Do you reach for ice-creams and pastries as soon as you come home from work?
When you are feeling lonely do you plop in front of the TV and eat loads of junk food?
When you feel angry and cannot express your feelings, do you quiet down the noise in your head with food?
Do you eat even when your stomach is full?
Why is Emotional Eating so common?
All these are signs of comfort or emotional eating. And the reason it’s called that is because it gives you a sense of emotional comfort from stress.
The number one reason for emotional eating is actually emotions – our very own feelings – and we essentially eat to numb our feelings, suppress our feelings, deny our feelings because acknowledging and accepting difficult feelings is really tough for us.
And hard though it sounds to believe, the actual triggers of emotional eating are actually emotions! Difficult negative emotions are actually difficult to ‘digest’ and they can drive us to eat more to overcome them.
Top 3 Reasons for Emotional Eating!
When the external or internal event surpasses the individual’s ability to cope, it is called stress. It varies from person to person. When the level of stress is high and you aren’t able to cope with it, the tendency to turn to comfort food increases.
2. Denial & Suppression of Feelings
Difficult feelings make us long for comfort food. For example take anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of dread, worry and tension followed by physiological changes like increase in blood pressure etc. When you feel anxious, say about an upcoming social gathering, you might tend to eat more than usual to tranquilize your anxiety. It does help temporarily but you will be back to feeling the same way and slowly it becomes a pattern.
Similarly you might reach for food when you are upset, overwhelmed, bored, ashamed, feeling helpless, powerless, stuck, angry, hurt, lonely etc.
This especially happens when you are denying you feelings and have no means to acknowledge, soothe and release your emotions.
3. Childhood Relationship with Food
What kind of relationship did you have with food while growing up?
Did you find comfort in food? Was it easier to deal with your feelings while growing up by eating more? Did you notice your parents reaching for comfort food when they were stressed? Did your parents criticize your body weight? Were you made to feel ashamed of it while growing up? Were you bullied in school due to your weight?
Subconsciously these things can affect our present food choices. I have often seen that the kind of relationship you have had with your parents is very similar to the kind of relationship you have with food. If you had critical parents then you are most likely to criticize yourself excessively and the guilt and shame can also make you reach for comfort food more often in adulthood.
Simple Interventions to Stop!
1. Practise Deep Breathing
Practise deep breathing when you feel a craving or when you are trying to suppress a feeling. Breathe in slowly at the count of 3 and breathe out slowly at the count of 6. Remember that the breathing has to be effortless; don’t strain yourself while breathing. Do it a few times till the craving passes.
2. Accept Your Emotions
We are fearful of negative feelings. We feel we should not get any negative thoughts or feelings. Really, is that even possible? Instead if we acknowledge, allow and accept our feelings, we have the choice to make appropriate decisions according to them. We can choose to regulate and even release these feelings. Techniques such as mindfulness and EFT really help to acknowledge difficult emotions instead of suppressing them.
3. Eat what your body needs
Instead of eating what our mind craves, if we eat ‘what’ our body NEEDS and ‘when’ it needs food for nourishment, then we will be able to feel satiated and alive; we won’t be eating mindlessly and stuff food to deal with the unprocessed and suppressed emotions.
Eat when you are REALLY hungry and not when you THINK you are hungry. And enjoy what you eat.
4. Don’t deny yourself food that you like
Instead of completely giving up on food that you like and landing up gorging on huge portions of it one fine day, reduce the number of times you eat it and also take a small portion of it at a time.
5. Break the Obsession with Food
Geneen Roth ( http://geneenroth.com/) says that “The next time you feel an uncomfortable emotion, rather than immediately reaching for the comfort food, be curious about the feeling. Where is the discomfort? Is it in the stomach … the heart … the throat? … Our reactions to uncomfortable emotions are based only on the stories we tell ourselves about them. Begin to practice being in your body instead of reacting to emotions by eating or pushing them away or denying them.”
6. Practise Self Help Techniques
(a) Mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). You can get more information here: http://www.mindfulnesscds.com/
(b) Emotional Freedom Techniques: EFT is a revolutionary technique that helps in accepting and releasing difficult feelings and life experiences. It is a technique designed to re-establish the connection between your mind and body. Also known as the Tapping technique it combines acupressure points that can be gently pressed with your fingers, and psychotherapeutic modalities to release stuck emotions and take the sting away from hurtful experiences. You can use this technique to overcome the craving for comfort food and also to release pent up feelings. You can download a basic start-up guide here: www.eftuniverse.com
In conclusion, it’s the easiest thing in the world to succumb to Comfort Eating and we all do, from time to time! The trick is to recognise what we’re doing because only then can we mindfully put an end to this vicious downward spiral!