Hope For The Journey

5 Reasons Mindful
Eating is a Game
Changer for
Emotional Eaters

Few things calm the nerves like your favorite ice cream, or that secret bag of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate you keep in your nightstand (if that sounds overly specific, it’s because that used to be my snack of choice). The term “emotional eating” is pretty mainstream these days and for good reason – lots of folks do it, and once you start, it’s hard to stop.

Emotional eating is like a Swiss Army knife – it serves many functions at once. It sets off those pleasure centers in our brains, makes us happy, keeps us occupied, and fools us into believing we have somehow silenced the sadness or anxiety screaming in our heads. It also grounds us to our bodies, especially folks who have a tendency to be overly analytical and neglect their physical selves.

While there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself, things can certainly get out of hand. Emotional eating could lead to poor diet, health problems, and distract from treating the actual problems at the core. The more it goes on, you might start to feel less in control, causing feelings of shame and guilt. And how do we cope with those? More food!

Luckily – there is a practice called “mindful eating” that could prove beneficial if you find yourself stuck in a cry, eat, repeat cycle. Mindful eating is just like it sounds – practicing “mindfulness” or awareness of how and what you are eating in order to promote better habits. Here’s how it can help you…

Mindful Eating Benefit #1: No More “Meal Amnesia”

Do you ever find yourself staring at an empty plate and can’t recall actually eating what you ate? “Mindless” eating is a side effect of our busy lives – it’s very easy to sit down and eat while you complete a task on your laptop or watch a TV show. But by the end of it, you were so detached from the eating experience and focused on the screen in front of you that you didn’t even notice the taste of what you ate or how much of it you ate. This can leave you feeling unsatisfied and might even cause you to eat more. Mindful eating encourages people to avoid watching screens while eating and focusing on the tastes, textures, and sensations with each bite.


Mindful Eating Benefit #2: Engage All Of Your Senses

Mindful eating teaches us to play with our food. Not literally – I’m not suggesting you have a food fight with your loved ones or pretend your breadsticks are nunchucks. You could, but that’s not the aim here. Pay attention to the mouthfeel of what you’re eating – how does it sit on your tongue? What does it look like? What are the layers of flavor in the food and the textures you’re experiencing? Chew your food fully and take smaller bites. Act like you’re going to be asked to describe this meal to someone afterwards who has never had it. 


Mindful Eating Benefit #3: Get to Know Your Stomach

Mindful eating is a good way to practice listening to your body, possibly, for the first time. Many people who lean on emotional eating or eat without thinking are disconnected from how their body is communicating with them. This could actually be a symptom of “dissociation,” a stress/trauma response that causes us to mentally “zone out” or dissociate from our bodies. If you notice yourself doing this often, it might be worth exploring trauma therapy. Learning how to stop when your stomach is full and how to only eat when you’re hungry (and not bored or emotional) will help you in the long run. 


Mindful Eating Benefit #4: A Healthy Diet is Balanced, Not Restrictive

Part of mindful eating means making better choices beforehand. Now, it’s okay to indulge every now and then in our less-than-nutritious snacks, but it’s important to balance that out with healthier choices. While it’s never good to consider a food “guilt-free” (this implies that we should have shame around food), there are definitely foods that will improve our moods better than others. “Healthy” doesn’t have to mean flavorless or bland. There are a ton of great options out there. Experiment with what you like. 

Mindful Eating Benefit #5: Identify the “Why”

Being more attentive to your eating patterns and how you interact with food can answer a lot of important questions. Chief among them – are you eating because you’re actually hungry? How do you know that? On the flip side – are you just eating because you’re bored and it makes you feel productive? Are you eating because you don’t know how else to calm your feelings down and food is an easy quick fix? As you learn to be more mindful, these answers will all become more clear.


Bon appetit!  

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