I see it again and again- weightloss advice that talks about curbing your emotions, or “conquering emotional eating”. Articles talk about how emotional eating can “sabotage” your efforts at weightloss, and give advice for how to regain control when you break down in weak moments. The advice usually involves some method of distracting yourself from your feelings, or fooling your perceptions. This is just plain wrong thinking on several levels, and it actually increases the likelihood of weight gain. I will tell you why you need to do exactly the opposite if you want to lose or maintain weight.
Talking about emotional eating like it is some kind of enemy puts the power outside of you. It makes it seem like emotions (and food) are mighty forces, waiting to sneak up and take over control of your actions. An example is this quote, taken directly from WebMD “Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions”. If overeating is caused by emotions, then it is simple- to stop overeating, get rid of your emotions, right? Wrong. Face it- part of being human is having feelings, and trying to suppress them can actually make them stronger. They are there to tell us something about ourselves and, rather than suppress them, we need to focus on them and learn about our needs.
If we really paid attention to our feelings, we would not want to stuff ourselves with calorically dense processed products, because we would be satisfied. However, we are manipulated by two powerful industries. (This is not a conspiracy theory. I’m not suggesting they do this to deliberately harm us, they have simply discovered that they can make a bigger profit if they use this psychology). First, the processed food industry sells more products by linking our human yearnings and emotions to their product (think of all the food commercials, with their happy families, nostalgic music, and slogans like “spread a little love”). Then the diet industry makes this connection stronger with their advice to keep emotions separate from food. Remember, trying to squelch or push away the emotions can make them stronger- then they leak out in other ways, leading to “cheating” on the diet. When dieters fail again and again, they desperately buy whatever diet aids they can get their hands on to keep the “emotional eating” at bay.
I’d like to argue that we should be eating emotionally, sensually, passionately, always. Eating is such a primal pleasure, our brains will always have strong emotions around food. Food and touch are our first bonding experiences as newborns, and they remain two of the most powerful pleasures through our lives. Why live in constant deprivation mode, trying to blunt our emotions, when food can be a way to nourish ourselves emotionally as well as physically?
Rather than trying to deny strong emotions, eat mindfully. For example, when cravings hit, slow down and feel the craving deeply- figure out what it is you really want. Potato chips are a craving I sometimes have, and when it hits I stop and feel it for a few minutes to see what my body is saying. I mentally rehearse the ideas of healthy things that could replace the chips, and I don’t stop until I hit the one that would give me the feeling my body is seeking. I may simply be craving a crunchy salty tasting food and many healthy foods can satisfy that need. But sometimes it is more complex than that. I may actually want comfort after a bad day, and so I discover that a warm bowl of soup would really satisfy that craving more than a food that is similar to chips. So then I treat myself to a delicious healthy soup and bask in the nurturing feeling of comfort I was seeking all along.
I ran across an article today that supports a similar idea. The article, “I Don`t Get Paid a Single Cent for Flavor“, says that proper nutrition can be ensured by simply eating real food that tastes good. Although it presents it in a different way, it is saying the same thing- listen to what food your body wants. As long as you avoid manipulated foods (that fool your tastes), you will eat a good diet because it will satisfy your emotions. This article goes a bit deeper when it explains how agri-business, or the modification of fresh produce for profit alone, has created fruits and vegetables that lack real flavour. These flavourless foods do not satisfy our cravings and this makes us less likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
Although the article does not say it, I believe this also makes us more likely to turn to processed foods with their pumped-up chemical flavours. So, with this added insight, I would add one more recommendation- try and eat organic heritage variety produce as much as possible. To sum up, if you are trying to lose or maintain weight, or just want to eat a healthy diet:
– Eat good healthy and flavourful plant-based foods. Avoid processed food and agri-crops.
– Feel and use your emotions, don’t ignore them. They will help you to love your healthy food. If you love your food, you will keep eating it, and your health will improve.
– Use flavour as your guide to eating, and eat mindfully. In other words, eat real food and really enjoy the experience.
-Start today (that’s just me with my final word. Really you can start tomorrow if you want)