"There aren’t enough cookies in the world to make you feel loved and whole."
-Michael Neill, the world famous lifestyle “supercoach”.
What Is The Problem?
We have all done it. We’ve eaten when we shouldn’t. There can be lots of reasons why we’ve sat down at the kitchen table to eat something (sometimes not even bothering to sit). Sadly hunger, true physical hunger, is not always the reason.
The basic function of food is to satisfy the body’s physical need for energy and nutrients. However, we eat for many other reasons, whether we are hungry or not. We eat for pleasure with our friends in a social environment (e.g. at a party, or when grabbing a snack on an outing). We eat at precise times of the day because society says we must (e.g. breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, supper). Have you ever taken a mid-morning break from your work to have a coffee and ended up scoffing a packet of biscuits? For whatever reason, it turns out that frequently we eat when we are not truly hungry. Very often, this eating is an unconscious reaching out for reassurance. This eating is when we are emotionally unbalanced, and we need to fill a hole in our lives. This is emotional eating, and it conceals some very real dangers.
Why Do We Do It?
It is a normal part of life that from time to time we experience emotional pain, isolation, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, stress, frustration, disappointment, and the whole spectrum of negative mental states. Psychologists are fond of pointing out that when we cannot handle these negative emotions we turn to food to replace the perceived voids, and thereby fill the emotional gaps. The problem with this, is that food can only fill a physical gap; food cannot fill an emotional gap and it is not the solution to our problems. Many people would disagree. They think food brings them comfort, even if it is only a temporary comfort. Eventually this comfort eating becomes a habit, and that is a completely wrong strategy for coping with emotional stress. These people are avoiding reality, instead of looking their problems in the face. These people are stuck in an emotional loop, where eating is an escape from reality.
What Are The Dangers?
At this point I would expect somebody to jump up and say “what's wrong with having a piece of chocolate when I'm upset, I know it will calm me down?” There are two significant problems with that point of view. Firstly, eating does not solve the problem, at best it is only a temporary distraction. Secondly, it is a habit-forming behaviour; whenever we are dissatisfied, we will reach for food. Often we are not even conscious of what we are doing.
Emotional eating is a psychological problem that very often leads to a physical problem. It is an addiction - like smoking and alcohol. Perceiving food as a substitute friend is a vicious circle from which release becomes increasingly difficult.
Recognising There Is A Problem
When reaching for food, everybody should ask themselves “am I really hungry or is it because I’m nervous, upset, or under stress?" You can easily distinguish between these two types of hunger. The first serious indication that your hunger is emotional is if you have a compulsive urge that must be satisfied immediately. This sudden desperation for food is not typical of physical hunger. Physical hunger occurs gradually, and your body will give you plenty of advance notice. Emotional hunger is different; it must be addressed and satisfied instantly to suppress the stress, negative emotion, tension, etc. Physical hunger starts slowly as a mild empty stomach growling which will grow to a rumble, then fatigue, and eventually dizziness. These are the signs that you need to recharge your batteries by eating something.
What Are the Actions for a Happier, Healthier You?
Of course, the first thing to do is to observe your own behaviour and recognize what you are doing. If you are in an emotional conflict or an extreme situation, do you reach out for food? Recognizing the problem is a good start but it is only part of the solution, it is only the first step.
The second step is to understand why you do it. You need to understand the real reasons that cause you to reach out for food. What is the real cause of your emotional hunger - what do you lack, what do you need, and what do you fear?
The third step is to find a better way to deal with these emotions, and only you can do that. Only you can find the right solutions for your emotional problems.
The fourth step is to put those solutions into practice. There is a wide variety of activities that will work. Instead of eating, try to relax with some good music, or phone a friend. Go for a walk in the fresh air. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Take a break from your emotional problem and do the washing up. When the body is engaged with a simple physical task, the mind relaxes, and problems start to make sense. You can also master a number of simple, but quite effective emotional mastery techniques that will help you better control any situation, not only your emotional eating problem.
Whatever you do, remember to face your fears, and take steps to overcome them. There is no other way.
Ashton Aiden is a success coach and the founder of Brainwavelove.com – a free online resource, dedicated to helping people discover practical, accessible ways of reaching that next level of self awareness, manifesting positive experiences and outcomes in their life. Ashton has also specialized in personal one on one Rebirthing Breathwork (energy breathing) sessions, and is available inhe state of Utah. He has recently put together a powerful free E-book on Emotional Mastery, which incorporates a free Coaching Program on Manifestation and Success. Ashton is responsive to all personal requests for support and information – you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and at the e-mail addresses listed on the site.