You’re Not Hungry. You’re Lonely.

When discussing emotional eating triggers, clients often say they are bored. I routinely tell people that I don’t believe boredom is a real emotion. We have so many things to capture our attention, so food doesn’t need to be among them. When I ask clients about triggers for emotional eating, some people are so out of touch with their emotions, they honestly don’t know what is driving it. They say it isn’t emotional eating. They say it is just mindless. If that is the case, why do we routinely eat when we aren’t hungry? ANY eating when we aren’t physically hungry comes down to emotion. Period. If you can’t see what emotion is triggering the eating, you aren’t looking closely enough. There is some sort of emotional payoff. It could be comfort, soothing, avoidance, distraction, numbness, escape, defiance (ever popular if you are on a restrictive diet) or a whole list of others. These payoffs all come down to use wanting to feel something or not feel something. If that isn’t emotional eating, I don’t know what is!

Let’s look closely at the typical situation leading to emotional eating…..You have been “good” all day with your eating. You have eaten according to plan and you are feeling pretty confident….until you go home. Maybe you live alone. Maybe you live with other people, but still feel alone. Either way, loneliness is lurking around the corner. When we don’t want to be alone with our own thoughts, we seek out a distraction. It could be the internet, watching something on tv or in the case with my clients, it is most often food. We seek to use food to form some sort of emotional connection. It can be like a hug from the inside out. It is predictable. It is always there. If this sums up your experience, you are certainly not alone. It happens often. Getting out and keeping yourself busy isn’t enough. This is particularly true if you already come home to people. By healing the deeper connections between food and loneliness, you can truly feel free from this pattern! If hunger isn’t the problem, food will never be the solution!

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.

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