Dear Tacit: a column on mental health
I am working on my emotional eating issues, but I need strategies that help with the process when it happens, in the moment.
Signed: Food is My Bestie
Dear Food is My Bestie,
Building on our letter from last week, I am happy to share more strategies that can often help us become more aware of what and why we are eating when the habit and emotion threatens to take control. It’s important to understand one of the basic tenements of psychology – that our thoughts create our feelings, and our thoughts and feelings come together to produce our behaviours.
When our patterns become habitualized, it can be quite difficult to determine that the initial thought really is. We often become aware of what we are doing only when we notice the behaviour itself, or the feeling that is associated with it. So, to help with emotional eating habits, we first need to slow down the habitualized process enough that we can figure out what thought it is that is driving us to the feeling that we are trying to soothe with food.
Every time you find yourself preparing to eat something, ask yourself three basic questions. First question: why am I eating? Are you hungry, are you bored, are you thirsty and your brain just doesn’t realize it, or are you eating to feel better or to fill an emptiness inside of yourself (what emotion are you experiencing as you begin to want to eat)?
Second question: how much am I eating? Plan ahead before you start to eat, know what portion size is healthiest (for each meal and for each day) and take note of how much you are actually consuming. If you are eating mindlessly while you are thinking about (or avoiding) something that is bothering you, you will definitely overindulge unless you draw your attention to how much you have put on your plate.
And third question: what am I eating? Is it your favourite comfort food (and therefore perhaps a sign that you are eating more about emotional need than physical hunger) or is it an appropriate food (that will sustain the energy you need for your day)? By pausing to evaluate your habits/reactions in the moment, you become more self-aware and you force yourself to take conscious, mindful steps instead of mindless ones. You start to understand the thoughts that are behind the act of eating, each and every time.
There are also other mindful eating habits that can help with this self-awareness process. Use smaller plates – dessert-size instead of meal-size – to help control the portions of food while still sending the message to your brain that you had what visually looks like a “full” size meal. Eat from white plates – they allow your brain to visually focus on the food in a more fulfilling way. Put your fork down between bites, and chew each mouthful of food thoroughly – don’t rush through your meal as though it was a chore to get accomplished quickly. Allow yourself a chance to savour and enjoy each bite of food for the taste and texture and satisfaction it offers. Sit down at a fully set table and give your meal your complete attention – don’t eat while watching TV, standing over the kitchen sink, checking your phone, or doing other tasks. Switch hands and eat with your non-dominant arm instead – this will definitely slow down mealtime, at least for the first few times!
Try to use mealtime for positive connections with other people through conversation with someone else, or just by way of introspection as you think of the love and support you have in your life. If you eat alone, take time to journal about your day or your feelings at that moment, to help get to the root of what you are emotionally experiencing as you eat.
And most importantly, address whatever it is that is at the root of why you are self-soothing with food. Whatever is bothering you emotionally has to be recognized and understood, and then felt and released, just not buried under layers of food.
Kim Silverthorn is a registered Master Practitioner of Clinical Counselling (M.P.C.C.) through the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association and the owner of/therapist with Tacit Knowledge, a local counselling agency in Beaumont. She has been providing therapeutic supports for more than 30 years.
If you have a question that you would like Dear Tacit to answer relating to any mental health issue, please feel free to email Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is a psycho-educational support and is not designed to be a substitute for counselling.