What is emotional eating?

Many of us have heard of the term emotional eating, but what is it and how does it impact on our lives?


Emotional eating is using food to help us feel better. It's easily done. Eating an entire pot of ice cream can be a welcome escape after a tough day at work, but doing so can make you feel worse in the long run.


From a women's health perspective, food choices can have a huge influence on our hormones and impact our menstrual cycle. Fluctuations in our blood sugar levels, a lack of fibre and too many circulating toxins can knock our period off track and increase the likelihood of PMS symptoms.


By recognising your triggers for emotional eating, you can make better choices that support your wellness. Here, Vanessa Rivero, a health coach and yoga teacher, shares her story of emotional eating. She also reveals the simple practice that you can try at home to understand your triggers and get on top of your emotional eating.


When did you first notice you were emotionally eating?


When I think of food choices, I instantly think of when I was around 10 years old and found a packet of Oreos that my mother bought the day before for me and my sister. I remember vividly how I would take the entire packet, sit in front of the TV, and eat one Oreo at a time until there were none left.


My food choices started there, where I felt lonely and bored. That was the first food I chose as comfort and from that moment on, I used not only Oreos, but all sweet foods to fill up the emptiness I felt throughout my childhood. From my work and experience, I’ve learned that most people have similar stories to mine.


Why do we do it?


Food choices start from our emotional wellbeing. If we are feeling sad, lonely, and hopeless, we’ll turn to sweet and heavy foods like chocolate cakes or cookies. If we're feeling angry, frustrated, or annoyed, we’ll turn to heating foods or drinks like alcohol or spicy food. If we feel lost or powerless, we’ll most likely try to find a strict diet where we count calories and analyse everything that enters our bodies.


Most people are unaware of this relationship between emotions and food choices, but in the end, food not only fills our bodies but also our souls and whatever our souls need, we’ll crave. 


How can we heal our relationship with food?


An example I like to give is to think of a time where your heart was broken. I invite you to take out a piece of paper or a journal and write the following questions:

  • Do you remember what you felt?

  • Do you remember what you did the day after where you realised your life would never be the same?

  • What type of music were you listening to?

  • What type of movies were you watching?

  • What type of foods were you eating?

Answer with all honesty and start making the connections.


I remember the first time someone broke up with me. I was feeling worthless of love, sad, and I would cry whenever given the chance. I remember my foods for the following days were ice cream, pizza, and pasta. I listened to Ricardo Arjona (a singer who only sings songs of sadness and despair) for days and I watched Titanic more than once. I'd be asking myself why couldn’t I find a Jack who would hold my hand and change my life!


Food and Jack were the only things that helped me feel a bit better, yet dragged me down the most because once that ice cream was gone, the feelings would come back stronger and the cycle repeated itself.


After you answer those questions, you’ll need three things to start your healing process: a journal where you write every day, a support group, and lots of love and compassion towards yourself.


The road to healing your relationship with food is rough, uncomfortable, and cannot be done alone. It is a personal choice that I believe begins with an honest conversation with yourself but most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself no matter where you are in your journey.

About Vanessa


Vanessa is based in Florida and has a BSc in Applied Psychology, with four years of experience in the field. She's also a yoga teacher and is currently transitioning to helping others through yoga, ayurveda, and health coaching techniques to bring a holistic approach to a person's health.


Vanessa encourages people to get to the root of the problem instead of treating the symptoms. She's passionate about how stress can influence both our bodies and minds, and specialises in stress management, helping clients return to their natural state of well being by listening to their bodies. 


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