Many people think of themselves as emotional eaters – but maybe they’re not…
Today I want to share 1 really important thing you may not have thought about that will change how you think about emotional eating.
I used to think of myself as an emotional eater.
If I was sad, lonely, bored, angry, hurt, or even overwhelmingly happy, I’d eat.
I spent a really long time trying to understand why I ate emotionally. I do not have a background of trauma. I have a normally dysfunctional family 😉… I never doubted that I was loved. My feelings were not radically discounted and I didn’t learn that my feelings didn’t matter.
Because I thought of myself as an emotional eater, I worked very hard on learning how to process my emotions. And that did help a little tiny bit, but it wasn’t consistent and it didn’t solve the problem. I couldn’t resolve it fully until I was able to do this one thing I’m going to tell you about now.
We have to look at emotional eating through the lens of weight control
When you’re trying to control your body size and either dieting or ‘watching what you eat’, you become hyper-focused on food. This is a normal response to food restriction. Your body becomes hyper-focused on food because it’s out to keep you alive and if you’re restricting, however good you think your reasons are, to your body it’s all the same thing – a threat to your survival. This means you’ll be focused on food and primed to eat, even if you’re trying not to. You also may not be eating enough. You might miss meals or eat less than is satisfying because you’re trying to control your weight.
Here’s the really important bit. When you’re not taking your cues for eating from your body, but instead, you’re using conscious cognitive control, you’ll be more prone to eating in the face of difficult emotions.
Let me explain. Strong emotions deplete our cognitive control. With less cognitive control available to restrain your eating, along with the fact that you’re primed to eat because you’ve been restricting (either physically or mentally or both) – what will result will be what LOOKS like emotional eating.
But what instead, is actually eating in response to deprivation, in the presence of strong emotions.
So is there in fact such a thing as emotional eating on its own?
When I really and truly let go of trying to control my weight, and instead, turned my attention to feeding myself enough, consistently, emotional eating pretty much sorted itself out.
That was probably helped because I already had quite good skills in knowing how to navigate my emotional life (having spent so long cultivating this to try to solve my emotional eating!).
When I’m working with clients who come to me for help with emotional eating, we always start with untangling them from weight control and more often than not, this solves the problem of ‘emotional eating’.
Now this isn’t to say that there’s no place to develop your capacity to deal with your emotions! There’s always room for that – but not so that you’ll eat less or lose weight – because that approach will backfire on you and keep the cycle going. No, instead, it’s so that you’re living a more satisfying, integrated life.
Need help from an expert?
If you’ve had enough of being on and off a diet, feeling ashamed of your body and how you eat, binge eating or emotional overeating — you’ve come to the right place.
I’ll help you discover how to let go of all the food rules, trust your own body and reclaim your innate worthiness — so you can live your life unapologetically and focus on what really matters to you.