Dr Diet

Emotional Eating 101

You are sitting down doing some work & before you know it you’ve somehow made it to the open fridge (or if you’re like me, maybe you’re in the tub of peanut butter, haha) & have scrammed something tasty seemingly on autopilot!
Or it was a really stressful day at work so you blow off some steam & make things better with that favourite chocolate bar…
Or you’re feeling great & had a good day so what better way to top it off then with a slice of cake as a reward?

There are many many reasons why we emotionally eat with it is a very rich topic to explore as there are so many facets to it!
Within this post I will give a few models for understanding the reasons behind why we emotionally eat & some methods to help chage it if it is not working for you.

Conscious & Subconscious Thinking

The mind can be thought of as an iceberg (see picture below) – the top of the iceberg can be thought of as the conscious mind with everything underneath being the subconscious.

The conscious mind can process about 200 bits of information per second while the subconscious can process around 10 million! So a lot more processing power!

The subconscious governs the functioning of our body, keeping our heart beating & organs & muscles working while also storing our beliefs, emotions, values & memories – all of which govern our behaviour.

Emotional eating most often stems from pre run patterns lodged in the subconscious which then show up as autopilot behaviour. Driving a car without thinking about it is an example of this while ending up in the shop buying chocolate without thinking about it is another.

The conscious mind then creates often a negative story about the negative autopilot behaviour which then feeds back into the subconscious facilitating MORE of the negative unconscious pattern – More of the same = more of the same.

To change our emotional eating patterns we must bring the unconscious mind pattern into the light of consciousness to be able to work at changing it – Awareness is the first step to change.

Human Needs

As humans we have needs to make us feel safe, satiated & in positive growth.

Our 6 human needs (in this model) are;

Love & Connection
The need for Significance
Certainty (Steady job, home, partner)
Uncertainty (Adventure, not knowing what will come – stops life becoming boring)

When one or more of these human needs are not met this can create a void within the psyche – the mind then attempts to fill this void – It often does so with external coping strategies such as food or addictions.

We lay down patterns often in childhood that work for us at that time which in later life are still there but are no longer helpful, particularly if we are trying to lose weight & a mind pattern keeps us emotionally eating.

A working example for how this could be;

All throughout Dave’s childhood he went to his Gran & Grandads where he felt warm, & fuzzy, & very loved (Love & Connection human need). His Gran always used to give him seconds & thirds – “Feed him up, he’s a growing lad!” So Dave learned to associate Love & Connection with eating to excess.

Wind forward 20 years guess what Dave’s autopilot go to is when he is lacking his need of Love & Connection?

You got it! Eating until he is stuffed!

Another example – Carla is a 36 year old woman who eats chocolate bars when her manager at work is mean to her. She feels empowered when she eats the chocolate & can deal with her managers comments a lot easier but is ultimately unhappy as she has put on weight since starting the job.

When Carla was 8 & her dad used to shout at her she would raid the chocolate cupboard to stick two fingers up to her dad!

This then became the association & strategy that she uses later in life in similar situations.

Handy formula for identifying emotional eating triggers & associations.

Location/Event or Circumstance (Trigger)

To begin looking at whether you have any similar associations it is a great idea to follow these steps;

1. Keep a food & mood diary
2. Write the Location/Event or circumstance surrounding the eating
3. Next write what is going on for you around the event, what is the emotion? – bored, upset, happy, depressed, anxious
4. See if you can identify the association that is happening – with the awareness you can then take steps to change the behaviour
5. See if you can identify if any of the human needs are lacking or are involved in this association? You can then work towards giving yourself what you need in a different way..

Awareness is the first step to being able to change the pattern! With this new found awareness you can begin to change the associations & behaviours that drive it & reprogram the subconscious mind for success!

If you need any help overcoming emotional eating then feel free to get in touch 🙂

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