How to Get to the Root of Emotional Eating or Food Addiction
In my last post, I talked about emotional eating and how to get to the root of the problem. Today, I want to finish up my thoughts on this all-too-important subject. But before I offer you my insights and practical tips, I just want to discuss briefly what I mean by food addiction.
Usually, when you hear the term “food addiction,” do you picture someone with a huge belly and eating a much bigger portion of food than he or she can stomach? Well, that is one form of food addiction, but there are other forms of food addiction, such as when you binge eat a certain “comfort food” when no one else is watching (as in the example of my own binge-eating of chocolate), or when you munch on snacks throughout the day even when you are not hungry.
Even for “health junkies,” piling up on food that is supposed to be healthy for you could be a form of addiction, too. It is not so much the type or amount of food that you eat, but the feeling of obsession and loss of control over when to stop eating, that makes food addiction what it really is.
In all of these cases, the food is like a pacifier that calms down your nerves or fill a void in your heart. This is different from mild and temporary cravings for a particular type of food, which are caused by an imbalanced nutritional profile and could be rather easily curbed by feeding yourself with food containing the micronutrients that your body has been deprived of.
Replace food with cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex — it is still a form of addiction, because you are compelled to reach out for these things “by default,” without really connecting your real physical and emotional needs and finding the “solution” that will fulfill those needs.
Food, or any of those substances or activities, are thus used as a shortcut to reach a feel-good/pain-free state. But what it actually does, is to delay the onset of emotional discomfort or pain. The effect is that more and more food or the addictive substances are needed to help bring your mental and emotional state to a higher level of satisfaction.
In fact, the sight (or smell) of food gives us a squirt of the pleasure hormone, dopamine. Dopamine helps us focus our attention, makes us think more clearly and helps us move faster and more effectively. Once we actually start eating, serotonin kicks in. Serotonin makes us feel happier and less stressed. We relax, our mood improves and our minds can turn to less important things than eating). That’s a simplified, biochemical peek behind food addiction. The situation gets worse when the food itself triggers intense addictive responses in the brain. A common example is sugar — and all the processed food with sugar hidden in it.
In my last post, I suggested listening to your raw emotions. Listen to them when they start bubbling up and giving you any kind of discomfort, breathe into them and let them ramp up so that they’ll eventually dissipate.
Acknowledging the pain or suffering whenever it occurs — and then allowing it to surface — is one of the steps toward emotional liberation. I believe that is the solution to the deeply rooted problem of food addiction.
Once you have gotten used to this initial process, it is time to figure out what lies underneath the pain or suffering. This is a crucial step, and the process of identifying where the pain comes from is different for each individual, so don’t expect to “get it” right away after reading this post.
From my part, I’m just going mention a common thread, or a hint: Look into your childhood or even early childhood, at a time when we lacked the intellectual capacity to make sense of certain things that happened to us. In order to “survive” and to feel safe, we would interpret certain events and make up stories that could be totally not grounded in reality.
Nevertheless, such interpretations are hardwired into our subconscious and lead to certain false beliefs that are self-defeating. If we have experienced certain “traumatic” experiences — even though such experiences are usually not considered traumatic from the adult perspective — it is highly likely that such memories are carried over subconsciously throughout adulthood.
One common effect is that the child would experience low self-esteem, insecurity or self-hate throughout his or her life. When such false beliefs have formed yet not identified, it becomes extremely difficult to feel a consistent sense of happiness or inner peace. Depression, anxiety, self-hatred and other emotional pain thus become a prominent feature in this person’s day-to-day life. An easy and convenient way to deal with this pain is to reach out for food — especially food that gives you a quick boost in your dopamine level.
I highly recommend you to look into CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which delineates the various childhood experiences that could have life-long effects on a person’s physical and emotional health. Some of the factors may surprise you — traumas don’t necessarily take the form of physical abuse. They can be in the form of emotional abuse (verbally or through emotional neglect), sexual abuse, parental separation or divorce, death of a parent or close relatives, plus other behavioral problems such as substance abuse and violence in the household.
After identifying the sources for your pain and suffering, it is time to create a new “story” to replace the one that wasn’t based on reality. This new story will form the basis of how you feel about yourself. A lot of times, the stories we’ve made up in our childhood have to do with our inadequacy — “I’m not good enough” or our inherent self-worth — “I’m not lovable.” It is extremely important to replace those thoughts with positive self talk and a new belief system.
As you work on the past traumas, it is all too common that the experience becomes painful or even unbearable. But whenever the pain becomes overwhelming, go back to the 90-second rule to process your raw emotions until each one of them eventually dissipates. End the process with soothing, loving self-talk, as if you were talking to your own dear child — in this case, talk to your precious inner child with love.
The next step is to try to understand what the pain and suffering has done for you in terms of life lessons. I call it embracing the pain.
Lastly, after “making friends” with the pain, you can finally let go of it and send it off so you can free yourself emotionally.
I encourage you to earnestly go through this process step by step, and see if your need to reach out for your “pacifier” reduces over time.
Of course, as I mentioned, the process of identifying where your specific pain comes from is a highly individual one. It also may not be a linear one as there may be layers upon layers of traumas and pain. If you are serious about resolving your emotional eating or food addiction problem, I encourage you to seek out the help of a licensed therapist who can guide you in the right direction. There is an increasing number of therapists who help patients with emotional eating issues. So they would be especially helpful to you.
Lastly, eating the right types of food that heal your gut is also of paramount importance. That’s because 90% of our serotonin receptors are found in our gut, and so when our gut microbiome is in balance, our happy hormones will function probably and we’ll be less likely to seek out the thrill of non-stop eating to feel happier. Eating right for your blood type is, in my view, the best way to heal your guts and balance your mood. If you’d like to work on the dietary aspect of your food addiction, contact me to see if you could use my help.