I eat when I’m happy. I eat when I’m sad. I eat when I’m stressed, bored and when I’m mad. If you are experiencing what I just described, then welcome to the world of Emotional Eating!
The idea that we eat based on all kinds of different emotions may seem humorous at first, but in fact, many of us really do this–especially when it comes to negative emotions. What is it about a bad day that makes us want to come home, throw on our sweats and dig into a big carton of ice cream? “Feelings”– like the song says–“Nothing more than feelings.”
Let’s be real. If we based our lives solely on emotions we would all be a mess. Our flesh, by nature, is self-destructive and will always crave the things that initially feel good, but are not best for us in the long run. So if we know better than to run our lives this way, why do we allow emotions to rule us when it comes to food choices and habits? How many of us could finally get a handle on our weight and even our health if we would stop doing this?
Emotional eating is a cry for emotional healing. People use all kinds of coping mechanisms to deal with their issues. In the midst of deep emotional despair, some people turn to drugs, alcohol, sex; and then there are some who turn to food. However, because food is not inherently evil, it is not often thought of as a negative coping mechanism, which makes us most susceptible to using it as one.
Emotional eating occurs when we use the pleasure of food to deal with deeper issues happening on the inside. Have you ever found yourself mindlessly eating, usually a large quantity of unhealthy food, because you were “feeling” a certain way? This means that food is being used to comfort, to fill whatever “feeling” you thought was missing or replacing whatever negative feelings were there. Although the comfort of food might initially make you feel better, it cannot and will not fix your problems. You are going to find yourself in a vicious cycle of eating more and more, because food will never satisfy. It will only require you to continually eat more until you’ve overindulged and then reached the point of shame and helplessness. Eating will only add to your list of problems.
So how do you end this vicious cycle? Here are some practical steps on how to end the emotional eating once and for all:
Step 1: Do a Little Soul-Searching
The first step towards fixing a problem is to identify what it is. Emotional eating is only a symptom of the root problem. You don’t kill a spider by knocking down its webs. The same is to be said about our problems–cut it off at its source or you will soon find “webs” reappearing. You are fighting blindly if you don’t know what your target is and you won’t stand a chance. It is imperative that you discover what is triggering the negative emotions. This is where you search your soul — your mind, will and intellect; investigate yourself. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the true matters of your heart.
For example — “I am sad” is a good place to start. However, ask yourself, “Why am I sad?” Keep asking yourself why until you cannot further explain. After doing this, you might find that the real reason you are sad, for example, could be that you lack a sense of purpose in your life or maybe you are experiencing hopelessness in your situation.
Step 2: Seek Resolution & Healing
Once you know what the issue is, the problem can now be addressed and healing can begin. Some issues can be fixed with just a simple change. Other issues, depending on the severity, will require a little more effort. Healing takes time and it takes help. Call a trusted friend, meet with a pastor and/or consult with a mental health professional to get guidance in handling your situation. Make it your mission to find freedom from the negative emotions and healing for the pain.
Step 3: Set Yourself Up For Success
Now that you have identified the root issue and started the healing process, be sure to set yourself up so you don’t continue the destructive eating habits. There are a few things you can do to ensure that “emotional eating” doesn’t creep back up on you:
– Ask yourself, “Am I truly hungry or am I just craving something in particular? Do I really need food or do I just need emotional comfort?” Listen to your body and learn the difference. If you are truly not hungry, then stop yourself right then and there.
– Identify your moments of weakness (usual time and place) when emotional eating is most likely to happen and have an alternate plan. (For example, if you tend to emotionally eat late at night in bed, give yourself a “cut-off time” so you no longer eat past that time.) Don’t keep any food in your bedroom. Don’t make any exceptions or excuses for yourself. Consistency is key.
– Finally, don’t keep your “repeat offender” foods in the house. If you know that you eat the whole box of cookies every time you buy it, then don’t buy it! Make it hard for yourself to have access to junk food. Experiment with healthy substitutions or buy alternatives for the foods you tend to binge on. (Instead of binging on ice cream, have some low-fat yogurt instead.)
The sooner you recognize you are eating emotionally, the sooner you can find freedom from it. It will require you to face your issues, and it will require some discipline, but in the end you will feel better, look great and have the freedom to enjoy food and your emotions in the right way!