggle with weight?

Yesterday, Michaela angela Davis posted a powerful statement on her Facebook wall that’s ripe for a larger discussion.

“Comfort Food? Not now. I’m learning food wasn’t meant to comfort or reward me. Not as a pain killer or companion, not intended for boredom, anxiety or abandonment management. It doesn’t nourish insecurities or esteem. It can be a short-lived suppressant or postponement but never a real healing, solution or satisfaction. What are you emotionally feeding after your body is full?”

Yes, what are we emotionally feeding, after our bodies are full?

Is it family issues? Relationship obstacles? Career dissatisfaction? Financial concerns?

I am a size four, 121 pounds, and living a vegetable-heavy, meatless lifestyle. But also, I am guilty of emotional eating, even if it does not show. Emotional eating is not just an “overweight” thing. This reactionary behavior extends beyond pure weight gain, impacting women through eating disorders and other unhealthy eating practices. It starts by planting roots in our personal struggles before the pounds pile up or drop off.

If I survive a stressful day at my 9-5 job, I eat red velvet cupcakes or greasy French fries. The root of my eating has nothing to do with being hungry. I simply “reward” myself for stomaching another passionless day in a career that I no longer want or “treat” myself for putting up with other obstacles that are thrown in my path each day. When eating departs from hunger, a seed for disaster is planted. It’s very similar to an alcoholic’s relationship with liquor. We’re using substances to nourish deeper issues.

I’ve watched friends struggling with weight lick the 300-calorie sauce off the bones of barbecue chicken wings while simultaneously complaining about their weight challenges. I’ve witnessed women that know their relationship with food is problematic, but fail to address the emotional dependency on their refrigerator. And all of these women are powerful, intelligent, beautiful, and fiercely independent in many areas of their lives, but often, our biggest obstacles are ourselves.

In the words of Michelle Obama, let’s move.

It’s time to backstroke our emotional issues to the forefront and dive into the real reason behind our weight gain and unhealthy eating. It’s not enough to drop statistics, discuss food deserts, and advocate for more exercise. Reducing weight gain requires a lifestyle change and that requires an emotional background check.

Are you battling emotional eating and working on a healthier relationship with food? Share your journey.

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  • jimmy

    So the BMI scale is not racist? BTW great article!

  • ac

    I find it very hard to get motivated. I thought being unhappy with my body was enough but its not and this article helped me to see that I need to focus on my emotions. I am 5’0″ and 156 pounds and I feel horrible about myself everyday. I can’t ever seem to focus or stick to anything although my weight makes me very uncomfortable. I hope I can find what my emotional issue is and address it.

  • Good Article-

    What I have found for myself and through the help of reading, research and whole host of other support mechanisms….the focus cannot be on weight loss- but on wellness. Why? Focusing on weight loss if a very restrictive. When the only goal is to lose weight, we restrict food, calories and amp up our exercise routines. If/When we reach our goal- we have to maintain the same regime for life in order to keep the weight at bay. If we don’t reach the goal- we start on a downward spiral of negative self talk, beating ourselves up and basically abusing ourselves…creating those negative emotions that tell us to say “a screw it” and go eat that cupcake of whatever the vice is.

    When I made it a point to focus on wellness- everything started to click, make sense and fall in place. I figured out HOW I was sabotaging myself. The answer to “why can’t I stick with this eating/excercise plan” became very apparent. I was engaging in activities that were not in alignment or integrity with who I was. When I changed my goal to “feel good, enjoy life and vibrate higher”….my DECISION making processes changed to support and influence my physical actions.

    I took back my emotional power—and made it (and continue to make it) a point to discipline my self and focus. This same discipline and focus that I use toward achieving my wellness goals is the same energy that is being used to achieve my other life goals. For me, it was about making a decision to be FULFILLED in life and visioning what that fulfillment FEELS like. In short- weight loss ultimately happens when there is a massive mind shift…and it goes much deeper than food intake and exercise.

    But it took a lot of self reflection and learning to get to this point.

    Wellness is an emotional, physical, physiological, mental and spiritual journey. When we carry excess weight- that is our body’s way of protecting us from harm (emotional harm). Where we carry the weight shows us WHAT emotional areas need to be worked on.

    In terms of my journey- I am still on it. In using this approach- Ive had great results. Have another 20/25lbs to go but making it mission of wellness has made the task quite easy. I am in pretty good shape but have some emotional weight to lose. I am making great progress and that is what I have gratitude for.

    How I have approached this:

    (1) Self Awareness: take the time to get to know you and what makes you tick. Take back your power.

    (2) Therapy!! Unleash the crap that is holding you back and weighing you down. It feels good to come to resolution about things instead of letting it rot inside you. If you want to know about the greatest lessons for you to learn in life- look to the lives of your parents or the people who raised you. Learn about the familial patterns and break the negative cycles.

    (3) Body Physiology: Learned about my body’s reaction to stress and how to manage it (by focusing on wellness and being fulfilled). Learned about the hormonal system (so important) of the body and did a lot of research on eastern medicine, meridians and how to read and feel my body. Also learned how anxiety and stressful feelings release those toxic stress hormones that cause every other hormone to go out of whack and cause weight gain and other host of chronic dis-ease.

    (4) Whole/Clean eating as much as possible: my default is whole, clean, organic veggies, nuts, fruits and lean meats. Very little grains, “white stuff” and sugar unless it comes from fruit, stevia, raw honey or agave etc. For me- I am sensitive to overly manufactured foods. I have my days when I trick off, but they are becoming few and far between. This change in my eating came about slowly.

    (5) A really good colon and liver/kidney cleanse: Essential for getting rid of toxins (released from food, environment and emotions) and keeping your body systems and optimal performance.

    (6) Prayer/Meditation/Ritual: to stay grounded, to stay grateful, to help manage/banish fear, stress and anxiety and other negative emotions.

    (7) Exercise- movement every day. intense, leisure, moderate…do something. Leave the car- move…

    (8) Gratitude

    (9) Optimism: mental perspective is everything. It also makes being disciplined and focused more fun.

    (10) Fun: allowing myself to have fun. Engaging in play. All adults need more play.

    Please understand that you have the power to make the changes you want to see in your life. Support yourself and be good to yourself and just do it.

  • Isa

    I am also a 120lb size four and am just as guilty of emotional eating. I discussed it with a friend who isn’t my size. Explained to her that it is a problem even though I have a petite body. She says its not .. its a female thing to eat off of our emotions …