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Using Mindfulness for Emotional Eating

We all have times in our life where we’re eating food not because we’re hungry physically, but because we’re hungry for something emotionally. If you’ve ever found yourself sitting in front of the TV or computer mindlessly eating and look down to find an empty container in your lap, then I think you know what I’m talking about.

Working as a mindfulness and self-compassion teacher, I teach women who are struggling with negative self-talk how to feel better and be more present and grounded.

In one of my group programs recently, we were talking about emotional eating and an ‘a-ha’ moment came up around how you can use mindfulness to conquer emotional eating and I want to share that with you today.

I personally have been through a time when I was eating emotionally every single day – and I was always eating Haagen Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond ice-cream! At that time, I thought I loved it.

Emotional eating is really the act of eating food that has nothing to do with nourishing your body or feeding your physical hunger, but instead it seeks to satisfy an emotional hunger.

This, I believe, is really your body’s way of crying out and saying ‘I need attention.’

It’s not asking for food, it’s asking for attention.

When I dug deeper around my own emotional eating, I realized the ice-cream really wasn’t doing me any favors and was actually making me very ill. Not only that, but I learned that really I had an emotional hunger and I was trying to make that pain and emotion go away by eating the ice-cream (or insert your food of choice here). I was trying to make myself feel better.

I was eating to fill an emotional hunger, rather that listening to my body’s need for attention. I realized that the ice-cream wasn’t going to change anything in the long run.

When we eat emotionally, we might have a little moment of pleasure, but it doesn’t last. And when it’s gone, you still have the original pain/emotion that you went to the food for in the first place. The emotional pain is still there, but now you also have shame and guilt on top - because you over-ate or you ate something that doesn’t make you feel good.

You end up with double suffering.

In my group program, we discussed this at length. It triggered a lot of a-ha moments for my clients.

So what can we do to reduce eating emotionally? We can use mindfulness!

Connect with your body and see what it is really needing. What is it asking for? Maybe it’s asking for rest, or maybe your body needs some self-care, or maybe it needs to eliminate something from your life. There are so many reasons specific to you.

Learning to connect with your body and listen is key.

We are so disconnected from our bodies, we so often numb out and disconnect - for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, including eating food.

When we connect back to our bodies, that’s when we can really make some tremendous change in our lives. The way to connect is to become aware and ask ourselves (and our body) the following:

  1. What’s going on here?

  2. What’s going on in my body right now?

  3. What am I feeling?

  4. What are the physical sensations in my body?

  5. What do I need (or talk to your body and ask it what it needs)?

  6. What can I do for my body and spirit to meet my needs?

And then listen and provide whatever it needs. That is self-compassion. That is being your most compassionate self.

It’s exactly the practice I use. I practice mindful eating – it’s changed my life, and of course I practice mindfulness to really connect in and become aware of what’s going on in my body and what I’m experiencing in that moment.

Then, I give myself what I really need, with compassion.

Have you ever experienced hunger that was not a physical hunger? Have you ever been aware that you’re eating for emotional reasons? How do you manage it? I’d love to hear - please share your comments and tips on my Facebook page.

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