As a liberated emotional eater, helping other emotional eaters find freedom is officially my wheelhouse now. Like depression and anxiety, it’s something I struggled with for most of my life, and it’s something I am gratefully no longer controlled by.
Now that I help emotional eaters break their destructive patterns so that they can take back their power, I’ve found that there are 2 main indicators of an emotional eater that – when acknowledged – can lead the emotional eater to healing.
One is obvious. The other may surprise you. Both are patterns that need attention and guidance to repair.
If you struggle with either of these, I offer simple, straight-forward tips to begin healing them here. I hope this information brings you closer to freedom!
Indicator 1: You Eat When You’re Not Hungry
Food can act like a dampener to intense emotions just like drugs do for addicts. In fact, they’re one of the best legal ways to chill out without spending an arm and a leg.
If you eat when you’re not hungry, you’re probably either:
A. avoiding dealing with something.
B. you want comfort.
…which is absolutely fine if you feel good about the choice to use food like this afterwards.
The problem is when we feel shame for eating in this way. When we start to think we must be “weak” or lack willpower, we’ve got a problem. You might even beat yourself up or punish yourself with restriction to “make up for it.”
What we don’t realize is that it’s not a matter of strength; it’s a matter of an empty toolbox. Read on to learn what I mean.
When we eat for reasons other than hunger, then feel shame about it, it’s usually because our ideas of how we’re “supposed to be” misalign with how we perceive we are. We believe we should inherently know how to deal with tough emotions or find comfort without reaching for food.
Let me put this in perspective for you:
If you were expected by society to know how to fix cars, but you were never taught anything about mechanics, would you feel ashamed that your car’s engine got all mucked up?
That’s basically what’s happening to most of us today.
As human beings, we think we should know how to deal with emotions and find comfort on our own because, well, we all have emotions and we all need comfort now and then. But so many of us were never taught how to comfort ourselves or deal with emotions in safe, nourishing ways.
Our society has more or less been using the “just don’t talk about it” model to deal with emotions for decades. If our parents and teachers brought us up in silence, it makes sense that we had to learn by example instead. So we learned how to cope by watching, therefore, we learned how to eat, drink, “suck it up,” rage, blame, take it out on others, and have breakdowns once in a while when we couldn’t hold it in anymore. All of these are valid reactions and coping mechanisms when healthy ones weren’t instilled. They’re nothing to be ashamed of.
As an emotional eater, eating is the number one tool in many of our toolboxes because it’s all we know how to do. To heal it, we just have to get some new tools that will help us cope with emotions in a healthy, cathartic way.
Enter: coping toolbox.
Every one of us has a coping toolbox. If you’re an emotional eater, that toolbox is filled with food – this is a coping mechanism we use, albeit one we no longer want to turn to. To stop overeating, we need to find other tools to replace this one.
Here are some ideas for healthy coping tools that I’ve found helpful in my recovery:
- Reaching out to a friend
- Doing my nails
- Taking a bath
Everyone is different when it comes to coping tools. You’ll have to do some guess and check with what works for you. Gradually, consciously, start turning to these nourishing coping tools to feed your needs, and you will rewrite the habit of emotional eating.
It’s simple, but not easy. At the end of this post, I talk about a way to go about it without getting lost.
Indicator 2: You Don’t Eat When You’re Hungry
This habit is one that the emotional eater will often overlook… or even worse: they’re proud of themselves for doing it.
Whether you subconsciously put off eating until a more convenient time, or you consciously try to go a little longer before your next meal, this habit is one that disconnects us from our natural hunger cues and, therefore, from our healthiest bodies.
When we neglect our body’s calls for nourishment, we decondition ourselves to them. After enough time ignoring these cues, we become deaf to them entirely.
If you’ve ever been confused as to whether you’re hungry or not, it’s likely you’ve done some of this in your past. It’s called restricting.
Restriction is a symptom of being an emotional eater. In fact, even if you tend to overeat, you’ve probably ping-ponged between restricting and overeating before. They come from the same root: a need to be different than we are.
Many of us get into this habit because we’ve learned that we’re “not supposed to be” hungry so often. Maybe we’re stuck in the 3-meals-a-day paradigm, or we think that the less we eat, the stronger we are (that was me). Whatever your beliefs, please hear me when I say:
Whoever or whatever taught you that you shouldn’t eat when you’re hungry was wrong.
I’m sorry you spent so much of your life warring with your organic needs. I know how confusing and painful it can be. You’re not alone.
What you weren’t taught was the long term result of restriction… which may cause you to never restrict again.
Neglecting your hunger cues directly leads to overeating. If you’re not eating when you’re hungry in order to lose weight, you’re actually going in the opposite direction. You’re driving yourself toward bingeing and an unhealthy mindset with food.
If this is you, don’t worry. It’s good that you caught it today. Now, let’s talk about how to reverse it.
The key to this is to start reconditioning yourself to hear the calls your body sends out for nourishment. At first, you might find it most beneficial to look for physical signs of hunger. Here are a few:
- rumbling stomach
When you notice any of these physical symptoms, check in with yourself. It helps me to put my hands over my stomach, close my eyes and ask myself “Am I hungry?”
If you find that you’re hungry, but are still resisting eating, start small: eat a little snack like a protein bar, a piece of fruit or a few nuts. If you’ve been restricting for a while, this may bring with it some anxiety and fear. Your inner perfectionist might pipe up and say that you “shouldn’t” be hungry or eating. It may sound like any of these:
- You shouldn’t be eating
- You shouldn’t be hungry
- Eating that means you’re going to gain weight
- You’ll have to make up for that later
- You’re wasting all your hard work
- If you eat that, you’re failing
- If you eat that, you’re a failure
EXPECT that your mind will throw these lies at you, and prepare yourself to counter them.
It helps to have a loving response to any perfectionistic thoughts leftover from your restriction days. I usually say something along the lines of, “I choose nourishment, not punishment.”
And really, that’s all this choice comes down to. No one can force you to eat if you don’t want to, but what I realized in my recovery was that choosing to eat when I was hungry was a revolution. It was an act of standing up against the darkness within me; the voice that said I needed to be different to earn Love and respect. That voice pulls me away from my strength. That voice separates me from my power.
There finally came a time when I just refused to be victim to it anymore.
Doing this work is not easy. You might even be reeling a bit just from having realized that you have either one of these habits (or most likely, both).
If you relate with what was written in this article, check out Intentional Eating.
It’s my 8-week group coaching course that starts you on the path to healing as an emotional eater, and it’s opening for enrollment next week. The results I’ve witnessed from people who have gone through this program are breathtaking. These women are standing up, using their voices and finally releasing the power that food has over them.
No diets, cleanses or ridiculous, unmaintainable rules. Just real, raw, life-shifting work in a supportive, Loving environment.
If you want to heal the relationship with food and your body, sign up below to get early access and a special discount when we open for enrollment next week.
I hope to guide you through this vulnerable journey. You’re worth the work this takes.