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Emotional Eating

Updated on May 19, 2020
ValKaras profile image

Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.

Image by Lilly Cantabile from Pixabay
Image by Lilly Cantabile from Pixabay

When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me.

-- Oscar Wilde

Overdosing On Food

Ever since I took upon myself to do our grocery shopping, I get amused while standing in the lineup, glancing at people's shopping carts, and matching that inventory of items with their physiques.

Almost regularly I notice all kind of treats, most of which I never knew existed, while they are offering an explanation for that spare tire around their waist, with everything above and behind being a match to it.

As I am trying to make all that as discrete as possible, I also notice many of such obvious emotional eaters fretting and watching those in their immediate proximity. Somehow that reminds me of squirrels and other small animals at their feeding time, as they are watchful for other hungry animals around that might grab their food -- or them.

I don't know if it's really something unconscious and animalistic that people display while "gathering/hunting" their food, but it certainly does look that way to my ever inquisitive eyes.

Emotional eaters -- and there are so many of them among us, judging by those mostly overweight folks to be seen everywhere -- have developed a special sentiment for their food.

Namely, to them it's much more than biological need, and even more than something to pamper their taste buds with -- it's also their tranquilizer of a sort.

Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay
Image by Shutterbug75 from Pixabay

Well, I think the only reason people overeat is stress.

-- Jenny Craig

A Great Relaxant On Our Plate

Whether we are talking about boredom, anger, depression, worry, guilt -- all somehow attached to mother-in-law just leaving your place -- that feeling at the pit of your stomach is guiding you straight to your fridge, that treasure chest filled with assorted tranquilizers.

And it's hard to make up your mind, while standing in front of that open fridge, with more than one of those goodies looking so enchanting. I won't try to guess what's your final choice.

Even the act of eating, by itself, helps there, because digestion uses up enormous amounts of available energy, and with much of it drained out by mother-in-law, the rest is stolen from those crappy emotions.

A similar effect is produced by chewing on a gum, as body believes that we are about to eat, and digestion process gets triggered. Additionally, chewing relaxes facial muscles, notably jaws, which, with any presence of anger is not only suggestive of eating, but also of biting. Just observe how people start chewing faster when they are pissed.

So much fun can be derived from watching people who use their digestive equipment for coping with their emotions. I like attributing as much animalism as I can think of to such behavior, because it appears so automatic and instinctual.

I also figure, eating helps to quiet down the fight-flight mechanism in our survival arsenal, by pulling all blood from muscles into the digestive process. Namely, in a state of fear/aggression, our muscles get tense and digestion stops, so by mobilizing the eating mechanism we reverse it, relaxing muscles with this "pacifier effect" so obvious at babies.

It also appears that emotional eaters prefer routinizing their choices of foods, having noticed that varieties tend to produce emotional stimulation, so they rather insist on sameness which dulls emotions. It's like taking another dosage of a proven remedy.

Our stomach is big as our fist. But our need for some emotional crutches stretch it to a ridiculous size.

Another trick they use, of course, is overeating, or eating those heavy foods which take longer to digest. Now, I am not suggesting that you ever try it -- but if you walked beside a pride of lions, right after they stuffed themselves silly with a freshly killed buffalo, they might just give you a lazy look, with even their instinct of territoriality not being aggravated by your presence.

Likewise, with a full stomach our emotional reactivity is greatly slowed down, and many emotional eaters know it too well, as they are enjoying that extra serving, giving them some extra serotonin, that feel-good neurotransmitter. Namely, our guts produce some 80% of all serotonin, the rest is produced by brain.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

It's not stress that kills us but our reaction to it.

-- Hans Seyle

Food Won't Heal Bad Emotions

Well, body is an incredibly intricate machine which we all tend to take for granted too much. Whether you try to understand it at a level of cellular biology, or its chemo-electrical aspect, or from its chi-energetic perspective, or through its mind-body connection...etc, you soon realize how you are in position of those proverbial blind men describing elephant.

Available books on these many topics are not helping much, as they oftentimes just specialize on a separate aspect while giving it a "pivotal" significance. So, for example, a nutritionist may have come up with a slogan like "You are what you eat", while a mind-oriented expert will say "You are what you think".

Now, needless to go on with the rest of them, but just to mention one more, a gym freak will swear on the importance of your daily workouts. As far as my personal intellectual taste will go, I am for that Ayurvedic maxim saying: "Don't tell me where your body hurts, tell me where your life hurts".

Translating it to the theme at hand, our artificial hungers, a.k.a. emotional eating are not something that food, or omitting it, can solve. At its best, it may give us a temporary relief. In case of food allergies or sensitivities, yes, our emotions will benefit by excluding them from our diet, but even that won't take care of our negative emotions the way we would expect it.

Thus, let us not put to much faith in any of those ideas suggested by so called "orthomolecular psychiatry" which somehow connects our eating habits with our emotional states.

In my opinion, people are wasting too much money on supplements and other nutrients by believing that their nerves are out of wack due to a "chemical imbalances in the brain"

While I may be wrong there, except for some severe deficiencies, we are getting everything we need from our food, organic or not -- but our stress management sucks big time. And that brings us to the second portion of this article dealing with, what I am calling "mental diet".

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay
Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

If you always need a crutch, you don't learn anything.

-- Ben Savage

Mental Diet

In accordance with the Ayurvedic principle just mentioned, we simply can't fill a void in our life with food that we eat. It is self deceiving similar to that one of a smoker, an alcoholic, or a druggie, who are using their own chemical crutches to help them crawl through the many challenges and tests that life is throwing at them.

Many years back, I used to be a chain smoker, heavy coffee drinker, beer lover, and I just loved bread and sugary stuff. In those crazy years I was often dreaming of a time when I would quit all that, and as a result enjoy calm of a Dalai Lama.

Naive ass, that's what I was. For, after quitting all that cold turkey, I was facing my crude truth about some neural pathways in my brain which were generating negativities -- while all those chemical crutches were merely trying to minimize them -- not causing them.

In other words, they were not intoxicating my body, so that quitting them would result with a sudden emotional renaissance in me. With all that crap removed from my body. I still had to take care of my emotional equilibrium the only way it could be done.

Now, not to give you an exaggerated picture of my particular need for equilibrium, I am not saying that I used to be some kind of a jerk, but in a very relative sense. Namely, I was already meditating at that time, doing many other things and with a good mind-style that altogether made me a pretty calm dude -- but not as calm as I wanted to be.

So I decided to go on my mental diet and drop all that garbage from the peripheral vision of my mind. Only then I started noticing that great improvement in my emoting. So much unnecessary input had been bombarding my mind, finding its nest in my neural model of functioning.

At times it felt like there were two of me, one that was deeply spiritual, and the other that felt compelled to notice and to analyze every crappy thing over which I had absolutely no control.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

-- Kent M. Keith

Filtering Out Mental Junk

In a sense, my days of overeating were also matched with my "mental overeating", and that's what every emotional eater might recognize as their own truth. Look folks, just like we don't want to go physically obese, we should shy away from mental obesity, not ingesting more than our brains can handle in a healthy way.

On one hand, we may say how the life has become too complex, but that's a lie. We are having it easier than any past generations had it. I won't go there with any examples, you've seen a historical movie or two, and even in our recent history people didn't have it nearly as easy as we have it.

We are one spoiled generation. Well, maybe I shouldn't include myself, because I was born at time when horses and carts were seen in cities instead of many cars. Comparing my childhood to these days, it seems like I am living a science fiction.

So, trust me, these are not times giving us an excuse to call it "stressful". Stress is all in our heads, not out there. No one can walk into our brains to push some buttons there -- it's all self-created, or, should I say, self-inflicted.

We'll stop being emotional eaters when we stop seeing the word's stupidities as our own issues. We are mentally ingesting way too much of it. With a dark passion we are living everyone else's life except our own.

We have to yank our minds out of the domain of the world. We can't feel enough for them, and can't eat enough for them as to make them a better world. But we can make our own as best as it was meant to be.

© 2020 Vladimir Karas

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