Nourishing the Soul: An Essay on Emotionally Eating Well

Ever notice how, when you're really satisfied after a good meal, there is very little urge for dessert? It's not so much that you're too full or can't imagine making room for anything else in your stomach. It's more a sense of fullness and contentment that no other edible item could possibly improve upon. In fact, to eat something else could also have an adverse affect on your positive feeling.

I used to have zero willpower and such a sweet tooth. My appetite for granola was particularly insatiable and, though as a child I ate like a bird, began to find all my meals and snacks growing in size and caloric  total. At the time, I wasn't in the happiest of places, which I think owes something to my newfound ravenous behavior. There was always a sense that I wasn't quite satiated and so the thought that I was full and didn't need any more rarely crossed my mind.

This relatively brief period in my life didn't lead to excessive weight gain or health problems. In fact, I was probably healthier at that time than I had ever been previous because I was eating more on a daily basis and able to satisfy a lot of my nutrient needs. Nonetheless, my eating habits weren't particularly healthy because they weren't motivated by a sense of hunger or fullness.

I worry that far too many people have lost the ability to feel hungry, to feel full. These days I've got my diet back on track and only eat when I'm hungry. When I'm done, I feel satisfied and know that nothing in the pantry will make me feel better - in fact, eating any item within would inevitably make me feel worse. Part of this change I can attribute to my new attitude toward food. I avoid canned items, prepackaged meals, and processed ingredients as much as possible. Instead I opt for fresh produce, things that require little by way of preparation before purchasing and don't need a label to advertise their health benefits. I've found that, the more I listen to what my body really needs, the more I am able to feel satisfied when a meal is done.

I recognize that I have more freedom with my meals than most. True, I usually don't get home until 6:00 at night and am too tired to want to cook. But it's just me and my fiance who will pretty much eat whatever I put in front of him. I have a lot of flexibility and few limitations on my cooking. I don't have to worry about pleasing kids or adhering to strict dietary guidelines for health reasons - I can make whatever I want given what I have on hand.

At the same time, I do pose personal limitations, like those I've already stated regarding fresh items versus processed. I also try to think about balanced meals - ensuring that I don't go overboard with my meat or fish, that there are plenty of sources of fiber on my plate, that fats, carbs, and proteins are all accounted for. Though this can sound like quite a task, I've found that sticking to the produce section of my grocery store helps guarantee well-balanced, fibrous meals. If I've got tons of fruits and veggies on hand that have relatively short shelf lives, I've got to use them while they're fresh. Plus, they're tastier than their canned, shrink-wrapped, and bagged counterparts.

In effect, the way I shop influences the meals I prepare and the way I eat. Since I buy things that resemble their natural form as much as possible, I can prepare more satisfying and healthy meals, in turn reducing my desire to eat artificially flavored snacks and such which makes me a healthier person overall.

In this day and age, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and a whole host of other medical conditions are rampant and growing in severity and incidence. Plenty of people are at a loss as to how to avoid or deal with these issues. I've done a bit of reading on this because I find it particularly fascinating and nearly everyone (at least those unmotivated by corporate interests) agree - eating more fresh produce and less processed food will help make us healthier and less disease-ridden as a culture.

But I also want to argue that making the switch from factory-produced to au natural will make us also happier as a people. When our food is fresh, it tastes better and we want to eat more of the good stuff. We will feel physically better and have to deal with fewer diseases and disorders. We won't turn to the snack drawer for satisfaction because our daily meals will more than provide it. We will feel satiated after our meals and in continually better health - and I don't think anyone can argue that, in turn, we will be happier individuals.

I can still remember the days when Trader Joe's Trail Mix Granola was like a drug for me. Before going to bed, I'd have a couple healthy bowls of the stuff with milk, no matter how large my dinner had been a few hours previous. It was like those bottomless soup and salad deals where I was constantly re-filling an empty bowl. I won't blame this entirely on the fact that I had an unsatisfying dinner - there were other emotional and mental things going on at the time that probably contributed much more to my voracious appetite. But I will say that, nowadays, I don't even have the urge to look in the cabinet after dinner no matter what state of mind I may find myself in.

A steady diet of good real food can serve as a preventative measure against emotional eating and, in the process, nourish whatever it is that makes eating addictive. Food should be enjoyed, but there is no need to waste our daily meals on TV dinners or microwave meals. Truly enjoying food involves considerate preparation of fresh ingredients for maximum health, flavor, and satisfaction.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this! It's great that you're able to take a step back and look at your eating habits objectively. I am definitely in a wanting to eat all the time phase, and I haven't figured out whether that's healthy for me or not!

  2. What if you cannot afford, literally cannot, to shop that way? Sales are great, frozen foods in moderation will not kill or make you completely unhealthy. Your judgment is naive, and well, judge-y. Step back, sister.

  3. and oh, I'm not fat, either. Also, yes, I (and many people in my family) crave dessert after a fine meal (even one from a sustainable restaurant!) because we want a little treat; something sweet to linger.

    ps your granola problem is ridiculous. that is not dessert hahaha

  4. Hey Anonymous.... I think you missed the whole point of the blog. If anyone is acting naive and judgy... it is you for your comments. It's also cowardly to say things harshy and call the writer "rediculous" while hiding behind "anonymous". And I can say these things....I'm fat.

  5. To anonymous... I'm sorry that you felt as though I was being naive or judgmental. I'd just like to say a few things in response to your comments.

    Fresh produce is actually the most affordable food when grown from seed - you can buy seed packets for less than $2 dollars and grow multiple plants to last whole seasons. I live fairly close to the poverty line myself and understand the struggles inherent in healthy eating and grocery store budgeting.

    I also am a great believer in moderation. I didn't write this essay in order to tell others not to eat dessert. I do it all the time and I have a great sweet tooth myself. It was more about moderation. If all we ever eat are processed foods, TV dinners, canned vegetables, artificial sweeteners, etc. we are not giving our bodies the purest nutrients and are adding a lot of chemicals to our bodies that have been shown to have detrimental effects. I've read plenty of books on this subject because I find it particularly fascinating and they all seem to support the premise that rates of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, etc. are rising higher than ever before because of what we eat and how we eat it.

    I was motivated to write this piece one night after dinner when I felt fully satiated and had not one ounce of a craving for dessert. This was becoming a bit of a pattern for me, and a remarkably different one at that. I was proud of myself for changing my eating habits in such a way. I felt that, because I was eating more healthy, nutritious, and satisfying whole foods, I wasn't craving the more artificial stuff as much anymore. I simply wanted to share this morsel of eating insight with others. I apologize if you felt that my intentions were misplaced or if I failed to adequately get my point across without offending someone along the way.

  6. tell an inner-city child to grow a green bean from a seed; that it is cheaper for them instead of going and getting a can from 7-11. make that happen.

  7. Hey Anonymous... it seems like you're either writing to pick a fight or have serious problems with reading comprehension. Most likely, it is a combination of the two. Laura writes a very positive blog and if you don't like it or want to spread your negativity on it... this isn't the place for you. Go find a different blog. There are plenty out there you might enjoy.

  8. confront my last statement, though. get real. your lives may be nice and all but what the hell are ya doing for the rest of the world by blogging about how nice you have it.
    i'm writing because your ignorance is what keeps the cycle of american luxury/ignorance/depression going.

  9. One final comment to Anonymous:

    There are plenty of urban gardens in cities across the country where inner-city residents of all ages are learning about gardening and able to grow their own food in their own neighborhoods free of charge. In fact, there's a book about it called Farm Together Now which you should really check out if you don't think getting inner-city youth excited about growing their own food is possible.

    Relegating the "inner-city child" to a helpless and hopeless individual only exacerbates the problem. There are creative, innovative, and relevant ways to help address a variety of issues common to American inner-cities and plenty of these can be seen in action today. If we simply observe and identify the problems without offering potential solutions or plans of action, we're only keeping that cycle of ignorance and income disparity going.

    While I appreciate your enthusiasm on this point, I would prefer that any future comments you have on the issue be directed to my email (laurakeller88@yahoo.com). I would like for this blog to remain a positive space and, while I appreciate your willingness to discuss your opinions, I don't welcome such blatant negativity in my comments. Thank you.

  10. it is possible. but funding is not there, and reading a book about it isn't really going to help anything.

    i am not relegating. i was that inner city child. they are born into a cycle with no hope unless something drastic happens. i appreciate the hope you have, but the problems ARE addressed, but still everything stays the same.

    i'm saying to get off of your soapbox/macbook (most likely) and do something. it's too easy to "blog." you come off as arrogant, and like i said before, naive. first world luxury.

  11. Thank you for this insightful essay!

    It has been shed light on the fact that the kind of eating we do (as a bi-product of history, culture and economics) might be harmful - but I think the only thing that might change this are the choices we make as individuals.

    I think this can change the incentives from producers that now produce cheap unhealthy food.

    Thanks for sharing!


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