It was the end of a long, stressful day. She was tired and wanted to relax and forget, so she grabbed a bag of chips, a large soda, and a half-empty package of cookies. She sat down on the couch in front of the TV and checked out. A while later, she reached into the bag for another chip and discovered that the bag was empty. She reached for the soda bottle. That was empty, too, as was the package of cookies. “What? What happened?” she said aloud in amazement. “Where did all the snacks go?” She remembered eating some of it, but not all of it. Like a light going out, she had gone dark. And she hated herself for it.
Emotional eating. We all do it and we’ve been doing it since the very beginning of our lives. As babies, we cried because we were lonely. Here, have a breast or bottle. As small children, we cried when we fell and got hurt. Here, have a cookie. As teenagers, we cried because our boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with us. Here, have some ice cream.
Feel bad. Eat food. Feel better.
We are all eaters. Eating is something we must regularly do in order to stay alive. Eating is a blessing. It is life-giving. It is necessary.
Many people don’t just call themselves eaters but identify themselves as being “emotional” eaters as if there is something fundamentally wrong with them. If you call yourself an emotional eater, or a binge eater, or an overeater, you are passing judgment upon yourself. Living under judgment is very stressful and will impact your health and well-being.
The truth is, there is no such thing as an emotional eater or a binge eater or an overeater.
- You are not an emotional eater. You eat for emotional reasons.
- You are not an overeater. You overeat.
- You are not a binge eater. You binge eat.
The issue isn’t you. The issue is your behavior, and if it is simply a behavior that needs to be addressed, then that is good news because you can change your behavior.
How to Stop Emotional Eating
The brain loves pleasure. It seeks out pleasure. Your brain wants you to pay attention to and enjoy the foods you eat while you are eating. This is satisfying. When you eat without paying attention to what you are eating, your brain doesn’t recognize the food you are eating and tells you to eat more. This can cause you to overeat.
The best way to set you free from emotional eating is to slow down while you are eating. There is no other way. Slowing down helps you to be present and pay attention to what you are eating. It also shifts the conversation from what you should be eating (and beating yourself up for not doing it) to how you should be thinking about and transforming your relationship to food.
If you are a fast or even moderately fast eater, you are putting your body in a state of stress. There can be many reasons for this.
- You are in a hurry and may not have given yourself enough time to eat. This can happen to any of us, but if you find that this is a part of your lifestyle, you may want to see how you can spend more time for food.
- You may think that food makes you fat, therefore you are going to try to get away from the enemy by eating as quickly as you can.
- You may have simply developed a habit of eating quickly, for whatever reason.
- You are afraid that there will not be enough food, so you have to eat quickly in order to eat more. This can be emotionally driven. You may fear that there is a scarcity of food. This fear can either be real or imagined. Both have the same effect because the brain doesn’t know the difference.
There are many, benefits to slowing down your eating speed. Slowing down:
- Burns more calories. When you are relaxed while eating, you inhale more deeply, bringing more oxygen into your body. As with anything that burns, the more oxygen, the better it will burn. This includes calories.
- Activates the Cephalic Phase Digestion Response, which begins the process of digestion. This phase is activated by the sight, smell, or even the very thought of food.
- Increases your body wisdom by recognizing when your gut and brain have both had enough. It takes about 20 minutes for the gut to signal to the brain that it is full. If you “go dark” while eating by not paying attention, you will miss this signal and keep eating, causing you to be uncomfortably full and possibly gain weight.
- Increases your metabolism and help you to experience better digestion. If you are relaxed while eating, your digestive system will be able to absorb all the nutrients that are in the foods you eat, thus giving you more energy and improving your overall mood.
- Keeps you from overeating because, through the “brain-gut axis,” the brain and gut are in full communication, telling you when to stop eating.
- Increases your enjoyment of food because you are fully present and grounded when you eat. Being fully present and grounded are necessary to entering a relaxed, rest and digest state.
- Regulates your appetite because, again, you are listening to your body and giving it what it needs and wants.
How to Slow Down with Food
Here are some things that you can do to begin your process of slowing down with food.
- Relax into the eating experience. Take a moment to take 5-10 deep breaths before eating to relax your body. Deep, relaxed breathing is the kind of breathing that expands your stomach. This kind of breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, aka rest and digest.
- As much as possible, schedule enough time at each meal so you can be relaxed and eat slowly.
- Use your senses for more enjoyment of food to activate that Cephalic Phase Digestion Response. Before you take a bite, look at the food on your plate. Notice the different colors and shapes. Lean in and breath in deeply to smell the different aromas. Try to pick out the different herbs and spices. Feel the different textures. The hardness of an uncooked carrot. The soft, velvety texture of the mashed potatoes. The juiciness of an orange. Etc. Then taste your food, chewing thoroughly. Digestion of food begins in the mouth.
- Don’t multitask while eating. This will cause your brain to be distracted, thus interrupting the signals from your gut to your brain and cause you discomfort and weight gain from overeating.
- Make your meal an experience – enjoy and savor it!
If you follow these tips, you will begin your journey toward ending emotional eating. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. Start slowly. Take one or two suggestions at a time. It’s a practice that, over time, will bring you into a better relationship with food and yourself. You are not looking to be perfect. Your goal should be to slowly improve day by day, week by week, month by month.
Go slowly, and be patient.
Fear and emotional stress can affect the digestion of your food. It can also cause you to “go dark” by not being present to your food and life while you are eating. It can influence your hormones, health, and even your thoughts.
If you would like help in implementing the steps above as well as learning more about how you can improve your relationship with food and yourself, gain more energy, and live in a deeper, healing relaxed state in your life, book a call so that we can start the conversation on how you can move forward in your journey to create the health and life you envision.