Is food really akin to a deity? Actually, it may be our replacement for one says Geneen Roth, author of the best-selling book, Women, Food and God. She says many of us use food to avoid the emptiness that comes from feeling a lack of love, comfort, or passion for life. It's only when we acknowledge and examine our emotional hardships, she says, that we can truly develop a healthful relationship with food. She recommends trying these five things to overcome emotional eating:
1. Pay attention to when you eat. Yes, you should tune in to those occasions when you eat but aren't really hungry. Are you stressed, bored, or sad? But also pay attention to how you spend your time and your money—and what you value most in the world. Often, Roth explains, people turn to food to express core beliefs. Those who feel the need to be in control in order for things to go smoothly often go on extreme diets only to find themselves bingeing uncontrollably after a period of deprivation. Those who can't sit quietly with their loneliness or solitude may seek out pleasure from a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips. "Ask yourself what's going on in those moments when you turn to food," Roth advises.
2. Take action to avoid eating when you're not hungry. Consider what would happen if you didn't eat when you're, say, feeling sad. You may, even on a subconscious level, believe that you'd fall apart if you let the sadness in or never stop crying, says Roth. Or you may think you just can't deal with your boredom. But give it a try once and see. "Allow yourself to feel the boredom, sadness, or anxiety," she says, "without using food to change the channel on what's happening in your life."
3. When you are hungry, stick to the following rules. Eat sitting down in a calm environment—not in your car. Avoid any distractions, like TV, newspapers, books, or anxiety-producing conversations. Eat what your body wants and just enough to feel satisfied but not stuffed. Have your meals with the intention of being in full view of others and do so with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure.
4. End dieting once and for all. "Until I was 30, I was convinced that if only I could become thin, I'd be happy—that all my suffering would be gone," says Roth, who gained and lost more than 1,000 pounds before dealing with her own emotional eating issues. She spent two years as an anorexic weighing 80 pounds before she finally realized that she was just as miserable thin as fat. It was only after she stopped dieting that she reached a healthy weight, which has remained stable for 30 years. "I've never met a diet that didn't have a binge attached to it," Roth adds.
5. Embrace curiosity. "Most of us aren't curious about why we do what we do," says Roth. That may be because we don't want to be our own worst critics. Roth recommends a Buddhist practice called inquiry where you examine your thoughts and actions with kindness and curiosity. Sit quietly for 20 minutes and feel the sensations around you: the smell of the air, the feel of your clothes, the sounds your body is making and then begin associating those sensations with a memory or a particular feeling, like tension or loneliness. Sit with those sensations, those thoughts, and be curious about them without trying to direct the inquiry or distract yourself. In fact, allow yourself to be astonished by what you're discovering. This sense of being astonished will help you also pay attention to the goodness in your life, she explains. "I think it's important for us to see how much we already have, to feel gratitude instead of using food to make us feel good."