Our relationship with food can be perplexing and unnecessarily complicated if we don’t eat mindfully. We instantly create disharmony if we choose to eat when we’re not hungry, continue to eat when we are full or even purposefully turn to food for relief. Unfortunately, eating has become a common way to soothe ourselves from discomfort, to cope with our emotions rather than deal with them; and also when we choose food, we can make ourselves feel bad about it and continue to ignore the real issue. (50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Albers).
How it all may have started:
The root of the problem is most of us, starting at a very young age, have been taught very ineffective ways to console ourselves under distress. The message was to distract yourself, focus on the things that feel good, or entertain yourself. For example, as a baby when you cried more likely than not you were instantly breastfed or given a bottle to alleviate any and all upset. As you continued to grow, if you fell perhaps, you were given a “treat” to distract you from the pain. At an early age, most of us were taught that food could provide an instant remedy for any occasion, even the good. (50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Albers)
If you grew up with this kind of foundation, maybe today you continue to use food as a soother as an adult? Self-soothing techniques are the different ways we approach calming our bodies and mind. (50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Albers) Let’s explore if food is a soother and what other healthy self-soothing techniques we can turn to besides food.
Some Signs You Use Food as a Soother from Susan Albers, PSY.D.:
- Grazing (eating when you aren’t hungry, but you can’t stop yourself) numbs you.
- Searching for something to eat, but not being able to find something satisfying.
- Experiencing a great sense of relief while you are eating.
- Seeking a particular kind of food like, chocolate, because it seems to change your mood.
- Eating leads to guilt when you do it for soothing rather than to stop physical hunger.
These are techniques that I have tried and have been proven effective for me. The thing about self-soothing is if you’ve been using other unhealthy techniques to numb your feelings (binge-watching T.V., the internet, etc.) you need to give yourself the grace and compassion when you bring in new techniques. It takes time for them to become new healthy habits (it is said it takes at least 61 days to create a new habit).
Doing several of the techniques below rather than one at a time has been extremely helpful. Explore what is the most helpful for you. Journaling your experience is a good way to track what works and what doesn’t: data is always a plus when you are investigating new ways of being. Commit to listening to your body.
- Checking in with yourself, frequently throughout the day helps you stay, present, mindful and aware of your choices instead of being on auto-pilot.
- Set intentions before you eat: bless the food, be in gratitude, command that the food is digested properly, consuming proper nutrition.
- Counting calories, logging in everything is time-consuming, but reviewing what you are consuming on a conscious level helps make better decisions for the future.
- Meditation brings huge rewards when you commit to making it an everyday practice. Mindfulness is one of the greatest gifts; it helps you regulate your emotions. Then, you can choose to act from a more authentic place, rather than react from your mental state.
- A long walk, observe what is around you and be present. Find things that you like in the environment and point them out. This helps align you with a more positive vibration and aligns you in the present moment.
- Eat only half of what’s on your plate. Stop and do one thing on your to-do list. Check-in with yourself and see if you are still physically hungry. This pause button brings a healthy engagement with your food. You feel accomplished because you got something done; your present now you can discern whether you are hungry or not.
- Try to avoid judging your feelings, allow thoughts to come through. Observe the thoughts and listen. Allow yourself to go through the emotion. This can be difficult. Try your best not to resist your feelings.
- Call a good friend that will listen. Speak what is on your mind before turning to food.
You now may be entering foreign territory so be gentle. Just take it moment by moment. We are learning to differentiate emotion-driven hunger from healthy hunger. If this has been an issue, it is going to take some time and some work. And also, I’m not a doctor. I’m sharing; this is support. If your relationship with food has become a real issue in your life, please get some help. You don’t have to alone in this!
“I am capable of processing my feelings. I love and support myself. I eat the perfect amount of food that gives my body fuel, nutrition, and strength.”