What are you really hungry for? Is it food, happiness, or something else? Emotional eating affects so many, but what is it and what can we do about it?
The truth is, we are all emotional eaters. We celebrate happy moments with a special meal. We make our kids their favourite food to show our love. We crave foods like mash potato for comfort. Food is inextricably linked to our feelings and we experience a constant and ever-changing flow of emotions. But the way we relate to our emotions can have a big impact on what we eat.
When somebody says, “I’m an emotional eater,” they are typically saying, “I’m doing unhealthy eating that is hard to control and that’s driven by unpleasant feelings that I don’t like.”
Emotional eating tends to happen when we become emotionally dependent on habits, like binging, chronic dieting, body-hating, negative self-talk and compulsive overeating. Or when we (ab)use food as a way of managing feelings. Unfortunately, once emotional eating becomes a habit, it can spiral out of control, leading to self-loathing, depression, anxiety and health problems, like obesity, diabetes and heart problems.
The key to ‘emotional eating’ is not to cut ourselves off from feeling, but to develop a more supportive and attentive relationship with ourselves.
Here are 4 tips for those who reach out to food for fulfillment or when feeling fed-up with feelings.
1. Start a Food & Mood Diary
Keep a diary of what you eat and how you felt at the time. This will bring into awareness those feelings that have you reaching for food. Awareness of the patterns to emotional eating is the first step in being able to shift them.
2. List your Needs & Desires
Create a list of what you need and desire. For many, food can be a substitute for unmet needs and longings. By writing your needs on a page, it gives an opportunity to objectively consider how you might fulfil your desires.
Learning to tolerate difficult feelings, like stress or loneliness, is vital to overcoming emotional eating. Creating a regular, slow breathing and meditation practice helps us to become more connected to our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies. When we are relaxed, we are less likely to suppress our feelings with eating.
4. Eat consciously
Emotional eating can take the form of not being aware of what or why you’re eating. Unconscious eating is when you’re done with your meal but continue to pick at it or it can be putting food in your mouth just because it’s there. Instead, try to remain mindful of what and when you are eating.
Remember, it is normal to have feelings around food, but unhealthy emotional eating might be a sign that you need to look a bit deeper within. When we listen to our feelings and understand the needs that lie underneath, then we can feed them the nourishment they truly need such as love, belonging, or self-acceptance.
If managing emotional eating is something that you crave but have difficulty satisfying, then talking with a clinical psychologist can help. A psychologist can help unravel the reasons behind emotional eating as well as provide tools that are effective and empowering.