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Are You Eating Your Emotions?

If you have ever had hunger hit you like lightening, you may be likely to eat for your emotions.  When stress, anxiety, or your emotions are running high – it can be tough to deal with it on your own.

Many of us turn to food as a comfort, or we eat to distract ourselves from dealing with the problem.

Perceiving Emotional Hunger

Physical hunger develops slowly little by little, while emotional hunger is like a rocket going off. If you are physically hungry, even carrots will look delicious. If you are emotionally hungry, it might be that only cake or ice cream will satisfy. Emotional hunger will demand more food even after you have already stuffed yourself.

According to the experts, many of us eat emotionally without knowing what we are doing.  We constantly  ‘re-resolve’ not to eat any sweets all day and then get back on our diet plan. We almost always find that resolve wavers, and we cave in and grab a candy bar at some point during the day.  Even when we promised ourselves not to eat sweets all the next day, it happens again.

Emotional hunger often results in guilt, or it promises to do better next time. On the contrast, physical hunger is viewed as necessary to survival and therefore has no guilt attached to it.

Emotional Eating as Food Addiction

It may sound harsh to suggest that eating emotionally could be an addiction to food, but when the problem is not so much what you eat, but that you cannot control how much you eat. It is likely that you are addicted to food.

Do you struggle to control what you eat?

Have you been overeating for years?

Have you put your health at risk because of your eating habits?

Do you get nervous with the idea of giving up food?

Have you tried to change your eating habits but failed?

If you had any question that you agreed with, then you may have a problem with food addiction.

In some sense, everyone is addicted to food, because of course we have to eat to survive.  That is the essential addiction that even animals have to survive. That is a survival mechanism, but it’s different than eating your emotions.

Food can become such a coping mechanism, and sometimes big enough that you sacrifice your health to keep it.  The other side of that spectrum is if you use food as a reward. This is different from emotional eating as well.  It is normal to occasionally eat your favorite foods, or to fend off a blue mood.

So why are some people addicted and others not? As adults, we all use food as a tranquilizer of sorts from time to time, the same way our mothers fed us to keep us from crying when we were babies.

There is a big difference between occasionally using food to fix our moods and overeating to deal with the stress and strain of daily life.  When this happens daily, it matures slowly, though it’s not entirely clear why some people get addicted and others don’t.

The hardest part is that overeating works.  It can change your state of mind, temporarily.  If you are anxious, you can eat and it will dissolve some of the anxiety.   Some people feel that if they eat, they are in a small bubble, and they forget their worries for a while.   Instead of feeling vulnerable and raw, they feel protected and safe.

Eating often becomes a way to silence your mind when it presents ideas you do not want to deal with.  In that sense, it is effective, and banishes uncomfortable thoughts, and how those thoughts make you feel, temporarily.  When you are addicted to this safe feeling, you have very little control over how much you eat.

Weak or Out of Control

When you cannot control what you eat, it can make you feel weak, or as if you should have better self-discipline.  Often, you don’t want to commit yourself to another diet, because you feel you can’t overcome this huge adversary. Often the fear of failing again is something that follows people through life. 

Often, it is a personal secret that you cannot give up food as a best friend when you are distressed.  You get locked in a pretty viscous cycle, and can’t get out.  The addiction to food is totally socially acceptable, and legal, though it is no less destructive than addictions that have been outlawed or frowned on by society, such as smoking or drug abuse.

For many individuals, there is a pull so strong toward emotional eating, that they don’t think they can ever break it. So they try to work around it.  This is the case when someone eats a lot, and they know they must exercise to stay trim.   If that person ever stops exercising, or gets injured, then the emotional eating problem will be magnified and it is very likely that person will become overweight.

This is the case with bulimia as well, when a person will purge their large dinner, and then promise themselves to never do it again.  It becomes a way to compensate for their primary addiction to food. That person is unable to give up their insatiable need for food, so they control their weight through vomiting.

When a person eats emotionally, they are dependent on food to survive the challenges of daily life.  The way they are addicted to food is similar to the way an alcoholic needs alcohol to cope, or a drug addict needs a continual supply of drugs.

An emotional eater feels they cannot make it if they don’t have food available, and it’s not that they want to overeat, they are just compelled to do it.    When a person like this is distressed, they generate an image in their head of which food will make them feel better. They see these images of food that tempt them until they are satisfied.

If the emotional eater does not find a way to make peace with their distress warnings, the compulsive eating will win time and time again.  Even people who succeed in weight loss find that they have a inner stomach that will get them off track.  Until a person breaks their food addiction, and learns how to cope with an emotional situation without eating, weight loss is impossible.

Recognizing the Pattern

Every addiction follows the same pattern.  First, you are in a distressed mindset, and the substance (ice cream or alcohol) offers you instant, thought temporary relief.  If it works once, then you are likely to do it again and again.  It becomes a quick fix for your stress, and you have created a short circuit to feeling good that is bad for you.

The more you use this shortcut to feeling good, the more you avoid learning how to manage your feelings and emotions.   The more you eat, the more likely you are to avoid necessary things to resolve stress, depression, and anxiety in real life.  When you don’t learn how to manage your stress and your life, you don’t allow those critical parts of you to fully mature, and rationally be controlled.

You may feel like you were like this since you were born, but you learned that eating can give you relief, so you continue it.  But luckily, you can unlearn it.  Recognizing this is the first step on the road to recovery.

But many people feel like this part of their behavior is part of them, just like the arm is part of their body.  You wouldn’t let anyone take your arm, and so you won’t let anyone convince you to give up this control that you have learned.  That is why unlearning food addiction can be so difficult, as it feels like you are unlearning an essential part of yourself.

The important truths that you can gently learn are that you do not need food to handle your emotions, your stress, or your self-critic.  You can handle your life without overeating, and you don’t have to overeat to feel ok.   It can be a rocky road, but you can find success!

The 12 types of Emotional Hunger

1.  Using a Food Trance to Dull the Pain– If you feel hunger when you are bored, depressed, angry or lonely, you use foods to dull these painful emotions.

2.  Cake won’t Heal What Hurts You– If you get hungry when other people talk down to you, or take advantage of you, or take you for granted, then you typically eat to avoid confrontation.

3.  A Full Heart Fills an Empty Belly– If you want food when there is tension that arises in your close relationships, then you eat to avoid felling the pain of rejection or anger.

4.  Hate yourself, Love your candy– If you are super critical of yourself, and think you are stupid, lazy, or a loser, then you eat to ‘stuff down’ your self-hatred.

5.  Secret Desires are Calorie-Free– If your hunger arises when your intimate relationships don’t provide basic needs like trust or security, then you use food to try to fill the gap.

6.  The Well is Empty no matter How Many Cupcakes– if you stuff your stomach because you were deprived as a child, then you find that it doesn’t matter how much you eat, you can’t fill up.

7.  I Eat What I Want– This is when you eat foods because you want to assert your independence and do not want anyone telling you what to do.

8.  I can’t do it, I’m too Fat– If your appetite kicks in when you are faced with new challenges, then you are using food to avoid rising to the test, or to insulate yourself from the fear of failure.

9.  Aromas instead of Physical Attraction– If you avoid your sexuality and eat instead, you are choosing to stay fat so that nobody desires you, and you can hide from intimate encounters.

10.  Revenge – Emotional eaters who stuff themselves to pay back people who have hurt them in the past are using their bodies as battlegrounds to work out old resentments.

11.  Young and Carefree– if you eat to make yourself feel carefree and child-like, then you are eating to keep yourself from facing the challenges of growing up.

12.  Fear of Being Thin – This is when you overeat because you are afraid of being thin, whether you are mentally aware of it or not.

You can often have more than one of these types of emotional hunger, and each of them have to be treated in a different way, because they all are sourced from different motivations. To break the addiction to food, it requires a healing process.  You must learn to face your sources of emotional hunger in a different way, with decisions and actions, and stop using food to cover them up.  Instead of covering up your problems, fears, self doubt, and boredom with food, you will use your intelligent mind to recognize and deal with problems head on.  It doesn’t happen overnight.

Solutions

  1. Find a therapist who understands this sort of addiction and can walk you through the healing process
  2. Find a support group that can help you tackle the different triggers and help you develop new skill to master your motivations to eat.
  3. Try to do it yourself, and take one emotion at a time.
  4. Try the Shrink Yourself Online Program at www.shrinkyourself.com

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