There are 2 main functions in the body that take up so many resources and energy that other less important body processes are paused until these functions are complete. These two processes are digesting food and managing emotions.
Both of these require such significant resources that it’s nearly impossible to effectively carry out both of these processes at the same time. This is one of the reasons that digestion gets completely out of whack when we are under emotional distress. And it’s also how we can almost literally “eat our feelings.”
We may not realize this consciously but when we feel emotionally stressed and start eating as a result, we are very effectively using food to physically suppress the emotions that have surfaced (or are trying to surface). By eating food, we automatically shut off our body’s emotion processing functions. We might not consciously know it but our body has learned that if an emotionally troubling situation comes up, it can signal hunger so that we’ll eat and then we are forced to stop processing that emotion. This is why we often crave food when things get emotionally difficult.
It’s almost like a protection (fight or flight?) from having to deal with the emotion we’re experiencing. Eating forces us to procrastinate processing the stress, the pain, the embarrassment, the resentment or even sometimes the happiness! Have you ever had something super amazing and exciting happen and suddenly you’re eating everything in sight because you can’t even handle the happiness? Sometimes, we also feel that we don’t deserve that happiness, so we eat food instead of relishing the moment emotionally.
Here are some techniques that can help when cravings arise:
- Step 1: Simply be aware that emotional eating is built into every part of you and that when you stress eat, it’s so that you can avoid or procrastinate going through an emotion. With emotions, we can’t go around them. We can’t go above them or under them or to the side of them. The only way out is THROUGH the emotion.
- Step 2: Stop. The next time you find yourself reaching for the fridge in distress, or hopping in your car to go through a drive through, just stop first. Stop before eating. Get present. Ask yourself, what emotion you’re trying to avoid? What situation you’re trying to avoid? Observe your emotions for a few minutes.
- Step 3: Set up some triggers because you’re going to need to practice this. You can set up a red flag to go off in your brain by telling yourself, “From now on, I’m going to stop before I eat and think.” Many of you already pray before you eat – so add this to that trigger. You can also set up a phone alarm if you normally eat at the same times each day. This will give you some time to emotionally prepare before eating.This is going to take practice… because the truth is that sometimes these emotions come to us so quickly that we are already halfway through the ice cream tub before we even realize what’s going on.
- Step 4: Once you’ve sat with that emotion and feel like you’ve given it some love and attention, then you can ask your BODY what it wants (not what your emotions want). Oftentimes, you’ll be open to eating something much more healthful after spending just 5 to 10 minutes in this exercise.