What do you think of when you hear the term “emotional eating”? Do you imagine compulsive bingeing on break-up ice cream sundaes? Do you think it only exists for weak people who cannot control themselves around food? Do you think it is an excuse people use to overeat? I think emotional eating has become a common way of life for most of our modern society. With the amount of marketing money spent by the food industry and the pressure for people to achieve sometimes unrealistic goals, we have all probably experienced emotional eating at some time in our lives. Using food to placate and soothe ourselves is emotional eating. Eating for reasons other than nourishing our bodies is emotional eating. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a coping mechanism.
On my own journey of clean eating, I am discovering that I experience emotional eating on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic episode of bingeing and purging, it can be as simple as eating out of boredom, frustration, stress, or any other reason other than physical hunger. My current meal plan has forced me to ask myself several times a day “Am I hungry or just bored?” or “Why exactly do I want to eat that?” It has made me become AWARE of my choices and my actions, and subsequently, the consequences.
When we start to slow down and feel the emotions connected to our eating we take the first step in separating our feelings from our eating habits. When we learn what we are truly hungry for we then can make the choices necessary to feed that hunger rather than habitually reaching for food. This can be a new way of looking at things for people who are changing the way they eat. It might be much harder to deal with emotions rather than eat your favorite, familiar, comfort food.
I find myself craving sweets directly after a meal. Or sometimes it’s a texture of a food I crave- something smooth and creamy when I’m agitated. Or salty when I’m happy. Cravings can indicate many things- physically or emotionally. Step 1 is to slow down enough to actually feel what you are feeling. Then decide what it is you really are hungry for- a hug? a talk? a nap? validation? approval? rest?
I LOVE this quote from Geneen Roth’s book “Women, Food, and God”, to me it sums up everything-
“We don’t want to EAT hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to BE hot fudge sundaes. We want to come home to ourselves”
We want to be whole. We want to experience our whole range of emotions- both good and bad, and covering them up with food does not allow that to happen. The healthier our diet is and the more nourishment we get from real, whole foods, the less likely our cravings will come from a physical aspect. So we can then deal with our true hunger in a different way and begin to figure out what will feed us on a deeper level.