Updated: Mar 19
Lately I've been fielding a lot of questions regarding emotional eating, and a record number of people have been purchasing my online course directly addressing the topic. It's complex and demands much, much more than a blog to unpack and understand, but for now, let's cut to the chase, shall we? Your time is valuable, you want to end a pattern of behavior that is wreaking havoc on your life, and you're feeling desperate for answers.
In this blog I will share with you four reasons you can't stop eating emotionally and offer a brief explanation for each.
Please note, I look at everything from a multilayered, systemic perspective. If you are emotional eating, first and foremost, I'm not assuming you have a food problem. Our eating habits, and especially our bodyweights are influenced by so many factors including genetics, culture, traditions and rituals, satisfaction, preference, community, financial situation, our lived environment, trauma history, and dieting / food restriction history, among others.
You are restricting your food. Restriction, whether physical (i.e., not eating certain foods, rigidly limiting foods or food groups to certain amounts, or even unintentionally not eating an adequate amount of food or waiting too long between meals) or psychological (i.e., viewing some foods as "good" and others as "bad;" berating yourself for eating certain foods; believing that you will "get fat" if you eat specific foods) contributes to feelings of deprivation, which can in turn lead to a sense of drivenness, which can then have you eating in a way that feels out of control. The body doesn't know the difference between a deliberate diet and famine. What the body does know, is that it's aiming for homeostasis. Extremes feel dangerous, and it will do what it needs to do to protect you. The body wants to survive. So, what can feel like out-of-control eating, and what is often perceived as a personal failure or deficit in self-regulation (i.e,. what's wrong with me that I can't control myself?!?!?) is literally just your body saying, "Hey, you're scaring me. I need more food. Please feed me." Your body is not bad, and neither are you.
You are restricting your emotions. First, let's put this in the context of dieting. If you are dieting, you are legitimately ignoring signals from your mind and your body to eat. That's what we do when we diet. I've worked with thousands of people on weight loss, and I've dieted myself for years, with various goals in mind. Now, each person is different and unique, but the majority of people who diet must ignore or resist urges to consume food in one way or another. Urges can be thoughts about eating or urges can come in the form of hunger cues like a sense of emptiness, low energy, growling stomach, irritability, fatigue, shakiness, racing thoughts, lack of an ability to concentrate. What we reinforce when we ignore, resist, or try to cover up these signals by doing things like consuming a ton of water, taking appetite suppressants, chewing gum, drinking energy drinks, chewing and spitting (yes, this is a thing) is that the body doesn't matter. We break the body's trust in our ability to care for it. This absolutely will have an effect when you stop dieting. Second, let's say you're not dieting, but you are cut off from your emotions, your emotions don't feel safe to experience, or you don't know how to experience your emotions without feeling overwhelmed or distressed. You are absolutely going to find a way to help yourself feel better and lower your internal sense of activation. Feeding yourself is soothing, and especially if you are eating foods that provide a sense of pleasure, you will receive the benefits of feeling calm and secure. There is nothing wrong with you; you require support to help you learn other ways of caring for yourself and practices for resetting your nervous system.
You are emotional. We live in a culture that demonizes indulgence, but we also live in a culture that demonizes emotion. Both, however, are necessary for a full, whole, healthy life. One of the first principles of being human, if we look at how our brains evolved, is that we move toward pleasure and away from pain. This makes sense. But because we have evolved and continue to evolve, we must learn how to be with the painful experiences of our lives and move through them in a skillful manner. We must expect pain while at the same time developing the skills to create and sustain functional pleasurable experiences. All this to say that it's normal and natural to eat with emotion. We are emotional, hard stop. I would check your relationship with food here and reflect on the beliefs you have around eating. When is it appropriate, and when is it not? We eat to extend positive emotions (i.e., we celebrate at holidays, birthdays, when we achieve a big goal, when families and friends are together), and we eat to assuage the uncomfortable emotions (i.e., at wakes, after funerals, when we need the comfort and love of others and food to ease the heaviness of a loss). You are not bad for eating with emotion, and emotional eating in itself is not bad.
You have internalized the misinformation and disinformation of your caretakers and the broader "wellness" culture. Simply, what you believe about your body, your weight, what it means to be "healthy," and your level of control and influence about all of these things is likely deeply flawed. Our culture and the marketplace in general, thrives by having you believe that you are broken, bad, ugly, and not enough. If you were bullied or ostracized when you were younger and have not healed from these experiences, you are likely stuck in a place of trying to "fix" yourself. If you grew up in a household where your caregivers pinched your body, commented on your size or shape, and micromanaged your food, it's likely that you carry with you beliefs about what you should look like and who you need to be in order to be loveable. The dieting industry is a multi-billion dollar cash cow, increasing its revenue each and every year, and we know from the literature, that dieting does not work long-term. BMI is demonstrated to be a misrepresentation of health, as studies confirm, yet our medical establishments still use it. The beliefs of diet culture, of wellness culture, and of your friends and family, have likely become your own. And without deep reflection, questioning, and reckoning, will continue to guide your behavior, reinforcing your sense of unworthiness and further disconnecting you from your beautiful self and vibrant life.
There you have it. I'm curious which of these resonate with you and in what ways. If you would like support to explore this topic and how it's impacting your life, you know where to find me. Please reach out to email@example.com
If this isn't you, and you're moving into exploring how to more deeply love yourself, please check out my course, Radical Body Love!