who loves to lift and explore and break all the ways diet culture has tried to box us in. She loves to ask, “How could your life be different if you unlearned your all-or-nothing food rules?”, which is something we whole-heartedly agree with and support. Check out her work and learn more here.
I Know I’m Feeling Something When I Eat, But What Is It?
Listening to feelings and emotions can be super powerful. These body signals are a powerful eating driver. Eating itself can also call out emotions, sometimes strong ones. It therefore shouldn’t be very surprising that a key part of developing a peaceful relationship with food is made much easier when you develop a good understanding of your emotions regarding food.
Your food relationship is just like your relationships with people that way. However, developing a good understanding of your emotions regarding food can be surprisingly difficult to do.
Listening to Your Feelings Requires Skill
Listening to your emotions is not always as simple as listening to someone who is talking to you. Sometimes, it’s more like listening to someone whispering with their head under a pillow. The problem is that we aren’t often taught to listen to our emotions, or even to think about them very much. We can therefore tend to be kind of blind to them. Strong emotions can be easy to feel, but emotions come on a spectrum, with some of them being quite faint and hard to detect.
And understanding the emotions you feel that are related to food is often made even more difficult by modern diet culture. This diet culture outright teaches people to deliberately cultivate ignorance of these emotions. It even teaches people to fight them, to suppress them. Growing up exposed to such a culture, it’s no wonder that we can often have a hard time listening to or understanding our emotions. It’s kind of frowned upon.
However, just because you don’t listen to them doesn’t mean you stop experiencing them. Your body tries to communicate your emotions to you with different sensations and cues. But a lot of different feelings are associated with very similar sensations and cues. And that’s why listening to your feelings, really understanding them, requires you to develop certain skills. Fortunately, there are a number of tools out there that can help you develop them.
Understanding Your Emotional Eating Motivations
If you want to develop a more peaceful relationship with food, it’s almost a necessity to learn and understand your emotional eating motivations. Only then will you be able to engage with your emotions in different, more peaceful ways. And to understand what these emotional eating motivations are, start by studying your food-related emotions. Look at the things you tend to feel emotionally when you experience food cravings. Examine the things you feel when you eat and after you eat. See if you can find any patterns in these observations.
And to study them, of course, you first need to be able to identify what they are. So, if you know that you are feeling something when you eat but don’t know exactly what that something is, how can you figure it out?
Well, a good place to start is making a food-related emotions chart. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just a chart with, say, your meals in rows and the days in columns. Whenever you eat, record the sensations and cues that your body is giving you. Make note of anything that you can figure out about what emotions you are feeling. If your feelings seem to be strong, make note of what you were doing.
You can help the creation of your own emotions chart by using various tools built for helping you better understand your emotions. One of these things is a feelings chart. There are several different feelings charts, but one of the most popular is made of three concentric circles (like the above, “Feelings Wheel”). The central one is divided into pie slices, each with a simple, basic emotion like happiness or sadness, each with a different color. The next circle out has divisions with more complex, more specific emotions, color-coded to match the basic ones at the center. The outermost is divided into still more subtle, color-coded emotional distinctions.
So when you notice that you’re having some kind of food-related feeling, pull out this feelings chart and start in the center. Try to identify the most basic type of emotion that you’re feeling. From there, work your way to the outer circle, staying within the same color. Use the cues your body is giving you to distinguish between the different feelings on different levels of the chart. Learning how to do that can take some practice.
To make that process easier, you can use the Way app. It’s divided into a number of pathways that are designed to help you develop a more harmonious relationship with food. One of these pathways is designed to teach you the skills you need to listen to your feelings and body better. It teaches you how to pick up on the cues and signals your body uses to communicate your feelings about food to you. It helps you figure out what they are trying to tell you about your emotions. As you use the Way app, you’ll get better and better at filling in the entries on your emotions chart.
Looking for Patterns in Your Food-Related Feelings
Once you have built up a good-sized emotions chart (with at least a few weeks’ worth of entries) you can use them to figure out what your feelings are trying to tell you. And you do that by looking for patterns on the chart. If you notice certain feelings coming up at certain times, try to remember what you were doing or thinking about at those times. See if certain feelings are associated with particular foods or events. If you keep track of your food-related emotions, if you keep studying them, you will eventually find the information you are looking for. You will find the particular emotions that trigger particular eating behaviors.
Forging a New, Peaceful Relationship with Food
With this information, you can learn how to engage with your emotional eating motivations in a different and more peaceful way. When you do, you’ll find that you eat in an intuitive way more naturally, without harsh restrictive diets and fighting your emotions and natural instincts. And that will also leave you feeling happier and less stressed out.