Do you ever feel the festive period is a long drawn-out emotional battlefield?
Not just arguing about how many days the sprouts need to be boiled for and who's doing the washing up...
But the insensitive relative who can't help themselves but comment on what you eat.
The need to eat all the Roses just because they are there, staring at you.
Or the struggle to say no to seconds without feeling guilty or offending someone.
And the little things that make you feel frustrated, angry or sad inside come all at once, so you feel the need to eat those feelings.
The World seems to have a very clear opinion that emotional eating is wrong. Particularly eating when we are feeling sad, down, angry, upset or any other feeling that is deemed negative.
There is a strong sense of judgement that emotional eating means you are out of control or weak.
Particularly because the chosen foods are often sweet and sugary. The same foods that are demonised by the diet industry and diet culture.
But it's very much a normal part of being human.
We do it because it's one of the many ways we cope with our feelings.
It's a valid strategy.
Eating can be soothing. Even if it's just for a few moments.
Most people do it. I do it.
It really is no different to embracing the feelings of pleasure, excitement and joy when we eat. Why are those emotions more acceptable than eating when we feel stressed?
In the minds of many, restriction is a sign of discipline and health. But ironically, people who consciously restrict their eating are actually more likely to engage in stress eating. And get this, this behaviour tends to lessen when the deprivation stops.
We know why this is. Psychologists believe dieting puts eating under conscious cognitive control — meaning dieters use mental effort to control their intake.
Intuitive eaters, on the other hand, get cues about when and what to eat primarily from their bodies.
Negative emotions deplete that cognitive control, breaking down the barriers that were holding dieters back from their bodies’ true desire to eat, and their appetites that were being suppressed, emerge in a big way.
We also know that restrained eating can actually cause an increase in negative emotions.
More recent research has indicated that dieters — even those who wouldn’t necessarily identify as such but just watch what they eat; what the scientific literature calls “flexible dietary control” — are more likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem, disordered eating and overall psychological distress than intuitive eaters, who don’t intentionally try to control their eating or weight.
Food deprivation of any kind seems to play a role in creating the very mental conditions that lead people to want to self-soothe with food.
Now whilst there's no convincing evidence in humans to support the belief that sugar is addictive, research has actually shown that long-term dieters experience significantly greater activation of brain regions associated with food reward in response to sweet foods.
Non-dieters’ brains seem to remain relatively unfazed by sugar.
For those who think of themselves as emotional eaters, finding additional ways to cope with difficult emotions is important.
That’s not to say you need to stop turning to food for comfort, not at all; it’s just about adding more coping skills so that you feel better equipped to deal with life. Like adding an extra layer with a blanket, rather than ripping off the plaster. This helps to build your resilience.
Rather than “read a book instead of eating”, how about you "call a friend after you finish that mince pie?”
If you love the idea of healing your relationship with your body, widening your range of emotional coping skills and finding food freedom, do get in touch