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  • Carolina Gaviria, LMHC, NCC, CEDS

Peeling the Layers of Emotional Eating

“On days like this where I feel so sad and lonely, I find myself standing in front of the fridge looking for something to eat. I tell myself that I deserve something tasty after such a hard day. When I eat I forget about all the stress, chores, and worries.

I get distracted from all the negativity and pressure and just for that moment, I feel better… Food tastes good… What’s interesting is that after I eat, I feel guilty and remorseful. It feels as if I did something wrong… I shouldn’t have eaten all those cookies and chips. I’m embarrassed and hope no one notices that I finished all the snacks. I’m also worried about my weight… I feel disgusting. I start to think about ways to lose those calories and find myself searching online about ways to diet and lose weight. I promise tomorrow “I’ll be good”, and before I know at the end of the next day I’m back standing in front of the fridge.” - Anita

Does this sound familiar to you? Has this been your experience or what you see happening to someone in your family, perhaps your child or a dear friend?

When people need comfort, they need it now, and food can become a dear friend that just for a moment makes you forget all of your concerns and lessen your anxiety.

At the moment, food becomes a source of comfort and distraction, numbing those feelings that you don’t want to feel and prolonging feelings you enjoy through a positive experience. It becomes a reward and a way to elevate pleasure and avoid feelings. The problem is that once you finish the last chocolate or spoonful of ice cream, a sense of guilt and regret starts to creep in. This can create a perpetual cycle of a toxic relationship with food that can lead to low self-esteem, negative body image, never-ending dieting behaviors, and the development of eating disorders.

Why does eating feel so good at the moment and then leave you feeling so much worse? Emotional eating can be contradictory. Food is tasty and when it’s used to calm down or avoid feelings, it might work at that moment. You enjoy the food for the time being and disconnect from the source of struggle. The immediate sense of gratification and sense of release is what keeps you going back to the fridge and buying foods that “make you feel better”.

The intention behind the behavior of eating is what leads to emotional eating. Eating is not used to relieve hunger, but in response to any kind of feeling, even pleasurable feelings can lead to overeating. For example, you eat because you’re feeling good and you don’t want the feeling to stop, you just keep eating.

Although eating provides temporary relief, the feeling that you were trying to numb in the first place gets worse and guilt, shame, and remorse increase a sense of discomfort that often leads to the pantry where the cycle begins again making you feel stuck and hopeless.

So how do you find freedom from the seductive and comforting hands of emotional eating? Becoming more aware of your intentions, thoughts, feelings, and patterns is a starting point. You can use journaling to start the process and increase your awareness and insight into your emotional eating tendencies. You can also learn mindful ways to regulate your emotions and new coping thoughts and strategies that you can put in place when feeling distressed.

When you approach this process with a non-judgmental attitude and a sense of self-compassion, you’re able to accept wherever you are in the process and embrace new ways to deal with it. You are able to be more honest with yourself and become truly aware of your feeling and your intentions to use food.

​​The secrecy around emotional eating is also what contributes to the cycle and what adds more layers of shame to your experience. By talking about it and understanding more about the function of emotional eating, you will start to experience a new sense of relief and allow new perspectives and solutions to enter your mind.

If you are ready to free yourself from emotional eating, I’m ready to hold a safe space for you to start peeling the layers. You can contact me directly at 954-391-5305 to discuss setting up a session at my Fort Lauderdale or Coral Springs office.


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