Our relationship with food and eating can be complicated. Today we’re going to talk about emotional eating – or eating in response to emotions, whether feeling upset, happy, or even bored. Food can be a mechanism for self-soothing. It differs from eating from hunger in a few ways.
When you are hungry, you may have a preference as to what you might want to eat, but it is less about craving a particular food and more about just nourishing your body. You eat to not feel hungry any more, not so much to ease, maintain, or elicit a feeling. Whether it is seeking out a particular comfort food after a tough day, or finding yourself unable to maintain moderation when it comes to emotional eating, this article will give you some ideas on how to use food in the healthiest way possible.
One note – I think we all have times when we have a craving for a certain favorite food, and this in itself is not a problem. It’s when cravings and emotional eating begin to cause a problem for you, either emotionally or physically or both, that you may want to consider some ways to moderate your eating. But enjoying food is not a pathological condition!
A few ways you may be able to differentiate emotional eating from hunger is that hunger builds up over a few hours (this can vary from person to person – some people need three meals a day, others prefer to graze with several small meals). Emotional eating seems to come up almost instantly, in response to a stimulus in the environment. Your boss yells at you, you go home, skip dinner, and lose yourself in a box of donuts. Your significant other lets you down, so even though you’re not really hungry you eat several servings of mashed potatoes until you feel calmer. Continuing to eat when you are not hungry can be a sign that something is out of whack.
So start by learning what triggers emotional eating for you. Make a list of some behaviors that you can substitute when you are feeling sad, overwhelmed, bored, or other emotional states that make you want to eat out of emotion, not hunger. You can call a friend, go for a walk, exercise, meditate, write in a journal, or any healthy activity that will support your emotional state.
Next, when you do eat, do it consciously. If you find that it’s way too easy to sit down and eat an entire half gallon of ice cream, you can decide in advance on portions that you feel are moderate. You might even portion your snacks into baggies so that you feel you can indulge a little but not overdo it. Deprivation is not the goal, moderation is.
A little more about conscious eating. Emotional eating tends to occur in kind of a zone….we may eat more rapidly, greater quantities, or without even really tasting what we are eating. Whether you are having a meal or a snack, slow down and really enjoy your food. Look at it, smell it, take small bites and chew them completely. By connecting with the experience of eating, you’ll not only enjoy your food more but you will probably feel more satisfied and even more in control by being conscious when you eat.
If you have it in the house, you’ll probably eat it. So when you shop, have a look around for healthy snacks. For example, I love Lay’s potato chips. Not the healthiest snack. A friend turned me on to homemade kale chips and I have never looked back. When I get home from the grocery store, I will wash and chop fresh veggies and store them in individual bags, bake some kale chips, and make a few other healthy options. When I want a snack, I have several things to choose from that I can enjoy guilt-free. I also started my own organic garden – that is not only a healthy way to eat, but it is a really fun stress-reducing activity. Get outside in the fresh air and grow a few things, even if your space is limited to pots.
Finally, if emotional issues are driving you to eat in ways that you feel are unhealthy for you, take a closer look at those issues. Make an emotional wellness plan which will address the core issues pushing you toward eating in ways that you’d like to change. See a counselor, talk with a friend, start an exercise program, take a class, make a change.
Food is a vital part of life. It can help keep us healthy and active, or literally weigh us down, sap our strength, and make us feel guilty or even sick. Get in touch with what food means to you, and what you need from it. I hope this video was helpful, and I welcome your comments below. Thanks for reading!
You can watch a high-definition version of this blog post on video here: http://youtu.be/Oros5BzamS4?hd=1