Week 9 Fuel Insight: Emotional Eating

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ESSENTIAL ELEMENT:  Emotional Eating

Critical Concept:  You will never find the right answers when you are asking the wrong questions.
Why are you eating?  There are as many answers to this question as there are people struggling with their diet.  As we get closer to the truth, the reality behind our eating habits can be telling.  Not all eating disorders manifest as overt weight issues, whether a person is overweight or underweight; sometimes outward appearances defy the truth of our relationships with food.

A common conception is that the choices that we make around food are driven by physical needs, wants and cravings.  Psychologists disagree.  Experts say that most food choices are motivated by emotional drives.  Our association to food goes far beyond our want to satisfy a physical need.

Emotional eating is a broad term that implies that someone is eating for reasons other than hunger.

We have discussed the concept of essential elements in the three major lifestyle domains of eating, moving and thinking.  These elements are like essential nutrients required by our cells for function and health.  These nutrients must be provided by our lifestyle choices.  In other words, our body cannot fabricate these elements on its own, and therefore, we must supply these essentials on a regular basis by the way that we eat, move and think.

Some Essential Elements are acute in need, such as oxygen (it becomes immediately apparent if you do not get enough oxygen), whereas some elements are latent in need, like “connection” (one could go years without a sense of community before the symptoms of disconnection are apparent).

When the body experiences a deficiency in an Essential Element, there is an adaptive response.  If you move to Denver, for example, there is less oxygen in the air, so your body adapts by forming more red blood cells (the oxygen-carrying component of your blood).  This type of adaptation is innate and can be seen in all three lifestyle domains where a deficiency exists.  Any “lack” in the environment produces a response by the body as a means of survival.

Psychological and emotional needs are latent essential elements.  If you perceive that something is missing in your social life, love life or spiritual life, innately you will try to meet that need.  Often, this sense of lack or deficiency will create a void that you try to fill with food.  When you feel out of control in one aspect of your life, you will seek control in other domains.  Finding solace in the fridge has become a widespread issue.

Research studies suggest 75% of overeating is the result of emotional eating.  Food has become the “drug of choice” to treat feelings of stress, anxiety or loneliness.

There are real biological factors at play here. The hormones and neurotransmitters that are released in response to the foods that we consume are more powerful than any drug that we could take. When we eat certain foods, highly addictive “feel good” chemicals like serotonin and endorphins course through our blood and influence our thoughts and moods. High sugar and fat combinations can create feelings of relaxation and even euphoria while refined carbohydrates can cause sedation and calmness. Unfortunately, these “feelings” are short-lived and typically create a crash that sends us searching for more.

Societal pressures drive more and more people to eat emotionally. The unrealistic standards set by the modern media are largely unattainable for most and often leave people feeling inadequate. These feelings can drive a cycle of “food deprivation” which is unsustainable and inevitably leads to binging on some level. This “binge” can be as innocent as “cheating on your diet” or as serious as a life-threatening chronic illness. The feelings of failure associated with the binge can drive the emotional anchors to food even deeper.

“Food becomes therapy” Says psychiatrist Dr. Debra Emmite. “We are medicating our feelings. Often people will ‘eat at someone’ with whom they are upset, hurt or angry. If you overeat often, chances are that food has become your body’s programmed response to factors such as stress, loneliness, boredom, or sadness.”

A recent research study demonstrated that 85 percent of emotion-based eating was reduced in participants when they learned how to respond to negative emotions with a different attitude and real-life solutions.

You must become mindful of when and why you are “emotional eating” and replace this behavior with another positive behavior.

Be careful of two significant pitfalls in this approach. Do not think that this is simply a battle of wills and you must ignore your emotions and defy your deep rooted habits. That approach is unsustainable. You must follow these five steps of a successful change effort to see lasting positive change:

1. Identify WHY you are eating. What is the Perceived Deficiency that drives this behavior?

2. Understand the futility of this behavior and own the consequences of continuing this way

3. Recognize the physical / chemical factors at play: hormones and neurotransmitters

4. Choose to replace the current Belief System that leads to this behavior with one that drives healthier choices

5. Choose to replace this behavior with a positive, constructive one that provides sufficiency in your essential needs and ultimately healthier outcomes

A Bonfire vital behavioris focusing on adding good habits, not breaking bad ones. Choose to add behaviors that fulfill your actual needs in every lifestyle category. Add exercise, nutrient dense foods, meditation, prayer, journaling, time with friends, nature and inspiring projects. Creating an environment of abundance through healthier choices, relationships and experiences is a Bonfire best practice. Create a food log that provides a place for you to record your feelings around food and fosters mindful eating and healthier choices.

Every day you can choose to seek out sources of emotional, physical and spiritual nutrients that will fill your heart, mind and cells. This is the first and most powerful way to create lasting change in your life and health.