Let’s continue our exploration of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (two of the most brilliant women in the universe!). Here’s a review of the Principles we’ve covered so far. For more details look back at the previous blog posts for deeper content on each one.
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Respect your fullness
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Today’s topic: Honor your feelings without using food
We’ve all done it – emotional eating, stress eating, comfort food, mindless eating, and so on. Eating in response to emotions. It can also involve restricting food or dieting. Even intuitive eaters emotionally eat (or not eat) sometimes, so don’t beat yourself up over it. It becomes problematic however when we are using food too often to deal with emotions.
The tricky thing is that the food legitimately makes us feel better – temporarily. Our brain gets a surge of a neurochemical called serotonin in response to eating (especially foods high in carbohydrate and fat). The serotonin acts like a sedative for the amygdala which is the fear and emotion center in the brain. It’s like a weak, very short-acting antidepressant/antianxiety medication. And when the effect wears off you’re still left with the original emotion that prompted you to eat in the first place.
By implementing the Principles of Intuitive Eating that we’ve already talked about, you’re eating what you truly want when you’re hungry and stopping when full and/or satisfied. Once you’ve go the hang of these skills, congratulations, you’ve made it a lot simpler to separate food and feelings because your body is getting the nourishment it needs. Now it’s time to practice the distinction between physical and emotional hunger.
Here’s a technique that I use all the time with clients – every time you want to eat PAUSE and ask yourself “Am I hungry?” It’s a simple question, but the answer is often complicated. If you find that you are truly physically hungry, eat – intuitively, use the skills you’ve learned thus far to do so. And if you find that no, you’re not actually hungry, but you’re experiencing the desire to eat anyway – now we’re on to something. This is where emotions come into play.
Don’t cringe. This is possibly the most important of all the Principles. It’s where the true healing occurs. The emotions are the birthplace of dysfunctional eating patterns. By learning to identify your emotions, you can learn how to respond to them in a more productive manner. For example, if you’re feeling angry the most helpful response is going to look different than if you’re feeling lonely. I’m not a therapist, so this is where I defer to the experts. What I can do is help you separate the food and feelings and then the therapist can help you learn healthy emotional responses. We are hardwired for connection and to need each other. This isn’t weakness, it’s resourcefulness to to figure out where you can get your needs met.
Tomorrow we’ll discuss body image.
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