(This is an adapted version of the article, ‘Hunger Games’, that was published in Fitness Magazine Sep/Oct 2014 Issue)
Emotional eating is something that I am really passionate about, not only because I struggle with it, but also because it’s not discussed enough and I think that there is a lot of women who are suffering in silence.
Let’s start with the definition of emotional eating: Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually “comfort” or junk foods — in response to feelings, instead of hunger.
The above definition clearly states that emotional eating is a response to feelings and not a response to physiological hunger. Thus, if you eat because you are stressed, anxious, sad or bored,it can be classified as emotional eating.
There are so many of us that are “consuming” our feelings instead of dealing with them.
We use food as a crutch. Therefore, instead of dealing with our emotions, we eat. Somewhere along the line we went through a difficult time where we had a specific need that had to be fulfilled (love, acceptance, calmness, etc), but it wasn’t met, and in that moment we turned to food to fill that void and “just like that”, the connection in our brain was made between food and emotional fulfilment.
If you are an emotional eater, it’s important to know that another diet is not going to fix it. I agree with this statement of Scott Abel (one of my mentors): “All food/eating issues are awareness issues, not diet issues.”
This means that emotional eating is caused by something deeper, it’s probably something that we are not aware of and if we want to solve it we are going to have to work on our awareness.
“Emotional hunger is caused by an emotional need and it can’t be filled with food”
5 Things that contribute to emotional eating
- Body Hate – A bad body-image or hating your body is one of the biggest contributing factors to emotional eating. People think that hatred and negativity is a good motivator, but contrary to popular belief it actually hinders our progress more than it helps our progress.
- Physiology – A lot of people allow themselves to get too tired or too hungry and then they eat WAY too much when they do eventually eat. Another thing to consider is the fact that we are less equipped to fight cravings when we are very hungry or tired.
- Unawareness – When you are unaware of how much or why you are eating, you are more inclined to fall victim to emotional eating. This can also be referred to as unconscious eating.
- Unable to tolerate difficult feelings – We live in a world where we are used to quick fixes. We are not used to working through things and we definitely don’t like to struggle. Instead of attending to our feelings we rather find a way to distract ourselves, and for some of us, food becomes our distraction.
- Food as your only pleasure – For some people the big bowl of ice-cream after a hectic day at work is the highlight of their day. This is sad, but it’s true. If you don’t have anything in your life that excites you or makes you happy, you are more susceptible to emotional eating.
On my journey with food issues, self-awareness was the first step towards healing.
If you want to get rid of emotional eating you are going to HAVE to find the root. You’ll have to start being AWARE of your feelings and also the feelings or situations that trigger your emotional eating.
If you want to win the battle of emotional eating it’s important to educate yourself with regards to the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Emotional eating stems from emotional hunger and the only way to stop emotional eating is to start identifying emotional hunger and then not acting on it.
Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger
- Physical hunger is gradual, while emotional hunger is sudden
- Physical hunger you have many different food preferences, while with emotional hunger your cravings are for one specific type of food.
- Physical hunger is patient. Physical hunger would prefer that you eat soon, but it doesn’t command you to eat that instant. Emotional hunger is urgent. Emotional hunger commands that you eat NOW.
- Physical hunger occurs because it has been 4 or 5 hours since your last meal. Emotional hunger occurs in conjunction with upsetting emotions.
- With physical hunger, you are aware of the food that you eat and you are mindful about your portions. Emotional eating involves automatic or absent minded eating.
- Physical hunger stems from a need to nourish and fuel the body. As soon as that intention is fulfilled the person stops eating.
With emotional hunger the need stems from a desire to cover up painful feelings. The person will eatsecond and third helpings;they’ll eat past the point of fullness.
- With physical hunger there is no guilt afterwards, because the person realizes that eating food is necessary for sustaining life. Emotional eating is always paired with intense feelings of guilt afterwards. The person eats to feel better, but ends up feeling even worse afterwards.
4 Steps to curb emotional eating
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness is my biggest weapon against emotional eating. I have realized that when I eat for emotional reasons, I am usually not really hungry, I eat very fast and I sometimes eat past the point of being full.
So the first step is to become aware of your thoughts and feelings. The next step is to start asking yourself questions.
I usually ask myself these questions:
- Am I really hungry or am I eating for an emotional reason?
- If I am eating for an emotional reason, I ask myself what am I feeling and what triggered it?
- Does the food that I am eating even taste good?
- Do I really need to keep on eating or am I full?
- Focus – Multi-tasking is another factor that contributes to emotional eating and overeating. As stated above, unawareness is one of the contributing factors to emotional eating. Being focused on what you are doing is the exact opposite of being unaware.
A few things that I have incorporated to be more focused and aware of my eating habits are:is to not eating in front of the TV, putting away my phone while I eat and really being aware of every bite that I take. No multi-tasking, no distractions.
- Feel your feelings – Someone who is an emotional eater basically uses food to numb their feelings. They avoid dealing with their feelings, by rather eating or focusing on food.
This is a tough one… The only way to get past this is to get real honest with yourself and start feeling what you are feeling. If you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why and sit it out, don’t avoid it. If you are sad/angry/bored, ask yourself why and think about it,don’t avoid it. The most important thing is finding the root, and most of the time this is really difficult, because emotional eaters are usually very disconnected with themselves and struggle to pinpoint the emotions that they are feeling.
- Consistency – Being consistent with my training and eating healthilyconsistently is definitely one of the BIG factors that help me curb my emotional eating.
I use exercise to get rid of extra stress and extra emotions that have been building up. My training is my ME time; it’s the time that I relax and unwind. Training helps me a lot with my moods, because I always feel better after a training session.
If I eat healthilyconsistently I am never ravenous ortired, because my blood sugar levels are balanced. I also realized that if I eat a balanced diet with meals that are satisfying, I am less likely to have cravings.
If you struggle with emotional eating I want you do know that you are not alone and that a compassionate mindset is the only way to go. Be patient with yourself and know that the road to recovery is a 3 steps forward & 2 steps back kind of road, but just keep on going.
But I want to add that I work with a lot of clients that struggle with emotional eating and most of the time it isn’t something that you can overcome on your own and for this reason I offer Life Coaching to these clients to that I can guide them through this journey. I am very passionate about the fact that we all deserve to live a life free of emotional baggage and that is why I became a Life Coach and decided to study Psychology.
Sometimes we just need a person to help us look at things more objectively, someone that sees things from the outside and who won’t make emotionally invested decisions.
If you know that you struggle with emotional eating or self-image issues and that it affects your quality of life, please don’t hesitate to send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I would love to help.