Updated: Nov 13, 2019
I think emotional eating is really powerful.
There are some key differences however between:
1. Emotional eating with awareness and in a mindFUL way
2. Emotional eating without awareness and in a mindLESS way
Also may help to think of it as:
1. Comfort eating
The 2 in each way of explaining it, are different from the other.
Food is here for so many reasons in life. If you’ve spent time with me you’ll have heard me say that food is here to be enjoyed, all of it! And it’s not just here for 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 reasons, or any reasons “I” list. It can, in fact be here for any reason YOU feel it to be.
When people tell others they shouldn’t be emotional eating and should/need to stop, I think this automatically sets someone up for feeling more guilt and shame then they might already be feeling.
If it implies the thought in someone’s mind that what they are doing is wrong, chances are, they’re likely not going to feel good about it.
I don’t particularly like to use the terminology that society has mostly used about emotional eating i.e. that it's 'bad' and we should feel bad if it's something we do.
Something to support that the language that's been used around emotional eating the last few years hasn't really helped all that much is that I hear a huge amount of people say they emotionally eat and know they (in their words) “need to stop”, but how many of us are still out there living in this cycle? Not sure at all what to do when the ‘top tips to stop emotional eating’ that were given to us cease to work.
I don’t help you to STOP emotional eating.
I guide you to bring awareness to your emotional eating experiences.
The goal involves 1 thing - bringing awareness.
And the encouragement of delving deeper into reflecting on that.
What’s going on in these moments for you? Are you able to stop and be really introspective with yourself? If you’re not able to do that, why is that? What’s going on?
If I gave you a solution to what you consider to be "‘your problem" i.e. emotional eating, without even giving you the chance to explore what it actually means for you, and discussing that in a safe place with no judgement, then I don’t think I’ve done you right.
Giving you some tips to help ‘stop’ emotional eating WITHOUT giving you the opportunity to explore what it means for you, is like slapping a temporary band-aid on it.
I don’t want to slap a temporary band-aid on it.
I want to help you become a better YOU.
And I think an entire layer (an important layer) is missed when that happens. I haven’t even give you the opportunity to explore your emotional eating and what it means for you. I haven’t allowed you the chance to get to know yourself a little better.
I truly believe that empowerment is the greatest gift.
I’ve had it gifted to me and it’s what has helped me more than anything else.
So, it’s all good and well to know that there are differences between emotional eating with awareness i.e. mindfully VS emotional eating without awareness i.e. mindlessly. But how do we tell which one we are doing when we don’t fully get the difference in a way that we can see it. This may all be very new to you, after all!
Let’s take a look at 2 examples of some dialogue that might go on inside your head. One example is emotional eating with awareness and another is emotional eating without awareness. Read them both and have a guess at what you think is which.
1. What a stressful day I’ve had at work. I am feeling so stressed at the moment. I just can’t deal with it all at the moment. I need something to drown out my emotions and forget about all of this. I’m going to get ***insert ‘comfort’ food (I’m going to use the word ‘takeout’ in this example***. I know I shouldn’t. Oh god. What is wrong with me? I should not be eating that crap. Why do I keep doing this to myself. Stuff it. ** Gets food and gets home, eats in front of the telly with partner while watching a TV show, feels horrible afterward. Goes to bed and wakes up feeling crappy the next day and guilty from eating take out last night. Then starts a cycle of guilt and eating the following day and subsequent days depending **
2. What a stressful day I’ve had at work. I’m feeling so stressed at the moment. I really really feel like something to soothe my soul tonight. I’ve been under the pump, and now is exactly one of those times where I could really benefit from eating something that I really want and feel like right now, and that’s actually going to satisfy me in a comforting way. And just like I’ve been taught helps and is important to do, I’m going to eat in a mindful way, because I’m choosing this particular comfort food because I ‘love’ it so of course I’m going to create a space to enjoy it! **Gets takeout and gets home, sits at the dinner table with partner/parent/friend, discusses with partner (or yourself internally, aloud or in a journal if no partner/parent/friend someone to share dinner with) what went on internally for you when you made the decision that you wanted something to eat tonight for the sole purpose of comfort. You reflect on your experience in a safe space and also applaud yourself for being so in touch and in tune with yourself. You eat with all your senses and enjoy the amazing taste of that food you have chosen which you love so much. You feel satisfied afterward and you’re proud of yourself for not ***mindlessly*** going at it, and you’re also proud of yourself because you feel gratitude, and no guilt, which is new for you. You pack up the wrappers and go to bed.
I’m sure you figured out that 1 was mindless and 2 was mindful. And 2 also included some reflective dialogue with a loved one/yourself about what went on for you at the time of decision making. It’s important to be reflective when you’re on a journey of change, sometimes it feels vulnerable, but I think reflection and the ability to be vulnerable is what successfully creates change.
Please also note, you don’t have to get it right the first time, or every time. Even if you find yourself not actually wanting the food for comfort/enjoyment, but you do find yourself wanting to numb, then even bringing the awareness that that is the decision you have come to is a step. And not being hard on yourself for doing that, is a step. (BIG steps actually!).
It’s a journey. Change takes time.
You’re also running your own race. No one elses.
Naturally, what I’ve found in my own personal experience of going down this journey (because you BET I had to unwind all my own diet culture tendencies and BS that had been warped inside me, I had to work through all of that before I went anywhere near helping another person to!).
Anyway, naturally what I’ve found in my own personal experience of going down this journey, and being a part of others journeys, is that when awareness is brought to the situation, and it’s met with understanding and compassion, and reflections are successfully undertaken, you understand yourself a little more, and subsequently, these other ‘mindless’ moments naturally happen less and less, without you putting pressure on yourself that they “have to stop happening now because you always do this to yourself and are bad for you.”
It just naturally tends to happen.
Sometimes it’s not drilling yourself and being hard on yourself.
Sometimes it’s just about perspective.
And bringing awareness and that new perspective to something.
And things tend to unfold in a different matter naturally.
Awareness is the most important tool to have and to use!
Awareness IS empowering.
And when we stop labelling things as ‘bad’ and being hard on ourselves for doing something we ‘shouldn’t be doing’ (this includes the forever dubbed devil’s act of ‘emotional eating’ which has been discussed this entire post), we actually give ourselves the permission to just stop, and bring some awareness to our self and be curious, instead of getting angry at ourselves. << When has that (anger) ever actually helped create LONG-TERM, positive change? Sure, short term change maybe, but likely not long term.
I was listening to an audio episode of Brene Brown (die hard Brene fan over here) in the car the other day, and on it came the topic of comfort VS numbing. And how there is a line between numbing and comfort.
Brene talks about how her good friend, Jennifer Lowden, writes about comfort and says that ‘a piece of chocolate can be a holy wafer of comfort, it can bring pleasure, and comfort, and joy to our lives that we deserve and that is wonderful’.
‘But shoving an entire candy bar in our mouths before we have to go in and get our evaluation from our boss, has nothing at all to do with comfort or pleasure, it’s numbing’.
And something that is generally missing from the directly above experience, is a sense of awareness.
If you are ready to step into a space of bringing more awareness into your life, then give this perspective a go next time you find yourself in one of these situations. I always encourage you to have a support network of people who know how to appropriately guide you when heading down any journey such as this. So if you feel called to, reach out. Change is hard, but it's even harder without support.
Remember: Be kind and compassionate with yourself. It’s a journey.