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Does Food Numb Emotional Pain? Here’s How to Find Out

Do you escape the feelings, you don’t want to feel or face, by numbing out with food?

My experience with numbing out with food began at a tender age of 11. Whenever I’d feel anxious or upset, I’d go to the fridge or the pantry, bring out chips, cookies and ice-cream and eat at a ferocious pace (for ten or twenty blissful minutes). 

Afterwards, I’d feel guilty and angry with myself. I’d swear that I would never do it again. But then I’d find myself doing it again, a couple of nights later.

This continued for many years and turned into an escape habit …I couldn’t see that my cravings were actually signs of emotional distress that needed addressing.

I was able to take control of my eating and mind when I started addressing my emotional needs and taking care of them without turning to food.

You see, your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning and how you feel about yourself.

Escape Habit  

escape habit, emotional eating, food

For some women, food has become a physical way to stuff down emotional frustrations like anger and deal with intolerable emotions.

You may find yourself repeating this cycle during times of high stress and rewarding with comfort food filled with sugar and simple carbs. 

This helps to soothe emotions by triggering the release of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, but only temporarily. 

And usually leads to guilt, often starting a cycle of food addiction.

Although numbing out with food, what is often referred to as emotional eating is a fairly common problem, most of us don’t realize how strongly our feelings can impact our eating habits.

Emotional Eating

emotional eating, food

Emotional eating refers to consumption of food for the purpose of regulating one’s emotional states. You may eat because you’re sad, depressed, stressed, or lonely. Or you may use food as a reward. Food can be soothing and distract you from what’s really bothering you.

Food is the red herring- It’s not about the food

Emotional Eaters are not aware that food is not the real issue, even though all they can think about is food. It is actually a  smoke screen. It is the red herring, something to confuse or divert their attention from the real issue-their feelings.

It’s healthy to give yourself the freedom to experience any negative emotions that you may be feeling but it can be frightening to start.

Here are some healthier ways to address difficult emotions and ways to respond to them that don’t involve food.

Step 1: Take an honest look at your eating pattern 

emotional eating, food

Awareness allows you to work out where you are right now, where you would rather be, and the steps to get there.

Take a step back and observe your behaviours as opposed to being mindlessly dragged into the old habit of “numbing out with food” 

For example, to build self-awareness try asking yourself these questions:

  • Is emotional eating something that I do?
  • How often in a given day do I eat for reasons aside of being hungry?
  • What are my frustrations with this behaviour?
  • HOW is it affecting my life? 
  • What is my plan to change it?

Step 2: Get curious about what lies beneath the surface.

ocean, discovery, curiosity

Your emotional cravings and urges are a window into your inner landscape.

By looking inward, you will understand what emotions lie underneath (or trigger) your urge to numb out with food.

Stress and frustration tend to be the triggers for most people. 

Try keeping a diary or journal to record what emotions and patterns consistently emerge.

For example:

The next time a craving hits see if you can pause and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the emotion that lies underneath my craving? 
  • What am I trying to soothe, or avoid?

And then follow the step three below…

Step 3: Create new rituals to crack the “numb out with food” habit

rituals

Many people tend to get stuck in indulging rituals.

If you know your habits and rituals and when you’re most vulnerable, you can develop other strategies that target the emotional eating behaviour.

Ask yourself these questions to get clarity:

  • When am I most likely to indulge my emotions? What part of the day does it tend to happen?
  • Who am I with when this happens?
  • Where am I when the feelings strike?

Use this information to set yourself up for success and put some new rituals into place.

Create new rituals:

Here are some situations and useful ways to deal with them:

If you likely to indulge when home alone:

  • Don’t keep any trigger foods or comfort foods at home.

If you likely to buy something indulgent the way home from a stressful day at work, and eat it secretly in the car:

  • Change your routine and take a different route home that doesn’t involve you going past the supermarket.

If you’re sad, stressed or frustrated about something:

  • Ask yourself if there’s a more effective way you might address it OR take care for yourself?
  • You could take a 15-minute break to go breathe outside, or take a quick cat-nap. 

What does this mean for you?

Remember that self-awareness, being honest with yourself and self-compassion will help you move in the right direction. 

Creating these positive changes will make you feel so much better than the food ever did!

“Today I challenge you to be present and feel what you need to feel.”

Now I have a question for you….

  • How can you create some time in your day where you can just be and feel, even if those feelings are uncomfortable?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please write a comment below.

The Carousel would like to thank Irena Geller for her contribution.

Written by Irena Geller

Irena Geller is a coach, author and public speaker in the health and weight loss industry who helps women to put down their fork and pick up their life. Her specialty is coaching busy women to liberate themselves from their inner critic, so they can lose weight, feel proud of themselves and eat with freedom.

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