How to Get to the Root of Emotional Eating or Food Addiction

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.

What Lies Underneath Emotional Eating or Food Addiction

What Lies Underneath Emotional Eating or Food Addiction

In my last blog post, I talked about how I overcame my chocolate addiction. In the months that followed, I had some relapses but finally was able to kick this habit for good. I wanted to wait to write a follow-up blog because I wanted to make sure that this transformation is real and is there to stay. I’m happy that it is.

While going for extrinsic ways to curb my appetite for binge-eating chocolate — such as switching to 100% dark chocolate and making myself accountable to my audience — did help a great deal with my success in kicking the habit, what made the change permanent was a long and difficult personal journey, in which I dug deeper into my soul and found out what the emotional root of this unhealthy habit was. I listened.

I listened to the raw emotions that filled my body whenever I had the urge to reach out to my preferred food of addiction.

I sat down and allowed myself to process those emotions.

What I meant by “emotions” was the physical sensations our body experiences, not the interpretations of those sensations. When we are confronted with a certain experience, our body (autonomic nervous system) will respond with a certain set of physical reactions before we attach a “story” to what we are sensing.

For example, when treated in a way you don’t like, you may sense that your pulse rate is increasing, your heart may start to race, your breath may get shorter, you may break out a cold sweet or your hands or even the entire body may start to shiver. I call all of these and other heightened physical sensations “raw emotions.” Of course, you may also experience positive sensations but my focus in this post is on the negative emotions as they are the ones that often trigger us into emotional eating.

How do those sensations make you feel? My guess is that they make you feel uncomfortable.

What is your response when you feel uncomfortable? Let me guess again: run away from the discomfort.

Escaping from uncomfortable emotions is an extremely common route that people take in order to feel better. After all, we all want to feel good, don’t we?

What would you do when you are trying to run away from the emotions that are pounding at your door?

For those of us who have been struggling with emotional or binge eating, reaching out for comfort food — especially if they are readily accessible or available — seems to be the easiest choice.

In fact, it seems to be a “safe” choice. It is safe because you’re not going to substances that have a bad reputation and that would cause you to feel like a “bad person.” Substances like drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.

However, these are all “coping mechanisms” by nature. By the same token, some people choose gambling or sex as a way to cope with their discomfort.

Now, it may seem under-stated to call it “discomfort” if a person is trying to use any of the above measures to get away from it.

It may feel more like “pain” or “suffering.” That’s true, when you have added the layer of “feelings” to your physical sensations. At this very subtle and often undetected juncture, you are basically creating an interpretation of your emotional experience. For example, when someone you are close to has done something that violated your personal boundary, you start to feel your heart racing and your head spinning. You are sensing the emotions of anger and disappointment. The feelings of anger and disappointment are your interpretation of the event. What that person has done does not match your expectation of the kind of behavior you have in mind for this particular type of relationship. If it was a stranger, you may have felt differently, or, if you feel the same type of feelings, the intensity of the feelings may not be the same.

What I’d like to suggest, is for you to pay attention to your raw emotions as soon as they show up — regardless of the feelings, or interpretations, that follow.

Next, sit with those emotions. Breathe into them—to acknowledge their existence. Breathe out — to let them out of your emotional body.

You see, when you sidestep this process, your physical body will internalize the emotions and store them somewhere physically, until one day, when those emotions are repeatedly so many times that you can’t stand them anymore, that they start to scream at you through different forms of physical pan or diseases (“dis-eases”).

There is a “90-second rule” about emotions. What the rule says, is when you feel a certain emotion and stay with it while letting it run through your body for 90 seconds without any judgement, it will dissipate by itself. This is one of the most powerful things you could do for your health!

According to Jill Bolte Taylor, author of “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,” if we are aware that emotions take 90 seconds to surge through our systems, we can simply allow them to naturally pass and flush out. If we choose to fight the emotions instead, we will emphasize them further and then we will need to fight them again and again. By then, the emotions will have become an “illustrated story” in our mind and will have the power to control us.

Try this 90-second rule out for yourself, and share with me how you feel in the comment section below!

In my next post, I will go even deeper and share with you a complete, step-by-step process of how to resolve emotional eating/food addiction for good.