To some extent we all eat emotionally. How can we not? When we are babies we need to bond emotionally to survive. This is not only for our physical survival it’s for our psychological survival too. We depend on a emotional bonding to build a sense of self in which to navigate the world. This process begins with feeding.
We started life learning that feeding gets us close to someone. Feeding helps us not feel isolated. Feeding takes our hurts away. To the new born baby food is love. Eating is essentially relational as well as instinctual.
Yet the human body is not designed to cope with emotions by eating. It is designed to cope with emotions through regulating them with our nervous system. If we turn to food to fulfil emotional needs we can easily put on weight.
Our self care system
One of the many psychological reasons we turn to food for emotional reasons, and therefore gain weight, is because the way we feed ourselves, is entwined into how we care for ourselves.
We learn to care for ourselves early in life. Culturally carers use food to show love, but also to bribe, control and reward their off spring. These patterns imprint within us and play out in adult life. An adult who has had their food taken away as a punishment may feel deprived when trying to moderate eating at crucial life stages such as pregnancy and menopause. An adult who was given food as treats for being good, may continue to reward themselves in this way. Yet food is now so plentiful and supermarkets push high fat, high sugar snacks and big portions. Two for the price of one becomes a bigger treat than just a nice ripe juicy apple. Yet this so called ‘treat’ may be harming your body.
Many people struggling to keep weight off also struggle with self care. They may find it hard to love themselves and respect and value their bodies. It doesn’t necessarily help being told to eat well when deep down inside you don’t feel you are worthy of loving self care.
Once you discover how your emotional reactions cause you to eat in certain ways you can begin to untangle some of the complex messages. These moments that were once confusing become clearer and this clarity empowers you to make better choices.