“Eating is a metaphor for the way we live and the way we love.” G. Roth
What is emotional eating?
We don’t always eat to satisfy our physical hunger, many times we eat from emotional states such as stress, anxiety or loneliness, and we seek comfort in food to feel relaxed and rewarded.
I'm sure you've hunted for ice cream or sweets when you've felt down, or perhaps you've looked for the family recipe (not healthy at all) when you've missed your family.
Eating is a natural human act, but it is also a social act that involves many factors. Obviously, physical hunger is there to satisfy a physiological need, however, our brain associates emotional hunger in the same way: denying our feelings leads us to the physical act of eating. In addition, today we are drowned by processed foods full of sugar, flours and some other components that have the sole purpose of generating a sensation of early pleasure when we eat them. This means that when we feel emotionally hungry, we don't look for a carrot or a broccoli, but for chocolate or nachos with guacamole instead, because it is these kind of foods that, modified with various types of sweeteners, starches, gluten and other components, generate that sensation of immediate pleasure.
Besides, another factor that can influence our preference for sugary foods is the fact that our first nourishment, when we are babies, is usually our mother's milk, which has a sweet taste. Later on, our parents may have chosen some formulas in replacement, which usually have a lot of sugar in them. So we could say that, for biological reasons, our brain always seeks the comfort of the sweet sensation, recreating the security we felt when we were breastfed in our mother's arms.
How do I know if I'm feeding myself emotionally?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you use food to manage stress or anxiety?
- Do you feel guilty or powerless when it comes to food?
- Does food make you feel safe and calm?
- Do you consider yourself to have a love/hate relationship with food?
- Do you feel like you are losing control around food?
- Does your hunger not go away after you eat?
- Do you feel the sensation of hunger in your chest more than in your stomach?
If you answered "Yes" to one or more of these questions is because it’s time to start working on your relationship with food by addressing the emotions that may be behind your cravings.
Emotional eating cycle
Allowing cravings, indulging ourselves and eating to cheer us up is not bad. But if we often use food to manage emotions we can get caught in a bad habit loop and it is very difficult to get out of it.
The reason is that emotional hunger cannot be satisfied with food. Eating will make you feel better instantly, but the emotion will remain there as long as it is unattended. The more you use food for this purpose, the harder it is for your brain to undo the false association created between emotional hunger and physical food. Your willpower declines and your emotions begin to control you. However, this can be fixed.
Identify your emotional triggers
“We eat as we eat because we are afraid of our feelings.” - G. Roth
In my professional and personal experience I know that when we have a discomfort inside us it will sooner or later surface and interrupt our routine or healthy habits. Overeating to manage this discomfort only means that we have become disconnected from the emotion and of course, from ourselves. Emotions exist to protect us and help us interact better with our environment when we listen to them and ally ourselves with them.
It's time to pay attention to that void you try to fill with food. Ask yourself: what are you hungry for?, what do your cravings tell you? Once you answer these questions, think about what you’ve learned by paying attention to yourself in this way.
Find other ways to feed your life
“We are hungry for play, fun, contact, romance, intimacy, love, achievement, success, art, music, expression, leadership, excitement, adventure and spirituality. All these elements are essential forms of nourishment.” - Joshua Rosenthal
To get out of the emotional feeding loop you don't have to punish yourself or fall into restrictions. It's about transforming your habits little by little.
If you feel lonely or depressed, you can call a friend or family member, play with your pet or look for your favorite picture and relive moments that fill you up completely.
If you’re anxious, try dance therapy, go for a run or buy a stress ball.
If you're exhausted, treat yourself with love: make yourself a cup of tea, take a hot bath, light some scented candles or wrap yourself in your blanket.
And if you're bored, read a good book, look up interesting things on Pinterest, watch cat videos, listen to a podcast or do some manual activity like painting mandalas.
The aim of this article is to raise awareness about our habits, to address our emotions to connect with our essence, to discover what really feeds us and what can make our life extraordinary.
Written by Ana Clavell,
Psychologist and our expert in Personal and Health Coaching.
If you want to fall in love with the process of becoming your best version, contact: email@example.com (online and face-to-face consultations).