Emotional Eating

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. – Virginia Woolf

I am a food lover, I love it all, sweets, savouries and I honestly can’t think of a dish I hate but obviously I have favourites (Thai, Sushi, Nkwobi – Nigerian goat curry and don’t get me started on cakes.) However in the last couple of years I have been more conscious about my eating and lifestyle in general, wanting to adopt a more healthy lifestyle regardless of the aesthetic because let’s face it ain’t nobody got time for a Beyonce body, that body takes work!

I began to recognise when I am eating to satisfy my physical hunger and when I am eating for pleasure or as a coping strategy, i.e. when stressed. Whilst reflecting, I realised how easy it has been for me to adopt an unhealthy attitude to food, using foods as a treat or reward, celebrating everything with food (and wine). Don’t get me wrong, dining with friends and family is a social, fun and rewarding experience. Please note I said dining rather than food/eating. When food becomes the main focus of the whole dining experience rather than the coming together, the talking, the laughing, the company, and the shared meal experience that is when there could be an issue. Since I have been more conscious about why I am eating, I can honestly say I am enjoying my food more.

It got me thinking about emotional eating and how so many of us could be emotional eaters without necessarily realising it.

It is so easy to use food as a coping strategy and a lot of marketing is geared towards this promoting a ‘you have earned this treat’ message. I wish we didn’t see food as treats or rewards because there is the danger for emotional eaters that they then also use food to address any negative feelings they might be experiencing. What is emotional eating? Emotional eating simply put, is using food to make you feel better. The individual is eating to satisfy emotional needs, rather than to satisfy physical hunger. It can also be used as an avoidance and a coping strategy so when stressed or overwhelmed, instead of tackling the issue, you turn to food. Emotional eaters turn to food to relieve unpleasant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom. The food is filling a void; however this is only a temporary fix, an unhealthy one at that. The original emotional issue remains. Emotional eating can also be linked to positive feelings; if you constantly seek and wait for a happy occasion to celebrate with food then you are also tying your emotions with food.

If you are an emotional eater, you can take on as many diets as you wish, it is likely to fail as you would not be addressing the core issue for your overeating. Diets in general don’t work but they particularly don’t work for emotional eaters. Emotional eaters have developed a habit of turning to food as a crutch during difficult times, when you add a diet which is based on denying yourself foods and makes you food focused (read as obsessed!) then emotional eaters will find this highly stressful trying to keep track of what they can and cannot eat. They will inevitably fall off the wagon and usually fall hard, so we are not talking a little treat, we are talking binge eating. Binge eating involves an individual eating large portion of foods, usually junk food all at once until they feel uncomfortably full. This is usually accompanied with feelings of guilt, remorse, shaming themselves, upset, anger etc. This is the key here, no food you eat should make you feel like this and if it is, then your emotions are too closely connected to your food.

Most emotional eaters tend to feel powerless over food cravings. Do you ever wonder why people’s comfort foods are not a carrot or an apple? The truth is junk foods tend to have more of an immediate effect on us. High fat foods have addictive qualities to them and create a false sense of contentment. Studies indicate that fat and sugar filled foods seemingly dampen stress related responses and emotions, that is why people turn to food when stressed. However this is a very temporary and unhealthy fix as mentioned earlier.

You can begin to be more reflective and mindful about why and how you are eating. So you can begin to identify the difference between emotional hunger and real hunger. You can begin to change the emotional eating habits that you may have developed to regain control over both your eating and your feelings. Body confidence is so key regardless of your body shape or size.