I’ve always said that eating well is key to health and a healthy weight. But getting to the “eating well” part isn’t just about the food. If it were, we would have far fewer overweight people today. Two thirds of American adults are overweight and half of them fall into the obese category. How can that be turned around so that two thirds of Americans are at their ideal weight? It’s complicated, but it’s entirely possible.
Emotions factor into eating in very deep ways. If you go way back, you may remember a parent or well-meaning adult put a lollipop in your mouth after your fell off your tricycle and skinned your knee, when what you really needed was a hug and reassurance that you’d be okay. You may also remember getting a treat for good grades, or a grandmother saying “eat, eat, eat - I baked all day for you!” These experiences planted the seeds that link emotions to food.
I heard a story about a man who was terribly hurt in grade school when he learned he was the only one in his class who was not invited to a birthday party. To comfort him, his Mom took him out for an ice cream sundae.
A client of mine has been caregiving for family members. She gained a lot of weight because she “rewarded” herself with huge amounts of junk food when she really needed a hug and a show of appreciation.
Tips for Overcoming Emotional Eating
The first step is to get in touch with your physical body. Recognize the true physical feeling of hunger. This is very important. You need to know what hunger feels like so you can eat when you are hungry and pass up food when you are not.
The second step is critical - you need to know how you feel about things. If you have been an emotional eater for a long time, you have been anesthetizing yourself with food. When you do that, it is very easy to get out of touch with your authentic emotions. You zone out. So the next time something upsets you, check in with yourself. Do you feel angry? Hurt? Disappointed? Lonely? When you connect with that feeling you will have a chance to resolve it in a way that doesn’t involve food.
It’s Really about Love
We can blame it on food, or blame it on the scale, or blame it on the things or the people who upset us. But to have a healthy relationship with food, we need to take care of our emotions and remind ourselves that we are lovable human beings. With that acknowledgement, learning to eat for the right reasons becomes much easier.
My client who had been eating junk food as a reward for caregiving is doing something different now. She spoke with her family and said she’s happy to help them but she is putting some boundaries around the time that she gives them. She now has time to socialize with friends at least once weekly. And per my instructions, she gives herself a big hug every day and appreciates herself for getting more balance in her life. In doing this, the junk food that once soothed her is no longer needed.
We all have the potential to be a healthy weight. Tapping into the emotional aspects of eating is a sure way to put you on a path to healthy eating.
How Health Coaching Helps
As a health coach I don't just look at what you eat. Instead, we put your eating habits into the context of your lifestyle, and from there begin to deconstruct the obstacles you encounter around eating well. Nourishment in its true form encompasses your lifestyle, your emotions and the resulting food you put on your plate. When you dig deep into the whole picture of your life, you begin to see how it impacts your food choices. That's when sustainable changes for the better can be made.