The feeling that is most likely to bring on a binge of junk food for me is boredom. On the (these days) rare occasions that I am at a loss for what to do, or I am procrastinating on something that really doesn’t light me up, the first thing I will do is start foraging in the fridge and cupboard for food.
And when I’m feeling happy and excited and in a celebratory frame of mind, I am also way less likely to control what I’m eating and will munch on whatever is in front of me with reckless abandon.
How about you? What are your emotional eating triggers? What situations or feelings cause cravings or bring on a binge eating episode?
Emotional Food Associations
What we need to remember is that there are many emotional associations that come with food. As a society, we use food to socialise, to celebrate on special occasions, and for many of us food is associated with fun and happy times.
We are exposed every day to advertisements where marketers are using our emotions to sell food or drinks. Isn’t it always the case that chocolate will melt away our problems, a can of soft drink will make everything about our day amazing and a greasy burger will make us feel ah-mazing.
However, along with the emphasis on eating and positive feelings, food comes with negative emotions such as shame and guilt as well.
We eat food because we’re bored, tired or angry- this is not physical hunger but emotional hunger. Emotional eating is triggered by feelings and we may not even realise we are using food to deal with our emotions.
This is when the bingeing and over-eating happens- we mindlessly shove food in our mouths, and will do anything to not have to feel the negative emotions. Then when we realise what we have done, we feel sick and remorseful, and still have the heavy feeling in our heart.
In order to break this cycle of feeding our emotions using food, it’s helpful to take a mindful approach.
Mindful Approach to Eating
Start making it a habit to ask yourself these questions, every time you reach for food:
1. Am I biologically hungry?
Tell yourself you can eat, but you must to wait 5 minutes to check your feelings. If you are still physically hungry, honour your hunger and eat.
When deciding what you want to eat, you may want to consider the energetics of food itself. All foods have a distinct energy and characteristic properties that either make us healthy, and are balancing and nourishing for our bodies, or create imbalances that result in sickness. Refer to this infographic below to help choose foods that might help to shift your mood in a positive way.
(Save to Pinterest to read again later!)
If you are not physically hungry, try to sort out what you are feeling.
This brings us to the second question:
2. What am I feeling?
This can be difficult to answer. Are you feeling angry, bored, anxious, depressed, nervous, happy? One way to discover feelings is to keep a food journal. Record not only when and what you eat, but also if you ate fast or slow, if you ate what you really wanted, and how you felt emotionally and physically before and after eating. Review this journal to discover what feelings may trigger eating. You may not be able to identify an emotion, and that is okay too.
3. What do I really need?
This could be:
- Something to drink
- Enough rest
- To express feelings
- To be heard, understood and accepted
- Intellectual and creative stimulation
- To gain sensual pleasure
- To feel needed and respected
Often, the things we really need are because we are lacking in fulfillment, pleasure, satisfaction and fun in other areas of our life- I call these our Soul Foods and I share more about these here.
Understanding Our Emotions and Food
It is definitely a challenge to really learn to understand our emotions and how we associate them with food. To help with this process, I have put together a printable worksheet. Download your free Food-Mood Connection Guide to go through the process for yourself.
Using the worksheet in the guide, you need to put a star next to the moods you frequently experience. Select one or two of those listed and then fill in the second column with the food you associate with those moods. In the third column, list the first non-food action that comes to mind for those moods.
What would happen if you broke the mood-food connection and went straight to the action?
If you cross out the second column on your worksheet, you create a mood-activity connection rather than a food-mood connection.
This is how we start nurturing a healthy relationship to body and food.
We can train ourselves to feel pulled naturally towards supportive habits versus self-destructive ones involving food.
When you start doing this consistently, you’ll be vibrating at a higher frequency where you no longer associate food with the feelings- or even have those negative feelings at all any more!
Building the mood-activity connection will take patience and commitment. Experiment with different responses and allow yourself the flexibility to sometimes eat in response to emotions.
Most of the time, the emotions, moods and stressors that trigger eating are the everyday, garden variety. In these cases, trading actions for foods is a beneficial and positive way of coping.
However, when problems have existed for a long time, interfere with the joy of living and seem to have no solution, you might need to work through that with a professional or expect it to take longer time to really work through the issues.
Don't forget to download your copy of the Food Mood Connection Guide.
I’d love to know a food-mood connection you currently have and how you plan to break the connection to create a mood-activity connection. Share with us in the comments below!