Updated: Aug 31
Eating for emotional reasons is normal - we all do it! It is part of being human and nothing we need to end.
From a young age, we connect food with pleasure, comfort, love... think back to a memory of birthday cake, roasts at grandmas or mum's soup when feeling sick. Food and eating is connected to our traditions, connecting with our roots, as well as our emotions and memories. This is why our lived experience is so important when it comes to food and eating - and it is beautiful!
So how does emotional eating become a problem for many of us?
We often may feel like eating, when in fact we are not physically hungry. In other words, we may be eating food all day, but nothing seems to satisfy our "hunger". Although you are eating it can feel like something is still "missing", or that no amount of food is enough to satisfy you, or that you're craving something more... This is a huge clue that the urge to eat did not come from a physical hunger, but was triggered from something else - it's a different kind of "hunger", a deeper hunger asking us to look at our needs on a deeper level.
Our emotions are cues pointing us toward what our true needs are.
The "hunger" (or urge to eat) can be coming from an emotion, but if that's the case, no amount of eating can satisfy this particular "hunger". Once we realise this, we can take a closer look at our emotions and take a moment to explore our needs.
Connecting to Your Emotions
The first step is to differentiate physical/true hunger from a "hunger" coming from other triggers. Often we may already know why we're eating: I am mad, I was sad, I feel lonely. So you have an awareness that you were not physically hungry, and in fact you were sad - now what? Emotions are simply energy in motion, communicating a message to you. Don't push them away, but instead invite them in with compassion. A nice mantra that helps me is: "I am human and designed to feel all feelings. There is no feeling I can't handle. I am open to feeling my feelings."
With that in mind, you can then begin to decode your emotions.
Here are some steps you can begin to take:
Imagine a situation where you typically have an urge to emotionally eat.*
Identify (and ideally write down) what you typically experience in that situation. What is the setting? What time of the day is it? Who are you with? Notice any key thoughts that keep popping up? Write them down.
Now describe any emotions that are coming up. Imagine you are a scientist and you are looking at the emotions, without judgement.
Think about what that emotion is telling you about your underlying need(s).
Explore one step you can take to meet that need more effectively than eating.
This process can be challenging, although it seems simple. If you are ready to reconnect to your needs more effectively and heal your relationship with food join us in the upcoming Mindful Eating Program.
It's an 8 week program with live weekly sessions and one-on-one sessions, plus the tools and community to help you create meaningful personal shifts towards becoming more intuitive. *NOTE: If you have an active eating disorder you may not be able to gauge your hunger correctly - and this advice may not be appropriate - please reach out to a non-diet dietitian that specialises in eating disorders.