If you read my last blog post, you’ll know that I’ve recently become re-acquainted with the phenomenon we call emotional eating. I say “re-acquainted” because as a teenager I struggled with eating disorders which, in my opinion, are all driven by an emotional imbalance of some kind.
Here is a strategy which I’ve found to be effective in dealing with emotional eating. (Bear in mind that the issues surrounding emotional eating are different for everyone. If you feel that your problem is severe and debilitating, and beyond your ability to deal with alone, I encourage you to seek out the services of a counsellor or psycho-therapist who specialises in eating disorders.)
Overcoming emotional eating is all about recognising the problem. Are you suffering from emotional eating?
Like any addiction, we are driven to certain behaviours by a compulsion which seems to bypass our conscious mind, and before we know it we are elbow-deep in a mud-cake and wondering how we got there. If you are getting over-powering urges to eat when you aren’t physically hungry and don’t consciously want to eat, you may be dealing with emotional eating.
Next time you are experiencing this urge, and you are quite certain that it isn’t genuine physical hunger, try to be alone for a while. Breathe deeply and calm yourself, and give yourself time to experience this feeling. Underneath the desire to eat will be another emotion. Subconsciously, you have decided that this emotion is unpleasant, and you don’t want to experience it, so the compulsion to eat arises to “block” this feeling. It’s important that you do allow yourself to experience the genuine emotion underneath your desire to eat, as eating will do nothing to resolve the issue, and will instead only create more problems for you to deal with in the long term, such as weight gain and its health risks, as well as body-image issues.
Uncovering the emotion which you have unconsciously chosen to medicate with food will not be pleasant. There is no doubt a reason why your mind tried to medicate it rather than feel it. In some senses, this is only the beginning, because now you have a real problem to address. For me, as I wrote about in my previous post, this problem was a kind of diaspora, a home-sickness for a place where I had often been but never lived. What do I do about that? It’s genuinely inconvenient to have to ask myself these questions. But, at least I won’t be dealing with long-term over-eating, obesity, and all its related health and social problems.
Hopefully you are able to centre yourself enough to get in touch with your true emotions, and restore your view of food as nourishment and fuel. If you’ve ever practised any kind of mindfulness meditation, this process will be much easier for you. (If you would like to learn to meditate in a non-religious way, I recommend reading The Happiness Trap, by Dr Russ Harris.)
What are your opinions on emotional eating? Have you struggled with emotional eating? What strategies did you use to heal your relationship with food?