5 Ways to Overcome Emotional Eating

A lot of my clients turn to yoga or systemic constellations to overcome emotional eating issues that usually manifest as being overweight.  Although I always emphasize they need to see a certified nutritionist or medical doctor for a proper assessment, treatment and diet plan, there are different aspects of emotional eating that can be looked at from a systemic and yogic perspective.  

Food is crucial for our survival and wellbeing, however the question is how to strike the perfect balance between staying healthy and “eating our cake” at the same time?

Just the fact that obesity is killing people in the first world countries while starvation persists  in the third world, is enough to conclude that we have a serious global imbalance when it comes to the topic of food. 

Systemically speaking, our eating patterns are directly influenced by our family and society from a young age.  In addition, some of our ancestors may have experienced poverty and starvation  and as a result the following generations became obsessed with having a full fridge and eating excessive amounts of food.  

Therefore  if you are trying to embark on a healthier lifestyle and you’re finding that your family, friends and colleagues are in some way labeling you as the “black sheep” for  laying off the fatty and sugary foods, keep in mind that their resistance has origins in a so called blind loyalty to the “tribe”.

Meat, rice, potatoes, sugar and  fats have become the norm of staple foods in most traditional households. Food is everywhere. Food is how we show affection and respect. Food is how we celebrate  birthdays and holidays. Food is how we interact with other people. Food is what unites a family. Food is our cultural identity. 

No wonder it’s easy to mistake food for genuine human affection and a sense of self. 
And the vicious cycle usually looks like this.
You eat to fill an emotional void.  You feel fantastic in the moment. You gain weight . You feel physically and emotionally unwell. You now resent yourself even more and the inner void becomes deeper. You feel stuck. You go on a diet. You lose weight and feel amazing again. An old trauma or stress response is triggered by a current event. You overeat to fill an emotional void…and repeat. 

If this rings a bell, you are probably an emotional eater and wondering how to break the vicious cycle.  I do need to add that for women especially, hormones play a significant role in  emotional regulation and eating patterns, but even so, here are some ways yoga and systemic constellations can help you overcome some of these habits.

1. Deal with trauma – Over the course of our lives we bury so many traumatic events in our unconscious mind without proper processing and overcoming them. Also, ancestral trauma is often evident in undefined emotions and tendencies that cannot be related to any precise traumatic event in our own life. Systemic constellations may help to unravel the hidden  feelings of resentment, sadness, fear, loneliness, etc. The more emotional literacy we develop, the less there is a tendency to use food to mask uncomfortable feelings.  

2. Develop a sattvic eating mentality –  Sattva in Sanskrit refers to  the quality of harmony and balance, which we as yogis try to cultivate through our lifestyle. Although I feel that diet is a personal matter and that there is no one-size-fits-all formula, for long term results,  it’s important to replace the focus on short-term weight loss with a mindset of sustainable healthy eating.

Apart from stating the obvious about the importance of eating vegetables, fruits and lean proteins, it is allergies, intolerances, illnesses and your digestive system that will most likely determine if a certain food or cooking method is good for you or not.  Luckily there are many nutrition experts and methods that can determine your optimal long-term diet plan.

However, a sattvic diet is not just about the type of food you’re eating  but also about THE WAY YOU ARE EATING. Are you taking the time to eat in silence and peace? Are you being respectful and grateful for the food you have on your plate ? Are you preparing your food with love?  A positive intention is key to healthy eating, even if from time to time, you have your favourite chocolate cake or pizza.  Also, allow yourself to enjoy the learning process of healthy cooking and eating. It’s quite fascinating how delicious our meals can be without giving up on our health.

3. Practice mindfulness with every bite  – Take the time to fully appreciate the texture, aroma, taste and presentation of the food you’re eating. Also, look into your food cravings and what they may imply by not giving in to them.  Instead, in your meditation contemplate the feeling that appears behind them. For example, the next time you crave something sweet , close your eyes and observe this desire without attachment or judgement. What emotions are arising? Frustration? Boredom? Loneliness? Fear? Need for comfort? Where is the emotion manifesting in the body? Whatever comes up, embrace, acknowledge and let it pass.  You are also welcome to keep a diary of these emotions as they manifest. The more you practice the better you will become at identifying your real emotional needs vs. cravings.

4. Love yourself and your body – If you are currently overweight and stuck in the pattern of binge eating, it’s important that you accept yourself with a lot of compassion. Full acknowledgement of where you are at the moment is crucial for change.  Developing unconditional self- love requires a lot of patience and strength, especially  due to the fact that society tries to impose the exact opposite upon us at all costs.  We are constantly being sold the illusion that “we are not good enough” without a certain product, status, physical appearance, etc. Don’t buy into this. Don’t compare yourself to others and just focus on yourself. You are already perfect as you are and fully embracing this belief is the starting point of any transformation.  

5. Develop a yoga practice and/or exercise routine – A regular and strong practice can boost our mood, optimize the metabolism,  build muscle, improve flexibility and create a more intuitive relationship with the body. Needless to mention that physical activity is one of the best ways to manage your weight and emotional state.

I hope you can put some of these tips into practice and let me know how you get on.

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