Are you an emotional eater?

By Jannah updated on February 9, 2016

Do you worry about how much you eat? Do you believe you are overweight? Do you feel bad about yourself and your body? Do you eat when you are sad, happy, stressed, lonely or angry? Do you believe that if you could get your eating under control everything would be better? I would hazard a guess that most people can answer yes to at least one, if not all, of these questions at some point in their lives.

I have recently had the pleasure – and the pain – of reading Geneen Roth’s book ‘Women, Food and God’. If you’ve read the book, you will what I mean.

Roth challenges us to open up to the real pleasure that food can provide us with. She asks us to become aware of ourselves as we eat and as we go about our daily life. But with this pleasure, and as we become more mindful of ourselves eating, comes an awareness of the pain that our over-eating can very cleverly be covering up.

When we eat because we are stressed, angry, upset and so on, we are managing to avoid feeling those emotions fully, and so therefore eating serves an important function for us. But at what cost? If eating for the sole purpose of covering up and denying our feelings continues, the cost our physical and emotional health suffers.

Ironically, we eat to avoid emotional pain, but we create more when we beat ourselves up later on about our weight and our lack of control.

Roth suggests that we allow ourselves to feel any emotion that we see as negative, pointing out that the strength of the feeling is not as bad as we perceive it will be. She also says that we might want to be feeling happy, comfortable or positive all of the time, but this is just not possible or realistic.

So ask yourself, what are the types of hungers you feel? Is it for rest? Is it for real contact or connection? Are you craving more meaning in your life? Hunger is not always a hunger for food.

When you begin to respect yourself and treat yourself well, weight loss becomes a side benefit. The first step is to recognise your self-loathing and then do what needs to be done to overcome that. This shifts your focus away from controlling food intake and towards looking after yourself the same way you would look after someone in your life that you love, such as a child, friend, parent or partner.

Roth writes: “Whenever you want to eat when you are not hungry or don’t want to stop when you’ve had enough, you know something is occurring that needs your kindness and attention.”

If you are ready to stop running away from yourself, to take the time to examine why you are eating what you are eating, you have the answers right there on your plate. To help you get to these answers Geneen has devised these following eating guidelines.

Seven golden guidelines

1 Eat when you are hungry

2 Eat sitting down in a calm environment

3 Eat without distractions, which include radio, television, newspapers, books, anxiety-producing conversations or music

4 Eat what your body wants

5 Eat until you are satisfied

6 Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others

7 Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure

These guidelines seem easy, but in practice they’re quite hard. Resistance to giving up what has worked in the past is huge.

For some, it is impossible to face up to why they overeat, and so they will not allow themselves to eat without distractions, as this will mean admitting to themselves that they are over-eating. Some find that keeping the weight on is familiar and comforting. They find it hard to let go of the weight and the drama that surrounds losing it.

But as Geneen says in the book: We are put on this earth for more than losing the same 30 pounds over and over again for the rest of our lives. Try to use the eating guidelines to become curious about yourself. This means slowing down enough and becoming interested in what the piles and piles of food and weight are hiding.

If you are interested to find out more, check out one of Geneen Roth’s many books. Go online, and you’ll find lots of videos and information.

Eating is hugely emotive and powerful, so it is no surprise that changing the over-eating habit is hard. Get professional help if you need to; find someone who can help you look into the deeper reasons behind why you are having issues with food.

Printed in The Mayo News on 30 June 2015