Naturopathic Nutrition

p24 feeding your feelings

Feeding your feelings?

In our food-focused society, eating has become so much more than just basic survival. We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger – we eat to socialise, nurture, have fun, comfort and reward ourselves. Most of us form these emotional associations with food at a very young age – birthday celebrations, Easter eggs, comforting, bribes and rewards all carry through to adulthood.

Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better – eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach. Using food in an attempt to calm emotions can become an unhealthy coping mechanism when really there are other underlying issues that need addressing.

Afterwards, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but there are also added feelings of guilt, powerlessness and shame. Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food.

Emotional hunger can be very powerful and as a result can be easily mistaken for physical hunger but there are clues that you can look for that can help you put emotions and food in separate corners: emotional hunger comes on suddenly and feels overwhelming and urgent, while physical hunger occurs gradually. When emotional hunger rumbles, we are likely to focus on a particular food – high fat, sugar or salt comfort foods. Emotional hunger also leads to compulsive overeating and before you know it the whole tub of ice cream or packet of biscuits is gone.

Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach – rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes and smells.

Using food from time to time as a pick me up, a reward or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism – when your first impulse is to open the fridge whenever you’re upset, angry, stressed, exhausted or bored – you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed. By becoming aware of when you are actually eating emotionally and recognising your triggers and patterns, you can begin to change your habits and begin to identify healthier ways to feed your feelings. Take a bath, go for a walk, read a good book, call a friend – find emotional food for emotional hunger!

Nicky is a Naturopathic Nutritionist practising in Dublin. She writes, speaks and advises nationwide on all aspects of health, nutrition and wellbeing. See for further info, upcoming courses and workshops.

By Nicky Flood