We’re going to let you in on a little secret: we are all emotional eaters.
We bring food to friends and family, to show our care and concern, we make our children their favorite foods to show our love for them, we celebrate happy moments with a special meal, we give chocolates to our sweetheart as an expression of our adoration and we choose foods such as mac n’cheese, or a creamy pot-pie, when we want a cozy and comforting experience.
Food is inextricably linked to our feelings. After all, we are emotional beings. It’s no wonder that we are emotional eaters. As soon as we’re born, we were given milk by our mother, and the connection between food and love was created.
And this is perfectly normal!
These days, when we talk about emotional eating, it’s because we have become emotionally dependent on unwanted habits – such as binging, chronic dieting, body-hating, negative self-talk, and compulsive overeating. Or when we (ab)use food as our primary way of coping and managing our feelings, (e.g. “eating” our feelings instead of feeling them). But the answer to these issues is not to cut ourselves off from feeling, but instead indicates the need for a more supportive and attentive relationship with food in order to foster our overall wellbeing.
Here are 4 tips for those of us who reach out to food for fulfillment, or we are feeling fed-up with our feelings:
1. Start a Food and Mood Journal
Keeping a journal of our emotional state in conjunction with the foods we choose, brings awareness to what feelings tend to have us reaching for food. Awareness of our emotional eating patterns is the first step to being able to shift them.
2. Needs & Desires List
Creating a list of what we need, what we desire, and what we long for, is a powerful intervention for emotional eating. For some of us, food can be a substitute for our unmet needs. When we can acknowledge our needs, write them down, see them clearly on a page and validate them as worthy – then we have a better chance of finding ways to meet our needs instead of using food as a substitute to fulfill our yearnings.
3. Breathing & Meditation Practice
Creating a regular, conscious, slow breathing and meditation practice helps us to become more connected to our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies. When we are fully embodied, we are less likely to override and suppress our feelings by eating, because we are in direct communication with our true desires moment to moment.
Breath and meditation also have a direct impact on our nervous system, and shift us into parasympathetic nervous system activation – our relaxation response. When we are relaxed, we are much more able to listen to the true hungry and full messages of the body. When we are relaxed, we are no longer in the grips of stress-eating.
4. Slow down and eat with pleasure
Eating what we love, in a relaxed manner that allows us to savor our food, activates our relaxation response. It brings us into our body in the present moment, and it truly invites us into a conscious relationship with our food.
The more conscious, awake, and attentive we can be to our body and our emotions, the more we are able to respond to what we need. When we can honestly listen to our feelings and the needs that they can express, then we can feed them the nourishment they truly need – such as love, spiritual connection, inner peace, and true expression.
When we feed ourselves deep soul-nourishment, we are less inclined to use food as an ineffective substitute.
It’s vital for us to embrace the fact that we are emotional eaters and to use our unwanted eating habits that may arise from our feelings as a doorway to learn about our deeper needs and emotions.
Food and feelings are always a gateway to getting to know ourselves on a deeper level, which leads us to the wonderful opportunity to grow and evolve.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating © Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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