I am always making choices about food—aren’t we all? I make choices based on where I do my food marketing, what I cook for breakfast, lunch and dinner and what I am craving at the time. Sometimes, beautiful displays of food beckon me and I end up eating something unexpected—but that, too, is a choice. However, not all choices are consciously made. When I am tired, stressed or emotionally upset, my food choices can feel out of my control. I stuff my face with food and don’t even remember what I’ve eaten--then feel badly about myself. I am more at peace when I nourish my body in a healthy manner and make my food decisions consciously and wisely. I can be an emotional eater and emotions really play havoc with my eating.
My husband and I were in Washington, DC for four days last week. He had business and I went along “for the ride” so that I could visit with our son and daughter-in-law. Washington is a great city for vegetarian and vegan eating and I ate some delicious meals. These days, I measure a city by its “vegan friendliness.” I was very proud of myself for the first two days, making healthy food choices. I stayed away from fatty, fried foods. I choose oatmeal for breakfast and salads or vegetarian sushi for lunch. Dinners included noodles or rice with vegetables and tofu. Unfortunately, by the end of dinner on Saturday, the perfect Rockwell family portrait blew up and unpleasant emotions surfaced. There were hurt feelings and the evening ended abruptly. The negative emotions that surfaced during dinner on Saturday night immediately affected my food choices Sunday morning. By lunch on Sunday, I ate the goat cheese on the salad and at supper I didn’t bother to ask if the white sauce I was eating was in fact cream. Traveling home on Monday just added to the stress and the emotions that I was experiencing.
Eating should not be an overwhelming activity that causes pain and anguish afterwards. Eating should be a satisfying experience that nourishes the body with healthy and nutritious food. Sometimes, however, I find it extremely difficult to separate my emotions from food. I can, nevertheless, try to modify my behavior to lessen those times when I feel overcome with difficult feelings. Like all things in life, these recommendations sometimes work and sometimes don’t, but it is always comforting to have a plan tucked away in my pocket:
1 Identify negative feelings and thoughts. Talk about your feelings to a trusted friend or family member or write in a journal. Before succumbing to emotional eating, go for a walk, weed the garden, practice yoga or meditate. Separate yourself from the upset.
2 Learn to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger. I occasionally eat when I am not hungry—by eating I am trying to get rid of uncomfortable feelings by swallowing those feelings with food. Eat when you begin to feel hunger. Stop before you feel stuffed. Try not to eat if you are not hungry.
3 Learn to listen to your body’s signals. When you feel a craving, stop and try to figure out what your body is telling you. Do you really want that chocolate brownie or are you trying to submerge uncomfortable emotions?
4 Eat mindfully. Sit at a table and turn off the television or radio. Put that book or newspaper away. Savor your food and enjoy the different textures. Chew your food well and learn to taste what you’re eating.
5 Figure out what triggers your emotional eating.
6 Forgive yourself if you falter.
7 Enjoy the food experience. It is one of the great pleasures of life!