Emotional Eating: What Is Emotional Eating?
In Today’s world there is an intense focus on what we eat and on the importance of exercise. If one eats the right foods and eats them at the right time, along with the right amount of exercise; then one is likely to end up in physical shape. Now, for some this may work and for others this will not be enough.
There is another component that is being left out here and one that is probably the strongest motivator of all. What I am talking about here are our emotions. These are what drive most of our behaviour and this means that in order for one to seek to change their appearance or health in the first place; ones emotions will have been involved.
The Hidden Motivators
However, the emotions that drive one to consume such large amounts of food, to eat when one isn’t hungry or to eat foods that are not particularly healthy; is rarely considered or mentioned. This could be in the mainstream media or in a more personal setting.
Perhaps emotions are not spoken of in the mainstream media due to the amount of money that is made from such high consumption and there are no doubt many other theories and ideas as to why this is. But, in order for this situation to exist in the first place; the need has to already exist in the consumer.
If one is a conscious individual or is even moderately conscious, then it wouldn’t matter what foods this person was exposed or how aesthetically pleasing to the eye they were. Although this could be cakes or snacks; this could also include any type of food and foods that one may have a certain craving for.
To be a conscious eater means that one has a choice as to whether they will eat or not. Instead of continually eating on impulse or when they are emotionally affected. And when one engages in emotional eating, they are usually doing so without being conscious and aware of what is occurring.
What Is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is when we eat in order to suppress and escape from a certain emotion or an emotional experience; with food changing how we feel. And because of how fast and natural this process often is, it is unlikely that it will be noticed or questioned - and therefore stopped or changed.
This may have been a pattern that one has carried out for so long, that it is has become a habit. And what the food is doing, is allowing one to emotionally regulate themselves.
A Closer Look
First off; emotional eating is probably something that everyone does from time to time. We are all human after all; we are not perfect and neither are we meant to be. The intention here is not to label emotional eating as right or wrong or good or bad; that is an approach that will only make things worse and would probably lead to more emotional eating.
It is purely to take closer look and to create awareness around this area. To bring to ones attention what is causing them to act in certain ways. Ultimately, emotional eating is no different to anything else, in that, if it is done to the extreme, it has the potential to lead to dysfunctional consequences. And with this being an area that related to our own healthy, it is undoubtedly an important area to look into.
A Special Relationship
As well as the effect that the food is having per se, there are associations that may also be triggered through food. In the very beginning of life, one comes to experience food as nurturing through being breast fed. And if one wasn’t breast fed, then one is likely to have fond memories of being given food to cheer them up and certain types of food that were made by someone close to them.
The quality of nurturing that one got in these early years will often define how much one will rely on food to assist in emotional regulation.
Through being given food by the people around us as a child, our emotional state was being externally affected. And if food wasn’t being used then our caregivers would have been there to mirror, sooth and regulate our emotions. We would also have been given the emotional nurturing that we needed to develop. As a young child, it is said that our nervous system is not developed enough to do this task and therefore we need our caregivers to do this for us.
And as a consequence of our caregivers being there during times of emotional distress or even when emotions appear, we will then begin to develop this ability ourselves. The process is a lot more complex than this, but this is a basic understanding of it.
The Real World
For some, the above may be true and these will be individuals that are comfortable with their emotions and who feel emotionally whole. They will have the ability to simply sit with them, to sooth themselves and to channel them into something more productive. Or they will be comfortable enough, to share their emotions with others. However, for individuals that haven’t had these early experiences of being emotionally regulated and nurtured; emotions will be problematic, overwhelming and even something to be ashamed off.
As ones emotions were allowed to build up and were not acknowledged when they were formed; they will be a lot stronger than they would normally be. And by this I mean that; as they are being fuelled by the past that has not been processed, it is inevitable that they will be stronger.
When this inner ability is not there, food is the ideal option. On one side it will allow one to regulate their emotions and on the other side it will allow one to temporarily have the emotionally nurturing that one didn't have as a child. The trouble with food is that it is only a short term solution. And the majority of food that is sought after during these times is unhealthy. Foods like chocolate, release endorphins into our brains, as does exercise. This is the happy chemical and will be more than welcome if one were to be experiencing ’negative’ emotions.
Exercise, if not taken to the extreme, is healthier than consuming lots of Junk food. While this is so, it could also become another escape and addiction.
The ideal here is to be able to self regulate and to feel comfortable in reaching out to others when this is not possible. This ability is unlikely to be developed over night and it will require patience and commitment. And depending on one’s individual needs and psychological disposition, other options might have to be considered. So always follow your own truth and insights.
One thing a good therapist, healer or coach can do is to allow one to express their emotions in a safe environment. From here, one can begin to form a relationship with their emotions. And start to gain the emotional nurturing that they didn’t get all those years ago. Here one will begin to see their emotions as feedback and as something that needs to be heard and acknowledged; not to be feared or run away from.
Awareness is the key here; with it, one can see that they are more than their emotions and without it; emotions can seem to be as all there is. The heart can also assist in emotional regulation.