Friday, 13 April 2018

4 MYTHS about Emotional Eating

Hello lovely people,

Today I want to talk about emotional eating. For the purposes of this blog post, emotional eating could be defined as 'eating driven by emotions rather than hunger cues'. Emotional eating gets a lot of bad press - it is consistently linked to obesity, always as a result of personal negligence (which is not a thing btw), considered a 'bad habit' and generally a reliable indicator of 'not having your shit together' (having your shit together is, arguably, not a thing either).

What this all boils down to is control, or rather the illusion of control. If you can control your food intake, you can control your life - right?

Well, no.

Dieting, food control, disordered eating - whatever you want to call it, is about anything but control. It is about self-restraint, self-inflicted punishment and ultimately food ends up controlling you.

BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. 

Let's do some myth-busting together and get some well-needed perspective.

MYTH 1: As babies, we only eat to satisfy hunger or thirst

Not true, as babies we feed for a number of reasons. We feed to feel safe, to calm down, to regulate temperature, to bond, for pain relief, to fall asleep and simply because we enjoy the sensation of sucking. This is sometimes known as 'comfort nursing'.

Food is innately connected with a sense of safety and security. That's why, at times in our lives when we feel unsafe, we use food as a coping mechanism to soothe and reassure ourselves.

Often, as babies, feeding is one of the only ways to soothe ourselves as we are not biologically ready to self-soothe. Nevertheless, one could argue that, since adults are far more developmentally advanced, that whilst emotional eating as a baby is healthy, as an adult is it unhealthy.

This brings us to myth number two.

MYTH 2: Emotional eating is an unhealthy coping mechanism

Not necessarily. I'm not saying that emotional eating should be your only coping mechanism or even your main coping mechanism, let's be real - it's not going to solve any root problems, but, as coping mechanisms go, it's a relatively safe one. 

Let me give you an example: you have a choice between eating an apple and a chocolate bar - you choose the chocolate bar, not because it satisfies your hunger any more than the apple, but because eating it is a more pleasurable experience.

Food is about so much more than satisfying hunger. It is about being emotionally satisfied. We cannot view food objectively, without the context of our own experiences.

For example: when I was in the throes of orthorexia, I forced myself to eat A LOT of courgette, even though I hated the taste, the texture, the visual - everything. Needless to say, I did not eat courgette for a long time after that, because it was associated with that negative experience. So, a nutritionist or dietitian could (and indeed did) say to me, eating courgette is good for you (because of X and Y nutritional values) but, until recently it was categorically, not good for me.

Eating courgette, would have complete disregarded my mental, emotional and physiological response to it and further fractured my relationship with food.

So, not eating courgette could be classified as 'emotional eating' (or avoidance, in this case) as could choosing the chocolate over the apple.

Neither of these acts were the result of a bad decision making - they were the result of actively listening and responding to my needs.

However, one could further argue that, in fact, if we only really ate what tasted good and made us happy, we would miss out on vital nutrients and fuel that our body (and brain) needs to be strong and healthy.

This leads us seamlessly on to myth number 3.

MYTH 3: Emotional eating leads to nutritional deficiencies and/or unhealthy weight gain/health problems

There is no data to support this. It is entirely possible to be nutritionally conscious, without completely disregarding cravings and emotional needs.

Preventing yourself from eating what you want to eat and/or beating yourself up for eating food that offers more pleasure than nutritional density is restrictive. Regardless of your size, weight, eating disorder type, this behaviour is and will always be, restrictive. This is the behaviour than fuels binging episodes which in turn fuels restriction and traps you into a viscous binge-restrict cycle.

Taking time to honour your cravings is self-care. We need to remember here, that weight gain is not inherently bad and cannot be used as a justification for self-hatred.

If all you can think about is chocolate, then, chances are, you're probably operating some kind of mental or physical restriction on that food.

If we include mental health in our definition of overall health, how does that shift our perspectives. If we eat to take care of our mental and emotional health, not just our physical health, how does that change which foods we consider as 'nourishing' and which foods are not.

In October 2000, Tufts University Health and Nutrition letter, reported a study, conducted by researchers in Sweden and Thailand that demonstrated how meal enjoyment significantly enhances nutrient absorption (source: Managing Business Change for Dummies, Evard and Gipple, 2009).

It's about finding balance, and understanding that appetite is fluid and ever-changing, as are cravings.

Building a amicable and flexible relationship with food is the healthiest thing you can do for your mind, body and soul.

MYTH 4: Emotional Eating and Disordered Eating are the same thing

Nope. Emotional eating is part of having a healthy relationship with food. Disordered eating is about controlling what you do and don't eat, fuelled by self-depracating thoughts. Submitting to emotional eating and self-forgiveness is the opposite of control, it is 'riding the wave' of your food needs, as and when they change. Disordered eating requires judgement over food. Emotional eating has no judgement attached to it.

But what if a health professional tells me emotional eating is bad?

As a health professional, when you prescribe judgement alongside eating, then you are endorsing disordered eating.

As a health professional, when you prescribe the same elimination/retricitive diets for each patient irrespective of the prerequisite detailed and intensely personal consultations, you are insulting your client's mind, body and spirit by blanketing their highly individualised needs with the latest food fashion fuelled by your own internalised weight stigma.

Emotional eating is not bad or good, it simply is. It is only when we try to control it, that it begins to control us. Ride the wave. Eat cookies on Monday, brocolli on Tuesday, both on Wednesday. You are not 'cheating' on your diet, and by believing that, the only person being cheated here is you.

Trust your body, trust your mind, trust your emotions - they are telling you everything you need to know.

Take time to figure out what works for you and what doesn't and understand that it will change, constantly, and that is OK.

Understand that the goal is never to eliminate emotional eating, simply notice it, figure out what's behind it and then move on. It is not something to be fixed. It is something to be embraced, accepted and provided with unconditional love.

PS: If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, please, please, please do not stress out about emotional eating, your emotional triggers will be stronger than most - this will not always be the case. I know eating is hard, harder than you ever thought that it could be, but you will get through it, this too shall pass. Eating doesn't always have to be enjoyable, but in order to feed our brains, our bodies, all of our internal organs that are working so hard to keep us safe and well, we need to eat. Even if we don't want food, we need it. For now, just focus on getting through this tough time, and in time, you will learn to love food all over again. I promise.


IDC about your diet, Susan

I hope you have enjoyed this blogpost, as ever, thank you for taking the time to read it.

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Until the next time,

Niamh xxx

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