Dave and I just got home from a two-week trip to visit family . . . first his family in Cincinnati and then mine outside of Chicago. Two weeks is a L O N G time to be away from home, and we were feeling a bit weary by the time we returned.
I've always been an emotional eater. It's not something I've talked about much on this blog, but it's a fact of my life.
When I'm moody, I eat.
When I'm stressed, I eat.
The only emotion that doesn't make me eat is extreme sadness. For some reason, when I'm really and truly down, food does nothing for me, which I think makes me pretty average. True misery can't be solved by a gastrointestinal feast, but a temporary bad mood can be pretty much wiped out with a quick trip to Jimmy John's.
So when I came home from our exhausting trip the other day, I wasn't surprised that all I wanted to do was eat.
I wanted to eat cheese and crackers. I wanted to eat sliced tomatoes. I wanted to eat roast beef. I wanted to eat salad. I wanted it all.
(I never said I wanted to eat crap; I just said I wanted to eat).
The whole time I felt this way I was aware that my hunger was really about my emotions. They were saying, Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!
But when I really thought about it, I was surprised that the emotion I was feeding wasn't a typical one. Rather than eating because I was down, I was eating because I felt like I hadn't been able to eat in peace for days . . . even weeks.
That's because whenever I eat around other people these days I feel like I'm being watched. Don't get me wrong—I don't feel like my friends and family are consciously watching me. I just feel like I don't get enough privacy during meals with others.
Every time I looked across the table while we were on the road, there was someone else looking back at me. It was maddening.
And, as a result, the entire time I felt like I couldn't eat what I wanted to eat. I was reluctant to go back for seconds, I was anxious about big servings, and I certainly didn't want to indulge in any high-calorie meals while I was around family.
Seeing someone else across the table may seem normal to you, but I live with just one other person. And he's usually got his face in a book or his eyes on the TV while we eat. He certainly doesn't watch me consume my three daily meals.
So when I got home the other night, I felt as if I'd been freed from culinary prison—finally I could eat whatever I wanted and not worry that anyone else was paying attention. Finally I could go back for seconds or pick up food with my fingers or eat a little of something and then put it back without finishing it. I could eat any way or however much I wanted.
It was liberating. Truly liberating.
But now that all that is over, now that I've returned to my quiet routine of being the only person who pays attention to what I put in my mouth, I can't help but wonder why I don't feel as comfortable eating with other people and what that says about me—as an eater and as a person.
All I really know is the answer is probably more disturbing than I'm willing to admit.