As the old saying goes, you are what you eat.
For a lot of us, that’s an unsettling prospect. After all, we eat different foods at different times depending on our moods. You’ve probably asked (or been asked) the question “what are you in the mood for” in relation to food and the question is an apt one; our emotional states and our diets are deeply connected.
There are two different ways to look at emotional eating: you may either choose to eat a particular food because you’re in the mood for it or you might choose to eat something, especially compulsively, because your moods trigger negative patterns of thinking where food becomes your coping mechanism when you’re experiencing emotional distress.
Which of these two types of emotional eating describes you?
The first type, eating something because you’re in the mood is generally fine for most people. You’re still in control of what you eat, because you’re making a conscious choice about your diet and can stop eating once you’re full or have satisfied your urge for a particular food.
The second kind of emotional eating is however, unhealthy. When your emotional states are in control of your eating, it means that you’re not in control of your diet and emotional eating can become compulsive or addictive in nature.
Think food can’t be addictive? Think again.
People can become compulsive overeaters or compulsive undereaters; think of eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia nervosa, for instance. Emotional eating can become a serious problem, even to the extent that it’s a genuinely diagnosable mental health issue.
Another problem with emotional eating, even if it doesn’t become an acute risk to physical and mental health is that the foods that people tend to eat compulsively are very unhealthy. It’s usually junk food, not steamed kale that people eat compulsively. People will go for salty, greasy, processed foods which are packed with refined carbohydrates and sugars as well as unnatural additives and preservatives.
Because of the nature of the foods that compulsive eaters generally eat, they form a psychological dependence on not just the act of eating itself, but also the unhealthy ingredients in the foods that they seek comfort from.
There are a variety of natural and artificial ingredients and additives which have an effect on brain chemistry and behavior, including sugar, caffeine and many of the artificial colorings, flavorings and other additives found in processed foods. You can think of these ingredients as something like smoking in that smokers become physically addicted to nicotine as well as psychologically dependent on the act of smoking.
Then there is third kind of emotional eating: people who eat as a response to depression or boredom.
People suffering from clinical depression, whether simple chronic depression or the depressive phases of bipolar disorder will often seek comfort in overeating. Food can be calming and soothing and for those who are struggling with severe depression, it’s not surprising that they turn to this primal source of comfort.
It’s also true that people who are depressed may overeat, especially unhealthy food in order to punish themselves. They’re responding to their low self-esteem and worthlessness. They’ve often internalized the idea that they’re worthless, unattractive (or any other negative trait you care to name) and their overeating affirms these beliefs.
Last, but not least, are people who overeat (or eat the wrong things) out of a sense of scarcity.
These people think of themselves as thrifty, opting for buffets because they can “get their money’s worth” by eating as much as possible. They assume that the more they eat the better value they’re getting. They’ll overeat to the point of extreme discomfort just to make sure that they’re getting what they paid for.
Emotional eating is a very common phenomenon and my private VGB program tackles the challenges of emotional eating as it’s often a contributor to weight problems. If you’ve struggled with your weight, then it’s as likely as not that the root cause is some form of emotional eating. Find more details about my Private Virtual Gastric Band Clinic here.
Erika Slater, CH
Free At Last Hypnosis
80 Worcester Street, Suite 10
North Grafton, MA 01536