I think we would all agree that eating well is key to health and a healthy weight. But getting to the eating well part isn’t just about the food. If it were, we would have far fewer overweight people today.
Two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and half of them fall into the obese category. Numbers are climbing globally as well. How can that be turned around so that two-thirds of adults are at their ideal weight? It’s complicated, but it’s entirely possible.
Emotions factor into eating in very deep ways. If you go way back, you may remember how a parent or well-meaning adult put a lollipop in your mouth after your fell off your tricycle and skinned your knee, when what you really needed was a hug and reassurance that you’d be okay.
You may also remember getting a treat for good grades, or a grandmother saying, “Eat, eat, eat – I baked all day for you!” These experiences planted the seeds that link emotions to food, unconscious ideas that food is comfort, food is love, and even food is avoidance of feelings.
A client of mine is caregiving some family members. She gained a lot of weight because she ‘rewarded’ herself with huge amounts of junk food when she really needed a hug and a show of appreciation. She felt trapped and food was her comfort.
Food is so available today that it is easy to fall into patterns of eating when we are not hungry. It takes awareness, emotional balance and a conscious effort to limit access to food when it is not meal time.
It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of emotional eating, but there are steps you can follow to avoid this practice.
The first step is to get in touch with your physical body. It’s very important to start recognizing the true physical feeling of hunger.
You need to know what hunger feels like so you can eat when you are hungry and pass up food when you are not.
The second step takes work. You need to know how you feel about things. If you have been an emotional eater for a long time, you have been anesthetizing yourself with food. When you do that, it is very easy to get out of touch with your authentic emotions. You zone out.
So, the next time something upsets you, check in with yourself. Do you feel angry? Hurt? Disappointed? Lonely? When you connect with that feeling, you will have a chance to resolve it in a way that doesn’t involve food.
The third step is to make sure you eat meals every day. Your biological functions require energy, and when you don’t give your body energy by eating quality food, your brain, hormones and blood sugar take over and create cravings for just about anything in sight.
We can blame it on food, or blame it on the scale, or blame it on the things or the people who upset us.
But to have a healthy relationship with food, we need to take care of our emotions and remind ourselves that we are lovable human beings. With that acknowledgement, learning to eat for the right reasons becomes much easier.
My client who had been eating junk food as a reward for caregiving is doing something different now. She spoke with her family and said she’s happy to help them, but she is putting some boundaries around the time that she gives them.
She now has time to socialize with friends at least once weekly. And per my instructions, she gives herself a big hug every day and appreciates herself for getting more balance in her life. In doing this, the junk food that once soothed her is no longer needed.
When you learn to say “No” to things that are too much for you, you are saying “Yes, I love you” to yourself.
Have you had experiences with emotional eating? Can you see a link to your younger self and how emotions were handled early on? Do you come from a food is love culture? Please join the conversation and share your thoughts.