I was visiting a friend and her 10-week old baby over the weekend. Little Annie was fidgeting when I arrived. Mom, already well versed in Annie’s moods, knew she was hungry and began to feed her. As the baby ate, her body relaxed, and she closed her eyes. With a full belly, she was wide-eyed and available for cooing and play.
As I watched mother and child, I was reminded we learn to be soothed by food before we learn to sit up, to stand, or to utter our first word. I remember promises of desert for good behavior or a cookie as tears subsided from a scrapped knee. Those messages are reinforced in the culture as sitcom stars heal broken hearts with ice cream and Snickers commercials tell us, “You’re not you when you are hungry.”
Emotional hunger can lead to emotional eating because food is soothing, whether the emotion is sadness, joy or boredom. Often what we are craving is support or connection or both.
As a culture, we eat for celebration, for depression, over anger, over grief, boredom and out of anxiety. Some people skip meals when they are depressed but eat when anxious or bored. For some, food is simply fuel and for others it is the only source of soothing they have learned to count on. For many of us, we are somewhere in between.
A coworker gave me the above cartoon after we had a conversation about emotional eating. It hangs on my refrigerator as a gentle reminder to ask if myself if I am in the kitchen for my stomach or my heart. If it is after 8pm and the television is on…it is likely what I call “TV Doldrums.”
As a mindful eating teacher, recovering emotional eater and woman imperfectly incorporating mindful eating in my life, emotional eating happens. Sometimes my heart demands chocolate but the goal is to eat that chocolate mindfully. Mindfully feeding the heart involves in a few simple steps:
I am a marriage and family therapist and mindfulness and mindful eating teacher. My passion is helping others to heal their relationship with themselves, their bodies, food and other people.