Emotional Eating

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating today. I thought I would share some thoughts from T.C. Fry that may help you make better decisions as temptations abound today. No matter how the day goes, tomorrow is another opportunity, so don’t stress being perfect but do try to hear your internal dialogue as you navigate any temptations!

Emotional Factors and the Foods We Choose

By T.C. Fry

Eating an optimum diet would be simple if we were all rational beings, freed from emotional conditioning. However, in the realm of diet, it is often the emotions and past habits that are king and queen instead of reason and clear perception.

We eat ice cream, spicy foods, candy and other destructive foods primarily because of emotional needs and emotional associations with these foods—not because of any true physiological need or premeditated reason.

People form emotional attachments to foods as a result of childhood experiences, past associations or self-conditioning. Consequently, certain foods are often eaten during particular emotional states, such as depression, etc., or in hopes of inducing a specific emotion, such as contentment or happiness.

For instance, ice cream is often associated with the rewards of childhood. When we were children, ice cream represented a treat or perhaps a sign of parental approval or indulgence. “If you’ll be good, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone,” is a common promise of harried parents.

Thus, at an early age, ice cream is associated with “being good” and with parental approval. Consequently, when we have been good (such as staying on a good diet for a few weeks), we decide to play both parent and child and reward ourselves with a bowl of ice cream. Similarly, if we are feeling depressed or overwhelmed by life’s problems, we may eat other childhood “reward” foods to temporarily escape our adult troubles.

Holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving are intimately associated with strong emotions and certain festive foods. So strong is this emotional association of food with holiday fun that some health-conscious individuals may eat turkey, pastries and sweets on a holiday in an effort to capture the childhood memories of days long past, as well as for parental approval in the present.

Please note that no value judgement is placed upon the emotional associations and attachments to food. To a certain extent, all of our food likes and dislikes are based upon emotions. Few people eat out of purely rational reasons, nor is it necessary to do so. What is necessary, however, is to be aware of the role emotions play in our food choices. If we are eating certain foods that are not conducive to health because of a disturbed emotional state, we should be aware of our behavior and try to approach our problems in some other manner besides food.

Foods themselves cannot satisfy emotional needs. If we are depressed, eating chocolate chip cookies may stir the memories of a carefree childhood, but they do not remove the cause of that depression. Indeed, the foods we are eating may be creating the emotional problems we are trying to escape from.

For example, in our culture, most children are brought up to associate sweet, sugary foods with approval, love, affection, etc. A child is often given candy as a reward. This type of conditioning becomes an internal pattern which is carried over into adulthood.

When grown-up people feel lonely, bored or in need of reinforcement, they may buy an ice cream cone or put money in the nearest carbonated drink machine. They eat the sugary reward food and feel somewhat better emotionally for a few minutes. This illustrates that a negative emotional state, (boredom, insecurity, loneliness, etc.) may influence the selection of and eating of nonfood items (candy, cookies, snack foods, etc.).

These nonfood items then contribute to a nutritional imbalance which may, in turn, re-create the emotional state that one is trying to escape from. For instance, the refined sugar in sweet foods gives a temporary rise in energy and a false emotional “high.” After this energy surge, the sugar has the effect of depleting the body of B-vitamins and other nutrients. This sugar-created depletion then sets the stage for additional emotional distress and depression.

A seemingly inescapable cycle is thereby created: A person is continually eating sugar-filled foods in an effort to escape the depression that the foods themselves are helping to create.

Today, as you move through the day, keep T.C.’s words in your mind and ask yourself what patterns am I carrying, how do they fulfill my emotional needs, where might they have developed from and are they still serving you? Every choice is a new opportunity to build a better you. Have a wonderful holiday if you are celebrating and if you are not, have a lovely Thursday – or Friday for those ahead of us! 

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