I tackle this subject today because I feel the need to bring it to light especially when it might not otherwise be discussed. Often times it is easy to notice that you or someone you care about has a problem with x substance (think: alcohol) but it can be harder to notice that you or your loved one are leaning on food as a crutch or using it in, an unknowingly abusive, way to your body by consuming too much or at times, even too little.
Eating when we are not physically hungry is called emotional eating and each of us experience it to some degree. Put another way, “emotional eating is eating in response to something other than hunger. Often times people eat out of stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and happiness. “ (https://www.sharecare.com/health/emotional-eating/what-is-emotional-eating) For example, we go to a birthday party and enjoy a piece of cake or we feel extremely happy about good news we received so we decide to treat ourselves - despite feeling hungry or not - with a yummy bite. In this sense, emotional eating can and does happen to each of us.
While this habit and behavior is nothing to be ashamed of it is one that is usually brushed under the rug to not really be discussed. I am writing about this subject in part because I am quite familiar with it meaning I have dealt with it and from time to time, I have needed to remind myself the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Whether eating to feel “social” (whatever that means!) or eating because you simply are distracting yourself from how you are truly feeling, I have experienced it. Another reason I bring this topic to light is to help you bring awareness to your own habits and behaviors for I am a firm believer that in sharing what we have learned in our experience, including during our struggles, we can help someone who might be going through the same thing.
Looking at the table below, The Eight Traits of Emotional Hunger, it becomes quite clear what is Emotional Hunger versus what is Physical Hunger. If it is something you want to remind yourself of, I encourage you to take a few minutes to study it and familiarize yourself with it. Again, we are focusing on the awareness and having awareness of when we are feeling emotionally hungry and physically hungry - we are not creating judgments in this space!
When we can recognize the difference between the two, it becomes much easier to distinguish what our feelings are and more specifically, what emotions we are experiencing. Reaching for food or fueling our emotional hunger might seem like the easiest choice in the moment but we each know it really does not further our true ambitions and desires. When we are not tuned into our physical needs, we might be eating the healthiest ingredients and/or dish on the planet. However, it is still a response to emotional hunger and not physical hunger.
In challenging you to become aware of your emotional and physical hunger, I also challenge myself to stay awake, aware, and tuned into all of the emotions that come and go throughout the day. By doing this it becomes easier to recognize what we are experiencing and feeling. Even if you are feeling desperate for X (whatever your specific craving might be), remember that you have tools at your disposal to utilize that will help you become more aware so that you are not pushing away from or even avoiding certain emotions when choosing to eat in response to emotional hunger versus physical hunger.
Tools to utilize:
Follow your breathe. In the moment, this might seem like the last thing you want to do but try it out. Give yourself the space and time to breath deeply - inhaling and exhaling - for ten counts.
Make yourself a cup of tea. Boil the water. Prepare the tea and make a ritual out of. Holding the cup in your hands, feel the warmth of the cup. Inhale the aroma of the tea.
Write down how you are feeling. This is an opportunity to become extremely intimate and honest with yourself and it does not need to take much time. Simply take a scrap piece of paper and write exactly how you are feeling. Are you feeling tired? Do you need a break? In writing, your feelings will be shown to you and then you can understand the thought process behind wanting to reach for X.
Take some fresh air. Excuse yourself from wherever you might be and go outside or to an open window to breath in some fresh air. Giving yourself these moments of fresh air can be invaluable especially when you are on the cusp.
Get moving. If possible, go for a short walk. Sometimes a brief change of scenery is just what we need.
I concede that the following five tools are not completely comprehensive. However, I believe them to be extremely useful when, after cultivating an awareness about habits and behaviors, we are learning ways to alter our experience and not emotionally eat.
Do let me know by commenting below if you have experience with this and the best way you have dealt with it.
Love & light!