Emotional eating: why do I eat when I’m upset?

The relationship with food can represent a source of comfort, and this is where it becomes more complex.

by Lorri Woodmansee

There are many methods people use to relieve stress and find comfort in their lives. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing unless their choices are unhealthy, or become unhealthy over time. These can include cigarettes and alcohol, and/or too much sleep, exercise and food.

Food represents different things to different people. It can be cultural, as many around the globe consider food to be expressions of love for their families. That is what makes the tradition of Thanksgiving so meaningful and why Christmas and Easter dinners are such big events in Western cultures. The relationship with food can also represent a source of comfort, and this is where it becomes more complex.

So how did this start? In prior generations, when sugar was not a staple and snacks were not a household word, food was used as a reward and to soothe hurt feelings and other emotions. At home, when children performed tasks, they might have been rewarded with a sucker at the end of the day, or perhaps a trip out for ice cream.

Mothers, universally, have probably said this or something similar: “How about we bake cookies to make you feel better?” At school many of us were offered treats as rewards for good grades. Sound familiar?

Again, these actions are not the means by which we have created a detrimental relationship with food — at least not entirely. The point of mentioning these examples is that an anchor (an action, behavior, word or picture that can trigger a particular response in the body) has been attached, in which food equals comfort.

In today’s society, the abundance of the food that we enjoy takes away from the specialness provided by those little sweets and treats. Now everywhere you go you can buy cookies, candy and ice cream, which was not the case generations ago, when the anchor was attached. That anchor is still present; it just means that there is easier access to the rewards and more than enough to allow us to overindulge — and often.

Many diet companies are more than aware that these anchors exist, and they try to assist people in changing their thought patterns in order to maintain the weight loss. There is a reason these triggers are referred to as anchors.

Anchors keep ships in one place, although this may cause the ship to float around in a circle. The ship will not be able to go anywhere, which is exactly how some particularly unhealthy food anchors work on the subconscious mind. People can be successful at losing weight, but if “food equals comfort,” then the anchor is imbedded deeply and it will be very difficult to keep that weight off. Even if a person tries to replace the cookies with carrots, the previous behavior pattern has not fully disappeared. And over time, there is a tendency to return to eating the more salty and sugary snacks.


Lorri Woodmansee is a certified hypnotherapist and Lifestyle Educator with the Center for True Harmony in Mesa, Ariz., who specializes in energetic healing through guided imagery. 480-539-6646 or www.trueharmonywellness.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 30, Number 3, June/July 2011.

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