You’ve probably heard it said, “You are what you eat.” But do you find yourself eating what you are – feeling, that is? The food we eat may be closely related to the emotions we are feeling. Emotional eating can not only take a big toll on your physical health, but it can take a toll on your emotional health. Comfort food may not always be that comforting, especially if you find yourself using it to comfort your emotions. Eating for your emotions may be instantly satisfying, but in the long run it can be a huge let down. You may eat because you’re depressed and falsely believe that eating something sweet will sweeten your emotion; you may eat because you’re bored and use it as a way of filling up your time; or maybe you eat certain foods to celebrate an event, but emotional eating can often lead to feelings of guilt or regret later on.
Practicing Emotional Intelligence (EQ) with food and using it to guide your eating habits can lead to better health. EQ is the ability to be aware of your emotions, in the moment, and to use that information to make better choices. And by using EQ, you can change the emotional dynamics of how you think about food and how you behave around food. So, before you begin to spoon down a gallon of ice cream, unwrap that chocolate bar, or reach for a third helping of hearty soup, try thinking about the four quadrants of EQ.
1. Self-Awareness. Think about why you’re reaching for the food. Is it because you are actually hungry, or is it because you are stressed, angry, sad, or bored? Is it because you want to celebrate a great accomplishment? Naming your emotion is one of the first steps in practicing EQ. Then be curious. Why are you feeling this emotion? Try to understand the story the emotion is telling you and then decide how you want that story to end. Remember, emotions are neither “good” nor “bad”, each serves a purpose. It’s what you think, say, and do based on the emotion that is constructive or destructive. Don’t suppress your emotions. Allow them to “be” themselves, otherwise, you may miss the data they reveal.
2. Self-Management. Make good decisions about when, where, and how you eat. Take time to eat. This will not only allow you to enjoy your food, but will help with digestion since it takes time for your system to realize how full you are. Try to sit down and unplug so you aren’t distracted by outside forces that cause you to lose track of how fast you’re eating. This can cause you to overeat. Use your senses to enjoy the experience – look at the texture, shape, and colors of the food; smell the aromas; imagine the taste and allow your mouth to salivate, which begins the digestive process.
3. Social Awareness. We are social by nature, so whenever possible, eat with others. If appropriate, hold hands before the meal and make a statement of gratitude. Skin to skin contact can reduce stress and eating with family and/or friends and can help you feel safe and loved, releasing oxytocin, the “love” hormone. Eating with others can help you slow down the pace of eating, as you talk together, laugh together, and enjoy your time together.
4. Relationship Management. Try changing the way you think about food by rethinking your relationship with it. Visualize the food in a new way; think of water as a way of cleansing your system, an apple as a way of being closer to nature, and spinach as strengthening your bones and beautifying your skin. Eating healthy foods, for the right reasons, can extend the benefits beyond the table. Make sure to get enough sleep (generally speaking, 8 hours). If you’re tired, you may more readily grab a sugary treat for a quick energy blast. And that’s just what it will be – a blast that won’t last, except perhaps on your hips.
Life is about balance and that includes what we eat. Be mindful of what you eat, but don’t obsess over it. You may be causing yourself stress and undoing all the healthy eating habits you’ve built into your day. Pay attention to extreme emotions and the triggers or patterns of emotions enticing you to munch. They could be the warning bell before the physical effects kick in. If you have to give yourself “permission” to eat a particular food, it could be a “heads up” that you should contemplate the decision before taking that bite. In the end, just remember, you are what you eat, but you don’t have to eat what you are – feeling.
Paige Dest is a certified Emotional Intelligence Coach and Core Values Index Practitioner. As the owner and President of BYODestiny, she provides emotional intelligence coaching to individuals and presents retreats, workshops, and national webinars on emotional intelligence and related topics. She may be reached by emailing her at: paige@BYODestiny.com or by calling 1-860-550-1844.