As infants, we feel hungry and think, "I'm going to starve," then mom or dad
comes to the rescue, feeds us and we are saved. Thus, we encounter our first emotional food lesson: Food = Safe. And then as toddlers, we wind up in the doctor’s office for an ear infection. After being a good girl or boy and letting the doctor poke and prod, we get a sucker. We all know that doctor! Second emotional food lesson: Food = Reward. Then, a few years later, we suffer the loss of our grandma. It’s the first funeral we have ever been to attend. After all the crying and grieving there are a few weeks where family and friends bring food to the house. Lesson # 3: Food = Comfort. And on and on and on until it is prewired into the brain and is learned behavior.
For some of us, these emotional food lessons don’t negatively impact us. We enjoy food, but we don’t need it to fill our emotional needs. We rely on people, spirituality, or even other things like distraction, television, alcohol, excessive shopping, etc to cope with our emotions and meet our needs. But some of us (for a variety of reasons, including genetic predisposition, environment, an unavailable parent, high levels of sensitivity, etc), don’t assimilate the food lessons as well and, instead of enjoying food’s emotional properties, we depend on them. Sometimes we experience this as a full blown eating disorder where we go through periods of restricting our food, over-exercising, abusing laxatives, binging, purging, or any combination. Sometimes we may not have a clinical eating disorder, but our eating is still disordered and we find ourselves emotionally over or under-eating, feeling guilty about our food behaviors, thinking about food or our bodies most of the day, avoiding social situations because of food or our bodies, etc.
If you struggle with emotional eating, you have to start asking yourself questions like:
· What am I hoping this food will do for me?
· What do I need?
· If I didn’t turn to food right now, what would I feel?
· What am I avoiding by eating, and why do I feel I need to avoid that?
It is about getting comfortable with yourself, your thoughts, your feelings. Recognizing emotional hunger and physical hunger is the first step. Second, is what feeling is triggering your to want to eat when you are not physically hunger. Third step is, find an alternative behavior that doesn't involve food to meet your emotional needs. This is beneficial with not only weight loss but for health and happiness overall.
Behavior Modification Specialist