We talk about childhood obesity yet we aren’t getting to the root of the problem when it comes to eating and our food choices. While kids today may be getting less exercise than we as parents did in the past, how we eat is at the root.
Emotional eating is one of the most commonly used substances to numb ourselves of feelings we find uncomfortable. Having these feelings may influence your motivation to eat, your food choices, where, when and with whom you eat, and the speed with which you eat. Learning how to identify it in yourself and others can help you to create new habits which will save the health and happiness of yourself as well as your children.
Here are some examples of what emotional eating might look like:
- Eating to soothe or reward yourself after a long day
- Eating during or following a stressful event
- Turning to food to stuff feelings of angerEating to procrastinate
- Eating to procrastinate
- Eating to numb feelings or forget your worries
- Secretive eating
- Eating quickly and mindlessly without really tasting the food
- Grazing on food when you are not particularly hungry
- Eating that feels uncontrollable or very difficult to stop
- Frequently craving and eating foods you think of as “comfort foods”
- Eating to celebrate or as the primary source of adding joy to your life
- Continuing to eat when you know you are moderately full
The first step to weaken this cycle is to notice your emotions before and after eating. Do your best to be as nonjudgmental as possible. Take a” just the facts” approach so you can gather important information. Recall a situation in which you recently overate where you believe emotions were the primary trigger. You might want to jot down in a notebook the answers to the following questions:
- What was the circumstance? Where was I, who was I with, had something recently happened that might have prompted the urge to escape feelings through food?
- Was I more vulnerable to eating due to something in me such as fatigue or the environment ?
- What was I feeling and/or thinking? What sensations was I aware of in my body?
- How did the emotions or thoughts affect my eating?
- How did I feel physically, mentally and emotionally after eating?
When you begin to notice the feelings, thoughts, and other aspects of your eating experiences, you are taking a step back and getting more perspective on your triggers. When you practice gaining perspective, your behavior will become less impulsive. Over time, you will become able to say things like, “I’m really angry and I want to go eat a bag of chips.” From there you will have the choice to learn a new way to cope with the anger rather than feeling controlled by it.
Once you have practiced this on yourself, you can begin to identify in those around you that you love. Being able to notice that behavior is an indicator that your spouse or child may need some help in identifying or expressing an emotion. When emotions become hard to handle, many people feel like they don’t have the skills to cope and eating seems like the best option available to them at the time. Also reaching out for guidance from a licensed therapist or coach can help you gain communication skills and awareness in yourself that you can then pass on to those around you by modeling it as well as offering empathy and understanding.