The Psychology Behind Emotional Eating

Psychology of Emotional Eating

Here’s a quick, behind the scenes psychological look at what’s going on mentally and emotionally on the subject of emotional eating.

First it has to be said that emotional eating is not due to a lack of willpower, or the result of laziness or insufficient or misinformation about healthy eating and dieting. At the core of this behavior is a very strong psychological pull that has entrenched itself into one’s psyche over years, and is so powerful that the idea of overcoming it with willpower alone is absurd.

Unconscious

The first hurdle in overcoming emotional eating is simply becoming aware of it. Most of the time it runs on autopilot, pulling and pushing us in the direction of sweet and tasty foods even though a part of us is protesting, feeling badly and cursing under our breath.

It’s like having someone pull our puppet strings and not really knowing they’re above us, or that they even exist. So priority number one is to first tune in to what’s going on and examine all of the voices within that are competing for influence. The first part of the management section of the EatingLove guide suggests that asking oneself a couple of simple questions at specific times, is the start of the process of becoming aware.

Strong Neural Pathways

Emotional eaters have used food for comfort for a long enough time that the neural pathways have been cemented into place, and the entire circuit has become a MONSTER in the back of their minds. Discipline and willpower are no match for this circuit’s ability to control their behavior.

The antidote when it comes to changing strongly entrenched, learned behaviors is to simultaneously create new neural pathways while neglecting the old ones. In this way the old ones wither due to lack of use and over time become less dominant. They unfortunately never fully die but can be relegated to the back of the bus, as if being placed in “standby” mode.

It’s like learning to brush your teeth with your other hand. In order to make the switch become second nature, you need to bring awareness to the activity of brushing your teeth each and every time you do it, being attentive to brushing with your other hand properly while making sure you never use your dominant one again.

That takes work and a daily commitment of effort since normally people brush their teeth while multitasking and thinking about what they have to do the next day. To bring awareness to every single thing you did in a day would not only be tiring but inefficient as well, so having these neural circuits on automatic pilot is generally a good thing for us … unless it works against us.

One of the only Sources of Positive Emotion

Emotional eating is called what it is for a reason. Emotions seem to be very difficult, troublesome and hard to fully understand yet they run our lives almost entirely. By now the phrase, “We are emotional beings who have learned to think,” is common to many books and articles of psychology and self improvement. So, we have no choice but to pay attention to them and deal with what is inside.

When we are “unhappy,” or experiencing a lack of satisfying emotion in our day, we look to change that by almost any means necessary. Comfort eating does the trick. So does drinking, smoking, gambling, shopping etc., they’re all in the same category Emotional Eating is; a behavior to change your state to one that feels good.

While they work quite well at doing so, they also have consequences which are harmful and can be devastating for not only us but those around us. Still, we do it anyway. Negative emotions are difficult to tolerate and so we’ll do almost anything to get away from them, even if it means that bad things will happen as a result.

Many people experience negative emotion on a consistent enough basis. Examples of that are depression, anxiety, chronic pain and despair. They stem from childhood trauma (commonly), a lack of meaning in one’s life, betrayal, medical tragedy and the random misfortune that can be, and is life. They are quite painful and a source of suffering that doesn’t have a quick, short term fix to them the way a diet or exercise plan does.

So, we eat.

Sad Woman Eating Emotionally

Treating It

As the guide suggests there are 2 parts to treating and overcoming emotional eating. One for the short term which is more of a management plan to first stop it from getting worse, and second to make some adjustments that will result in positive change and even some mild to moderate weight loss.

The second part focuses on the psychological change needed to get to the root of the issue and modify the learned programming at that very deep level. It is a gradual and long term process that takes years but does yield considerable benefits if undertaken seriously. That’s why you need a management plan first, so that you don’t have to wait so long and potentially become demotivated to take care of your health and well being.

The first thing that’s necessary to treat emotional eating is a commitment to doing so. Nothing will change without that. One needs to become informed about the subject which can be done with the guide and with the blogs posts here at EatingLove.org. Then it’s about making a general, overall plan in both areas (management and emotional growth) and spending some time daily on this task that has been committed to.

The right mindset is needed also which is about accepting the process, the length of it’s treatment, and that small, daily efforts over time will be what’s required to successfully over come the issue.

The sooner one commits, the harder one works daily, and the more one becomes aware of the world of emotional eating within them self, the faster the results will come and the sooner one can enjoy life more fully.

Remember that the time is going to pass whether you do something about it now, or hold it off to some ideal future point in time.

Where you’ll be is up to you.

“I eat my feelings – when I’m happy, when I’m sad. – Chrissy Metz”

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