Norma Jeanne’s Story: Emotional Consumption

Consuming sweet treats created a sense of happiness and wholeness starting from a very young age. Baking was the vehicle through which I created a uniquely strong bond with my grandmother and the other women in my family. Indulging in some home baked goodness always meant a rush of good feelings for me. The enticing aromas, rich textures, and of course sugary tastes sent a sensory stimulation overload to my tiny, developing body and brain. I came to adulthood with no understanding of how my sense of happiness and wholeness was entangled with the good-but-fleeting feelings from making and eating those delicious baked goods. When I went to my first Suppers meeting, there was a presentation on sugar and how it acts on the same receptor sites in the brain as cocaine. I also came to understand through this same sugar/carbohydrate presentation, how my choices of starchy, sugary food, caffeine and alcohol wreaked havoc on my blood sugar levels. I was dealing with a blood sugar rollercoaster, and my fatigue, anxiety and rage were my body’s way of communicating my blood sugar imbalance. It was the beginning of a journey. I was starting to recognize my body’s signals and reactions to sugar/carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol. I was conducting my own experiments with food and how to eat for my body type.

Old rituals of baking with Grandma, no matter how innocent, have led to a lifetime of emotional consumption habits. To this very day, I still turn to sweets for a quick fix, rush, or instant escape from whatever seems to be surfacing on my emotional horizon that I would rather not address. What’s the weather forecast today? Today’s emotional forecast: early morning brain fog, followed by a caffeine rush and clear skies. Later this afternoon, we will have some light anxiety floating in, but not to worry we will chase that away with a salty carb filled lunch. Evening rush hour will actually look more like crash and fatigue hour, etc., etc. Basically, I have been dealing with emotional consumption since I was a child and still do today. I define emotional consumption as the act of consuming a substance to alter one’s current emotional or physical state. And, this emotional consumption didn’t only happen with food; it turned to alcohol by the age of fifteen, later followed by drug use.

Escaping my physical fatigue and emotional swings was an exhausting daily grind, which eventually morphed into prescription medication from my doctor to manage anxiety and a large intake of caffeine to override chronic fatigue. So in a way sugar triggered my addiction to using food, alcohol, and drugs to get that instant surge of pleasure or comfort. Other physical and emotional symptoms soon arose as I began my transition into motherhood. My immune system was weak and in one school year I had experienced two sinus infections, six colds, and three stomach viruses. I also began feeling incredibly irritable, had very little patience, and had several instances of uncontrollable rage. I wanted answers as to why this was happening to me. My family doctor told me it was common for parents with young children to have 10-15 colds/viruses a year, and assured me there was nothing wrong with me. Well, my thought was if the “average” parent gets sick that often, I don’t want to be average! Thus, began my quest for “optimal” health, not average.

I made an appointment with a doctor that practiced Functional Medicine. After extensive blood work and stool samples, the doctor told me the good news. I didn’t need medication. I simply needed to provide my body with proper nutrition for optimal health. I wish I had figured this out before the doctor’s bill arrived; this common sense and true answer to my health problems wasn’t covered by insurance.

I decided to tell my story in two parts (see page 216) because there is something eternally pure and beautiful about my memories of baking with a few generations of women in my family. Still, the conflict inside me - happiness and wholeness on one side and anxiety and rage triggers on the other - demands that I cook and eat a different way. With support from Suppers, I transition to a “savory” way of being. With Suppers, I am learning how to cook nutritious meals that sustain my energy levels, while in a compassionate, supportive, and nonjudgmental environment. This is how I am navigating this journey of optimal health - with community and self-compassion. I am practicing self-compassion when I turn to coffee, (or ice cream, or baked goods, or an alcoholic beverage) and not feeling ashamed when I make a choice based on the quick fix. I’m getting myself to another Suppers meeting when I need community, support, and inspiration to keep cooking and feeding my body for optimal health. For me this is a journey, not a destination