Emotional eating is a coping mechanism. It’s a way we cope with our emotions. Which means whenever any discomfort, distress, uncomfortable emotions come up, or even happiness or joy, we use food to soothe ourselves. So emotions are intricate to this pattern.
We use food to numb or distract ourselves because we don’t know how to be with these emotions. We don’t know how to move through them. We don’t even know what they’re about.
This is not something we’re taught in our society. It’s something our parents or caregivers would not have taught us. It’s sad because developmentally, this is something that we need. We need to understand our emotions.
Emotions are biochemicals that are secreted in the body. They create sensations, and we have a certain feeling with them and messages with them. So they’re important information for us as a physical person.
Those emotions, those sensations are telling us which direction we need to go in.
If you’re here, emotional eating has become this coping mechanism.
Where this starts
This begins in childhood when we didn’t know how to move through our emotions. We are feeling all this discomfort, and we have no clue what to do. We don’t know how to move through it. In this case we would have needed our parents or caregivers developmentally to help us move through the discomfort of whatever was coming up and to hear the messages and to make decisions from that information. But first we needed to move through the emotions.
When we’re developing, when we’re very young, as children, our brain has two modes. It can be in the emotional mode or in the rational mode. The way to access the rational mode as a child is to go through the emotional mode, which is usually uncomfortable for most parents. When we are in the emotional mode, we need to be with, process and integrate those emotions. In doing that, it calms our nervous system.
In a calm state
In this calm state, we can start rationalizing and creating a new way forward. But as children, we wouldn’t have had parents or caregivers that would have done that for us, especially if we have this emotional eating pattern. They might have emotionally eaten themselves or had other addictions. They might have distracted from their own emotions.
You might have shamed you for your emotions or told you to stop having whatever emotion you were having. In those moments when we are shamed or told we’re too sensitive, we shut down and those emotions don’t go away. We push them into our body and suppress them. We still feel some of that discomfort, and we need an out. That’s how we create these patterns, like emotional eating.
What we needed was to move through those emotions, to feel them, process, resolve them, and find a new way forward.
Part of that process is to listen to the information and create a new way forward to help that emotion dissipate. But what happens is that this emotion, this discomfort lingers and we emotionally eat. We use food to soothe ourselves because it gives us a dopamine hit. Food is pleasurable. It tastes good.
The Pattern Forms
Every time this discomfort comes up, our brain now says to eat because that’s the only way we know to soothe ourselves. We don’t know what we need to move through that discomfort. It’s not just, I know I’m sad and I emotionally eat. There’s an underlying process going on with this.
So we need to understand at a basic level that emotions are important, they’re information. We are going to feel things in response to our environment, in response to a person, in response to a temperature, or in response to the weather. We’re going to feel something in our body. We’re going to feel some kind discomfort or I don’t like it. That’s information.
We’re getting information about what we like and dislike in our life. Let’s say anger pops up, that’s telling us we have a boundary that’s being crossed. Or sadness pops up, it’s telling us something hurt us. As we move through that emotion, it’s going to help us gain insight and information.
When we’re very young, our idea of the world, let’s say our conception of the world is a very black or white and we’re very sensitive. So if our emotions are shamed or something happens to us, we create stories around that.
So we won’t allow ourselves to feel an emotion because we might have felt shame around it.
So through our work in The Emotional Eating Evolution Program a client had a trigger pop up. She felt she couldn’t express her needs.
We moved through a somatic mediation and layer by layer we found a root. She felt shame expressing what she needed at a young age. A particular incident came up where she needed her mother. When she expressed that, she was laughed at by her siblings who were left to care for her.
So as a child, what came up as a solution for her was to shut down her emotions, to not show her sensitivity. To do anything possible, to not ever have that reaction, that laughing, because that created shame and disconnection.
We’re trying to survive
As children this is happening. And unless we have our parents or caregivers there to attune to us, to see this is happening and to help us move through a situation like this and to be that container for us we will resort to coping.
We fall into these rabbit holes and we are trying to survive. In a case like this, our parents are on a spectrum of knowing or recognizing what’s happening for us or attuning to us. We can be left in these cycles and it’s perpetuated generation to generation and we don’t ever know what to do.
And so we are left with these coping mechanisms. We’re using food, we’re people pleasing, we’re using behaviours to survive because we don’t know what to do with these emotions, how to listen to them, integrate them and process them.
The Pattern Compounds
We’re using food and then the solutions that are sold to us are around diet and exercise because we don’t feel good in our body. We think if we look a certain way, we’ll be accepted and not feel shamed. If we do this, maybe we’ll have someone like us.
It becomes layer after layer after layer, and we lose touch with what we really needed. It doesn’t mean it disappears. When I do this work with clients, we’re peeling back the layers around food, our body, our emotions.
But now we need more powerful tools and a certain way to access that because we have a lot of protections, limiting beliefs and ways of being that are not helping us resolve this pattern.
It can be easy to say to feel sad or feel your emotions, but if we have a lot of trauma around that, we have a lot of protection, it’s harder to access those deeper levels. We need to do this in a way that is going to help us get to those levels. And so when I work with clients, we’re working on multiple levels. We’re working in the areas of food, body and our emotions because these areas tie into the emotional eating pattern.
At this point, our relationship to food, our body and our emotions, they’re all out of balance.
Our relationship to food is skewed because now we’re restricting and contorting around food and then using food to soothe. It’s an unhealthy relationship to food that we need to rebuild and shift to a more abundant way of being with food.
We are having a skewed relationship around our body because we’re associating our worth, our value and our acceptance to a body or looking a certain way. We might have been given messages of that as well if our deeper needs were not met. So we have a lot of shame around that. We don’t really understand our body and we need to shift that as well.
Then to move forward in a new way that actually meets our true needs, that will dissolve this pattern so that we’re no longer using food as a Band Aid or exercise as a Band Aid or our body as a Band Aid. We’re actually meeting our true needs and connecting to our body, food, our emotions in this healthy way.
That shifts our nervous system from a fight or flight because we’re in survival mode to rest and digest, which is a mode of health and turning on wellness and ease and peace in our body.
This is important to understand about emotions. Our emotions, we need to really start looking at them in this different way that they’re information and they’re meant to be processed and integrated in a certain way.
Inside of The Emotional Eating Evolution Program, that’s what we’re doing through the Somatic meditations with psychotherapy tools. This is an embodied process. It’s something that I can’t just simply talk to you about. It’s a process that is modelled to you. It’s about holding space, it’s about feeling through what’s going on and having a way to resolve it. It’s also about working through all the limitations and the relationships we have to food and our body and our emotions that are limiting us.
When we move into this new way of being with those areas, this starts shifting the emotional eating pattern and we start resolving our emotional eating from the root. If this is resonating for you, I would love to invite you to find out more about The Emotional Eating Evolution Program HERE. It is a step by step methodology. The program is a 12-week container with weekly support and accountability. It includes the in depth somatic meditations to get to the root of this pattern as well as creating a healthy way forward so that you can feel at ease and confident in your body and around food.
Certified Holistic Nutritionist Specializing in Emotional Eating