As far as being an emotional eater…Did I decide to have this thing? Did I DECIDE to use food to cope emotionally?
I don’t believe most of us ever consciously decide to become emotional eaters. Medically, there is a biological predisposition that some of us have to consume more food than others, and also the way that certain foods are registered in our brain and our bodies are different.
Many of us started reaching for food to cope at a young age. An age before the part of our brain that is responsible for logical thought processes has fully developed. These coping strategies were born out of emotional and biological needs to make it through circumstances that we thought we could not otherwise deal with alone. It was not rational, logical (or even conscious for the most part)…it was based on survival.
Ok, so maybe I understand that part. However I am no longer a young child. I have access to a fully developed brain and I can now take care of my basic needs, so my survival is no longer dependent upon others. Why am I still eating when I’m not hungry? Am I making a conscious decision to do this?
First of all, coping strategies used consistently over time can become strongly entrenched habits. We create a neural super highway in our brains that reacts instantaneously when we are triggered. This means that many of us are on autopilot when it comes to reaching for food. To me a decision implies a conscious choice.
So while you might not think you are currently making a decision to eat emotionally, you are also not making a decision to stop eating emotionally. It’s like being born with Type 1 Diabetes. You didn’t decide to be diabetic, and you can decide about how you treat yourself.
The first step towards consciousness is awareness. So a decision that you can make right now is to become more aware of what feelings trigger the compulsion to reach for food. One of the ways you can start this is to keep a feeling log. Each time you eat, log your feelings. Sometimes the feeling may be hunger, and sometimes not. The important part here is that if you want to get clear about how and why you reach for food, this is the first decision you can make towards taking control of your eating. By taking a moment to be mindful before you eat.
It’s not your fault. And you can do something about it now.