I hold the door of the fridge open with one hand and peer in.
Lettuce, peppers, cucumber, half a bag of kale, dairy-free yoghurt, oat milk. Nothing looks appealing. I long for ice cream or chocolate but I know I don’t have any.
The truth is, there’s plenty of things I could make. I could make a smoothie or quinoa with veggies. I could make a salad or even bake some cookies or brownies if I wanted to; but deep down, I know that no matter what I eat, I’m not going to fill the void.
If I’m really honest with myself, I’d admit that I’m not even hungry.
But I don’t want to be honest with myself. The craving is there. The need to eat is in my mind therefore it’s in my body.
I reach for a bowl of homemade granola and top it up with oat milk. It’s become a habit. It’s healthier than a lot of other options so I don’t beat myself up about it. I allow myself to play along with the routine I’ve created.
On the surface, I’m doing great. I eat all the right foods 80% of the time. I have overnight oats and fruit for breakfast, I have salads with lots of veg for lunch, I have healthy homemade dinners. My snacks are fruit, nuts or avocado. I have pizza once a week and eat treats like vegan ice cream or homemade cookies at the weekend but ultimately, I eat really well.
And yet somewhere deep down, I have this itching feeling that I always want more. That I am not nourished. That I need to keep eating. This is when I reach for something more.
It usually crops up in the evening or weekends. If it’s a weekday, it’s granola. If it’s a weekend, it’s junk.
I’ve done the basic emotional eating work.
I’ve journaled. I’ve uncovered my need to please people that is so ingrained in me. The idea that finishing my plate as a child was what pleased my parents and that I’m still obsessed by the need today.
I understand that sharing food is an opportunity of real connection with others. It started at those family dinner tables as a kid and transitioned to meals out with friends or a date. I understand that the desire to be better connected with others can push my eating beyond my physical needs (Yes, I’ve agreed to an eating contest in a group setting before. In case you’re wondering, I did win. Don’t judge).
I’ve looked at my daily nutrition to actually make sure I’m not missing something vital that my body needs resulting in cravings for it later on.
I’ve read enough health books and listened to enough health podcasts to understand that in the winter months we crave carbohydrates when we are sleep deprived. It seems most of us are stuck in a vicious cycle of feeding ourselves the thing which will ruin our sleeping habits that will make us crave that one thing again.
I understand all of this, and yet I reach for the bowl. I pour the granola and the milk. I put the spoon to my mouth. I don’t think. I just eat.
When I finish, I’m not satisfied. I feel relieved that the craving is not so strong but ultimately, I do not feel nourished. Isn’t that what food is meant to do? Nourish our bodies?
Well, that’s just it. Food is designed to nourish our bodies and yet I have used it most of my life as an attempt to nourish my mind.
When I’m tired, nervous, stressed or bored I start to get that itching feeling. I need to get out of this state. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t want to sit with it. I need to change it.
My mind takes over. In a split second it tells me that food always puts me in a better state. It disregards my body. It disregards the fact that I’m not physically in need of food. Years of doing this and now it’s simply a habit. Something instinctive. Food makes things better.
I’m working on it. Awareness is the first step.
Now, when I pause in front of the fridge and peer inside, I ask myself what am I feeling right now? What is my current state? Am I tired? Do I have too much on my mind?
If I’m physically hungry, I eat. If it’s something else, I consider my options.
One of the quickest ways to change our current state is our physiology. If you’re stressed, exercise. If you’re nervous, do a breathing exercise. If you’re tired, shake your body, stretch, go for a walk, go to sleep! Do whatever it is that your body needs.
Changing habits is hard work. Most of us have habits that are so ingrained in us, we don’t even remember when they started. My obsession with food has been a life-long friend. I’ve always eaten my whole plate and often asked for more. When I was younger and eating burgers, fries and pizzas all the time, this wasn’t great. Now that I eat healthy foods, I don’t mind my appetite. But I am becoming more aware of when I’m feeding my body and when I’m trying to feed something else.
For me, it’s not a weight thing. My weight fluctuates but I’m not over-weight or physically unhealthy from food. I am, however, unhealthy in my mind. I do not want to be dependent on external nourishment when I know I have the capability of change within my mind.
It’s going to take a long time to change the wiring in my brain but with focus I know it’s possible.
Everyone has their own story to tell with emotional eating. I’m quite sure we all do it or have done it at some point in our lives. I’ve done it for longer than I like admitting but I know that vulnerability is necessary for growth. So, whatever your reason for emotional eating, know that you’re not alone. There are millions of people who use food to nourish more than just their bodies. It is ingrained in us from such a young age.
No matter what your story, there’s hope if you want to change. Be vulnerable. Ask for help if you need it.
Steps to Help Transition Out of Emotional Eating:
-First build awareness of what you’re actually feeling when you’re reaching for food. If it helps, keep a journal. Put it by the fridge and record what you’re feeling. You can do this for a week or two without changing anything else. Just become aware.
-Next, make a list of all the things that you can do that help change those feelings you get when you reach for food. For example, if your feeling is anxiety, then make a list of things that make you feel less anxious. Put this list by your fridge.
-Next time you go for food, look at your list and see if you can choose something else. If your anxious, maybe do a breathwork exercise or a quick yoga. Go for a walk. Colour. Listen to your favourite song. Hug a loved one.
-If you reach for the food anyway, don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy the food but actually eat it consciously. Actually take in each mouthful and chew with awareness. Consider the nourishment that your body is getting. Feel and listen to your body. Try to do this with every meal and every snack. Eventually it will become a habit.