30 Day Nutrition Discovery Challenge, Week 3: “Solutions for Emotional Hunger”

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Welcome to week three of the 30 days nutrition challenge! Please carry on to what you we’re doing (reading this weeks post) 🙂 …

This week’s question which will help you to gain confidence in your dietary habits is:

3.) Are you really hungry?

We decide to eat for an assortment of reasons. Some of the most common reasons are hunger, celebration, boredom, sadness, to feel we fit-in socially, and stress.  Hunger is the only real reason we should be eating, yet there is an anomaly of reasons to eat when we aren’t actually hungry.  I’d like to get to the root cause of these situations this week so that you might understand why it occurs.  I’ll then offer a solution to begin over coming emotional eating.

The first thing to ask yourself when you feel hungry is, “What is happening right now in this moment?”  You might be surprised by all that is taking place.  Just take note of where you are, what you are doing, who (if anyone) you are dealing with, and how all of these circumstances are making you feel.  Do you feel tightness in your belly, chest or shoulders?  Are you clenching your jaw?

When we think we’re hungry, but know that it isn’t time to eat some common emotions may come up.  These common emotions might be something like “I feel stressed”, “I feel anxious to get home”, “I feel worried”, and so on.  I’ve mentioned before in another post that not every emotion is negative, but it too can trigger the feeling that you need to eat even if you are not hungry.  Examples of this would be feeling over joyed at a party.  You may begin to mindlessly eat because such intense emotions are occurring.

So what is the root of emotional hunger?  How does something like stress, loneliness, boredom, and joy trigger hunger?  The most common theme that emerges is, emptiness.  We literally begin to feel empty inside.  If we are stressed we feel like we are placing all of our focus on something other than ourselves.  This in turn causes us to begin to feel empty inside even if we are physically doing a lot.  Stress occurs when you don’t take adequate time for yourself.

Loneliness, and any kind of sadness you feel is also an isolating feeling.  It feels like you are separate from the world, and it’s as if no one feels this way except for you.  Boredom is similar.  It feels like we should have something engaging to do, yet we don’t.  As human beings we are wired to feel like our job here (whether it be as a parent, student, employee, care-giver, etc.) is important.  When we are bored, we feel less important.  In essence we feel unfulfilled and empty.

Anxiousness works a little differently.  Feeling anxious, whether it be about an exciting event taking place or a nervous anxiety, the root remains the same.  Feeling this way may indicate that we aren’t happy with our most current state because we are anticipating reaching a different more desirable state.  In this moment we feel empty because the state we are in doesn’t feel good enough.

Situations like celebrations and dining with friends play an interesting role in our emotional hunger state.  Many celebrations are culturally based in some way.  Therefore specific foods appropriate for the gathering are present.  Let’s face it, most celebrations do not host healthy, natural foods, but rather rich and decadent delights.  I’m Ukrainian and Hungarian, and growing up the holiday dinner table had buttery pirohi (pierogies) with sourcream, Hungarian beef stew with potatoes, sausage, and lots and lots of bread, buttery paska bread, and maybe borscht soup as a vegetable.  (I left a hyperlink for the paska so you can take a look at the ingredients and calories, 1 1/2 cups of butter!) See my point?

But, there is nothing wrong with this!  Just be mindful of the foods that will most likely be available and do your best to graze on the bad, and focus on the healthy.

Now, back to emotional hunger.  On the flip-side, even though we are probably in a wonderful mood at these gatherings, there is a lot going on.  We have to devote a lot of energy toward interacting with the other guests there.  We have to talk, at times, about mundane topics for the sake of conversation.  Maybe we have to put on a happy face toward someone we’d rather not encounter?  All of this consumes a lot of our energy.  As exciting and fulfilling as it may be, there is still some aspect of feeling that you need to fit in, that you are acknowledged, that you meet the standards of certain people, and that you surpass the standards of others.  Add the tasty treats or rich meals, and your emotional hunger is sure to be towering.

So how do you combat any of this?  How do you become more in tune with your internal-emotional-environment to be aware that any of this is even happening inside?  By reading this post, you’ve already taken the first step.  Props to you.

You are now aware of what emotional hunger is and why emotional hunger exists.  In the past, and I mean past as in cave-man past, we probably experienced emotional hunger as a survival mechanism.  Any sort of emptiness we felt was a result of stress, and stress meant our lives were at stake.  We probably yearned for something to reduce the stress by eating.  Eating something that would protect our bodies from deteriorating if there was a chance the food supply was going to disappear.  Keep in mind, there was much less food back then so the stress of going hungry was very real.  Well we don’t hunt boards with tomahawks anymore (totally making that up, I don’t know that we hunted boards with tomahawks, but it sounds cool) but, we do still feel stress.  It’s the root cause that is slightly different.  The root cause is now more of this feeling of emptiness in one of its many forms (not necessarily starvation like it was during the Flintstones, boar-hunting, tomahawk era).  We literally eat when we feel emotionally charged in order to feel more full.  It is a great metaphor, but also physically true.  You eat to feel satiated (comfortably full) in some way.

Finally, here is the solution.  A list of the action you can take if you want to determine if you are truly hungry or emotionally hungry:

1.) Ask yourself what is going on around and inside you, currently.  Sometimes you may need to think back to a lingering thought that is resonating with you deeply (like a stressful event that occurred the day before).

2.) What might the root cause of this emotion be? ex: How and why am I feeling empty?

3.)If you’ve determined what the root cause is, hang on to it for a moment.  If you are hungry, then go eat!  If you are still unsure, than wait 20 minutes, have a cup of water or tea, see how you feel then. 

4.) If emotional hunger is present, then rate it on a 1-10 scale as described below:

  • A score of 1 would mean you are feeling as if you’d like to eat something, but can wait until your next scheduled meal or snack.
  • A score of 10 would mean that you feel nearly uncontrollably emotional about one or several matters, and you feel that you must eat something right away.  (Just want to mention here, that you are always the one in control, you’ve just got to find a way to come into greater alignment to do so).
  • A score of 5 would feel somewhere in between 1 & 10, as if you feel uncomfortable about something in this moment, and need to have at least a small snack.

5.) If overeating is a serious concern because your emotional hunger falls somewhere between 8, 9  or 10 then you may want to consider the following focused breathing exercise:

  • Find a comfortable seated position where you won’t be disturbed for 2- 5 minutes. Even if you need to take a restroom break and stand quietly in front of the mirror, anything at all will make a difference for you.
  • Set your timer for 2-5 minutes (more if you’re inclined to do so) or use your own senses for a time, just don’t rush.  I always like to say, when you feel like you’ve had enough, give it a few more breaths or one more minute.
  • Place your right hand over your heart, left palm face-up.
  • Take 3 deep breaths to settle, and just focus on the breath.  Does it feel cool?, warm?, long?, short?
  • Begin to feel as if you are breathing in your favorite color into your heart.
  • As you exhale feel as if the emotion that is triggering your hunger is leaving through the left (faced-up) palm.
  • As you continue to inhale, and breathe in the color of your choice, feel as if this color is actually the color of love.
  • Feel what it feels like to give yourself the love you currently need.
  • Continue this until the timer sounds.
  • Do not immediately open your eyes and dive back into your day.
  • Keep your eyes closed for a few more breaths, but let go of your love color and placement of your palms (you can place your hands together in prayer or let them both rest on your knees).

While you are still in this moment, give yourself a positive affirmation.  This might be something like “I am not perfect, and no one is, but I just as loveable no matter how imperfect I am” or “It is OK to feel emptiness at times, but now I have filled my heart with the love I needed.”  Finally, thank yourself for dedicating these few minutes to you.

What you’ve just done is actually a form of meditation, but you can call it anything you’d like (i.e. focused awareness, visualization, de-stressing, quiet-time, etc.).  If it does not work it is because you are still in your thinking mind.  Do your best to let go of the weight that is tugging on you, and really try to dedicate those few minutes to yourself.

Know that if you are still hungry or emotionally hungry after the quiet-time it is OK to eat.  This is just a way to notice if perhaps you can begin to fill any void (emptiness) that may be resonating with you at that moment.  The best part is, even if you felt you didn’t notice any changes after doing this, you did!  If we are extremely out of alignment with loving ourselves then it could take time.  Every time you practice this you will progress if you stick with it.  You can also practice this as often as you’d like.  In the beginning you may find you are using it 10 times a day (by the way, 10 times a day at 2 minutes is only 20 minutes for the whole day, not bad!).  Do your best.  This is the ancient science of meditation which has worked for centuries, there is no need to doubt it.  Congratulations for beginning to find your way!  You rock!

As always, I welcome comments and questions.  Please leave them in the comment box or you may request to email me personally.

Om Shantih,

-DC

Photo 1 courtesy of NY Times

Photo 2 courtesy of Metta Refuge

One response »

  1. Pingback: Are Food Allergies & Sensitivities Affecting Your Health? “30 Day Nutrition Discovery Challenge”, Week 4 « DC Heal

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