Emotional eating is a symptom, it’s not the problem. Let’s first define emotional eating. Emotional eating is mindlessly eating foods that don’t support your desire for vibrant health. Logically, you know that desserts and potato chips won’t support you on your journey of health, but you find yourself devouring three brownies or a large bag of potato chips. This act of indulging has nothing to do with you not being intelligent, it has more to do with unmet emotional needs that you are unconsciously trying to solve by eating. I want to acknowledge that there is certainly a physical side to cravings. When you aren’t getting the nutrients you need from your food, your body is going to have cravings until it gets what it needs. So in order to create sustainable change to the way you nourish yourself, it’s key to address both the physical and emotional side of cravings.
If you think about it, we often want our food to make us feel more comfortable in some way. And it’s true, whole foods like naturally raised meats, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats will allow you to feel satisfied and calm in a physical way. But if you have some uncomfortable emotions that you are resisting, you may be reaching for sugar, fried foods, baked goods, or coffee, etc. to escape these feelings. Yes, for about 10 minutes you will feel a temporary high from the sugar or processed food, but what comes next? Guilty feelings and regrets often follow. Overeating temporarily represses your uncomfortable feelings, but now you’re left with new uncomfortable feelings which are shame and guilt around eating foods that don’t support your health. It’s a vicious cycle. We eat to soothe which creates more shame and guilt. Plus we experience the physical downsides to processed foods which are often symptoms such as weight gain, low energy, digestive discomfort, etc.
For the past 10 years I’ve worked with women (men too!) to support them in uncovering and exploring the root causes of their cravings. Diets don’t address the emotional side of eating and I haven’t met a person yet (myself included!) who doesn’t use food to cope with uncomfortable emotions. Most people in general have a pattern of avoiding their feelings by distracting themselves. In fact, I find that addiction is a strategy of avoidance. People will drink, gamble, over work, shop or eat to get away from their feelings. But what is important to understand is if you don’t acknowledge and feel your feelings, they will just keep nagging at you. Uncomfortable emotions are actually our teachers. They let us know something needs to be examined in our life. Emotions are meant to emote through the body, but most people don’t allow this to occur because they are unconsciously distracting themselves and trying not to feel. Learning to soothe yourself when you’re upset is an important skill to learn. Otherwise, whenever you get emotionally triggered, you will reach for comfort from an addictive substance (processed food, drugs, alcohol, etc) or a numbing or addictive activity.
Diets create a feeling of deprivation which leads to an intense feeling of wanting to eat. And research has clearly shown that deprivation has a negative effect on metabolism. Adding in delicious, whole foods that allow you to feel physically satisfied is what will create sustainable change. The individual program I offer is not about dieting. It is about adding foods that will allow you to feel satisfied while exploring and healing the root causes of your relationship with food.
It has been my experience that the root causes of your eating habits don’t need to necessarily be fully resolved in order for your relationship with food to begin to change. For example, if you’re feeling like you’re not getting your needs met in a primary relationship in your life, you don’t need to have this relationship transformed in order to see a change in your food. Often just communicating your needs and desires can have a transformative effect. Emotions can keep you stuck if they remain unconscious. Once they are explored, they will lose some of their power over you.
Many people feel overwhelmed or scared to explore their emotions, but I find it’s actually more emotionally taxing to repress these feelings on a daily basis. In fact, it takes a significant amount of energy to repress uncomfortable feelings. It’s like keeping the lid on a boiling pot.
So if you feel ready to have a more peaceful relationship with food, I would welcome the opportunity to support you on this journey. As a licensed therapist, I offer a judgment free, safe space to explore your relationship with food. I will stay attuned to your needs and respect what pace of exploration feels best for you. I believe that each person has a built-in inner guidance system that they can learn to trust to support their healing. Therapy is a place where you can truly be seen and practice being your authentic self.
If you’d like to learn more, a free, 60-minute nutrition consultation is a great place to start.