Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten when you weren’t hungry.
There are so many possible reasons we do this.
Let me count the ways, right?
It tastes good, so I had some.
It tastes good, so I had some more.
Oops, now I’m overly full.
What’s really going on?
That’s the million-dollar question.
Sometimes it’s not a problem. Sometimes it’s just a little extra. And with the full awareness that I’m eating to soothe myself.
Other times, I keep looking and looking in the pantry. In the fridge. Other times I keep having a little of this, a little of that—not so much as to look like a pig, heaven forbid—and way more than I need to satisfy my physical hunger.
I am not physically hungry, so why am I eating?
Self-soothing. Boredom. Excitement. Nerves. Procrastination. Sadness. Because “It’s there.”
Fill-in-the-blank. Truly. I do not need a reason. Do you?
I don’t need a reason and, yet, there always is one.
And that is what we are addressing today.
Let me first say that what has reduced my emotional eating most are the long-term changes I’ve made to my diet. There are physiological reasons for cravings, conscious or not, and removing sugar takes some of those out of the equation. Seriously. Between no longer feeding an imbalanced gut microbiome and no longer encouraging mineral deficiencies, taking sugar out is powerful.
Beyond that, let’s revisit my favorite acronym, HALT.
H is for Hungry. Let’s eat when we’re hungry! Not push it off, not deny ourselves and create overeating later. Let’s listen, listen, and learn to listen, to our bodies.
This can take practice, certainly. What if we don’t notice our hunger signals? What if the hormones which are responsible for the signaling are offline?
Then I suggest beginning with clock time. Set meal times for nourishing the body and have small meals at those times. Often this is enough to reawaken the leptin and ghrelin and reestablish harmony with these appetite control hormones.
Meanwhile, embrace mindful eating. Eat thoughtfully. Seated. Putting the fork down between bites to be sure you are thoroughly chewing.
Remember the stomach has no teeth.
I cannot eat with a scary movie on. My stomach is in complete knots—no way can it digest properly. I’ve learned to listen to that. Same with excited conversation, whether angry or not. If I’m on edge for any reason my body is launching into fight or flight—very far from rest and digest, which is where we need to be for optimal digestion.
Eat whole foods to satisfy the whole body.
Sip water during a meal as needed, but drink the bulk of your liquids away from food to support digestion.
I could talk about H-related stuff all day. Let me know if you have questions. And let’s move on to...
A is for Anger and Anxiety. I guess I started that above, didn’t I?!
“A”, here, represents any feeling. Am I eating because I’m trying to stuff my feelings? Am I eating to avoid feelings?
What’s really underneath the desire to eat? Am I bored? Am I avoiding? Am I confused? Am I sad?
What am I really hungry for?
Do I need a hug? A breath of fresh air? A dance break? A phone call? A journaling break? A prayer or meditation moment?
What can I do to nurture myself which will support me rather than harm me? Eating when I’m not hungry can absolutely harm me. Both physically and mentally.
I know that.
And I can choose to “step left” now when that urge to eat hits. I have a list of things to try.
Make yourself a list, use the questions above as inspiration.
What can you choose other than food?
L is for Lonely. Same thing. If I’m lonely, is food going to fix it?
Nope. It will make it worse in the long run, but in the short it feels like it will work.
That’s my experience anyway. How about you?
And it’s likely related to the release of feel-good neurotransmitters when we eat carbs. A very temporary fix. Which generally begets a search for another temporary fix. And on and on until we come to our senses, run out of food, or get so full we cannot eat another bite.
And we’re still stuck with the underlying loneliness or whatever inspired the eating episode.
So let’s acknowledge what’s driving us and shift out if it through awareness, practice, and support.
Be prepared. You likely know when you’ll be lonely. Be prepared. Make a plan to succeed, so you don’t fail to plan/plan to fail.
Finally, T for Tired. This is a bizarre one, to me. How does being tired make me want to eat? I generally stop eating at 9pm to make sure I’m not going to sleep with food in my system, but I can fall prey to the desire to eat if I’m tired earlier in the day.
Food can perk us up. Especially those quick-burning carbs. And then, like kindling, their energy disperses and we’re back to tired. A hit of caffeine? Same thing with a multitude of other potential problems, right?
Believe it or not, a quick meditation session can wake us up. Catching some fresh air. Trying the other ideas on the list can be enough to bring us back to focus and alertness. If we need to do that.
Can we listen to our bodies and take a quick nap? As long as it’s not a habit, this can be exactly what we need. If it’s a daily issue then it’s time to look at nighttime sleep, but an occasional 20 minute sleep session may be just the ticket you need to optimal self-care. Or, heck, taking a mental health day off from work.
Ultimately this is about optimal health in mind, body, and spirit. And ultimately it’s about choice, which is about awareness.
So I invite you to HALT and be aware, be in choice, as you navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of eating. Those of us prone to emotional eating can use our desire to eat as an alert system. When I notice that I want to eat for reasons other than hunger I know that something’s up. A game is afoot and I get to go sleuthing to find out what it is.
Join me in choice. Join me in awareness. Together we support each other to grow emotionally and spiritually rather than physically.
Blessings my friend, blessings. And reach out if I can support you on your healing journey.
"I empower peri- and menopausal women to get their groove back and soar into the lives of their dreams."
Helen Gardiner-Parks MSEd. FNTP/ 704.451.3900 /firstname.lastname@example.org