Do you feed your emotional hunger with food?
Often, when an event occurs that causes us to feel stressed, angry, bored, anxious, or sad, we soothe ourselves with food. Some call this ‘eating your feelings’ or ‘calming your nerves’. Our self-talk may say we deserve this treat, this comfort food.
The problem is, food doesn’t fix the problem, it makes us feel worse both physically and emotionally. We feel guilt or shame for overeating high calorie, high fat, low nutrient foods. And, the original issue that set off the emotional eating cycle remains unchanged. Now we feel like a failure, powerless, like we have no will power. We can also feel physically ill, have an upset stomach or indigestion, become bloated, or simply feel uncomfortable.
The first step in disrupting this negative cycle is learning the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
- Comes on fast
- Needs to be satisfied urgently
- Craves sugar, salt, and fat (think: chips, cake, cookies, pizza, grilled cheese, fried foods)
- Remains unsatisfied
- Triggers guilt, shame, or lack of control
- Comes on gradually
- Can wait to be satisfied
- Has no particular craving (you can be happy with an apple or grilled chicken)
- Is satisfied within a few bites
- Has no negative triggers
The second step in disrupting the emotional eating cycle is to identify your triggers. Triggers can be people, places, situations, conversations, or feelings. We know negative feelings or emotions can be a trigger, but positive feelings and emotions can be a trigger too. For example, we may want to reward ourselves for a job well done or celebrate a happy life event with food. Reflect on your past experiences to help recall common triggers.
Once your triggers are identified, the final step is to find alternative ways to feed the emotional hunger when it surfaces. Experiment with different ideas to discover what works best for you. Some common ideas for redirecting emotional hunger include going for a walk, calling a trusted friend, listening to uplifting music, writing in a journal, or meditating.
The next time you’re faced with a demanding, emotional hunger:
- Take 5 slow breaths
- Remind yourself, YOU are in control
- Think of 3 possible choices in addition to eating comfort food
- Make a conscious choice
At the very least, you will be more aware of your feelings and have a better understanding of the emotional eating cycle and your abilities to choose differently.