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Separating Food From Feelings

From the day we enter this world we naturally learn to associate food with love, nurturing and warmth. As infants, being fed by our mothers was accompanied by the security of being held and gently rocked. As a child, you may have been rewarded with food for behaving well. Or maybe when you were hurt, physically or emotionally, you were given a special treat or meal to make you feel better. As an adult, it's likely that you continued the practice of rewarding yourself, lifting your spirit, or searching for love through the same means... eating.

Given these circumstances, it's not surprising why many people confuse hunger for food with their hunger for emotional fulfillment. Take a moment and think about your eating patterns. Do you eat when you're anxious, frustrated, bored, angry, sad, lonely or even when you want to celebrate something? Often during these emotional eating episodes the foods that are chosen are fatty, salty, sweet and/or high in calories. Even if low calorie foods are eaten to fill an emotional hunger, food is being used inappropriately. Food should only be used to nourish the body, not the soul.

How can you stop this unhealthy cycle? The first step is awareness. One of the best tools to help you gain awareness about your eating patterns is to keep a food diary. In addition to when and what you eat, record how you are emotionally feeling when you eat. If keeping a food diary is not for you, try taking a few moments before you eat to get in touch with how you're feeling emotionally. The objective with either technique is to make you aware of your emotional eating patterns and give you the opportunity to cope with emotional hunger in a more constructive manner.

Coping with Emotional Hunger

Once you consciously begin distinguishing physical hunger from emotional hunger you'll need techniques to help you cope with your emotions. The techniques discussed here are not intended to address serious emotional issues that require professional treatment. Rather, they can assist you in coping with common emotions that cause you to eat when you're not physically hungry.

Sort your feelings out. Instead of munching on a bag of chips without thought, take some time-out to sort through your feelings. This way, you can sort out your feelings without the added guilt of overeating. Many times, the simple realization that you're feeling bored because there's nothing interesting on TV is enough to get you engaged in some other activity that's more fulfilling.

Face your feelings later. Once you realize that you're reaching for food out of emotional hunger, you may elect to take a short vacation from your feelings_ without eating. Make an agreement with yourself to engage in some other activity and deal with the emotional issue at a specific time in the future.

The loving heart exercise. This is an exercise designed to fill yourself with love. Find a comfortable place to sit and relax without distraction. Close your eyes and hold your hands, cupped like a bowl, in your lap. Think of someone in your life who deeply loves you or whom you love deeply. Now, visualize this love as something tangible_ feel the dense, soft, warm love fill your cupped hands. When the love fills your hands so much that you can no longer hold it all, bring your hands toward your heart and take a deep breath. Inhale all this pure love deep into your body. Continue to breath deeply and slowly until all the love you've been holding in your hands is now in your heart being pumped out to your body. Feel the warmth of this love saturate every fiber of your being. As you bask in this feeling, say to yourself, "I am filled with love. I am love. I have value"

It's not uncommon for this exercise to result in an immediate emotional release in the form of tears. If this happens, don't be startled or embarrassed by your reaction. Continue to relax, breathe deeply and feel the love emanating from inside you.

Seek professional assistance if needed. There are some deep emotional issues that can manifest themselves into eating disorders. If your emotional eating feels way out of your control, don't hesitate to seek some professional assistance.

Substituting Alternate Activities

Each coping technique concludes with the requirement to find some activity, other than eating, to engage yourself in. Make a list of activities to substitute for eating and keep it handy for reference... you may want to put it on your refrigerator! The activities can be anything that aren't associated with food or eating. List fun activities such as going for a walk surfin' the Internet, reading a good book, calling a friend, etc. You can also list required activities such as washing the dishes, emptying the garbage, doing the laundry, cleaning house, etc. Here are a few examples:

Stress: Visualize yourself in a calm, relaxing place while you take in slow, deep breaths. If you want to learn yoga or meditation, go to your local video store and check out a video tape on the subject.

Boredom: Most everyone experiences this emotion at one time or another. Select any activity from your list or engage in some physical activity!

Loneliness: Get together with, call or write a relative or friend, volunteer some of your time, join an organization, or get involved in your community.

Depression/Sadness: Try to identify the reason for your depression. Once identified, try putting your feelings into words either in a journal or by talking with a friend. If the depression is due to a major issue or event, seek professional counseling.

Frustration: Identify the source of your frustration then confront it and deal with it, if possible. Use positive communication skills to express your feelings and desires. Don't be un-necessarily confrontational, angry or place blame.

Anger: Take a time-out and calm yourself down by using relaxation techniques or going for a walk. Once relaxed, try to deal with the situation that's causing the anger using positive communication skills.

Anxiety: Try to find the cause of your anxiety. If it's caused by coffee or something you've taken internally try to find a way to correct the situation from happening again. If it's emotional, try some deep breathing and relaxation exercises. (See Stress)

Tiredness: Take a short nap or get some exercise.

In the Mood to Celebrate: By all means, celebrate! Get together with friends, go to a movie, buy something you've been wanting, or go dancing... use your imagination. A celebration doesn't mean food must be involved.

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