Updated: Sep 28
Exploring our emotional eating can be a huge investment in our wellbeing. Often we eat unconsciously and have an urge to reach for something sweet, and so we reach for the biscuits, cakes or chocolate when we are not hungry. That 'urge' is usually covering up emotions that we may not want to feel or a difficult situation we may not want to face or be in. It might not be realistic to completely switch off the link between eating and our emotions, but we can get much more aware of what is driving our desire to eat and to recognise that we have the option to not to eat, we have a choice and instead to feel the emotions if we can.
I know from my own journey with emotional eating I would eat when I was stressed - in the past when I had a difficult day at work I would often leave the office via the chocolate vending machine and pick up a bar of chocolate to eat on my way home from work before dinner, or I would respond to overwhelm by buying a hot milky coffee, which of course is a food - with the milk. I would eat to reward myself if I had achieved something good or had a successful day, I would eat out of boredom, to push down uncomfortable feelings like anger, frustration, or when I was sad or I had been hurt by someone, and the list could go on. For me emotional eating started at such a young age that I thought it was normal, and by young adulthood it was my way of life. As by then the beliefs around food, and the habits I had developed had formed deeply in my psyche and the link between certain emotions or situations and eating, became constant triggers, due to the reward system in the brain, which is explained below.
During this last year and a half, as a nation we have used food as a way of coping. A study by King's College London found that almost half of us have gained weight during lockdown. This is no surprise with the restrictions that were put on us, and it was much easier to reach for a chocolate bar, biscuit or slice of cake than deal with the stress that we might have been under. Why we tend to reach for these types of foods to comfort eat is the effects on sugar on the brain. We get an instant hit of dopamine, the feelgood chemical, which is part of the reward system within the brain. Each time we reach for a sugary food we are strengthening that pathway in the mind, and each time we do it with particular emotions, when we feel the emotion again, we naturally want the sugary food that gave us the additional dopamine at the time, more of that same feelgood chemical. And so the craving cycle continues.
The most important thing to develop to gain a good understanding of your eating patterns is awareness or mindfulness. When we develop the capacity to be in the moment, to be present with what is happening, it allows us to be aware of what is really going on, and gives us more space and time to be able to chose the right course of action for us. The practice of mindfulness allows us to listen, and it is the art of truly listening to ourselves that we develop within Sophrology, a type of dynamic mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us to:
1) Know when we are hungry
2) Notice how different foods makes us feel
3) Notice when we are eating when we are not hungry, and therefore establish what
we might really need instead.
4) Have the ability to eat with full attention
5) To know when to stop eating
6) Begin to discern what we really want
7) Widen our self-care toolkit to help us self-soothe when we experience
difficult emotions without always having to resort to eating.
For those who have struggled with emotional eating for a long time or those who have an eating disorder, then mindfulness by itself may not be enough. For those people they may need the additional support of a therapist. Something I learnt through my own journey with finding freedom with food, is that my body knows exactly what it wants, it has all the wisdom I need, I only needed to listen and developing the capacity to be mindful was one of the keys. Another key to finding freedom with food was reclaiming parts of me, parts within my psyche that had been hidden since my early childhood due to childhood trauma. With this I needed help from another Sophrologist to help explore this, and ultimately reclaim and integrate those parts.
Where ever you are at in your journey to finding freedom with food, know you are not alone, emotional eating and eating disorders are very common, and the great thing is that there is a lot of help available now and there is a lot you can do for yourself too. However if you are feeling really overwhelmed or struggling then reach out for help.
Wishing you well on your journey.
With warm wishes,
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