As I begin working with new clients, very often I hear, "Margaret, I'm an emotional eater." I ask them, "What emotions do you eat?"
Emotional eaters eat emotions. When people are unaware of which emotions they eat, they may eat for all emotions because they believe they are emotional eaters.
People turn to food or experience mindless eating rather than address painful emotions or situations that they face. The excess eating only exacerbates the circumstances, and the emotions are not fully felt and dealt with. This can go on for years. Don't eat your emotions; feel them, move through them, and they will subside.
Identify the emotions that you eat.
I like to think of the array of emotions like raindrops. Some hit us while others miss us.
Pinpoint which emotions you numb with food. Chances are, not all emotions cause you to eat. I have found when someone claims to be an emotional eater, they define themselves as one, and will eat mindlessly for each one. People differ on the emotions they eat. Once you realize you do not eat all emotions, you can identify the specific ones you do. For example, I know that I tend to eat anger or frustration, but anxious, nervous, happy, and many other emotions do not cause me to head to food.
Armed with this knowledge, I can now stop myself before I mindlessly eat due to those emotions that I eat. The interesting part is that my first instinct is still to move toward food, but I can stop myself and ask, "What am I angry at?" I can then deal with the emotion in a more productive manner.
When you decipher the exact emotions you eat, you will realize those are the only ones you need to focus on. The others, like missed raindrops, will never affect you.
What types of food do you turn to?
To help identify which emotions you eat, pay attention to the type of food you turn to. If you want soft, creamy, or sweet items you are looking to soothe yourself. You may be feeling grief, loneliness, sadness, or hurt. These are emotions where you need healing.
When you turn to food that is hard, crunchy, salty, and makes you chew hard, you may be feeling angry, frustrated, victimized, or trapped. These are emotions where you need to release energy.
Once you identify the emotion and your desired outcome, you can then decide on a non-food course of action. If you need to heal, do what is healing to you. You may want to write out your feelings, listen to music, or read something uplifting. Do whatever works for you, if you need to release energy. Take a brisk walk, do jumping jacks, call a friend, or any activity that allows you to let go of energy in a non-food way.
Move through emotions.
Often emotions are too painful, and for protection we numb them. Painful emotions will last longer when they are numbed; you can exit them quicker when they are felt. Use awareness, not another crutch to feel emotions. Be constructive, not destructive.
Think of it as physical pain. After a surgery, the most painful time is immediately following. As days pass, the pain subsides. The same is true of emotional pain. The emotions can be passing, but by eating them, they remain. When you eat emotions, you have made temporary emotions permanent.
Never deal with a temporary situation with permanent behavior.