What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating can be visible in plain sight. It can be as transparent as I am sad or mad or happy and I want to eat something to make this emotion and situation more bearable. That is what most people think of when they think of emotional eating – the pint of Ben and Jerry’s that is needed after a break up that every romantic comedy features. But emotional eating isn’t always so obvious. We can be emotional eating and not even realize.
Emotional eating can be a way to avoid feelings that haven’t even come up yet. You may think I am not feeling anything – how can this be emotional eating? The truth is emotional eating can come from a place of preventing the emotions from coming up in the first place. You may not feel them because the act of eating, not eating or thinking about food is preventing you from feeling anything. You might feel completely “normal” and still be emotionally eating.
When we emotional eat we literally push those feelings deep within us. It is act of pushing things down through food. The food is literally filling us up and pushing those emotions inside of us away from our heart and away from our mind so that we don’t have to think about them. If we eat – we don’t need to feel how lonely we are, we don’t need to feel how worthless we are, we don’t need to feel how overwhelmed we are, how unimportant and incapable we feel, how stressful work is – all we need to feel is the food inside of us; the fullness and maybe the guilt of having eaten something we didn’t want to.
It is a way of replacing the emotions that we feel from situations we can’t control and maybe can’t explain with emotions and sensations of something we can – food. If we binge on a food that we don’t want and feel bad about ourselves because of it we then have created a reason for why we feel bad. We have created a circumstance that made us feel bad, something that our brains can wrap their head around for why we don’t feel like a worthwhile person and something that we can maybe try and control.
Emotional eating could look something like this
You come home from dinner with a friend and you are feeling like a failure, like no one likes you, like you are an inadequate employee who can’t do anything right. You get home overwhelmed knowing that you can’t change these feelings – or you come home just overwhelmed not exactly knowing why you are feeling overwhelmed or worthless
You go to the fridge – anything to soothe the anxiety, the overwhelm, the feeling that you are not good enough – you pull out something to eat; anything to eat even though you have just eaten with a work colleague before you got home – you know you aren’t hungry but you just need to feel better and this promises to help.
You eat it all – whatever it was, whatever was there – and for a moment while you are eating it and tasting it – you are not thinking about how you feel about yourself – for a moment it is helping. But when it is done all of those things come flooding back but this time those same feelings are because of what you ate
Suddenly you are not an unworthy person because of things beyond your control but you are unworthy because of what just happened with food – you are inadequate because you ate more than you needed to, because you ate when you didn’t want to, because you lost control
Whether any of those things are true or not is irrelevant – what is relevant is that now you are feeling bad because of the food and the food is something that you can comprehend and deal with and change – before you were feeling bad about something else- something intangible – some space inside of you that made you believe that those negative feelings about yourself were true, even if they aren’t. That is impossible to wrap your head around, impossible to deal with.
When overwhelm comes from a place that we can’t connect with, can’t understand and can’t change it is easier to project those feelings onto something else. Food is one way to cope with those feelings. It is a way to distract us from what is really going on beneath the surface. It is one way to make sense of the unexplainable emotions inside of us or the overwhelm of our daily life. It does not solve the problem. It just gives us something else to focus on.
Are you emotional eating?
Each time you eat ask yourself – what is the purpose of me eating this right now? Is it because I want it, is it because I feel like I need it, is it to nourish my body or is it because I am trying to hide from something – is it because I am feeling uncomfortable in my skin and in who I am and I can’t deal with that?
No matter what the answer is, it is okay– you can still eat the thing, but asking can help us to notice what is going on underneath the service. It can help us to see our patterns with food – the ways in which we might be engaging with it beyond actually nourishing our bodies.
If you are not feeling good in your relationship with food, there is probably more going on than you think. It is not the food. The food is only one part of the big picture. The way we think about food, the way we engage with food, the way we feel about ourselves, what is going on in our lives – it can all influence our relationship with food. It takes looking at all of it to finally break the cycle that we are in. It takes looking at it all to finally release the hold that food has on our lives and our overall wellbeing.
It is possible. I promise. I am here to help. Book your free 15 minute consultation to learn about how you can feel comfortable with food again and reclaim your life.