When you eat, it’s because you’re hungry. Right? Not always. That nagging feeling that you need to fill up on something doesn’t always mean you need food.
Hunger is a sensation that starts gradually and becomes increasingly stronger over the course of an hour or so. Hunger also means that you could eat anything to satisfy your hunger. If you’re feeling hungry and would eat anything to satisfy that (including your least favorite vegetable), that’s real hunger.
Faux feelings of hunger come from things like cravings, and in some cases your emotions.
The comforting effect of food
Being aware of why you’re going for that mid-day snack won’t stop you from eating it anyway. Your emotions are powerful and difficult to fight once they start bubbling up on you.
That’s for good reason. When emotions and stress are suppressed on a regular basis, they have a tendency of showing up in another way in your life to let you know, “Hey! You haven’t dealt with me yet!”
Wanting to eat when you aren’t hungry is one of the most common ways those emotions can show up. Your body is signaling that something is off and you need comfort, and your brain decides you’ll feel better if you go get a snack.
Food IS comforting, especially sugary, fatty foods that tend to be the snack of choice in moments like these. These foods release large amounts of dopamine from the reward center of your brain and make you feel good in the moment.
But it only provides temporary comfort, which is why it’s so hard to stop eating from that tub of ice cream after a rough day. If you stop, so does the good feeling. So your brain keeps you craving food you don’t need.
Get to the root cause
That’s why it’s so important to identify the root cause of your emotional eating. Once you know what’s causing your emotional eating, you can find a real solution.
It’s best to do this soul searching in a quiet, safe space where you aren’t afraid you’ll be judged if something uncomfortable comes up.
I personally love journaling about everything that comes to mind until I dig deep enough to find out what’s really going on. Some people find that meditation or meditative movement (like running, yoga or walking) can be helpful. You just need something that allows you to be by yourself for a little while so you can focus on you and find the why behind the emotion you’re feeling.
Address the root cause
This step can take a while, and that’s okay. If you’ve been ignoring an emotion for a long time, whether it be stress, sadness, frustration, or boredom, it can take just as long to really feel like you’ve dealt with the issue. Give yourself permission to take this at your own pace.
There are many ways to go about this. Here are a few to give you some ideas on how to start:
1. Change or remove sources of discomfort or stress
Being unhappy with your job is a common example. If that’s coming up for you, what can you do to feel more aligned with your job?
Can you take on more responsibilities so you feel challenged again? Can you take on fewer responsibilities so you’re not spending all your waking hours on work? Do you need to find a job in a different field or at a different company?
You don’t have to take giant leaps to start dealing with your emotions (and in fact, I’d encourage you to take small steps unless a giant leap is absolutely necessary).
Start by brainstorming ways you can make change in your life, talk with people who might be able to help, and start taking action. Even one small step a day can bring a massive amount of change within a few months.
2. Allow emotions to be expressed
Holding in emotions that are trying to get out is exhausting. It can be terrifying and uncomfortable to face pain, sadness, or anger, but they’re part of the ebb and flow of life. They’ll eventually pass when you’re ready and might even teach you something about yourself.
For cases like these, the methods from step 2 tend to be really helpful. Journaling, meditating, and movement allow you to process, feel, and express how you’re feeling in a safe space. Let whatever happens happen without judging yourself.
Sometimes you might need help depending on where you’re at, and that’s all right too. Just make sure that whoever you talk to is someone you trust and someone you connect with, whether that be a spouse, friend, coach, or therapist.
3. Take better care of yourself
This is true no matter what emotions you’re working through, but it’s especially true when you’re dealing with extreme stress or unhappiness. Remember, your brain is seeking out food because it’s looking for comfort. If you’re focused on everyone and everything around you and forgetting to take care of yourself, it’s okay to stop and reprioritize.
This could mean putting up boundaries with work, or it could mean treating yourself to a massage. Regular exercise, being in nature, eating nourishing foods, a spa day, an hour at night to read some fiction. Whatever sounds like heaven to you that you could add to your day or week is probably exactly what you need to start feeling great again.
Make a list of the the things that make you feel totally cherished and peaceful. And try to do at least one of these things every day. Or go all out and do three things a day! We all deserve tons of love and there’s no shame in giving it to ourselves.
This can feel selfish to some people, but you’ll find that when you start showing up for yourself, you’ll show up better for the people and projects that rely on you.
It’s not said enough that not feeling happy all the time is normal. In fact, being happy all the time is impossible. The people who face their emotions and work with them, rather than against them, are the ones who come out stronger and oftentimes happier on the other side. In other words, it’s better to face reality - however hard it may feel - than live in a fantasy.
And the more you get in the habit of accepting and working with your emotions rather than fighting them, the less you’ll want to emotionally eat.
Just remember to take one small step at a time and be compassionate with yourself.
If there’s a lot going on in your life and you want make sure you’re eating well without having to cook, we’re here for you. Join our waitlist for our meals or find out more about what we do.