So why do some of us eat when we are actually not hungry? Why is it that real physical hunger can be confused with emotional hunger for so many of us?
In a nutshell, emotional hunger is created when you experience uncomfortable feelings. That’s why sticking to a diet plan can be so challenging; while things are going well in your life you might be able to stick to your diet plan but when life gets challenging food can be something you turn to as a coping strategy. Emotional hunger can be triggered by all sorts of things such as situations where you feel stressed or even bored. Also, people can trigger it; a glance, a word, being ignored or a particular action from someone can set off uncomfortable feelings that cause you to overeat. But why does this happen?
At the start of Understanding your Eating, we take a look at where these patterns of behaviour might come from in your life.
It makes sense to think about what your life as a child was like with your primary caregivers. There’s a huge link between food and love and the comfort gained from being fed as an infant by your mother. When neglect from your parents (for whatever reason) takes place, then food and love can get mixed up. You crave food when what you really want is love. Learning to regulate your moods as you grow into an adult is part of natural human development but food can still be used as an artificial quick switch to stop feeling bad. As an adult, you might be used to settling your uncomfortable feelings with food; overeating can soothe your anxieties.
Using food to deal with your anxieties works well in the short term. We can avoid our problems by soothing ourselves with food but what about the long term? Many people I work with have been in this vicious cycle for years and have physical and mental health issues because of it. Knowing you are in the cycle is, of course, the first step.
Only by taking the next steps of really looking at what is going on in your life and what you are trying to avoid by emotional eating can you start to break the cycle and do something different!