Emotional Eating: What Are You Really Hungry For?

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midnight-snackWhat is emotional eating? Emotional eating is when we eat to soothe, calm, numb and relax, in response to our problems or our pain. We’re self-medicating, and food is simply our drug of choice.

Why is this important? First of all it’s important because we may be doing this and not even know we’re doing it. You can’t change what you’re not aware of. In becoming aware, that’s the first step to changing something. Often we’ll be stressed, or we’ll be anxious about something, or there will be an issue that needs our attention… and what do we do? We stuff ourselves to stuff the pain. And we don’t even realize it. Of course, we’re not handling the problem at all and it’s leading to weight gain. If your body can’t use it, the only thing that is can do is covert it into fat and store it for you.

So what’s really going on here? Who’s doing this? Why do we do this?

I find it’s that busy person who takes on so much, YOU, I’m talking to you, a caretaker, a parent. Think about it. You’re someone who’s giving to other people throughout the day. You’re so busy giving to everybody else. You’re giving your best, you’re giving all you have. You’re making sure that everyone’s happy, making sure that everyone has what they need, making sure that everybody’s taken care of. Right? And by the time it’s your turn, there’s nothing left. You have no time, energy, motivation, or incentive for your own self-care. But you want something back, you want to nurture yourself in some way, and it’s so natural. So what do you do? You reach for food. It’s easy, it’s there, and it’s available. Temporarily, it’s going to give you a little bit of “relief,” it’s going to give you a little bit of “calm,” it’s going to give you a little bit of that “nurturing” that you’re looking for.

So what we often do is, we binge. Then we get so angry at ourselves, we berate ourselves. What does that do? That sets us up for another binge.

But what would happen if you look at it a little differently and you approached it with a little more self-care, a little more self-love? And you said to yourself, “Hey, you know what? I’m really doing this because I have a need that hasn’t been met.” Remember, emotional eating is your attempt to feed an unmet need. But what would happen if you actually found out what that “need” was? There’s a way to do that, and I’ll share that with you.

In feeding the actual need, you get to the bottom of it. That’s what we really want to do. So, here’s an example: I remember working with a client, and she was emotionally eating for YEARS and she would stuff the need, stuff the pain, stuff the feeling with food. When we got to the bottom of it, we found that she had a need for SERVICE, the need to CONTRIBUTE. The solution was we got her involved in community service, and wouldn’t you know, here she was getting involved in community service and the weight just started dropping off. She didn’t change anything other than feeding the need. Now it’s a very backwards approach to weight loss, I get it, but when you feed the real need, there’s really no need to emotionally eat.

Here’s what I would love for you to do this week, don’t berate yourself, don’t give yourself a hard time. You’re doing this to feel better. And I get it, and it makes total and complete sense. But what if, the next time you have that binge feeling, you ask yourself this question: “What am I really hungry for?” And what if the answer is downtime, intimacy, a break, friendship, service? What if you explored that? What if you came up with the real need, and then actually decided to feed that real need? What if the real need was, “I don’t feel that intimacy, that connection with my partner”? And then what if you thought about, “How can I feed and nurture that?” Then you start working on you relationship. What if the real need was, “I don’t feel respected at work,” and you took real measures to change that? What if you discovered that the real need was, “Hey, I’m taking care of everybody else, now I don’t have any downtime, I don’t have any time for myself.” Time to rest, take a break. What if because you found that out, you decided, “Hey, you know what, everybody? I’m done.” Or you took some time during the day? Or you made it a point, once a week or once a day, to do something just for yourself? With that, you’re feeding the real need. And I’ll tell you, in doing this for 25 years with thousands of clients, I’ve found that when you start feeding what you’re really hungry for, that’s the beginning of the end of emotional eating.

So here are three steps:

Step 1: Find out: “What am I really hungry for?”

Step 2: Feed that need.

Step 3: Most importantly, give yourself some compassion, some self-love. And if you’re not sure how to do it, the easiest way is this: What would you say to your best friend? I’m sure that you’d be loving, you’d be compassionate, you’d be warm. Give that to yourself. You’re looking for a way to soothe, calm, numb, and relax when you’re emotionally eating. You need that, don’t deny that need, but feed what you’re really and truly hungry for.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023