Why You Emotionally Eat

You use food to cope with negative emotions because it works. You Eat The Thing and for a moment, you feel better. The negative emotions that drive you to use food are likely influenced by challenging interpersonal relationships and/or negative self evaluations or self criticism. Both of these— challenging social relationships and self criticism— block your ability to experience positive emotional states. How you experience troubling inter and intra personal relating is unique to you. We can explore these inner experiences using parts of self. I describe a process of inner parts and how they contribute to emotional eating here. You may also have an inner part that is very controlling, which likely functions as a defense against the unknown and/or a way to avoid painful feelings such as shame and rejection. Basically, there is a part of you that is criticizing/controlling and a part that is being criticized/controlled. This dynamic results in a negative emotional state that may either be acute or pervasive in your experience. This stew of negative emotions— which include thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and urges— ultimately lead to decisions to eat emotionally. Using food to cope is a choice you make and therefore can change.

Being able to sit with, tolerate, and effectively respond to negative and uncomfortable emotional states is key to you changing your emotional eating behaviors. You likely experience more episodes of emotional eating when you are in a negative mood state. This process can also be explored using inner parts of self as described in the above-linked blog post. Right now, the part of you that steps in to help the vulnerable, hurting part of yourself is misguided in using emotional eating to help manage negative emotional states. It seems to work— it reduces the negative emotional state— but it’s not effective in helping you reach your weight loss goals. Therefore, a key element in being able to refrain from emotional eating when in a negative mood is to be able to identify and choose a healthier and more effective response.

Another important element to overcoming emotional eating is the physiology of food. Eating foods high in refined carbohydrates, added sugar, and inflammatory oils will not support weight loss efforts. Hyperprocessed foods are designed to elicit overeating. So, it’s equally important to set yourself up for success by choosing a diet full of real whole food. A mediterranean diet pattern is a good starting point.

So, take some time to reflect on the role emotional eating plays in your life. Review the above-linked blog post and map out your inner parts of self and how they interact to drive your emotional eating behaviors. What part of yourself emotionally eats, and why? What purpose does it serve for that or any other part? What is it in response to? What part of yourself is contributing to negative emotional states? What is your self-talk in those moments? Do you use emotional eating as a way to manage and deal with certain people, circumstances, or emotions? Try to understand the patterns and cycles of emotional eating within your life and within yourself. Separate out each step in the emotional eating process and define how those inner parts of your own self interact to drive your negative self-evaluations, self-criticism, negative emotions, and emotional eating behaviors.

Start to consider a healthier part of yourself you can begin to work towards strengthening. At what point would this part of yourself intervene? How might strengthening this part of yourself change your emotional eating process?

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