When you think of emotional eating what do you think of? For me, the first things that pop into being elbows deep in a pint of ice cream and sobbing over The Notebook, eating a whole bag of chips because I’m bored, or trying to bury my emotions through other “junk food”. The picture is never pretty as I manage for most of us it’s a secretive, out of control, wildly emotional experience that is perceived as negative. Is it as bad as we make it out to be?
Ready for this? FOOD IS EMOTIONAL, AND IT’S MORE THAN FUEL. Food is a multi-dimensional way to share culture, pass down traditions, and bond over something essential for survival. Do you ever get the warm fuzzies cooking certain foods or have nostalgic memories of your grandmother’s cookies? Emotion. What about cooking your child’s favorite soup when they’re sick? Emotion. Trying your Chinese neighbors family recipes that have been passed down for generations? Emotion! Food also lights up our pleasure centers in our brains- just like being in love, cute kittens and other things that make you happy). Food is how we survive and for most of us we have also been comforted by food or shown love with food. Would it be better to have a brick wall of emotion up against food? Or should we embrace the emotional side of food and use it to learn, grow and expand our palettes?
There are 6 keys to making peace with the emotional side of eating and changing your emotional dependency on it:
1) acknowledge that food is indeed an emotional process. No matter how much the dieting industry tries to remove the human component from being human; we are not robots. We FEEL and we crave connection. Food is one of our longest standing traditions to creating connection.
2) know WHY you are eating. Are you trying to fill a need or avoid facing a problem? Are you eating to avoid doing something?
3) Acknowledge and be able to distinguish hunger cues from emotional cues such as boredom, anger, frustration. One of the best ways we can do this is by getting back in touch with our primal hunger and fullness cues.
4) If you still want to- then eat. BUT do it in a mindful matter, not in front of the TV or standing by the fridge plowing into whatever seems to fit the bill. Sit down. Put it on a plate. Create an awareness of the taste, and your desire to consume the food. This will help you to evaluate your needs and stop when ready.
5) take away the stigma and shame and be honest with yourself. Admit you are struggling to face the emotions and at this time this is what you are doing to deal with an emotion. Ideally, this will lead you to dealing with the problem instead of choosing other coping mechanisms.
6) Feel your emotions. Oh snap, it just got real. Find alternatives to eating when you’re emotionally vulnerable. Journal, cry your face off, deal with the problem, verbalize what it going on, set up an appointment for therapy- whatever helps you to feel your emotions. By doing this you are communicating your needs and helping get deeper to the root of the problem.
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