Making food changes is not easy if emotions are fueling your need to eat. Hormonal issues affect both our physical reactions and emotional reactions. It is important to look at emotional eating to help you know how you function and if your emotions are getting in the way.
- Do you find you eat more when you are stressed?
- Do you find yourself eating when you are not hungry and perhaps even when you are full?
- Do you feel better after you eat (calmer, less mad or sad)?
- Do you reach for food as a treat to reward yourself?
- Do you often eat until you are stuffed?
- Does food feel like a comfort and make you feel safe?
- Do you ever feel powerless around food and feel you must eat something?
- Do you find yourself eating when you are bored?
- Do you find yourself eating when you feel anxious (butterflies in the stomach are a sign)?
- Do you find yourself eating when you are angry or depressed?
If you answered yes to any of these, then emotions could be playing a role as to how you respond to food.
Emotional eating can be driven by powerful urges. It can be easily mistaken for physical hunger and understanding the difference between physical and emotional hunger is important.
Emotional Hunger vs Physical Hunger
- A sudden desire to eat – physical eating comes on gradually.
- A desire to eat specific foods. When you are physically hunger, any food will satisfy.
- Emotional eating often leads to mindless eating. Eating a whole pie or a bag of chips before you know it, is a sign that you are not eating to satisfy physical hunger.
- Emotional hunger leaves you feeling not satisfied even though you are full and find yourself looking for something else to eat.
- If you are eating emotionally, you do not experience a growling in the stomach as a signal for eating. Instead you are guided by a desire for specific smells, tastes or textures.
- Afterwards, you may feel regret, shame or guilt. You will not feel this if you are physically hungry.
It is important to learn when you are physically hungry. When you feel the need or desire to eat, do a physical check.
- When did you last eat? Is it reasonable to be hungry at this time?
- Does your stomach feel empty? Do you hear growling (not absolutely necessary)?
- Are you thirsty? The signals for thirst and hunger are similar and if you do not drink water (or other suitable substitutes such as herbal teas or water fruits and vegetables) enough during the day, you may think you are hungry instead of thirsty.
Once you have established you are not physically hungry, what can you do?
- If you are feeling anxious, take a moment and try to figure out why. Take time to do some deep belly breaths to try to calm feelings of anxiety. Go for a walk or get some other form of exercise that can help expend the excess energy you may be feeling from the anxiety.
- If you are feeling lonely, sad or depressed, find something to do that will make you feel better. Call a friend, play with the kids or your pets or just do something you enjoy that is not related to food.
- If you are tired, have a nice bath or a cup of calming herbal tea such as chamomile or passion flower. This will help you relax more and make it easier to go to sleep and resist the urge to eat before you go to bed.
- If you are bored, think of something to do. Walking is an easy solution because it does not take anyone else but you and can pass the time. Read a book, watch a movie, connect with other people or even do some work you have been putting off.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating teaches you to be aware of your eating habits and the value of the eating process so you can distinguish between your triggers and your actions.
When the craving or urge to eat occurs, take 5 minutes before you give in to the craving.
Be aware of you physical and emotional cues. Learn to know when you are eating for reasons other than hunger. Focus on how you buy and prepare your food. Be aware as to how you eat – how long it takes to eat and if, and how, you enjoy it. Learn to choose foods that are both enjoyable and nourishing. Finally, learn to find other ways to meet your emotional needs other than eating.
Most emotional eaters often feel powerless over food and their cravings. The minute you find the urge to eat so strong that it is unbearable, you must teach yourself that that is the cue to take a step back and figure our what is really going on. You must recognize the urge in order to find the appropriate corrective action. Remember that emotional eating is often mindless so conscious thought can be your best friend and help you find the right solutions.
Learn to accept your feelings, good or bad. Emotional eaters often eat to prevent feeling what they are trying to avoid. It may be painful to have the feelings on the surface, even scary but this will help prevent mindless eating.
6 Steps to Mindful Eating
- It starts with buying the food. Think about what you are purchasing and why. What is the benefit of each food? Are the foods providing nourishment, pleasure, or convenience? Make each food a conscious choice so you understand why you are buying the foods you buy.
- Sit down at the able with a true physical appetite. Try not to be too hungry, which can happen if you do not eat regularly. Being too hungry can cause you to eat too fast and not enjoy your food.
- Eat smaller portions to start. Make a conscious decision to eat more as needed as opposed to filling your plate and eating everything on it.
- Take time to appreciate your food. Take a minute before you eat to smell your food and notice the colour and texture. Contemplate the enjoyment of the process of eating and express gratitude.
- Taste your food. Take small bites as too much food in the mouth overloads the taste receptors and can prevent true enjoyment of the food.
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Allow the mind and the body the time it needs to appreciate what has been received and the body can, in turn, tell you when it has received enough. Emotional eating distorts our sense of how much food we really need. Taking out time to chew and savour the food can re-establish our natural food cues so we eat only the amount we need to meet the needs of the body and be truly satisfied.
Food should be guilt-free and a pleasure but it is a physical pleasure. We must know that we are eating the food we eat for the right reason. Practising these steps takes time for them to help you but it is worth the exercise.