“Mindful” emotional eating. Isn’t that a contradiction? We usually refer to emotional eating as a loss of control triggered by intense emotions. Can that ever be “mindful?
Well, there is no simple answer because our relationship to food is not simple. Try as we may to simply equate food with fuel, we are emotional beings and food is emotionally charged. Food and emotions will always be interrelated to some extent. Eating is also layered with memories, meaning, associations, and cultural traditions. It is also an instant, effective way to alter our mood. Because of its effect on serotonin and dopamine, food can make us feel better — in the short term, anyway.
The problem–for many– is that eating is the go-to method of regulating their emotions. Combine that with the addictive nature of certain foods, and you have out-of-control behavior with problematic long-term consequences.
I was inspired to write this post by one of our member’s experiences with emotional eating. She has been practicing our program for several months now, and has become more mindful of her emotions as well as her food choices. She had a wonderful experience with what I will call “mindful emotional eating” this past week. She knew that she needed a mood pick-me-up. It was late in the evening, so she didn’t want to exercise. She did some mindful breathing and decided that she definitely wanted a snack to improve her mood. So she created a wholesome and delicious snack out of cooked apples and cranberries, and enjoyed it fully without feeling the need to eat uncontrollably. (It also helped that she had structured her environment to contain only healthy, unprocessed foods.)
This was a beautiful example of the power of mindfulness! She was intentional in her actions, as well as tuned into her body’s emotional and physical needs. When I asked her how she felt after eating it, she replied “better.” We all know how we usually feel after an emotional eating episode that spirals out of control. What a great outcome, made possible through the healing power of mindfulness practice.
The practice of mindfulness is our own custom-made search engine–leading us to everything we need. It knows precisely what our bodies and minds require at any given moment. Think: “Help Wanted?—Inquire Within.” Settling in– and tuning in– can help transform what once was a nemesis into a healing friend.
Mindfulness activates your innate drive towards integration, and thus helps you to regain a sense of balance and control around emotions and eating.