Have you ever wondered how to avoid eating your feelings? Here’s a picture of what head hunger could look like: it’s late on Thursday night. You’ve worked all day, the kids are in bed and now it’s time for you to study. The professor has assigned a lengthy reading assignment. You sit down and barely make it to the third page before you are fidgeting, distracted, and bored by the content. Mindlessly, you set the book down, and find yourself back at the table moments later with a bag of chips.
You now read and munch, read and crunch, and before you know it, the bag of chips is gone. How did that happen? You weren’t even hungry, as you have finished a wholesome dinner just an hour before you started to read.
Last week your boss said the “big project” wasn’t due for four weeks. You allocated your time and made a plan for completing each task and you were feeling confident in your ability to produce a great product on time. He just called and said the due date has been moved up – by two weeks. You feel panicked, angry and tense. All of a sudden you have an intense craving for butter pecan ice cream.
It’s the weekend and your partner was called out of town on a business trip at the last minute. Your best friend has a date, and no one you asked was available to go to a movie. You’re home alone, feeling sad that you couldn’t find anyone to hang out with, you don’t feel like reading or doing a project. So, you settle on television. And a tub of popcorn, a bag of chocolate candy, and a soda.
Head hunger is wanting to eat when you aren’t physically hungry. Head hunger is often called emotional hunger. You find yourself wanting to eat because you’re bored, sad, lonely, stressed, angry, worried, or anxious. Or maybe you’re eating because you are happy and celebrating the way you have learned to celebrate… with too much of the wrong foods.
A healthy eating plan does not include excessive calories consumed when giving in to “head hunger” or “emotional eating.” Let’s face it, few of us turn to carrot sticks when we’re upset or opt for a spinach salad with salmon when we’re celebrating a promotion.
Head hunger/emotional eating becomes a bad habit and is really an unhealthy coping skill used as an attempt to avoid experiencing unwanted or uncomfortable emotions. Here is a four-step way to break the pattern of eating in response to emotions.
When you find yourself seeking food when it is not your planned eating time, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Identify an emotion that you are experiencing at the time (mad, sad, lonely, frustrated, anxious, etc.)
Identify what your emotional need is by asking: “What is this feeling telling me I need?” For example,
Identify healthy coping skills for getting emotional needs met. You can do an internet search for healthy coping skills and you will find hundreds of suggestions. Keep a list on your smart phone, on your computer, or on a sheet of paper of the healthy coping skills that best fit your lifestyle and personality.
When you have done steps one and two, look at the list of healthy coping skills and do one or more of those things until your emotions settle down and you are better able to think rationally. At that point, you will realize that eating unhealthy, unwanted, and unnecessary calories is not something you want to do.
You can learn to avoid eating in response to head hunger. It takes effort, and you know by this time in your life, that all of the great things you earn, accomplish, and experience require effort. Go for it! The benefits of learning to avoid emotional eating are worth it! And so are you.