We always see emotional eating as a bad thing, don’t we? We see it on TV or portrayed in films as big binges, uncontrollable eating, or people eating their way through an entire tub of ice cream. Think about poor Chandler in Friends, in his break up. At the end of the episode they get the ice cream, and that’s his acceptance of his emotional state.
But emotional eating is not always a bad thing, and that’s why in Principle 7, Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness, you learn that it’s ok to feel these feelings, and it’s absolutely ok to eat to soothe them.
By the way, this is part of a module that’s in the Eat From Within membership, so I am going to touch on it very lightly here, but if you really like this and you want to dive in a bit deeper, then go get yourself in the membership.
From now on I want you to try and think of emotionally eating slightly differently. When we are feeling super emotional we do what we think of as the stereotypical emotional eating. We have a big binge, we lose control, we plough our way through anything and everything that we can get our hands on, and then we beat ourselves up and we feel guilty.
And then the cycle starts again, because then you’re going to eat because you’re unhappy and you feel guilty. But what about the side of food that is nice, that is positive, that is happy?
Maybe you like to bake a cake for a friend or a family member for their birthday, or maybe you really enjoy cooking and serving up a really nice, hearty homemade meal for your family. That is happiness in food.
It’s the same with social events like birthdays, christenings, and weddings. Food plays a massive part in those, but you don’t see it as emotional eating because you’re at an event, and you’re happy.
There are lots of reasons why we might eat emotionally, but it doesn’t mean that we always respond with a big binge.
Sometimes we just want to sit and have some ice cream, sometimes we want a few biscuits because we’re feeling a bit rubbish. Sometimes you want something stodgy because you want the comfort.
There’s lots of different reasons and they might all still be linked to emotions, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this big thing that we always expect it to be.
There are lots of different types of emotional eating. We might eat for comfort. We might eat to cure boredom. We eat for pleasure. We eat to punish ourselves sometimes. We eat as a distraction, as procrastination. How many times have you said something along the lines of “I’ll just have a cup of tea and some biscuits and then I’ll do this”. It’s a distraction technique.
From birth, we feed a crying baby. The baby cries. It has an emotion that you can hear and see, and we feed them.
A child, when they’re young, might fall over and hurt themselves. You say, “do you want some sweets to make it better?”.
Maybe food has a real memory link to some places. For me, I love to have chips on the beach. There are foods that a family member cooked when I was growing up, and now when I see or taste that food it brings back memories.
So it’s quite normal that if you’re feeling a bit emotionally charged in one way or another that you might turn to food, and it’s important to realise that it’s not always a negative thing.
It is good to recognise what triggers these eating habits for you though. There might be lots of things that set you off, the things that drive you to go and find food. You might be annoyed, you might be hassled or busy. You might be worried about something. You might be stressed.
So how do those things feel to you? Do any of those trigger you?
Maybe it’s learned habits.
Something happens, you feel a certain way, and you eat. And it’s just the way that it’s happened for you for so long that now it’s a habit. It’s good to recognise these things for yourself, because then you can use them and work with them.
But also, dieting makes us emotionally eat. Who knew!
Dieting messes with our mental health. It messes with our physical health. It’s no wonder that when we’re dieting, our responses to emotions are food related. So it’s not your fault. If you have a history of dieting, of weight cycling then you are more likely to naturally engage in emotional eating.
To have that understanding and have some compassion for yourself. Dieting drives emotional responses, not just physical ones, and these are going to be things that maybe you didn’t realise before when you start intuitive eating, and you start understanding these principles of intuitive eating.
Self-care and kindness goes a long way to helping with your emotions. I have to include here that there might genuinely be things in life that you are missing, and that is what you are trying to make up for when you’re emotionally eating.
If you haven’t had enough rest, for example. If you are tired, then you may be driven to eat more because your body and your mind are instructing you to eat and find the energy to keep functioning. If you’re missing out on sleep or down time, it might be that you’re eating more emotionally because you’re trying to fill that gap.
Other things are things like sensual pleasure. It is a natural thing for human beings to want and need the physical touch of others. Sensual pleasure doesn’t necessarily have to be just a partner. It can be just a touch on the shoulder from a friend. It can be a hug from your best friend.
We also need pleasure for the other senses. Do you need nice lighting? Do you need gentle music? Do you need the comfort of a warm blanket?
We also need to express our feelings and to be heard. Do you feel like you’re being heard? Do you feel like you have the ability to express what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking? If you can’t, and that’s all bottled up, then it’s quite easy to eat emotionally to try and soothe that, to try and patch that up essentially.
Maybe you need some stimulation. Maybe you need something creative or intellectual. Again, as human beings we need our minds to be stimulated.
Maybe you want to do something artistic, like painting or to dance. Maybe it’s more intellectual for you. You want to study, to learn, and to watch documentaries or read books. We all need this mental stimulation, and if you’re not getting that, it can be easy to turned to food.
Comfort, warmth, nurturing, all of these things are physical needs, and if we don’t get them the mind and body will try to find them. Maybe food becomes this temporary patch.
So you can ask yourself in times where you think you are emotionally eating, ask yourself if something is missing for you? What’s going to satisfy your soul?
Principle 7, Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness, is about giving yourself some compassion. Being able to realise that it’s happening, and then trying to understand why. Then you can take steps to move away from that to prepare for it when it happens again to maybe stop it triggering you somehow.
This is not saying that emotional eating is bad and that you should not do it and you should always find something else, but if you do recognise that it’s because of something like you’re tiredness, boredom, or if you are trying to avoid something, or to reward yourself for something, then are there other ways you can do that?
Has that given you a bit of an insight into emotional eating? I hope so.
Remember, we’re here to be more chilled out about food, more relaxed around food. If you’re an emotional eater, you’re an emotional eater, right? Sometimes that’s just the way it is too.
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