The emotions of eating and weight loss
Part four in the reasons for unsuccessful weight management.
Alice knows that feeling down can lead to eating more!
Eating and emotions are intimately linked. From birth we relate food with love, security, nurturing, and togetherness. As we grow, eating is celebrated with special social occasions both happy and sad, so it is no wonder that food has such strong emotional sentiments. Learning to understand the triggers that lie behind emotional eating and finding alternative ways to cope with emotions that do not involve food is a vital link in managing weight problems that are linked to emotional drivers.
Conditions such as anorexia and bulimia are known to be tightly bound in emotional troubles so why should it be any different that overeating, binge eating, and obesity are not also highly emotive conditions. The next time you reach for food when you are full, or bored, unhappy, anxious, excited, depressed, or lonely (and the list goes on) it is quite likely your emotions are compelling you to eat.
I think the biggest thing to recognise here is that you are most definitely not alone. Everyone has some kind of emotional tie to food whether it is fond memories of childhood parties or romantic dinners for two under the sunset. For some of us, food was probably used as a reward when we were young, so eating (especially foods considered to be treats) becomes a natural way to gratify ourselves when we feel we deserve something special. Foods can also be used as means of comfort when we feel anxious or uncertain about things. When we were young we no doubt received food (treats) to take our minds off something unpleasant or to occupy us when we were bored and this can lead to food being used as a coping mechanism in times of insecurity and uncertainty (which can often be most of the times these days!) or even as a way of fidgeting and fussing. Eating is also linked to a condition known as “stuffing emotions” – food is used to hide uncomfortable emotions and confrontations and to replace open communication. Feelings of anger, resentment, fear, and discomfort are not addressed but dealt with by eating foods we associate with reassurance and security. The need to feel loved, included, and accepted can also be a motivator for eating. Food as friendship and intimacy replaces a closeness of relationship and belonging we may be missing.
Emotional eating is a very complex and intimate experience with often deep rooted meanings and associations that can be very uncomfortable and difficult to overcome. One of the first steps to coming to understand your own emotional eating habits is recognising that you have undealt with emotions and that this is ok and that these emotions are valid. It is also a good idea to note down how you are feeling and recognise how this translates into your eating habits. Identifying your triggers and replacing eating with another type of positive activity that meets your needs is an important component of overcoming emotional eating habits.