Have you ever found yourself standing in front of an open refrigerator, freezer, or pantry searching for that something you feel like you need?
Perhaps you want the saltiness and crunch of potato chips or popcorn, or the sweet, cold, creaminess of ice cream, or the melt in your mouth deliciousness of chocolate?
Whatever your food craving, do you always seek it out because of hunger? Probably not. Sometimes you may just eat it because you want it and it tastes good, but sometimes we seek certain foods out because of emotional eating.
What is emotional eating? The Mayo Clinic defines it as, “eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.”
I would say that a majority of us have done this at one time or another, some more than others. I used to use food as a way to try to fill an emotional void, as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, and as a source of comfort. Sometimes I would mindlessly eat and not really even taste or enjoy the food.
How did I curb this tendency? It was through a process of self-discovery and becoming more self-aware.
I had been so accustomed to snacking and emotional eating that it had been quite a long time since I had felt real hunger.
So first, I had to allow myself to experience hunger – that empty, gnawing sensation in your stomach where you really feel like you need to eat. I also had to discover what being full felt like because I had started associating that feeling of being stuffed after you overeat at Thanksgiving dinner, with feeling full. I thought if I didn’t feel that way, then it must mean that I am hungry.
I had to learn how to eat to the point where I satisfied my true hunger, but stopped before I felt full. It took some time for me to adjust to that.
Once I had a grasp on what real hunger and being full felt like, I was able to begin to tackle my emotional eating.
Lao-tzu once said, “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
I decided that I was going to master myself in this area. When I would have the urge to eat, I would pause and think, “Are you really hungry?” If the answer was no, then I would remind myself of a quote that I had heard in a Weight Watchers meeting, “Food is not the solution, if hunger is not the problem.”
I would try to focus on the emotions that I was feeling and think about any issues that may be contributing to the urge to emotional eat. If I felt that I really was hungry, I would still question my motivations for wanting to eat by imagining a healthy snack like fruit or a healthy meal and asking myself if that would satisfy my hunger.
I reasoned that if I was really hungry, I would go for an apple or some blueberries for a snack, but if I was just craving something like chips or chocolate, then I felt like it was just a desire for that particular food.
If I really was hungry, I would eat. If I felt like it was just a craving, then I would drink some water, have a piece of gum and try to do something else to distract myself and see if the craving passed. Sometimes, I would give in to the craving, because we shouldn’t deprive ourselves either, but at least I was aware of why I was eating and was in control of my eating – making a conscious choice rather than impulsive, emotional eating.
I knew that I had really started to change my emotional eating habits when I was able to keep myself occupied instead of eating out of boredom, when I felt like I wanted to exercise as a way to deal with stress, when I would turn to my faith, seeking comfort through prayer, and when I would turn to family and friends for support instead of seeking solace in food.
Does it mean that I never have the urge to emotional eat? No, but it occurs far less frequently now, and I have learned to recognize this urge and not give into the impulse like I used to. I don’t know that I can claim to have mastered myself yet, but I am working on it.
Aren’t we all works in progress though? The point is to progress.