Question: Are you gonna tell your newborn infant to not associate an emotion when they are feeding? Are you gonna ask them to deny the nurturing, the bond that is formed when they receive two essential nutrients all at once from the hands or boobs of their caregiver - love and food?
Hell no. In fact, if you did, you’d be called into question by every single pediatrician in the world. Well, at least the ones with jobs and credibility.
I’m here today to redefine emotional eating. This oversimplified label reminds me of back in the antiquated silly days when women were considered “hysterical” and it creates an equal denial of who we are as gorgeous lovely souls housed inside a working, miraculous animal of a body.
Your body knows what it needs to survive. Every second, every day, its incredible web of communication and its interconnected system is in constant pursuit of equilibrium. It, your body, is an animal. Primal. Needy. Surviving. Intuitive. Slightly mechanical in a fleshy way. Logical. A feat of engineering we could only dream of man-manufacturing. So, when it comes to eating, it calls upon emotions and sensations at times to get the nutrients it needs. And, listen up carefully here, when it asks for something like donuts, it’s not a reflection of your loose emotional hysterical self, but rather the animal in you saying, “Oh, I need quick fuel and the best place I got that from before was that weird round thing with a hole in it that was super duper sweet. Yeah, that. As many I can get right nowwwwwww.”
Your body wants this because perhaps it’s all you’ve given it as a resource for super fast fuel. Period.
The same goes for salt. Your body craves salty things because it’s adrenal system is probably out of whack due to stressful modern stresses and salt is an effective healer of this sort of imbalance. And because you’ve fed it kettle chips before, it remembers that very food and its delicious salty delivery and then sends your nervous system an immediate craving for which our incredible (I am almost said edible) brains go, “oh, kettle chips, now.”
We crave comfort foods when we are low. When we’re depressed. Why? Because comfort foods usually involve a heavy carb load, aka society's latest nemesis in the form gluten, which contain opioid peptides—amino acid sequences that affect the brain in the same way opiates do, targeting your endorphin receptors and making you feel pretty darn good. These opioids are also amazingly addictive and are largely responsible for cravings. Again, there may be better ways for your body to resolve this depression, BUT, all it knows is comfort foods. It’s all we’ve given it thus far, so it goes right to the source. Period.
And, when it comes to fitness, most of us dread working out because we associate moving our bodies with punishment (usually in response to “emotional” eating). And most of the ways we have worked out in the past have been way too close to physical torture. So, why in the world would the animal in us crave working out as a way to receive vital energy and an upper to our moods when all we know it to be is as a scolding, depleting, hurtful behavior? To add to this, the main way we’ve offered our brains a break is not through movement but through digital distraction with tv and facebook and and and and. Thus, you can’t blame your body for craving these things over sweating when we need to feel more connected, more energetic, and less overwhelmed.
Does this make us undisciplined, will-powerless, unhealthy humans? Does this mean we’re all in need of an emotional wrangling? Does this mean we all need to learn to be "better," to be more in control, to fix our basic cravings and overcome what our body says it wants?
No way. Here’s the turn-around.
Are you an emotional eater? Yes. You are. You and you and you and you. Even you in the corner with your kale smoothie, yes you too. If you are not, well, I may have to check your head for an outer space alien invasion chip.
Do you want things? Yes. Is food associated with something more than fuel? Yes, it is. This is not the issue. The issue occurs when we deny the animal in us, when we over-control our food and behaviors, and when we convince ourselves that somewhere over the rainbow with the right diet and the right crazy fat-blasting workout regime, we will magically melt into our true healthy self.
The next immediate thing that develops is a resentful relationship with your very primal nature. Our bodies respond to restriction with a heavier focus on that which is restricted. And then we binge. We hurt ourselves. And we enter into another label, far more appropriately designated than emotional eating: Disordered eating.
Instead of one donut we have 35. Instead of one workout, we do three back to back P90whatevers until we can’t walk. It becomes a vicious cycle. We are then providing more reminders to the animal in us what exactly it has at its disposal for certain basic needs, namely in the form of crappy food and punishing movement. And we don’t leave room for any other available options. So, we crave it more. We gain weight, we get sick, we feel depleted. So we then label more, restrict more, pummel more. And, then, swoop, we binge.
This is NORMAL. NO ONE is immune to this reaction of the inadequacies of how we feed ourselves and care for our health these days. Maybe the alien chip brain person, but not anyone I know and call a friend.
So, because I’m all about solutions, here we go. But, wait, before I begin. I want you to do one thing. Put your hand on your heart. Feel it beat. This. The pulse you feel. It’s what you’re feeding and strengthening when you start really pursuing wellness. It’s your life. It’s the evidence at every single second of the day that you are an animal BUT that you are also a soul having the privilege of being right here, feeling the pulse and sensing how it quickens when a loved one is around, how it feels achy in your chest when you watch your kiddo take another leap towards independence, and how it meets you at both nervousness and total peace always alway always. Say hello to it. And let it know that you are gonna stop the monkey games already and start living like it wants you to.
Ok, solution time.
- Separate yourself from the animal of your body. Let it tell its story. Look at it objectively. What is it asking of you today, right now? What has it been through? How has it served you? How has it failed you? What is it missing for equilibrium? Remember, it’s NOT YOU. This is your body. Purely physical. Your soul needs may be different (or maybe not, wink wink).
- When you experience a food craving, sit with it first. Don’t react. Put your hand on your heart and make a solid agreement that you will choose kindness and wisdom. And know that if you can’t sit with it, then you need some outside help in doing that. Seek that help.
- When you experience a behavior craving, sit with it. Don’t react. Put your hand on your heart and make a solid agreement that you will choose kindness and wisdom. And know that if you can’t sit with it, then you need some outside help in doing that. Seek that help.
- Start finding other resources for what your body wants and what its cravings are. See the diagram below to get a jump start on that. Fill your day with these options and then be willing to wait a bit until your body starts wanting them. REPEAT: Be patient. Your body will not want them right away. It takes time. Be patient. Be willing to screw up. Be ok with beginning again.
- Introduce and reclaim indulgence not as a “fuck it, I deserve it” reaction, but as a conscious surrender to the beauty that it is to be here, amongst taste and sensation and life as much as you can.
- Teach your body resilience. No matter what, never blind yourself to a perfect diet or fitness program. Do not, unless you have an allergy or specific condition, restrict yourself entirely. Deliberately mess up. Deliberately give your body reasons to bounce back. Take a day or two off of exercise. Take risks. Eat a piece of cake. Involve yourself with pleasure. Be an adventurer in the sensations of being alive and remind yourself "I can handle this."
- Create a unique formula for your own individual wellness. Do not bet on what works for Gillian Michaels or your neighbor with a six pack or that chick you saw at Kroger buying a gallon of kombucha. Start building and refining what works for your composition. What makes you feel good? What makes your body feel like crap? And if you have to walk away from a food or behavior because it is harming you, then grieve it. Be emotional about it for as long as you need and then get re-aligned with that formula. It yours. You've earned it. Do something about it.
- Do not run away from your vital self. Like, ever. Wait, a better word: Trust your vital self. Hold up, an even better word: Love your vital self.
The chart below is a great way to sit and be with your cravings and give them what they need, rather than abuse them or deny them. IF you want the actual file, you can sign up for freebies in that form in the sidebar and you'll find the pdf there.