This month PHS editor Michelle Styles starts to examine emotional eating
It would be great if we just ate to refuel, when we were physically hungry, but human beings eat for all sorts of reasons -- to celebrate, to grieve, because of nerves, anger, of because you want to please someone else.
Emotional eating is what does for most diet regimes. And because food is so intricately twined in our culture and psyche, the vast majority of people emotionally eat, many emotionally over eat. Diets and healthy eating regimes fail mainly because people do not take the time and trouble to understand about emotional eating and develop other ways to self-care and proactively deal with stressful situations. In the short term, diets work because you can force yourself to eat following certain rules for a period of time, but eventually if you have not dealt with your body’s desire to eat for emotional reasons, you will find the diet impossible and will begin a downward spiral.
Emotional eating is NOT down to a lack of will power or some imagined failing on your part. It is your body’s natural way of dealing with a stressful situation. Your digestion acts as a second brain and it responds to certain situations by demanding more serotonin or ways to soothe it. For the digestion, it is not flight or flight but flight, fight or feast. Your digestion easily overpowers your brain as it does provide the vital nutrients that are key for a body’s survival. Will power comes from your brain.
Emotional eating has its roots deep in your childhood when you were powerless and couldn’t fight. You were dependant on others to solve problems and food soothed. Food for me was also a fun way to rebel. As a toddler, it was great fun (and relatively risk free) to sneak cookie dough, particularly as I prided myself on being a good girl.
When you emotionally eat, you are not solving the problem which caused the need. Eating only solves a problem when your body needs physical refuelling. There are other more productive ways to soothe your nerves, and indulge in self-care. However, once your digestion decides it is a feast situation, you will have that craving until you eat what it thinks it requires. You might deal with the emotion (to a certain extent) but then you often feel worse as the guilt sets in. Your persistently critical self has a field day when you eat, particularly when you eat to shut it up.
Emotional eating is characterised by a sudden specific urge to eat something. Snacking on something healthy won’t do. You want that piece of chocolate cake. You also eat it far faster than normal. You barely stop to chew or finish the mouthful. When emotionally eating, you stuff it down. The result of eating fast is that you consume more than your body needs and often set yourself up for a blood sugar dip later. When your blood sugar goes wild, you are more likely to fall victim to further cravings.
In order to begin to combat emotional eating, the first step is to begin to recognise the situations where you eat for emotional reasons, rather than physical hunger. Rather than beating yourself up for eating unhealthily, see it as an opportunity to learn. You want to learn about the triggers for your eating and ultimately learn to create a gap and start to talk back to your persistently critical self. Every time you eat something that is unplanned, or you overeat, take the time to write down what your emotions were before you had the urge to eat and what the general situation was. Sometimes, your body will be anticipating the emotion before it happens. So you want to learn as much as possible and look for patterns, rather than assuming that you are eating because you are bored etc.A
It is a four stage process same as any other habit which you wish to change (identify triggers, find appropriate rewards, develop plans and implement them). Because the habit became ingrained in your psyche when you were less than five, it will take a long time and a lot of persistence to change. Always remember Baby steps and when babies are learning to walk, we don’t get mad at them for falling down.
Next month I will examine some of the ways you can start to create the gap between having the emotion and putting the food in your mouth.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. She recently lost 66 lbs and now wears a US size 4. She has successfully maintained this size since October 2011. Her next book His Unsuitable Viscountess will be published in August 2012. You can read more about Michelle’s books on her website www.michellestyles.co.uk