Emotional or binge eating can be that pattern for so many people. Did you know that more than a quarter of North Americans suffer through this pattern on a daily basis? I say this so you know you are not alone. You are not the only one going through this cycle and there is a way to get off the ride and get on flat ground.

Relationship with Food

We are wired, from such a young age, to have a love affair with food. Food is so often used to show love, to be provided as a reward or treat. It is a part of our daily lives. And all of us, in some form, have a relationship with food.  If that relationship becomes abusive, it can be a daily struggle and can affect you mentally, physically or emotionally. This may be a new way to consider eating, as a relationship, but it is exactly that. Just like any other relationship it can be positive, negative, healthy or unhealthy.And just like any other relationship how we interact in this particular one has the ability to affect many other areas of our lives.

Have you thought about all of the areas that are affected by your current relationship with food. When your relationship is positive with food how do you respond? Is it different if you feel that the relationship with food isn’t going so well? How do you interact with other people or situations when you feel that it isn’t going so well?

Take time to consider all of these questions. Do you like your own answers?

At the end of the day the only thing that matters is what you think about yourself. Are you proud of yourself, are you being kind and loving to yourself first? Often when we take time to think about how we treat ourselves we are not being very kind or loving. In order to achieve the level of success, that I know you are looking to achieve to have that extraordinary life, treating yourself with love, respect and kindness first is essential. The first place to start is with how we take care of ourselves. Are you feeding your body in a way you would feed the person you love more than anyone else in the world?

Mindset Matters

When we think about our health we often think of what we are eating and how we are moving our bodies. What’s becoming even more important is the way we think about what we are eating and how we feel when moving our bodies.

Mindfulness relates to the way we consume our food. And the way we think about our food has a role in how we digest the food and the nutrients our body is able to intake. There is a significant difference between enjoying your food choices and feeling good about them compared to feeling terrible about your food choices and yourself for consuming them. For example, imagine if  you looked at certain types of food and felt guilty.This guilt may lead you to eat it as fast as possible and feel terrible for having eaten it which may make you eat more. This compared to eating the same food, taking time to enjoy it, putting down your fork between bites, and enjoying every aspect of the food.  There is a significant difference in how our body processes this food even though the food hasn’t changed the way we think about it changes everything. Our brain has a significant effect on our digestive system. It is all related. For instance when we eat in a state of stress or fear most people will report symptoms such as heartburn, cramping, gas, or digestive pains. During stress, the body automatically shifts into a flight or fight response. This is our body protecting us, and specifically our central nervous system. Its funny as the brain can’t decipher between real or imagined stress. We can create stress chemistry just by our thoughts. The consequences of stressful thinking are it deregulates our appetite causing us to eat more and increases cortisol and insulin which signal weight gain and fat storage. It causes digestive upset and leads to nutrient extraction which means even when we are eating something healthy our thoughts may be leading our body to not fully absorb the healthy nutrients.

Consider how you feel after you eat more than you intended, or when you eat without conscious awareness. Do you ever feel shame, regret, fear, disappointment, or frustration? How do you respond when you feel that way? Do you make different decisions than you would if you felt really great about yourself? Do you hold back in certain areas of your life? Are you kind and loving to yourself afterwards? Are you kind and loving to those around you?

Do you notice that emotional eating is a way for you to deal with life, the good, the bad, and the ugly? Do you notice you eat when you are trying to avoid feeling, thinking or just a way to procrastinate? Have you noticed that it is affecting your life in a way that no longer makes you feel good? Take time to write down your thoughts, think about each of the questions and respond honestly with yourself. Come back to them in a couple of days and evaluate whether you are being completely authentic with yourself.

Creating a Healthy Relationship

If you don’t like your relationship with food it’s time to make some changes. The first place to start is by being aware of your current patterns. It is incredibly difficult to change something that you are not aware of in the first place.  Do notice when you tend to emotionally eat? Is it more frequently during the weekend? Is it Wednesdays at 5pm? We are all different and yet we are all very similar. It’s helpful to notice when you typically overconsume. Do you walk in the door and head to the fridge, do you sit on the couch and feel the need to eat?. Once you notice when you tend to want to have a little more than normal, notice if it is a specific type of food you want to consume. Does food provide you with an emotional blanket in any form. Do you have a sense of love, comfort, joy, security or even nostalgia when you consume it? This is where a journal or a tracking system is helpful, not so that you can judge yourself but more so you can see what your tendencies are. Once you start to have a concept around your current choices start to consider what you would like your relationship with food to look like. Maybe you would like a loving, balanced relationship where you don’t think about it all the time. Where food doesn’t consume your thoughts. Where when you are with it you are happy and fulfilled.  Think about how you would like your relationship with food to exist. Write it all out so you can give yourself more clarity on what you would like to move towards. Where are your current gaps?

Internal or External event

Once you have tracked your patterns you can notice start to notice what lead up to your response to eating. Often emotional eating can be brought on by an internal or external trigger. An internal trigger may be a feeling of joy, sadness, and loss, it may be your way of allowing yourself to feel loved. Often our internal triggers can be set off by our external triggers. For example, imagine you had a hard day at work, you were dismissed, or treating poorly, disregarded or your idea wasn’t approved. You may internalize your emotions and instead of allowing yourself to process the events of the day you choose to eat. Or another example, you have a lot of work to do, or cleaning or you are avoiding dealing with something in your life so instead of thinking about it you eat. Sound familiar? Once you notice what you were triggered by or what you are trying to avoid take time to deal with that particular thing. You may need to process the day, write it down in your journal, you may need to talk to someone about it, you may need to go for a walk or do some type of exercise. Or you may just want to sit and do nothing for a bit and let go of whatever you may have the urge to suppress or stuff.  It is okay to sit down and do nothing, or watch tv and just enjoy it. Or you may need to create a strategy to ensure you get everything done that you need to so you don’t feel guilty for not doing it which may lead to eating which makes you feel worse.

How are you getting your needs met

We all have 6 human needs which we are trying to get met, all of the time. The first four are physical needs which we seek out in various forms: love, certainty, significance, uncertainty. How do you get those needs met? We all get these needs met in both positive and negative or destructive ways. How do you get your need for love met? How about the other ones? Do any of these needs get met by eating? Do you get love by eating? Initially, you may think ‘uh of course not, that would be ridiculous” but think about it. I did. I sought solace in food, it was my comfort when I was younger. If life was difficult food was there, I would hunker down with a delicious cup of hot chocolate with extra chocolate chips, because have you ever tasted them in hot chocolate? I would sit and watch Wheel of Fortune and the world would be all right. We are not judging remember! How about certainty, did you ever get your need for certainty met with food? What about uncertainty or variety as another way to consider it? Significance? Once you realize how you are getting your needs met it’s important to consider whether you are achieving this through positive or negative ways. If your behavior is positive such as you get your need for certainty met through daily exercise that may be a behavior you are happy to keep. If you are getting certainty met by overeating you may want to consider alternative ways to get this need met. How else could you have your need for certainty met? How about love, significance, or uncertainty. Start to make a list of all the ways these needs could be met in healthy ways. Pick one need that seems easy for you to work on and start there, build a new habit and when you are ready, work on the next.

We all have patterns that we repeat on a daily basis, some of our behaviors are positive and some are negative or destructive. Only you can decide whether you want to continue with the patterns or whether they served you at one point in your life but they are no longer of value to you. When you are ready get clear on what you want to change and take action. You got this, you are not alone, we are always here for you!