It is easy to get stuck in a binge and emotional eating mindset, fuelled by lack of communication and kindness between our inner toddler and parent brain.
Within in this mindset, we tend to eat to block out thoughts and feelings in emotional eating, stress-eating or comfort eating.
Stress-eating or emotional eating occurs when people eat, not because of hunger, but because of other feelings and emotions.
- Emotions can be so strong that they take over hunger and fullness cues.
- We can easily mistake physical hunger for emotional hunger. Food can only satisfy physical hunger.
- Food can automatically be used to block out strong, often negative emotions.
- This often becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
- Stress or other emotions lead to overeating, which leads to shame and guilt, which increase stress and other ‘negative’ feelings and then the cycle starts again.
Emotional eating is not unusual. More than 1 in 3 people use food to cope with stress, and most of those emotionally eat every week. After a stressful meeting at work, I used to crave pastries. I did not know at the time, but I wasn’t hungry. I was dwelling on having not said the ‘right’ thing, feeling judged, and being really stressed. I would bury these feelings using a pastry, rather than letting myself experience them at the time. This means that these feelings never go away but get stored deep inside our toddler mind, where they fester. Of course, I didn’t feel better after the pastry, I felt worse. I now had extra feelings of ‘feeling fat’ because of the pastry, which fed back into the negative cycle of using food to mask what was really going on inside. I was stuck in a cycle of weight gain. I didn’t know it then, but I was the one who was trapping myself in that cycle of yoyo dieting and emotional eating.
How do we break this weight gain cycle? Well the first step, as discussed above, is creating a pause when your parent brain can decide whether your inner toddler is hungry. If your inner toddler is not (just) hungry, the next step is to work out what your inner really toddler needs. This is about taking the time to listen to your thoughts, explore them and then being kind to yourself about those feelings (giving your inner toddler a cuddle). Mindful moments can help with this.