What is emotional eating?
By “Emotional Eating” we mean responding to states other than physical hunger by eating. Food satisfies physical hunger. Other emotions are never fully satisfied by food, although food might have been the best thing you have found in the past to deal with those emotions.
Emotions are at the core of our being
The key thing to appreciate is that emotions are the information we get from our bodies and subconscious minds that tell us what is going on. This information is important and has evolved to be difficult to ignore. Without emotions we would be unable to register when we are in physical danger or whether we are behaving appropriately to the situation we are in.
Specific emotions tell us specific things
Human beings experience a range of emotions, some experienced as positive and some as negative. Each one carries a different sort of message. Sadness indicates loss, guilt suggests that we may have done something we shouldn’t have done, and so on.
In order to get the message through to our conscious minds, the emotional state is felt physically. The strength of the physical state depends on a number of things including our past experiences of the same emotion.
Why do we start emotional eating in the first place?
If the emotion is strong it may be difficult to tolerate the strength of the physical changes in the body. It is natural to look for something to get rid of a horrible feeling. We may discover that eating provides a form of emotion-reduction. If this works to reduce a negative feeling, the next time we have that feeling we are more likely to turn to the same solution again. This pattern can start in childhood if we are given food when we are distressed. Later on in life this use of food can start at any point if we are struggling to manage feelings and food is the most available resource to hand.
Emotions carry meaning
The first task in overcoming emotional eating is to discern what emotion you are feeling. Common emotions are anxiety, stress, boredom, anger, sadness, agitation, worry and guilt. Each one of these is telling you something different.
Which emotion is this?
Once you can tell which specific emotion you are feeling, you can work out what the message from your body and unconscious mind actually is. When you know that, you can start to deal with the particular emotion you are feeling, directly. For people who eat in response to emotions, Appetite Retraining works on how to deal with each specific emotion directly.
Emotions are fleeting
The other important thing to note about emotions is that they come and go. They rise and fall, depending on whether they have been dealt with and whether the original problem is still there. When you run from an emotion by eating, you may not stay with it long enough to see that it changes and subsides if you deal with it directly or simply observe it.
You can gain freedom from emotional eating
Next time you are tempted to eat when you’re not hungry, tune in to the feeling and be curious about what it is telling you. If you can interpret the message, try to do something that will address the specific message in the emotion rather than eat. As you practise doing this not only will you lose weight (the amount you lose will depend on how much emotional eating you’ve been doing) but will also address what else needs dealing with in your life.
A note on inescapable trauma
If you know someone who has been repeatedly traumatised, they will tell you that the emotions are not fleeting but they can become constant. This is because in conditions of constant danger, intense emotions are activated continually to signal the danger. Although the person is in no doubt of the danger, it isn’t possible to switch off the signal. Your body doesn’t know that you know; it just knows the danger hasn’t passed. All of this means that if you have had such periods in your life in the past, you may need professional help to allow your emotional system to re-set itself to the danger being over. This type of help is accessed through your family doctor or a psychiatrist.
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