Eating Our Emotions

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One of the reasons we eat is because our culture promotes dining in conjunction with emotionally charged events – Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah and Valentine’s Day. We eat when people are born, when people die, when we get an “A” on an exam, when we don’t get an “A” on the exam —we use food as reward and a punishment. Food is tied to our successes and failures, our joy and sadness, our excitement and anxiety.

Our emotions calm down as we anesthetize ourselves with salty, fatty or sugary foods. Our neurotransmitters increase production of serotonin, dopamine and other “feel-good” chemicals. Once we stop eating, we start the emotional descent again and eat more to temporarily feel better. After the cycle repeats a bit longer, we usually find ourselves physically full and feeling badly about our food choices.

In the cases of emotional eating, I work with my clients to be more mindful when eating and to build a reserve of what I call “soul-nourishing” activities – things that feed you but don’t come on a plate.

With the practice of mindfulness, we learn to cultivate the possibility of releasing ourselves from reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. Eating mindfully teaches us to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide decisions to begin eating and to cease eating.

My goal is to assist clients in learning how to mindfully eat and improve nutrition without deprivation, guilt, fear or shame. I am happy to report Kate* is eating more mindfully and engaging in self-nurturing activities and is no longer beholden to eating her emotions.

List of 10 soul-nourishing ideas

  1. Give compliments and praise to those around you.
  2. Practice relaxation techniques.
  3. Keep a journal to write out your emotions and gratitude.
  4. Visualize what life will be like after the emotion passes.
  5. Surround yourself with friends and positive people.
  6. Exercise (choose something you enjoy or that has a mind/body component like yoga or tai chi).
  7. Learn proper self-care (get enough sleep, have a nutritious diet, & plenty of water).
  8. Get outside and into nature (try a walking meditation, spend time near the water, watch the sky change colors as it sets).
  9. Listen to music — and dance!
  10. Use your passion and creativity in a hobby or career.

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