The Emotion In Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a term thrown around a lot these days. What does that mean? When I ask people, I get a variety of answers…..eating for sadness, loneliness, frustration, stress, boredom. Sometimes people also identify celebration as a reason. Emotional eating refers to eating for ANY reason when you aren’t physically hungry. Well, in that case, who doesn’t?? What has hunger got to do with eating anyway? Often, I find that my clients have been removed from their emotions for so long that they have no idea what they feel. Many times when I ask for an emotion, they tell me what they are thinking because they are so disconnected from their emotions.

Why do we have emotions anyway? What is the purpose? What do you think your life would be without emotions? When I ask people that, they often say that it would be fantastic if they didn’t have emotions. What they don’t realize is that you can’t selectively get rid of the negative emotions. The positive would go too. We would be disconnected and robotic. We wouldn’t have relationships because there would be no need for connection and eventually, we would cease to exist as a species as a result. Emotions are also useful because they are a catalyst for action. If we didn’t feel fear, we couldn’t keep ourselves safe. If we weren’t afraid of losing our jobs and not having the ability to pay our bills, most people would never go to work. I also refer to emotions as a “check engine light”. They are there to tell us something. They communicate a need that we need to pay attention to.

Emotions really only become problematic when we ignore them. Research has proven that emotions intensify when we ignore them or invalidate them in any way. The more we tell ourselves not to feel something or beat ourselves up for feeling a certain way, they get more intense. They begin to take on a life of their own. If food is our main coping mechanism, that is what we will seek out to soothe ourselves. Over time, it becomes an automatic process. We reach for food without even having to think about it.

So, next time you find yourself reaching for food and you know you are not physically hungry, ask yourself what you are feeling. Instead of discounting your emotions, acknowledge them. Explore why you might be feeling that way and what the emotion is trying to communicate. Like a small child, sometimes our emotions just need us to listen to them to feel satisfied. You might not need to eat that cupcake after all!

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.
Michelle Lewis

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