The number one habit my clients tell me they want to stop is emotional eating. Before we dive into this charged topic – take this quick quiz.
Are you an emotional eater?
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
- Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
If you answered YES to some or most of these questions ….. you are not alone. Most of my clients really struggle with this habit and would happily lose a limb if it meant getting rid of it.
I want to propose a radical idea ….. an idea that can really change everything! What if you were to see your “Emotional” eating in a different light.
In other words, there is a place where Emotional Eating is doing you a favour.
- There’s a place where it serves you.
- There’s a place where it has a message for you.
- There’s a place where it has a wisdom.
- There’s a place where it’s trying to get your attention.
And because each of us is a very unique and interesting human being – it stands to reason that there are indeed as many reasons why one would emotionally eat as there are people who are emotional eaters.
So we’re not going to solve emotional eating right now, we’re not going to fix it for you, and there won’t be any magic formula that’s going to take it away.
Emotional eating is way more interesting and complex than that.
We need to listen to emotional eating on its own terms.
If you can’t control it, then you need to start listening to it, respecting it, and being curious about why it’s here.
What is great about emotional eating is that it is an amazing teacher. It’s trying to teach us some important life lessons. Allow me to share some of these lessons – 3 of them to be exact. See if any of these three common lessons apply to you.
Lesson #1 – Constant Dieting and Food Restriction Doesn’t Work
So many people are trying to lose weight, get in shape, fit into a certain dress size, shrink their body in specific ways – and the most common strategy to do this is eating less food. But because we live in a world where we are deeply conditioned to do certain eating habits that are scientifically outdated, a vast majority of people are calorie restricting, dieting, and limiting their nutrition – and the net result is that the body becomes nutritionally depleted and the brain screams for more food. Oftentimes, such intense hunger drives us to overeat, to binge eat – and the result is that it feels like I’m “emotionally eating.” But the problem is, our emotional eating had absolutely nothing to do with control, and nothing to do with the fact that we’re a moral or emotional weakling. The wisdom of millions of years of evolution is simply screaming through our nervous system, our digestive tract, and our appetite – I’m hungry! And so we eat.
In this case emotional eating is teaching us that constant dieting, that being imbalanced in macronutrients and being deficient in nutrition, simply doesn’t work. The survival features of our brain will almost always overpower us and take front and centre when it comes to making sure that we don’t starve.
So, if you’re the kind of person who calls herself an emotional eater and you are a dieter, or you’re intensely trying to control your appetite – you may have found the reason for your out-of-control eating. It’s actually being driven by your physiology. It’s the wisdom of the body telling you that you need to make some course corrections.
Lesson #2 – You Don’t Have a Willpower Problem
I meet so many people who think they have a willpower problem – especially when it comes to food. “If I can only have more willpower, then I can control my appetite, my hunger, and I could be on top of the world, lose the weight that I want to lose, and then finally be happy.” But as we’ve just seen, when we are unnaturally food restricting, the brain will wisely scream “hungry.”
It would be easy for us at this point to think we have a willpower problem. But the problem has absolutely nothing to do with willpower, and everything to do with the natural inborn brilliant mechanisms that are the result of the wisdom of evolution.
You don’t have a willpower problem. And when we think we have a willpower problem, we’re only setting ourselves up for more guilt, shame, and self abuse, because when we constantly restrict our nutrition with the intention of losing weight – we’re setting ourselves up for failure. If having more willpower was the right strategy for managing emotional eating, it would have worked already.
So once again, emotional eating is teaching us. It’s teaching us that we don’t have a willpower problem. It’s asking us to look elsewhere.
Lesson #3 – Fighting Food Never Works
Chances are, if you’ve labelled yourself an emotional eater, then you’ve likely decided that food is the enemy, and if we somehow figure out a way to fight food, which also means fighting our appetite, then we can somehow win. After all, when I emotionally eat, it’s the food that seems to have all this power over me. It’s my appetite that seems to drive me. If I can only get stronger, if I can only put up a better fight, if I can only be more powerful and more in control, then I will be victorious in this war.
If this describes you, then let me offer this piece of advice:
We can never find true happiness if we fight food and see it as the enemy.
Eating is natural, appetite is natural, the desire for food is natural, it’s absolutely 1000% essential for survival, nonnegotiable, and to fight it is actually a hidden form of insanity. And I say that with some love and understanding. But I want you to hear that it’s crazy.
You need food. If you fight food, then it’s time to change your strategy. I’m willing to bet every dollar I have that if you call yourself an emotional eater and you try to overcome it by fighting food, then you’ve failed in this unwinnable war.
Emotional eating is teaching us that we need to step into a more nourishing relationship with food. It’s teaching us that we need to look in the mirror and re-examine how we are approaching the nourishment process.
It’s teaching us that we have to let go of the fight, because the fight doesn’t work. Nourishment does. Eating does.
This conversation we’ve started about emotional eating is just the beginning. It’s not meant to take away your problem. It’s meant to shine a light on it. It’s meant to help you see the beautiful territory of your relationship with food in a whole new way so that you can have the tools to begin to get where you truly want to go.