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Gaging whether or not you're an emotional eater seems simple, right? But that’s not always the case. For some, emotional eating has become such an ingrained way of coping that the symptoms aren’t clearly identified.
Often, people are become so out of touch with their own feelings that they don’t realize the hidden emotions sabotaging their efforts to live a healthier life.
As an emotional eater in recovery, it took me years of trial and error with my own health and wellness to finally see that I was focusing on the wrong aspects of my plan. I wanted to lose weight, but I could never seem to “stay on track.”
I'd chastise myself when I didn’t stick to my latest-and-greatest fad diet. I wanted to give up sugar, but inevitably I'd find myself, trancelike, walking my shopping cart down the cookie aisle. When I finally began to see that the emotional me was calling the food shots, I was able to begin to heal from the inside out.
What are some of the symptoms that you may be an emotional eater? Along my journey I found that these signs were quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) telling me that something other than my judgment and reason were driving my cravings and choices. If you can relate to some of these scenarios, your emotions may be the culprit as well.
1. Eating binges start with “I feel like having ____” [fill in the blank with your treat of choice].
“I feel like having” is a feeling statement, and usually it isn’t some sweet or salty food you're truly craving. What you seek may be comfort, conversation, or happiness. Ask yourself what you actually feel like having.
2. The struggle of a difficult day or situation seems to send you careening for the nearest candy bar.
In an effort to keep anger/sadness/frustration at bay, often times the solace of food seems to be the answer. For me, I used it to stuff emotions I didn’t want to deal with or felt weren’t worth displaying. It is OK to allow yourself to feel these things. Your feelings are genuine and valid. Allow them to show themselves to you and acknowledge them so that you can move on.
3. You “treat” good behavior with food.
You may say, “Oh, I worked out so hard, I deserve these potato chips!” Using food as a reward may be a sign that you attribute food to feelings of deserving. Yes we all enjoy a good meal, but using food as a checks and balances system for your “good” behavior puts strong emphasis on using it as an emotional tool. Finding a different, non-food way to reward your efforts will be just as comforting. Maybe you would enjoy a walk or a yoga class instead.
4. You express your feelings to others in the form of food.
For example, your son did great at his concert, so you buy him ice cream for a job well done. Or perhaps you are looking to connect with your partner, so you may cook a special meal to “show” them your love. In our society we have food as a central subject for many celebrations. Using food as a form of expressing your joy or love is emotional in nature.
Try a different way to express your feelings to your loved ones that doesn’t use food as its theme. Maybe for a job well done there is a special activity, and to show your love and devotion a hand-written note or card.
5. You eat when you're bored.
Boredom can be the byproduct of many emotions like loneliness or sadness. If you find yourself reaching for a “snack” when there isn’t anything else to do, ask yourself first if you’re really hungry. You may find the answer is a big no. At that point, being able to evaluate what you're really feeling will allow you to get past the emotion and the desire to eat. Like I said before, acknowledge your feelings. They are vital in letting go of unwanted and unhealthy habits.
By analyzing eating habits and food choices, you may begin to realize that emotions are playing a pivotal roll in escaping any poor habits. By trusting and believing in yourself enough to value your feelings, it won’t be such a struggle to adopt healthy alternatives.
I know it sounds easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort, the investment, in you. It’s a natural conclusion to loving yourself and allowing yourself to feel. Find your feelings and feel them! Then enjoy the rewards!