Our relationship to food is inextricably connected to our cultural and family traditions, our social lives and our daily routines. Whether fueled by boredom, anger, or sadness, it is all too easy to eat for reasons other than hunger — “emotional eating”— which can lead to weight gain, sugar addiction, digestive distress, and other problems.
To conquer emotional eating, it is essential to confront the difficult feelings that are usually at the heart of our self-sabotaging behavior. In the same way that functional medicine seeks to uncover the root cause of illness, rather than simply treating symptoms, in functional nutrition, we need to recognize and address the root causes of emotional eating.
The next time you find yourself staring down a pint of ice cream or a bag of potato chips, take a few minutes to quietly and compassionately ask yourself these three questions, as a first step towards addressing your stress-related eating.
1. What am I feeling right now?
The first step is awareness – bring mindfulness to your emotions, to your cravings, to your mood. Commit to taking a few minutes to write down your feelings — either in sentence form, as a free-form list, or however you can best unearth and capture the emotions that are driving you to eat when not hungry.
2. What do I truly want right now?
Any type of addictive behavior has its root cause in an unfulfilled need or wish. Explore the craving, the desire, the feeling that if you don’t have _______, you won’t survive. Maybe you feel unloved or feel unappreciated, or are disappointed by a setback at work, or are angry at your spouse, or frustrated with a close relative. By uncovering your real feelings and desires in this moment, you are closer to the root cause of your behavior and actions.
3. What can I do to fulfill that true desire, in this moment?
You may not be able to get what you want — in fact, if you could, you would not be digging into the Haagen Dazs. That said, you may be able think through some way around those devastating feelings of disappointment, anger or sadness. Once you have some grasp on question #2, you can begin to address the next step — how you can move towards fulfillment, forgiveness, or letting go. You can also begin to recognize that a pint of Haagen Dazs won’t get you there, so you may as well not bother.
Once you have worked through these questions, you may find yourself in a more difficult place, but with a greater understanding of your emotions and the futility of trying to eat your way out of it. Compassion and self-care will guide you towards your next step. Be patient and seek out friends and family who support you.
Don’t forget to remind yourself:
- You are more than your emotions
- You can let go
- You can change