Emotional Eating

Redirecting Our Comfort-Seeking Behaviors

Licensed Master of Social Work Aly Richardson works at the Marion County Jail and also works in private practice focusing on addictions and eating disorders. Richardson and Attorney Marc Lopez recently had the chance to speak about how we try to use food to regulate our feelings. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation.

Marc Lopez
Give me, just, kinda like who you are and what you do.

Aly Richardson
That’s awesomMy name’s Aly Richardson, and I currently work at the Marion County Jail, and I also do private practice. I focus on addictions and eating disorders. That’s my favorite areas to be. I really like all that has to go into helping people through that journey.

Marc Lopez
That’s awesome.

Aly Richardson
So I guess that’s kind of the Cliffs Notes version . . .

Marc Lopez
And you’re a Purdue grad, am I right?

Aly Richardson
Yes, technically. Purdue is my undergrad, and IU is my grad. Sorry if you’re a Purdue person . . .

Marc Lopez
You’re divided over there. I like it.

Aly Richardson
Yes, well, I went to IUPUI.

Marc Lopez
Okay, that’s awesome. Switching gears real quick here—one of the things that you specialize in is eating disorders. So I have to ask you—everyone on Facebook is talking about, I’m eating so much because I’m at home. One of the funny jokes—and I really do feel like internet memes are going to get us through this as a society—one of the ones that I saw yesterday was, At the end of the quarantine, does the producer for My 600-lb Life contact me, or do I contact them? And everyone’s laughing.

What are some tips and tricks? If you’re walking to the pantry like I was for the 15th time yesterday to get a handful of raisins and a bag of chips—what are some things that we can do—mentally—before we’re just eating out of boredom or routine or—in my case—eating out of stress?

Aly Richardson
Yeah, definitely. I want to address both sides, because eating disorders—just like addiction—there’s many flavors, so to speak. You have people who struggle with undereating—the anorexia nervosa. There’s overeating, which are the binge disorders. Then you have people who struggle with bulimia—which is the self-induced vomiting—and then a whole bunch of other things between there. Even orthorexia—which is the obsession with eating healthy and exercising. 

But first to address your question—people that struggle with overeating or not eating—it’s all kind of emotional eating. I think that’s the big thing. A lot of us are dealing with a lot of emotions, more time on our hands—and some boredom, too. Go back to following a schedule—but even more, planning in advance what your meals are going to be. What’s for dinner? What’s a snack? And if you need to—portion-control, setting out, This is what I’m going to eat. 

Also do your best to give yourself some grace—Okay, if I do eat more than I wanted to, that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. I think our society is so obsessed with image and being thin and being beautiful—whatever that looks like—that there’s so much pressure, and then the beating up happens as far as, Oh, I’m overeating. Well, of course you are. You’re stressed and you’re anxious. That being said—What can we do to create healthy routines to maintain a life that you want to live?

The memes that you talked about, I’ve certainly seen them, and from my perspective, I definitely give it—I’m sure you saw a little eye-roll of frustration, because individuals who struggle with eating disorders really struggle with body image and weight and food and all of those things. Being trapped at home—a lot of people have a lot more food at home, too, because they may stock up and have that two-week supply, just in case—that’s a big trigger. Just like you were saying—you don’t have an eating disorder, but having all that food was a big trigger. Imagine having that—food is an addiction, as well, just as with alcohol and drugs. It lights a very similar part in our brains. It releases that dopamine and makes us feel good.

That being said, we need to come up with other ways to help us feel good. Because food does make you feel good, yes—and that’s okay, if it’s in moderation. What we need to do—maybe it’s going outside and getting that fresh air or listening to some music. Whatever makes us happy and helps us de-stress—that’s what we need to do instead of going to food.

Marc Lopez
That’s awesome. I appreciate that, and I know a lot of people watching this are going to appreciate that, because everyone I know is just grazing the whole day.

Aly, what is the best way to contact you?

Aly Richardson
I’m reachable by phone and by email. My email is aly@groffandassociates.com, and my phone number is 317-474-6448, extension 108.