It was nearly midnight. It had been a busy weekend. The commercial flashed chocolate – major chocolate.

Reese’s cups.

If it had been two hours earlier, even one – I would have grabbed the keys, jumped into my car, cruised to the nearest convenience store, and indulged in a King Size package of those delectable treats.

Naturally, I would have beaten myself up over it afterward.

I will not say that common sense prevailed. To be honest, it was the lateness of the hour, though in years past that wouldn’t have kept me home.

But the next night, it happened again.

This time, it was pizza – and while it was Papa John’s or Pizza Hut that tempted me from my television screen, my craving was more enticing and very specific: the homemade pizza at my local eatery, known for its perfect crust, its fresh veggie toppings, and just the right amount of gooey cheese and spicy sauce.

As I had done before, I zapped from station to station with my remote. I paced a little, checked the contents of the fridge and the pantry, argued with myself and refrained from snacking. Nothing had the appeal of either chocolate or pizza.

Eventually I surrendered to sleep.

Emotional Eating

I’ve been through my own saga with the fat fake-out, and its odd legacy of trailing damage – physical and emotional. I will also clarify that I wasn’t feeling bothered by anything, and I recognize the signs of emotional eating, whereby food is used to self-soothe and even to anesthetize.

Of course, there’s also emotional eating that bubbles up out of boredom, not to mention random snacking or overeating that is the body’s response to lack of sleep. (Don’t forget – when we’re managing on too little sleep, we tend to eat more in order to keep going.)

I am keenly aware that I’m suggestible when it comes to food under the best of circumstances. If I’m discouraged, tired, or stressed I’m more likely to turn to unhealthy eating behaviors to squelch unpleasant feelings.

Food addiction?

Some say food addiction is real, while others insist it’s a matter of choice, period. And that, despite the fact that some studies are suggesting that the same sort of dopamine (pleasure and relief) spike is manifested in overeaters as that which is associated with other (substance) addictions.*

Women, Self-Soothing, Addictive Behaviors

Dopamine debates aside, I am aware of my own “suggestibility,” I’m happy to say that’s generally as troublesome as my eating behaviors get, though I do still give in to cravings  sparked by visuals, and I routinely fluctuate a few pounds.

Now I might confess that if I weren’t so budget conscious, shoe shopping could provoke similarly seductive (and dangerous) responses. It’s bad enough that when I peek at Nordstrom’s or Neiman’s online, and the ads for Enzos and Choos follow me from window to window until I clear my cookies.

And speaking of cookies, the very word sparks an urge to pop a tray of Tollhouse chocolate chips into the oven. Ah – I will type those magic letters here again, slowly and with desire: c-o-o-k-i-e-s.

In all seriousness, if I did bake cookies right now, my current frame of mind would result in borderline bingeing. I might not eat two dozen, but nor would I stop at two. And then I would feel as though the bad behavior made me bad, and I would likely overeat – and eat poorly – throughout the rest of the day.

Binge Eating, Overeating, Obesity

In a country in which obesity is such a complex, costly, and devastating problem, I wonder how many others – like me – are so easily swayed when it comes to what they put in their mouths.

Especially if tempted by an irresistible image.

I wonder how many women (especially) turn to food when they are sad, angry, lonely, or simply exhausted.

I wonder how many will admit to a past – or a present – that involves binge eating, which of course goes beyond overeating, and carries with it both stigma and shame.

I wonder how much bingeing and purging continues to take place in this country – easier to hide (for awhile at least) than anorexia or sustained overeating (and weight gain).

I wonder if anyone will disagree that the “fat woman” remains the recipient of far more disdain than the woman who turns to her alcoholic beverages or cigarettes for solace.

I can’t tell you how many times I wished I were one of the “thin, drinking” women, rather than one who is suggestible and susceptible to the extraordinary pleasures of food, so easily taken to excess.

Interestingly, this article from The Fix suggests that anti-obesity campaigns, intended to help, may actually put segments of their target audience at greater risk – those who are susceptible to binge eating.

In other words – see food, talk about food – crave food.

Mirror, Mirror: Body Image

If I do happen to eat chocolate or other sweets during a moment of “weakness” when I know that I’m not hungry, I invariably trigger an old tendency that categorizes pleasures of the palate into “good or bad” foods. Psychologically, that seems to translate into good behavior and bad behavior, which consequently leads me to feeling badly about myself if I indulge.

Most of the time, one piece of chocolate or two cookies won’t affect me in the least. I savor them, and that’s that.

But when I’m feeling vulnerable for other reasons, it’s as though the decades of food issues and subsequent self-image struggles are as present as ever.

Even in writing this, after a very long week, thinking about chocolate – Reese’s cups in particular – has me salivating. But given how I’m feeling at the moment, I suspect that if I ate sweets right now, I would look in the mirror after and see a fat woman.

And it could take days – or longer – to chase her out of my head.

  • Sound familiar to anyone?
  • Are you “suggestible” when it comes to certain visual or other sensual stimuli?
  •  Are you susceptible to unhealthy eating habits – or worse – when tired or under stress?
  • Has time improved that tendency, even when feeling vulnerable?


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  1. says

    All your posts are striking a chord.

    I have been eating so much rubbish lately – basically since my beautiful constant companion Gracie passed away a couple of weeks ago.

    I just don’t care a whole lot about food or eating well, exercising etc. I am grieving and really just being able to function is enough for now as I have so much work to get done. I am always so diligent about eating well – and taking better care of myself, now I have really dropped the ball … so I guess I will have guilt as well as grief. Plus starting to feel a bit yuck with all the chocolate, chips, soda etc., which I rarely ever touch.

    If I could have one thing to help in my household – it would be a chef … someone to buy the food and prepare it. After raising a family and making good choices, healthy meals and ensuring everyone had all their vitamins and nutrients – I am sick of thinking about food. I’ve become like many others – happy with a quick fix and sadly that’s usually not good for us. So just reading this post has made me think it’s time to take better care of me …

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I’m glad if it helps even a little, Vicki Lee. Writing is helping me to hang on to my discipline, despite a desire for the contrary.

      And boy have you struck a chord in me when you say you’re tired of having to deal with the food choices for everyone else. I wonder how much that plays into the fact that women can never seem to quite escape these issues.

  2. says

    I’m definitely a stress eater, and chocolate is my “go-to” food of choice. I have to check myself constantly. Even though I’ve achieved my weight loss goal, I find if I go over my allotted calorie count for the day, it really messes with my head. And, logically, I know one or two days of blowing the diet isn’t going to significantly impact anything overall. But it’s always in the front of my mind now. To tell the truth, when I find I have a surplus of calories left at the end of the day, my FIRST thought is a chocolate treat! :-)

  3. says

    Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels. Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels. Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels….

    my mantra…sustains…….

    Most of the time.

  4. says

    Earlier this year I went on the Demi Moore diet (you know the one she went on when Ashton dumped her?). At the end of the spiral, I weighed 104lbs. The sick part was that I LOVED my thighs again. Yeah, the skin on the rest of me sagged like a wet plastic bag, and my breasts looked like old, empty tube socks, but my thighs! Oh, my thighs.

    I’ve since regained the weight, but now I re-hate my thighs again. And I’m hungry! When will this endless rollercoaster end?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      UGH – that’s not a good way to “diet,” Chloe. (I lived through my own version during divorce. Size zero may sound good, but it doesn’t necessarily look good or feel good.)

      You might enjoy this – that “hungry” thing, studies that suggest women prefer food over sex, and how much all of this distracts us from enjoying the pleasures around us, and those that involve us.

      And please. Don’t mention thighs. I’ll lose my appetite… 😉

  5. says

    Reese’s cups! What did they said it was? 1000 Kcal per one Oz? :)) I can’t fly to N.Y without my children ask me to stuff my suitcase on the way back with a bunch of them to satisfy their insatiable delicacy! And my children aren’t kiddos anymore! :)

    In fact as soon as it comes to such primal function pleasures as food, sex, etc …, I think that we are all, and will always be, suggestible.

    Let me recount a short anecdote happening in France and being the perfect illustration of that. It was the week-end (saturday I think) and in the late afternoon one of the big TV channels had programmed a film titled Mystic Pizza. Nice movie by the way, but the thing is all along you keep seeing them cooking yummy pizzas. When the movie ended it was near the time for dinner. And guess what we did? Of course we jumped on the phone and called our usual guys so that we could be delivered in short delay some hot delicious pizzas! I still smile on how naive we had been on this move, because even making the complete tour of the ones we were knowing in a relatively reasonable perimeter, it finally proved absolutely impossible to have any pizza delivered that night!

    Suggestible by image? Parisian people (but I’m certain it was the same in other towns) had been exactly that, by thousands and thousands, at the exact same moment. And all the pizza makers of “France and Navarre “ had been overwhelmed instantly! Doesn’t it say a lot on humans suggestibility? :)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      A very well known movie, here! (Julia Roberts, oh-so-young.)

      You’re making me crave pizza again…

      I think I’ll go fetch a yogurt instead.

  6. says

    Love the cartoon! Reminds me of an older guy who strutted past me in Hawaii in the tiniest bright blue Speedo I’ve ever seen. It was tiny partly because his huge belly was hanging over what little fabric there was. I made the mistake of turning back to look again, only to have my retinas burned by the fact that it was a thong Speedo. I did envy his happiness with himself and his willingness to sashay out in public in next to nothing.

    My go -to stress food is chocolate, and sadly, lots of chocolate. When not stressed, I have one square of very dark chocolate and I’m satisfied. When stress has me twirled, I want the high sugar, high fat milk variety – if peanut butter can be factored in, so much the better – in mass quantities.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      A thong speedo, Deb! Very, uh… cheeky!

      I see we’re in the same crowd. Not under particular stress? A small amount is perfect. Otherwise? Trouble… But what is the magic of that combination – chocolate and nuts, specifically chocolate and peanut butter? Divine combination.

  7. says

    Sigh… My husband loves to watch the food channel but I can’t watch it long or I start thinking and craving food. It’s hard to stop at one treat but sometimes we have to. :)

  8. says

    I’m going to adopt Barb’s mantra!

    Suggestibility – visual suggestibility? Definitely, if it is something I really enjoy eating or drinking.

    I have been known to eat when I am stressed, but even then, I rarely overeat.

    My weakness is baked goods, so I try not to have them around, if possible. Lately, my husband has been craving cake. There is a coconut cake in the refrigerator right now. Last week a torte. The week before a carrot cake. Too much cake! Talk about temptation – it is right in the kitchen.

    Normally, I keep dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses in the house and allow myself a couple every day. They are small and they satisfy my desire for chocolate. My husband likes to eat a milk chocolate nugget dipped in peanut butter (right from the jar) – almost like a Reese’s, but the portion size is much smaller.

  9. says

    I work on staying present perfect. In the moment, I might howl to the moon about the size of my arse, but I remind myself I was never more than I am in the minute. It’s damn hard but I don’t want to dwell on my body when I have a second novel to finish. I do find going to the gym every other day the trick to staying sane. I still have a Latin arse, but it’s not at the back of my knees. Good post.

  10. says

    Terrific piece, and very timely for me.

    My body certainly isn’t back to where it was before I had my three kids, but I’m okay with my size. The problem is that a recent physical showed that my cholesterol is too high and my blood sugar is erratic. So now I have to watch what I eat and I find that the watching quickly, for me, turns into obsessing and my usually pretty balanced approach to eating has been replaced with urges to eat entire bags of – you guessed it – Reese’s PB Cups.

    I’m hoping that time will help me regain my equilibrium, but I fear that eating is going to remain problematic for some time to come.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      There’s something magical about Reese PB cups. (Why is that?)

      I’m sorry to hear the blood sugar is still erratic, Kristen. Are you able to have the occasional something sweet? (I hope so.)

  11. says

    Popcorn is my weakness when I’ve got the munchies. I don’t buy crisps or crackers because they wouldn’t last 2 minutes. At least popcorn has lots of fibre….and unfortunately, salt. I could give up virtually anything before I could give up salt, though I do periodically try substituting other herbs and spices; it’s just not the same. I don’t have high blood pressure (yet). I have caught myself trying to stay up later to finish watching a movie (which is stupid, I could just finish it the next evening) and stuffing my face as I watch. I’m sure the ‘hunger’ is my body telling me to just Go To Bed. Chocolate doesn’t do much for me. I wish it did, as I think chocolate is probably better for you than salt.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Some sources of stress call for eating. Others? No appetite whatsoever. Go figure. (Should I send you a CARE package of peanut butter cups?)

  12. says

    Oh, emotional eating…my sweet, lonely, insecure, neurotic side contains an emotional eater. When she writes she eats because she’s probably no good. When she just can’t handle the kids she eats because she wants to stuff down the anger. When she’s alone she eats to heighten the pleasure of solitude and when she’s with friends she eats to make the most of the company.

    Good thing she’s only 75% of me. Dominant side, sure, but easily bested with self love, sunshine, and exercise. 😉

  13. says

    We must be cut from the same cloth…and to paraphrase something you wrote to me, “WHY haven’t we met each other sooner?”

    Reese’s peanut butter cups are my favorite! (One of them. The Many.) This is how bad it is: About once a month when my hormones are raging, I am overwhelmed by the need for that creamy-peanut-butter-coated-in-chocolate taste. Being a self-loathing-binge-happy-sad-sick eater, I can’t keep those orange packages around the house.

    So, what do I do? Break out the bag of semi-sweet morsels and the jar of peanut butter. I plunk a serving spoon into a bowl, chase it with chocolate chips, melt the concoction in the microwave, stir, refrigerate, and in about five minutes my cravings are cured. (Until the next night.) And sometimes? I don’t event wait for the mixture to harden, I just shovel the drizzly mess into my mouth (and try not to feel guilty…) 😉

    • BigLittleWolf says

      May I say again, A Suburban Life, I did eventually give in to the raging desire for Reeses. I’ve been calmly without need of chocolate since. :) At least, for now.


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