April 29, 2024

Emotional Eating: 6 Signs You’re Eating your Feelings.


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“Things won’t get better unless you think better.” ~ Karen Salmansohn


A few months ago, I was ordering ice cream every third day.

What started off as a general desire to have ice cream, soon turned into an every day ritual.

At times, I was able to monitor the quantity that I was consuming, and there were times when I simply couldn’t stop myself from digging into the tub.

At first, I told myself that it’s not a big deal because I’m usually particular about what I eat, I never miss a workout, but then I found myself getting swayed quite frequently, and the funny thing was that I don’t even like ice creams that much!

At one point, I really had to ask myself, “What is going on!?” And that’s when I actually thought about what was going on. I realised that those few months had been stressful for me. I didn’t have the time or energy to indulge in things that brought me relief, joy, and happiness. I was really struggling to feel good! Somehow, one scoop of ice cream was able to make me feel good instantly, and then without realising, I started having more and more of it!

After a point, the feel-good factor started to wear off and I would get irritated with myself for eating ice cream mindlessly. Then it was just about taking a decision and stopping it altogether.

Most of us don’t realise that food for us is not just about satiating our hunger; it means so much more! It’s not just about feeling good or slightly better, but it’s about finding a sense of safety in the ever-changing, stressful, and potentially unsafe world.

We reach for those cookies, chocolates, pizzas, or keep ordering in to get away from, distract ourselves, and push away those horrible, uncomfortable, painful thoughts and emotions that we just can’t handle, and at times it happens completely out of our awareness.

What starts off as a one-off thing, eventually turns into a long-drawn affair with food, which slowly begins to turn toxic and we keep struggling to get in and out of it.

When we don’t understand and are unable to regulate our emotions or don’t have healthy coping strategies, we are bound to gravitate towards quick fixes. Then, food is the easiest “pick-me-up when I’m feeling down” tool that is available to us and it’s not any food item that will do! You need food that is particularly rich in fat and sugar and look damn appealing! That’s because these specific kinds of foods lead to the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine, which are associated with feelings of pleasure, happiness, and relaxation and counter the impact of anxiety, sadness, and overwhelm. Basically, they give you a kick and provide short term relief.

Is that bad?

Well, once in while, in moderation, everything is okay. Problems begin to arise when we start reaching out for these foods too often and consume more than what we should or need to. And there are other signs that also start showing up that indicate that you’re stuck in a cycle of emotional eating such as:

1. You eat even when you’re not physically hungry. The time when I was consuming ice cream regularly, I didn’t even feel like having it. Yet, I would find my face stuffed inside the ice cream tub! This hunger is not located in your tummy but in your mind where you are thinking about specific foods, smells, and tastes, and you need instant satisfaction!

2. It’s become a habit. You’re doing it because this behaviour of using food to comfort, relax, or numb yourself is now on autopilot and you don’t want to or don’t know how to turn it off.

3. You indulge in mindless eating. You don’t pay attention to what you’re putting on your plate or how much you’re actually eating and may actually struggle to feel satiated despite eating a lot.

4. You eat to soothe yourself. When you find yourself in the grip of strong or uncomfortable emotions, your immediate response is to fill yourself up with food to comfort yourself.

5. At times you feel out of control around food. You really struggle to pull back and stop yourself from eating despite the best of your efforts.

6. You also find yourself oscillating between feeling good one minute and guilty and ashamed the next because at some level you do realise that you’re caught in an unhealthy cycle and you shouldn’t be eating this way, but you just can’t stop yourself.

Then, emotional eating is not really about eating. It’s actually about these emotions that you are struggling to understand, come to terms with, regulate, and manage. It’s about a certain mindset that gets associated with food. It has roots that go deeper than the surface-level emotions that you experience.

At times, it’s also a trauma response because the one thing that trauma takes away from you is safety. Not only does trauma put you in emotionally, psychologically, and physically unsafe environments, it also compromises your ability to regulate yourself because either you don’t get to learn healthy ways of coping or you don’t get enough opportunities to. Then, resorting to quick fixes like food, alcohol, smoking, binge watching, and on is your only way to cope with difficult feelings and deeper triggers—so that you can find a sense of safety within and somehow ground yourself.

“Emotional eating is like using a Band-Aid to cover a wound that needs stitches. It provides temporary relief but doesn’t address the root cause of the pain.” ~ Dr. Jennifer Taitz

Even then, it does reach a point where you realise that this is not working for you and is causing more harm than good. Overtime, this kind of eating pattern leads to:

1. Weight gain and lifestyle diseases

2. Decline in nutritional status

3. Keeps you stuck in unhealthy patterns of thinking, responding to your own emotions and behaviours

4. Lowers self-esteem and leads to body image issues

5. Poor quality relationships

6. Compromises your ability to handle your emotions and triggers

“Food may be the symptom, but it’s not the problem. Emotional eating often masks deeper emotional needs that must be addressed in order to break free from the cycle.” ~ Geneen Roth


At the end of he day, all this psychological and emotional comfort that we keep looking for has to come from within. The only way out of this kind of cycle is by going within, making friends with our emotions, understanding our triggers, honoring our trauma so that we let go of this need to be dependent on something or someone to constantly make us feel good. We need to learn to accept, interpret, and channel our emotions, no matter how challenging or difficult, because they are ours. If we keep disowning and running away from our emotional world, the way significant others in our lives did, then how are we doing anything differently?

Thus, we need to stop running away and turn toward our emotions, and once we give ourselves permission to open up to our emotional world, we will be able to find our way out of all sorts of unhealthy cycles.

Then, the way to start moving out of this toxic relationship with food is also by:

1. Identify your triggers. When do you typically reach for your comfort foods? What are those specific situations, and how do you feel in them?

2. Assess whether this habit of eating is actually working for you or not. Look at the short-term versus long-term costs and benefits.

3. Find alternate coping mechanisms that allow you to reflect on your emotions, channel them, and understand them. Don’t run; sit with your emotions, and listen to them.

4. Do the deeper work in yourself to challenge and change unhealthy ideas, beliefs, and assumptions.

5. Bring about lifestyle changes slowly. Go for that walk, replace those cookies with healthier options, reduce the quantities gradually.

6. Remind yourself that food is nourishment for your body. It’s not a medicine for your wounds nor the answer to your pain. Food helps but doesn’t heal those emotional wounds.

Perhaps, a lot would become better in our lives if we learnt better and more effective ways of regulating our emotions and being there for ourselves, right?

“Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. It requires emotional nourishment, such as self-care, connection, and self-compassion.” ~ Dr. Melanie Greenberg


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