Everyone has some type of comfort food like birthday cake and ice cream, mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, for example, which brings a smile or calms them down. In fact, every ethnic food culture has a favorite food that recalls fond memories from better days. Does this make us fat?
Maybe, if your food eating experience in the past is not a happy memory. It could be worse yet, filled with violence, alcohol and/or drug addictions from family members with whom you shared a meal. Poverty leaves many people with abnormal eating habits as one develops insecurities about from where the next meal may come. A person under this type of stress can alternate from gorging to starving and back again.
In my thirty years of nutrition counseling I learned more people have bad family eating situations at home than good ones. The range goes from busy lifestyles where parents and kids rarely sit down for a meal together to holiday gatherings where families use the occasion to verbally torture each other about their weight insecurities, just for spite.
The saddest counseling session I ever had was in the mid 1980’s. A young woman shared with me her deepest pain about being sexually abused by her father to explain her weight gain. I did not have the experience in my career at that time to handle the information. Though I shared this with her doctor I know in the 1980’s the subject of sexual abuse in the family was still very much taboo. Today, gratefully, we are more open about speaking on such sensitive issues and there are certainly many mental health professionals who cover food addictions and their related diagnoses.
In this article I want to narrow in on the subject of emotional eating by simply raising awareness on how to identify if you an emotional eater and offer a challenge to eat more healthfully.
1) Emotional Hunger comes on quickly, physical hunger comes on slowly
2) Specific food cravings such as pizza or ice cream = emotional eating, physical hunger does not demand a specific food item
3) Emotional hunger requires instant eating, physical hunger increases slowly
4) Emotional eating does not quit- you never feel full, physical hunger signals a sense of fullness when you are done
5) Emotional eating leaves a sense of guilt afterwards, physical hunger does not
When I see patients in my practice one of the first questions I ask them is what are their favorite foods and could you just have a handful and be content or do you need to eat the entire bag. Posing the question this way I am helping them to identify if they are actually hungry when they eat or if they eat to their emotional state of mind.From there we move to a discussion of making sure that if they are eating under stressful conditions then at least the foods they eat should be healthy ones such as fruits and vegetables.
I challenge you to a test. Take your favorite food for women studies show it is ice cream or cookies and for men it is usually pizza or steak. See if you can incorporate it into your diet in a healthy way. In other words, just two cookies or two slices of pizza and then fill in the rest of your day with fruits and vegetables. Go to http://www.choosemyplate.gov for more information
Compare this with what you usually eat and I believe you will begin to experience what real hunger feels like. Soon you can begin to tell the difference between healthy eating and the mindless eating that is probably happening now. Try it and let me know how it goes. See if you have identified yourself as an emotional eater.