Why is it so important to decipher our emotional eating?
First and foremost, to understand what we’re doing, we need to stop referring to emotional eating in euphemisms such as ‘comfort’ food or a ‘treat’, when their effect on us is actually neither. Poor food is not a treat, but rather burdens our body with excess; and not only is it not ‘comforting’, but it also silences the ‘thing’ that asks, perhaps, for comfort. In any case, the ‘benefit’ of emotional eating ends the minute that its digestion concludes. Our emotions received a minor shock, but will reawaken from their slumber in the corner of the boxing ring of our creation.
In addition, deciphering emotional eating includes acknowledging what we do, and in the process – opening a window to worlds of (temporarily or permanently) untreated emotions. Peeking through these windows is not for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine. But the knowledge that they exist may tempt us some day to check what lies behind the glass that we bump up against every time we substitute eating for emoting or feeling.
So what is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is eating that does not take place against the background of hunger.
Instead, it arises when a certain emotion (that one can learn to identify) arises, which we do not desire to experience. It is important to note that this feeling is not necessarily a ‘negative’ one. Instead, it could be one that awakens discomfort. This means that emotional eating should be distinguished from other forms of eating that are not hunger-based, such as recurring eating patterns (coffee must come with something ‘on the side’) or fixations (never skip a meal; must eat something every three hours). It is not always easy to identify, on the spot, as we eat without being hungry, the type of eating that is involved. And yet, ongoing attention makes matters far clearer.
Why do I object to the euphemisms ‘treat’ or ‘comfort food’ that replace emotional eating? First, because I always prefer conscious awareness and complexity to the eliding of the truth. The use of euphemisms will only result in the eating patterns being attached to us for good, apart from the occasional high point of our emotions. Seemingly, this is not such a terrible state of affairs. For it is not that everyone must acknowledge their emotions all the time, and they definitely should not be expected to process them all the time.
But in reality, most of the people who worked with me were controlled by their emotional eating even when they did not want it, and the struggle to disentangle themselves from its grip became an unnecessary battle as long as they were attached to the euphemistic terminology.
Second, emotional eating tends, in most cases, to lead to the stuffing of the wrong food into our body. Most of us don’t eat a massive salad when we silence our emotions, but rather junk food – fatty meals and simple sugars. The reason is twofold: such foods create the sensation of pleasure that oppresses our emotional process (as is the case with alcohol or drugs), and at time is simply stuffed in such large quantities that we have no chance to channel energy to emotional processing.
In addition, emotional eating often takes place in secret, outside the gaze of others. Anything that shames us and leads us to hide, on a regular basis, is worthy of reflection, even if we conclude that hiding suits us.