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Emotional Eating: What It Means And What It’s Really About!

What does “Emotional Eating” mean?

Ever since I made a lasting change to my diet 1.5 years ago with the help of what is known as a metabolic change, I have repeatedly met or approached women who told me about the problem of “emotional eating”. “Of course!” – I thought to myself, “Everyone knows frustration eating!”, but I quickly realized that this topic is something completely different than originally assumed. In order to be able to respond better to those affected and also to understand for myself what it is all about, I have done some research and would like to tell you a little more about this type of eating behavior.

As you might have guessed, I used to think I was an emotional eater too, but my research into emotional eating proved me wrong. I recently read Giulia Enders’ book “Intestines with Charm” and would like to quote a short passage from it at this point about why eating to frustration seems to alleviate negative emotions.

“There is a painkiller in our saliva that is much more potent than morphine. It’s called morphine and wasn’t discovered until 2006. {…} There are now even a handful of new studies showing that morphine has antidepressant effects. Does frustration eating also work a little bit via spit?” My life has always revolved around food, not because I worry about it, but because I just love good food! One or the other food escalation was always part of certain emotional escapades, the well-known frustration of eating.

But: Is that also “emotional eating”? The answer is “NO!”
I received messages that both shocked me and made me think, such as this one:

“But the problem with me is not that I don’t know what I can eat or what is healthy or not – but there are more profound problems! So the question is not what I eat but why I eat! I have to find out for myself first why me
When do I eat, what do I want to compensate for, what am I lacking at the moment, or what problem is troubling me!”

Or:

“But I think my biggest problem is that when it comes to food, I can’t control myself at all, at least not for a few weeks. Sometimes I stuff everything into myself and really don’t know what to do anymore.”

Of course, I was and am not an expert in such topics, just because I managed to change my attitude to food and my diet sustainably. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone, and yet I take those
“Cries for help” is very serious. Sometimes all it takes is a neutral and unbiased person who doesn’t know what’s going on in the other person’s life, and who can objectively look at the facts and express their opinion.

That’s why I also took on the topic of emotional eating behavior and got myself some books on it. One of them is called “Food Substitutes – How to Break the Cycle” by Geneen Roth. The title made me very curious.

What is food a substitute for? What is compensated with it and above all: Why?

It’s in my nature to want to help and if I understand the women who turn to me better, I might be able to offer useful tips. So I started reading the book to understand what this “Emotional Eating” is all about.

I would like to briefly explain to you what I initially understood or imagined by emotional eating behavior: Eating on a whim. When I’m sick, I eat sweets. If I’m fine, maybe I’ll celebrate with a nice meal at an Italian restaurant. Feeling-driven food that each of us has somehow made at some point.

There is no Wikipedia explanation on this topic as “eating emotionally” probably means a little bit differently to everyone. According to Geneen Roth’s book, when it comes to emotional eating, food is supposedly not a substitute for others’ satisfying needs and desires. You know that, for example, from people who stop smoking. My dad gained almost 40 pounds as a result of switching to food instead of the act of smoking. The meaningfulness is put there, but the fact is that the food was simply handled as a substitute for something else. I’ve also heard of people who use food as a substitute for loneliness and lack of affection, or who use food to compensate for certain experiences, such as the loss of a loved one, a failure in life, or a fight with friends. For some, eating may induce a feeling of comfort and pleasure (recall the painkiller in saliva). Others, in turn, are concerned with alternative employment. You simply have something to “do”. What exactly works for whom at this moment and is crucial for the act of eating itself can probably only be answered by the person who is doing it. Or maybe not?

The reasons are seemingly endless and as I read my book I kept shaking my head in horror. The author described in great detail how, as a chubby teenager, she was embarrassed to eat a lot with friends because, in her opinion, it was fat people shouldn’t eat too much. The end of the song was of course secret binge eating at home or on the road where nobody could see it. Even imagining that “food” didn’t count at all was aggravating. Added calorie fight. It affected me greatly to have this perspective explained to me. Where such a shamed body image can come from and how years of teasing and possible forced diets can affect a person’s mood so negatively, I found out from a young woman who had contacted me:

“I had to go on diets from the age of 14, I was just a bit plump, but my parents still mess around with diets today – cabbage soup, grain cure, Mayer cure…etc. Back then I always ate secretly at night, now I don’t do it anymore, just eat wrong and too much during the day.” If you have never experienced that, you cannot imagine how it feels and how you will probably suffer damage from it for the rest of your life and your psyche will be permanently disturbed by it. My primary concern with this article is not to illuminate all possible causes and reasons. Also, I can’t offer an all-around solution for this problem, but I would like to formulate a few thoughts that might help.

As I said, pondering about reasons and causes would really be too extensive here, so I would first like to devote myself to the reason why we eat at all.

Why do people eat?

This simple question seems just as easy to answer: He eats to survive. Exactly for the same reason he breathes and drinks. When we are young, our body needs food to grow and develop, in adulthood, we keep our organism supplied and “running” with the energy generated from food.

An important point that is being forgotten more and more is what drives us to eat, namely hunger. Also, a useful line from Roth’s book is: “Hungry is like being in love – if you don’t feel it, you’re not.”

Have we forgotten how to listen to our bodies?

Children and animals always eat intuitively. We are born with a pre-programmed and correct attitude toward food intake. Babies in particular show their hunger by whining and wanting to be fed. When they’ve had enough, they stop. You listen to your body’s signals. Likewise toddlers. It is often even difficult to encourage small children to eat enough because they trust their bodies and stop eating when they no longer like it. This trust in our own bodies and our intuition is disturbed over the years of growing up. Why? Because suddenly others determine what is “right” for us. Because we think we have to follow some diet trends and that you should start a new diet before every summer vacation.

If in the past we didn’t give a damn about what was happening around us and who thinks what about us, nowadays we depend far too much on what is dictated from outside. Apart from that, we are guided by given daily routines. The lunch break is at 12 and then we eat. Even if you don’t really feel hungry yet. Does this make sense? Of course not!

With my homeopathically supported change in diet, I have learned to trust my body again. I have learned which nutrients are best for me and what my body needs to function perfectly. Today I eat intuitively and think about what I want. I eat mindfully and stop when I’m full. I fill up with the right fuel and supply my cells with energy. When someone asks me my “secret” to my long-term success (I’ve maintained my weight for over a year), I’ll explain it very simply: I listen to my body, I trust it to work, and I provide it with top-notch macronutrients. & micro-nutrients. After all, nobody would think of using oil in a car, which destroys the engine in the long term, but why do we do that to our own bodies?

Emotional eating is a way of dealing with certain events in life

One uses food as a substitute for something else and has lost touch with hunger-driven nutrition. We ate uncontrollably and haphazardly. But that doesn’t have to be the case, because as soon as you become aware of what’s happening to your own body and that something isn’t going quite right, you’ve already taken the first step in the right direction.

I wasn’t always so relaxed when it came to nutrition and I thought about it way too much. Today I know that this is not necessary at all and it really is a liberating feeling that I can only wish for everyone. Ever since I changed my diet, I’ve been eating totally intuitively because I’ve learned to understand my body’s signals and know exactly what’s best for it at what moment. Be good to yourself and your body. He does so much and you can and should trust him!

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Written by Emma Miller

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist and own a private nutrition practice, where I provide one-on-one nutritional counseling to patients. I specialize in chronic disease prevention/ management, vegan/ vegetarian nutrition, pre-natal/ postpartum nutrition, wellness coaching, medical nutrition therapy, and weight management.

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