As we discussed in the BURN section, sometimes the emotions that hit you in your core can make it very, very difficult to detect what’s really going on. Identifying feelings other than hunger is going to take practice. Lots and lots of practice. This section is going to help you with that.
Over time with that practice you will be able to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger. It can be tricky because emotional hunger can totally feel physical. Totally. You’re normal. I’m still going to use the words emotional and physical to distinguish the two.8,13-14,84
Let’s start with the graph below:
Now let’s practice by following this exercise as you start thinking about getting food:
Each time you reach for something to eat, go to the fridge, the pantry, the cupboard, leave your desk, walk to the kitchen, go to the employee break room, reach in your desk drawer, ask yourself this question: “What am I feeling right now?”
You need to figure out what’s making you seek food. Sure, it might be hunger, but you might also recognize that you are reaching for food in the absence of physical hunger. If so, why? Keep in mind that if you are willing to explore and sit with the results, you might notice that you are discovering emotions that you didn’t know were there.
You might also notice that some of the emotions that you knew were there are feeling more intense now that you are not covering them up with food. This is normal. And it can also be scary.
Lots of people who enter this process are not even aware that they are eating when an uncomfortable feeling comes up. They don’t know why they’re eating. That’s called mindless eating. Asking yourself WHY you are eating is designed to increase your awareness. There are SO many feelings to feel and explore. It can be overwhelming.
Sometimes you feel an ache or emptiness in your heart or soul due to a recent loss or ongoing, unmet emotional or spiritual need. It’s easy to mistake this for physical need and try to fill the void with food. Or you use food to “stuff” your feelings deeper so that you don’t feel them quite as painfully. There is definitely a physical discomfort in the gut, but it is a different sensation from stomach hunger.
If you want to explore why you want to eat when you’re not physically hungry, it’s a good idea to record/journal/text how you feel before, during and after eating. If you find that you’re resistant to journaling before you eat, as many people are, begin by journaling after every eating experience. Ask yourself why you just ate (fill in the blank) .
You can take this practice one step further by tracking things like energy, mood, mental clarity and digestive happiness. Record how the food feels in your stomach and body.
8. Lofgren I. Mindful Eating. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2015;9(3): 212-216.
13. Murray M, Vickers Z. Consumer views of hunger and fullness. A qualitative approach. Appetite. 2009;53(2):174-182.
14. Rebello C, Greenway F. Reward-Induced Eating: Therapeutic Approaches to Addressing Food Cravings. Adv Ther. 2016;33(11):1853-1866.
84. Doğan T, Tekin E, Katrancıoğlu A. Feeding your feelings: A self-report measure of emotional eating. Procedia Soc Behav Sci. 2011;15:2074-2077.