Like many women, I’ve struggled with issues around food in my past. It’s a tough thing because we need food to survive, but at the same time, we get so many conflicting messages around it from society, our families and media. A lot of times, food has been used as comfort as a child – even doctors would sometimes give me a sweet treat (lolly) when I was given a shot and upset. And if you had a bad day at school? Out would come the cookies. Having spoken to many women about this, with similar stories, it’s no wonder that we may come to equate food with dealing with our emotions. And note, this isn’t just a problem for women. Many men also bury their emotions and choose food as their ‘weapon of choice’.
But, this can become a problem, particularly if you start to use food all the time instead of dealing with your emotions. Overeating can lead to a bad cycle: feel a “bad” emotion – eat food – feel badly about overeating or eating something that you have labelled as ‘bad’ – eat more, etc, etc, etc. Instead of facing the emotion, you may end up gaining weight and feeling worse and worse.
So, how do you get out of the cycle. Here are a few tips from Dr. Sonia Greenidge as reported by Psychologies in their Feb 2014 issue:
1. Before you eat something, ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are upset about something. Physical hunger is felt in the stomach, while emotional hunger is usually felt in the mouth, with specific cravings. Rate your hunger level from 1 (very hungry) to 10 (very full). If you are below a 5, then it may mean that you are dealing with physical hunger…otherwise, it may just be emotional hunger.
2. If you are emotionally hungry, sit with the emotions. What is going on for you right now? What are your feelings? Your thoughts? Your bodily reactions? Do you have any images in your mind that relate to that feeling? Accept the feelings. You can also write them down and see if the thoughts you have are helpful or not. Use a thought record and see if you can come up with a more helpful thought.
3. Figure out what triggers your emotional eating. For me, it was around boredom and feeling out of control. I would begin to focus on my negative thoughts and just want to bury them. But once I began to recognise the triggers, I also could stop the thoughts and grab a water or do something instead.
4. Challenge your typical behaviours by placing reminders around to question what is going on. One idea is to place the question, What am I feeling?, on your fridge. Think about short-term gains versus long-term aims.
If you feel that you are overwhelmed by all of this, seek out some support. A CBT therapist, like me, can be really useful in figuring it all out and getting at the root of why you feel the way you do. Or join a group, like Overeaters Anonymous.
It’s a long journey sometimes to figuring out what’s going on with you and food. You can do it. You are worth it. Yes, you truly can do it.