What’s the Deal with Emotional Eating?
Writing my first blog for my new clinical practice is a daunting task – What will people want to read about? Will anyone read it at all? So I got my little thinking cap on and… BOOM. Hit me like a tonne of bricks.Emotional eating. Eating when we are sad, hurt, happy, angry, unsatisfied with life, thrilled, overwhelmed,grieving… the list is endless. We are emotional beings, so of course we naturally eat when we are in an emotional state. But what about when we eat BECAUSE OF these emotions? To celebrate them, or to numb them? Emotional eating is the sum total of everything I have learnt and worked so hard to understand, so that I can build the nutritional medicine practice of my dreams – one where the MIND is considered as EQUALto, if not MORE IMPORTANT than, our body, when we consider nutrition, food and eating. Food and eating is paradoxically simple and complex all at the same time. We need to eat to survive, but we also eat because we like to – it brings us pleasure. We eat in company, as part of celebrations, with family, or because something tastes amazing (chocolate peanut butter mousse cheesecake get in my belly!!!!!!). But, in many cases, it brings us guilt. Guilt because we ate too much, too little, too many carbs, too much fat, not enough protein, not organic, not at the right time of the day. Blah, blah, blah… we are bombarded with this rubbish. And YES… I am calling it what it is… RUBBISH. ROT. NONSENSE. If you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food and it makes you feel lousy and you avoid it, then of course, I am not referring to that. What I am talking about is the barrage of “advice” that we get from books, media, social media, magazines, friends, family, colleagues, professionals, wanna-be professionals etc, until we are literally so damn confused that we just go… you know what, stuff it. I’m eating the chocolate cake. And then we feel bad. We worry that our gym workout was all for nothing.And we stress that we won’t fit into that new dress anymore. Or that the guy we just started dating suddenly notices our bloated belly and will dump us. For some, the burden of guilt associated with emotional eating is extraordinarily damaging on every level. For others, it is just a daily, continuous combination and culmination of small “guilts” that rage inside, bubbling away like a volcano ready to explode.
Emotional eating, for whatever reason and whatever form it takes, is a sign – a huge screaming sign that
something isn’t quite right. Any unwanted behaviour, symptom, habit or disease is our body’s way of saying to us “hey there – I need you to stop, listen, pay attention, do some soul searching and grow”. Emotional eating is then the SYMPTOM – not the disease. Linda Bacon, the author of Health at Every Size takes a revolutionary and inspirational perspective on this issue. She suggests that when we eat to address a deeper issue, it is actually a care-taking problem – a self-love issue, because we are emotionally starved – as opposed to physically hungry. Wow… So what does this mean? Basically, when we eat for reasons other than hunger, and beyond satiety (the sense of being full), we are ignoring our own inner wisdom – our inner cues. Why do we do this? Because we have been taught to do so. It has been entrenched in our culture to not leave food on the plate, eat so as not to offend, eat because everyone else is eating, and so on. To compound this, when we eat for emotional comfort, we actually DO feel comfcforted – for a little while. We get the high, we perk up. Until we feel guilty, or until we get indigestion, or both. So, inevitably, what we start to do in the long term is listen more to EXTERNAL cues to determine when and how much we should eat, while simultaneously ignoring our INTERNAL cues which are telling us what our body really, truly wants and needs. There is no problem with this of course, unless it becomes a problem for you! Sadly, this does become a problem for many people…emotional eating most often does lead to feelings of guilt. Now you have to deal with both the guilt of eating the
chocolate cake AND the emotions/reason you ate the chocolate cake in the first place!
So what to do about this situation which so many of us find ourselves in from time to time? First and
foremost, we must RELAX. Relax into what is – become curious about the situation. Examine it, question it. Do so without fear and judgement, and understand that this is one of the beautiful mysteries of humankind. We must then begin a journey to become intuitive eaters – the kind where we stop, listen to, acknowledge and respect our internal cues more than our external ones. Does this all mean that emotional eating is a problem? No! It means that it is an opportunity, a doorway, and an avenue to learn more about ourselves, so that we can inject more pleasure and relaxation into our eating. While this might seem an almost impossible task for some, it is in fact a wonderful journey into self-discovery, personal growth, and acceptance of oneself at the highest level. What isn’t to love and embrace about that?
Health & Happiness,