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Why Do People Emotionally Eat?

What You're Really Craving When These 5 Triggers Cause You to "Eat Your Feelings"

Lisa Lieberman-Wang sheds light on why people emotionally eat, originally posted on YourTango.

And why food isn't the answer.

You want to develop more mindful eating habits, but in some situations, you simply can't help but reach for comfort foods even if you don't have an emotional eating or binge eating disorder.

But when it comes to the psychology of certain foods, what does it really mean to eat your feelings? What is the distinction between having feelings about food and using food to manipulate your emotions?

The mere mention of it can stir your senses and elicit both memories and feelings.

S'mores. Popcorn. Grandma's comfort foods. The smell of hot cookies coming out of the oven. Slumber parties. Thanksgiving with the whole family. Christmas cookies and pre-New Year's splurges with gifts and food.

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The average American is raised with most, if not all, of these associations between food and "making memories."

What would a birthday be without cake? Halloween without a month-long sugar high? A broken heart without ice cream to glue the pieces back together?

Without any bad intention, we grow up being taught that food and feelings are a natural pairing for the same plate. Why, then, did no one consider asking, "What does it mean to eat your feelings?"

And more importantly, why did no one ever broach an answer?

No matter how the world glamorizes food with pictures and words, its effect on your life always comes down to your thoughts about it.

You don't "love" food — you love what you believe it does for you. You love the feeling of the neural connections made when you learned to associate food with comfort.

You love the temporary fantasy of everything "being OK" if you can just get home from this lousy day and crawl into bed with your hidden stash of chocolate.

You love the idea that food will love you back — or at least make you feel loved.

And there's the rub.

There is so much expectation being placed on something that has no ability to feel and no power to love.

Not only does emotional eating or binge eating give your power away and keep you from being mindful about food, it gives it away to something that remains at the mercy of your choices. It processes nothing, heals nothing, and fills nothing.

It's not your stomach that's empty; it's your soul.

So what does it mean when you eat your feelings?

It means you are trying to make the statement, "The way to a person's heart is through his/her stomach," come true. It means you see your feelings and food on the same plate, and the only way to get rid of those feelings is to eat all your food… and then some.

It means there is something so painful, so intolerable deep inside you that you will use food to annihilate it.

Here are 5 common situations that trigger emotional or binge eating and keep you from being mindful about food.

1. You're Bored

Boredom in a high-speed world can feel foreign, even frightening. Society doesn't allow for downtime, and you certainly can't be viewed as lazy or unproductive. But boredom is an emotion, not a signal from your body that it needs nutrients or energy.

Busying yourself with the hunt for and eating of food is nothing more than a distraction to fill a void.

2. You Want to Feel Social

Ahh, back to those comforting roots of bonding over food. Eating is a shared activity that represents connection, acceptance, and security. And you appear unappreciative by not eating what is offered, even if it isn't good for you.

You could also risk not being invited again, so having seconds is a natural choice.

3. You Want Emotional Comfort

Comfort foods are laden with calories, fat, sugars, carbs… and nostalgia. They courier opioid-like substances in the brain, leading to a temporary feel-good similar to that of heroin.

4. You're Stressed

When you're stressed, it causes a fight-or-flight response in your body. As a result, your energy supplies are diverted from the brain and non-essential organs to the large muscle groups and organs that are charged with helping you slay that dragon in your office, at home, or in your love life.

Apparently, evolution hasn't mitigated that hormone response to go along with the average stresses of modern life. Less blood to the brain means less reasoning and impulse control… and more eating.

Lather, rinse, repeat. You get the picture.

5. You're Depressed

Depression can corral a lot of negative feelings into one bad emotional state. If you are depressed, you know how difficult it is to do the most basic things.

Food shopping and cooking probably aren't high on your list. And when you're just trying to get through the day, dragging around that ball and chain of low motivation and self-esteem can suck all your mental energy. If a hit of serotonin from those chocolate bars piled on your nightstand can lift your mood, why not?

What does it mean to eat your feelings? It means your soul is starving, and it is easier to feed your stomach than to find out what your soul needs. It means you are distracting from a pain you don't trust yourself to face.

Lisa Lieberman-Wang is a relationship expert and creator of the neuroscience Neuro Associative Programming (NAP). If you need help finding your truth and living an authentic life, connect with her through her website or send her an e-mail.

This article was originally published at FinetoFab. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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