I might shock you when I say this: Emotional eating is your ally.
Let me deconstruct this step by step to make you see the light.
First of all: what is emotional eating? I define it by eating more than your body needs, in order to soothe something else than physical hunger. It is often accompanied by a loss of feeling of satiety (a bottomless pit-feeling) and for many people this behavior results in huge amounts of guilt and shame. It can easily make a person lose touch with their physical bodies and is as such one of the big causes of overweight. (but definitely not the only, it works in conjonction with many other factors, for a holistic view comprising all the elements, check the video and sign in for one my courses)
Now, just to put things into perspective, have you heard of the fact that animals are prone to emotional eating too? Stressed out monkey? She will eat herself into overweight. Relaxed monkey with an enjoyable monkey life? She will eat until she's not hungry anymore and then stop. (study link ) Now what does this tell us? A monkey does not need any dietary advice: it grows up, eating what it needs intuitively. Its body knows exactly what it needs, when it needs it and the monkey brain is attuned to the signals of the body. All is well. (note we're 99,3% similar to monkeys..) But now, apparently, when you add a chronic stressor to this equation, the monkey's body signals something new to adapt to the situation. Stress is danger. The brain feels it needs to protect the body from this danger. It does this by making sure they have enough fat to survive for the hard times. (as primitive stress mostly consisted of a famine) Food, of its own, has a soothing, calming effect on our organism and lowers stress. That's the way we are designed.
The most important thing I learnt out of this is that it's not your fault!... If you're bingeing or overeating, you are not completely self-destructing, that is your modern day interpretation, because of course, we all want to be "skinny"... But your behaviour has in fact a biologically sound base: it is the most primitive part of you , (aka, the one that made sure your ancestors survived and that you came to life) that wants you to live on. It is a sign that your body has a strong survival instinct and that, if we were still to live in these primitive times, you would probably be among the fittest.... But we don't anymore. Times have changed rapidly and our bodies and minds barely got the chance to adapt. No wonder so many of us struggle with these themes in our societies with an overabundance of food.
So emotional eating is for our survival and we tend to do it mostly when we are under chronic stress. (note that acute, short bouts of stress are different: our bodies react well to these and use them for peak performance) Chronic stress however, can be caused by lots of things: mentally, physically (think: overtraining) or environmentally. Heck, more often than not a 'diet' is a chronic stressor for people, also a negative body image can be a huge chronic stressor, etc ... The thing is, chronic stress is often difficult to recognise. It's a slow slumbering feeling of discomfort, you can feel its effects in that extra 30 minutes before falling asleep, the occasional headaches, the way in which you easily get a cold. And eventually in that overpowering urge to indulge in a box of donuts, after which you want something salty , after which you need some ice cream to flush it through etc... Unexplainable urges for food are often a sign: something is not in balance, something is wearing you down and you are not taking it on the right way. It is a wake up call more than anything else and as such it can be a great tool to figure out how to create a life that is more in line with your true self. Noticed the paradigm switch? Emotional eating is not the enemy, it is a tool, a guide that can direct you to the points in your life that need to be taken care of.
The most tragic thing is that most people, once they feel a food urge coming on, start ranting at themselves: "how is it possible that you want to eat this, you just had lunch, why can't you just wait until dinner, you're such a weak undisciplined person, you're ugly and fat, etc " So what you're doing there is adding even more stress to a moment in which you already were quite stressed out. You start judging, hating yourself and needless to say, it's all just a downward spiral from there. How will this approach end? Probably in indulging in whatever food you are craving and probably in a very mindless way, without even enjoying the taste.
In moments like these you need the exact oppposite: you need love, reassurance, calm, space and acceptance. You need to embrace your urge and thank it, even if this sounds ridiculous. It doesn't matter what you do after this, either you eat the food or you don't. But the most important first step is this.
So if there is one super important kickstart-tip I want to give you now to overcome emotional eating it is this: embrace your urges, thank them for being there to protect you, sit for a while with them in a quiet space. Then go and do whatever you please.
Merely adopting this approach can already get you really far!
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