Are you an emotional eater or do you perhaps eat your feelings? Most of our lives seem to revolve around food! Whenever we switch on the TV, we are bombarded with ads for takeaways, supermarkets, and fast food. And when we meet up with friends, we tend to base it around ‘a bite to eat’. For many of us, food is also the go-to when we need a mood-boost or to reward ourselves when we have achieved a goal. But it’s also a constant accompaniment to everything we do, whether we’re lounging on the sofa or going on for a walk, we are consumed by food – and food is consumed by us!
Eat Our Feelings
Eat. Diet. Repeat.
The food industry is constantly exploiting the connection between food and emotion, exploiting the fact that food does more than nourish us; it fills an emptiness, gives us comfort, and cheers us up. This can become an unhealthy relationship, and the latest research has shown that ‘Emotional Eating‘ can be caused by anything from work stress and financial worries to relationship difficulties. The problem is that we can all fall into the habit of overeating or emotional eating, using food to meet our psychological needs and not just to satisfy our hunger.
This can take the form of consuming unhealthy, high-calorie processed foods, or bingeing on high-sugar/high-fat ‘junk’ snacks that we know are ‘bad’ for us. This can be followed by ‘crash’ dieting or restrictive eating to punish ourselves. For many of us, this becomes a repetitive cycle of bingeing and crash dieting that is never-ending. Trapped in this unhealthy revolving door where we are treating ourselves badly, we ignore our real needs and can become isolated. Read my 5 Top Tips to Quit Sugar.
Many of us use food to satisfy a whole host of unfulfilled emotional hunger or needs. We replace love, contact, and even sex with food, instead of being ‘truly known.’ So, when we eat, for those short few minutes, we believe we are known, loved, important, and all the things we struggle to feel. This physiological process triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones that lift our mood so that when we eat, we feel better. We then become dependent on food to make us feel good.
Berne’s six hungers
- Contact hunger is our need for touch. When we are starved of touch, we become emotionally starved and we fail to thrive.
- Incident hunger is our desire for ‘exciting’ events that give us something to focus on, and something hunger ensures is seen, heard, felt, and known.
- Stimulus hunger is the desire for anything which raises our physical or psychological temperature, engaging all of our senses.
- Structure hunger gives us order, regulates our focus, and allows us to manage and fill up our time.
- Sexual or passion hunger leads us toward belonging and closeness and to relational fulfillment.
Why diets don’t work
By ‘going on a diet’ we are externalising our focus of control and outsourcing something that we can do well and instinctively ourselves. Dieting removes us even further from our natural hunger cues. Also, in dieting, we are treating only the symptoms of our eating (the excess weight) and never the causes.
What causes us to overeat?
Overeating is when we continue to eat, even though we are no longer hungry. We may also eat until we are uncomfortably full. This sometimes a learned response which includes not ‘feeling our feelings’ or responding to them appropriately, by trying to eat our feelings. Turning away from what we are truly hungry for because we have decided that we do not deserve or cannot have it. And sometimes because we feel a feeling which was forbidden in our families when we were children. Overeating is sometimes triggered by emotions, boredom, or stress. And not surprisingly, strict dieting may make the problem even worse.
The Art of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that puts YOU in charge of your body and its hunger signals. Essentially, it’s the opposite of a traditional diet. It doesn’t impose guidelines about what to avoid, what to eat, or when to eat. Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that was co-developed by two US-based dietitians, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole.
It involves listening to your body to make the right choices about food. There are over 125 studies that suggest intuitive eaters have less disordered eating.
How to eat intuitively
- Reject the diet
- Honour hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Pleasure and satisfaction
- Coping with emotions through kindness
- Respect your body
- Movement – feel the difference
- Gentle nutrition
Forget Traditional Diets
Most diets are unrealistic. They usually promise ‘quick’ weight loss that isn’t sustainable in the long term. Often, we just end up putting the weight back on. Restrictive diets can also be harmful as they not only restrict calories, but also rob us of essential nutrients – vitamins, minerals, and nutrients – that our body (and mind) needs to function. We can also become trapped in a cycle of yo-yo dieting which leads to our body weight going up and down quite literally like a yo-yo. These extreme swings in eating patterns lead to more weight gain in the long term.
How to create a healthy relationship with food
Our body has some significant ways to tell us when to eat and when to stop eating. But we’re not always listening. The practice of engaging all our senses to guide our eating-related decisions is called mindful eating.
Mindful eating is eating with intention, eating food that is nutritious for your body, noticing how that food tastes, enjoying it, and feeling the effects it has on your body. Often, we are so consumed with our laptops, TVs, or phone conversations that we don’t notice what we are eating or how we are consuming it. Read more on Mindfulness here.
Chew your food
My Grandma used to annoy me by telling me to chew my food 32 times before swallowing! But like most old wives’ tales, there is an element of truth! The digestive process starts in our mouth, and how well we chew our food will determine how well it will be digested in our stomach. Ideally, food should be almost liquid when it reaches the stomach. If food lands in our stomach unchewed, our body has to work extra hard to digest it, and this can lead to other problems such as bloating, wind, belching, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, acid reflux, fatigue, and headaches.
Find the connection between the food you are eating and health
Unhealthy food and irregular eating patterns can cause mood swings. When our body is malnourished, it sends misleading signals to the brain like hunger. When we eat processed or junk food, we are eating ‘empty’ calories. This leads to our body sending hunger signals because it needs more nourishment. Think of trying to drive your car on an empty fuel tank – it doesn’t work! It’s the same with the body. We really need to think about the food we are eating and its nutritional value.
An example of this is when my friends all rushed to a certain ‘high street store’ when they started selling vegan sausage rolls. Just because something is vegan, doesn’t make it healthy! Not only that, there is actually very little nutritional content in a sausage roll! Skipping meals is another ‘no-no.’ This will lead to a drop in blood sugar, especially in the morning, leaving us feeling tired and lethargic. cutting out complete food groups, such as carbohydrates. Certain carbs are essential for our bodies to function optimally. However, do think about the nutritional content of the carbs you chose wholegrain or wild rice has more fibre than white rice so is a healthier option.
Eating Our Feelings
Do you feel you eat your feelings and need advice on emotional eating? Or maybe you just want to explore your relationship with food? I am a nutritional therapist who is passionate about healthy eating and love helping women enjoy their food, lose weight, and have a better self-image. why not book a free 30-minute session (online or by phone) to find ways to improve the way that you eat.
Book a session here.
|Natalie Shirlaw is a healthy living expert with 10 years of experience in the field of holistic health, wellbeing, and fitness. If you enjoyed this article be sure to pin or share it!|