The mere mention of food stirs our senses and elicits both memories and feelings. But what does it mean to eat your feelings? What is the distinction between having feelings about food and using food to manipulate your emotions?
S’mores. Popcorn. Grandma’s comfort foods. The smell of hot cookies coming out of the oven. Slumber parties. Thanksgiving with the whole family. Christmas cookies and pre-New Year’s splurges with gifts and food. The average American is raised with most, if not all, of these associations between food and “making memories.”
What would a birthday be without cake? Halloween without a month-long sugar-high? A broken heart without ice cream to glue the pieces back together? Without malintent, we grow up being taught that food and feelings are a natural pairing for the same plate.
Why, then, did no one consider asking, “What does it mean to eat your feelings?” And more importantly, why did no one ever broach an answer?
No matter how the world glamorizes food with pictures and words, its effect on your life always comes down to your thoughts about it.
You don’t “love” food — you love what you believe it does for you. You love the feeling of the neural connections made when you learned to associate food with comfort. You love the temporary fantasy of everything “being OK” if you can just get home from this lousy day and crawl into bed with your hidden stash of chocolate.
You love the idea that food will love you back — or at least make you feel loved.
And there’s the rub.
So much expectation being placed on something that has no ability to feel, no power to love.
Not only does emotional eating give your power away, it gives it away to something that remains at the mercy of your choices. It processes nothing, heals nothing, fills nothing. What’s empty isn’t your stomach, it’s your soul.
What does it mean to eat your feelings?
It means you are trying to make true the statement that “the way to a person’s heart is through his/her stomach.” It means you see your feelings and food on the same plate, and the only way to get rid of those feelings is to eat all your food…and then some. It means there is something so painful, so intolerable deep inside you that you will use food to annihilate it.
Consider some of the ways you may be eating your feelings:
- Boredom in a high-speed world can feel foreign, even frightening. Society doesn’t allow for down time, and you certainly can’t be viewed as lazy or unproductive. But boredom is an emotion, not a signal from your body that it needs nutrients or energy. Busying yourself with the hunt for and eating of food is nothing more than a distraction to fill a void.
- Social eating. Ahh, back to those comforting roots of bonding over food. Eating is a shared activity that represents connection, acceptance, security. And far be it from you to be unappreciative by not eating what is offered, even if it isn’t good for you. You could risk not being invited again, so having seconds is the natural choice.
- Comfort foods are laden with calories, fat, sugars, carbs…and nostalgia. They courier opioid-like substances in the brain, leading to a temporary feel-good similar to that of heroin.
- Stress causes a fight-or-flight response in the body. Energy supplies are diverted from the brain and non-essential organs to large muscle groups and organs charged with helping you slay that dragon in your office.(Apparently evolution hasn’t mitigated that hormone response to go along with the average stresses of modern life.) Less blood to the brain means less reasoning and impulse control…and more eating. Lather, rinse, repeat. You get the picture.
- Depression can corral a lot of negative feelings into one bad emotional state. If you are depressed, you know how difficult it is to do the most basic things.Food shopping and cooking probably aren’t high on your list. And when you’re just trying to get through the day, dragging around that ball and chain of low motivation and self-esteem can suck all your mental energy. If a hit of serotonin from those chocolate bars piled in your nightstand can lift your mood, why not?
What does it mean to eat your feelings? It means your soul is starving, and it is easier to feed your stomach than to find out what your soul needs. It means you are distracting from a pain you don’t trust yourself to face.
If you are eating your feelings, know that you have support available to help you face them. Food is here to support your body. We are here to support your soul. You can contact us here.