“Emotional eating is an attempt to deal with a tough problem, feeling, or situation we don’t otherwise know how to deal with, and often don’t even know that we have without some kind of symptom to remind us. …..When we strip away the judgement of our emotional eating, and stop calling it a disease, a defect, a problem in and of itself; we can finally see it for what it is: An alert that something in our life needs our attention. Something completely unrelated to food or our weight. Be grateful for the reminder. It might be saving your ass.” - Isabel Foxen Duke
Have you noticed that sometimes you are eating not because you are physically hungry but because instead you feel bored/sad/angry/tired/lonely? The reason dietary recommendations and new diet plans don't really work to change our relationship with food is because very often when we are over-eating this isn't because we don't know WHAT we should be eating - it is because we are hungry for something other than food! Whether that is comfort, intimacy, relief from boredom or stress, a sugar-rush to relieve us from tiredness - will depend on the individual. In fact, we can be grateful for craving food in these moments - because often it is an alert that something is wrong in our lives - something that we can look at (non-judgmentally) and then try and work-at/improve.
However many people I work with have been eating due to sadness/boredom/loneliness/anxiety for so long that they don't know the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you are hungry for food... or hungry for something else:
1. Do you have a sudden urge to eat – often after something has happened, someone has said something or you think a negative thought? – this is often emotional hunger, physical hunger will usually present itself more gradually.
2. Do you feel hungry despite having just eaten a good meal not long ago or once you start eating do you find that you can’t stop? – often emotional hunger can persist despite you eating lots of food. So you may notice that even though you have eaten just recently or that after you eat, you still want more and more… to try and numb that emotion/ satisfy that boredom.
3. Do you crave very specific and often very unhealthy or sugary foods? This is usually emotional hunger, because you want these food for the quick rush they will give you rather than for nourishment.
.4 Are you eating the food as a “reward” or “treat” or something you feel that you deserve for some precious “me-time”? These are often forms of emotional eating rather than driven by physical hunger. Of course, you can treat yourself to a delicious and nourishing meal (and I would encourage you to do so!) but very often when we are looking at unhealthy food as a “treat” you are eating it because you feel you deserve it after dealing with some emotion whether that is stress, sadness, anxiety or something else.
5. Do you feel the hunger in your stomach or perhaps did you hear your stomach grumble? This is physical hunger – it starts in your stomach.
The Food Psychology Clinic can help you to develop alternative coping mechanisms - so that you no longer need to turn to food to cope with your emotions. Of course it is fine to turn to food as a coping mechanism sometimes - but if you are doing this regularly and in a way which means that it is having a negative effect on your health and well-being - then know that there is lots you can do to feel much better. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a free consultation.
“This is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear, grief you thought was forgotten, and joy you have never known.” - Marion Woodman