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EMOTIONAL EATING

FITMAG MAGAZINE
FITMAG MAGAZINE
Article by: Kshitij roy

Food! Remember that phrase ‘Food, shelter and clothes are three basic needs of life ‘? Food was the first thing that happened to us when we came into this world. The first thing that we learned instinctively was to feed and then survive. It is the fuel which gets us through the course of life.

But does this definition hold true today? Is it just used as the concept of fuel in today’s food abundant environment?  Obviously, the answer is ‘NO’. Mankind evolved, discovered taste, found ingredients, formulated recipes and along with it the very basic idea of the food evolved. Food no longer remained JUST a fuel for the body. It became an idea to cater to our taste buds. It has become an idea of comfort, an aid to our celebrations and an escape to anxiety or even something to turn to when bored.

Even If you Google the word ‘Food’, the first few things that appear are a list of nearby restaurants and not the Wikipedia link explaining the definition of food.

Clearly, food has become an emotion, more of an obsession with today’s dynamic and fast-paced lifestyle. That’s where the issue of ‘Emotional Eating’ comes into the picture. It is so prevalent in today’s world that it needs to be addressed and resolved.

What is emotional eating anyway? Well, it is a subconscious strategy to cope with our emotional needs through food. Basically, it is one kind of eating disorder that we often fail to spot consciously and go on a binge just to FEEL better.

There are several reasons behind it:

Triggers, reaching a better feeling emotion, social environments

Most people eat to feel better. They believe that when they are done with the food, they will reach a better feeling place emotionally, than the way they were feeling before. Take advertisements for instance. Every other tagline selling a particular food item hints at the idea,” there is nothing good food can’t fix”. People buy into such thoughts because they are not aware of the fact that food’s job was to never heal emotions. So how does this happen? Every person has a built-in thermostat that helps them understand (on a subconscious level) whether their fuel level is in a comfortable range. They feel hungry when their fuel level drops and that actually triggers the desire to eat. As their fuel level goes up, the inner thermostat indicates that they are full and need to stop eating. And here, taste is a major factor because it comforts people and distracts them from the chaos around.

It can be concluded that people eat for triggers. Triggers can be physical, environmental or emotional. For example, there are physical triggers such as thirst or fatigue. There are environmental triggers such as the abundance of food. One of the important triggers that we see in people is the compulsion which states that they have to eat because they have paid for the food. People in India associate affording food with hard earned money and they simply have the need to finish everything off the plate. Parents can often be seen retorting the fact,” don’t waste food, some people struggle for even a nibble”. Funnily enough, at times if there is free food, people feel the subconscious need to have most of it. How many times have we seen our friends making fun of us for not consuming enough free food at a buffet?

People also eat when they are sad. Chewing onto any comfort food is deemed as some sort of relaxation for the mind. People turn to food when they feel unworthy of love. They find their solace in a platter offering so much taste.  People eat when they are celebrating. People eat when they think they are rewarding themselves after a period of diet. People eat when they are angry or even when they are anxious. People eat even when are bored. Basically, people eat for every EMOTION.

The WHY behind it

It is quite interesting to notice that in this food abundant environment, people struggle with it because they are disconnected from the real reason behind ‘why they need food in the first place’.

If people are eating when they are sad, mad, glad, anxious, bored or because they see food or they find free food, what exactly do they feel like eating? Nobody turns to a plate of boiled broccoli or steamed chicken in such times. Chocolates? Yes.  A tub of ice cream after a painful break -up? Of course!  Chips, pizza or beer to kill time with friends? That’s the thumb rule.

WHY people want to eat is directly linked to WHAT they are going to eat.

The HOW of it

Now, how do people eat when they are overeating? In a hurry, right?! Because there is always something important to do while you eat .Does gorging on ice cream while standing near the freezer sound familiar? Stuffing pizza and beer over a ‘Netflix and chill’ date or preparing for an office meeting while munching on tons of fries, we all have been there. Now we console ourselves by saying that we are such cool multitaskers. But this whole idea of multitasking is a big fat lie because you can only focus on one thing at a time.

Even in multitasking, you are focused on your priority task majorly and the rest of the activities are on autopilot. If we are engaged in doing some activity while we are eating, ‘eating’ activity is actually on ‘autopilot’. We tend to eat until the plate is empty and after the food is gone, we hardly register the memory of eating on your mind. Sometimes, we do not even chew the bite we have taken in a proper way and keep stuffing the next one. Then eating becomes only about the next bite. Now, the body does what it does best with all the food that we have eaten. It stores it because it was the fuel it never asked for. The problem with such scenario is that if we have eaten out of boredom or sadness or any emotion for that matter, food does not cure it completely. We are going to be bored again, and we are going to eat again and then the vicious cycle continues.

Counter approaches that might backfire

Now most people who discover that they have this problem of emotional binging, they resort to dieting. We all know how that pans out. Because dieting has some set of rules, like measuring your food, tracking calories and at times including food choices that do not cater to our cravings. People who have been emotional eaters for a long time, they have a hard time coping with a diet plan because for them it is restrictive and they are just waiting for the next cheat meal. If they break the diet by mistake, they tend to go on binging for a good amount of time because for them it is screwed anyway so why not make the most of it. A good amount of willpower was cultivated for this whole process and when that goes for a toss, all hell breaks loose. Now they are back to square one, cursing themselves for such failures.

Suggested approaches to counter this problem

Examining the root cause (to eat or not to eat)
There is a difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. In physical hunger, your body starts to give you signals about hunger .you start to feel weak or your mental alertness is lesser than normal or your stomach feels empty.

In emotional hunger, all you feel is a compulsion to eat and it is triggered by an emotional state that you are in at that time.

Asking the basic question ‘why do I need to eat right now’ whenever you feel the trigger to eat, can actually solve half the case. When you delve deep into your own psyche, you begin to spot the root cause of every trigger to eat compulsively. When you find out the ‘why’ behind any disease, it becomes fairly simple to work towards the cure. So unless it is just physical hunger, you can actually choose not to binge over emotional reasons. After all, if we choose to be aware of the facts, decision making capability becomes easier. It is more radical and rational than acting on impulse.

 Eat when you feel the physical hunger is kicking in, not for the emotional hunger.

Theory of mindful eating

This is the best practice to overcome emotional eating. Mindful eating suggests that if you keep distractions away while you eat and focus completely on eating, you stop the habit of overeating emotionally in due time.

Next time when you sit down to eat, make sure you keep your phone, your television, your laptop away and focus on food completely. Chew every bite and savor the taste and the smell of every bite. Eat slowly and take your time with it. After all, you want to make your relationship with the food better; you have to give it time, like every other relationship in life. Of course, forming this habit will take time like any other habit, but once you get the hang of it, it will surely help you in the long run.

Stop eating the moment you feel full

While you practice mindful eating, the moment you realize that you have reached a satiety level, you should keep the plate down and stop eating. If you feel hungry after 15 minutes, you can still eat a little, but you have to stop when you feel full. There is no need to finish everything off the plate just because you see them. Remember, we are trying to work on the relationship with the food. Forcing yourself on it is never going to make it better.

Meditation (Yes! This works)

Meditation helps a lot in creating awareness in life. If you practice meditation on a regular basis, you start becoming more aware of your thoughts. You start building the ability to choose a thought consciously. This helps in choosing and focusing on thoughts which are actually beneficial for us. People who do not meditate, their mind and emotions run on autopilot most of the time. Meditation allows people to see thoughts just as ‘thoughts’.

It makes them realize that thoughts do not have power over them. Thoughts are not orders that they have to follow. When this realization happens, people can actually evaluate the reasons behind eating and can make a conscious decision about it.

In conclusion, to overcome emotional eating we have to work on both conscious and subconscious levels consistently. Basically, it is about working on improving the relationship with the food and forming certain habits which will work towards resolving the issue.

We can always remember that comfort food and emotional eating can never heal the emotional issues. All it takes is to have a good conversation with ourselves.