Let’s be honest, many of us have used food at some point in our lives to comfort ourselves. Food has long been a favorite pastime of celebrating occasions in our lives, but when does a favorite pastime become a problem? Unfortunately for some of us, emotional eating can take over our lives, leading to unwanted pounds on the scale, feelings of failure, and social isolation. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans are consuming two to three times more calories per day than they did several years ago. Eating to cover up your emotions is never a good idea, as research has shown that unwanted weight gain can potentially lead to an increased risk in health-related problems, including hypertension, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
Using food to cover up unwanted feelings is what I refer to as an emotional Band-Aid. If you’ve ever had a scraped knee as a kid and remember your parent putting a Band-Aid on it, you may remember that when the Band-Aid was taken off, the wound usually healed faster. In other words, the wound was allowed to breathe. The same applies to our emotions. When we remove our emotional Band-Aids, we no longer stifle our emotions and become open to learning new ways of coping with our feelings without using food as our security blanket.
I recently took myself to the task of losing weight after catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror at the mall one day. I diligently decided on an eating plan and started my cardio routine. Although I started out strong, I quickly became disenchanted with the results on the scale. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, so I decided to start journaling everything I ate, in addition to how I felt that day. I was surprised to discover that not only was I overeating, I was eating after every emotional event. So I decided to uncover my own emotional Band-Aids by posting a sign on the refrigerator and the food pantry door that said: "Are you physically hungry or emotionally hungry?" This helped me to become aware of my eating patterns. If I determined I was physically hungry I ate, making a conscious decision to choose something nutritious in my eating plan. If I decided I was emotionally hungry, I asked myself: "What is it that I need that I am not getting?" In taking the time to ask myself these questions, I found that not only did I decrease my emotional eating, I felt better and I lost weight.
If you find yourself needing help to uncover your emotional band aids, there's several local professional agencies that can help. Here's a few:
Behavioral Health Response (BHR): A hub for 24-hour crisis intervention services and resources
Overeaters Anonymous (OA): A support group for individuals seeking help with compulsive overeating
Kaleo Counseling: A faith-based counseling agency offering individual, couples and child/family counseling
Aline Hanrahan is a Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in St. Charles County and servicing St. Louis County. She specializes in child, individual, and group counseling and has serviced the mental health and public school systems for 20 years.