She received her Bachelor of Science in Human Development from Cornell University, and her Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, where she also completed her dietetic internship. In her private practice, Nicole Groman Nutrition, Nicole helps you reconnect with your body. She encourages prioritizing your body over your mind, having faith that your body will tell you what it needs, what it doesn’t, when it’s had too much, or if it hasn’t had enough. She’s been quoted in Vogue, Women’s Health, and Well+Good. Check out her work and learn more here.
Why Do I Feel This Whenever I Eat That? Using an Emotions Chart to Understand Emotional Eating
People eat because they’re hungry. It’s a simple fact of biology. And while that’s true as far as it goes, if eating really was that simple, the world would be a much healthier, happier place. In the real world, emotions drive eating far more than mere hunger does.
Understanding emotional eating motivators is key to developing a peaceful relationship with food. Unfortunately, popular diet culture handles this concept of emotional eating in a really poor and unhealthy way.
Diet Culture and Emotions
Specifically, diet culture teaches people to ignore their emotions, even to fight them. It talks endlessly about learning how to ignore your cravings, fight your feelings. In short it teaches people to deliberately cultivate ignorance of the greatest, most complex, most intelligent system that they have ever used: their own bodies. How can you give your body the nutrition it needs if you refuse to listen to what it needs?
Furthermore, by fighting your emotions regarding food and pretending they don’t even exist, you are putting yourself under an enormous amount of stress. Long term stress isn’t good for your mental health, as well as your physical health – chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation, and inflammation is the cause of at least 50% of known diseases (including the biggest one, Heart Disease).
And guess what? One of the most common reactions to stress is powerful food cravings. So diet culture tends to lead to self-sabotage as well. And, to make matters even more difficult, ignored emotions are impossible to control, so it can be difficult or even impossible to break the cycle of restricting and binge eating.
Learn to Listen to Your Emotions
Instead of fighting your emotions, learn to listen to them. How can you learn to develop a harmonious relationship with food unless you understand what your emotional eating motivations are? Listening to your feelings and learning about your emotional eating triggers can help you learn to tell the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Then, once you can tell the difference, you can experiment and have room to change your responses, learn healthier habits that align more with how you want to feel. That may still mean eating when feeling an emotion!
Getting your emotional needs met while giving your body all of the calories and nutrients that it needs to function well can be a much more fulfilling way to eat than one based on denying your emotional needs and “fighting” your instincts. And, when you’re not driving your stress levels through the roof by doing all that emotional suppression to yourself, you’re bound to be much happier and more relaxed, too.
Exploring Your Emotions with an Emotions Chart
Of course, “listening to your emotions” is easier said than done. Most people aren’t that familiar with the idea of emotional eating, and they aren’t that used to paying a lot of attention to their emotions either. An emotions chart can be a big help.
There are a number of different emotions charts, but they all arrange the various emotions in ways that make it easy for you to understand how the different emotions are related to each other. They connect subtle gradations of emotion with the simple, basic emotions in ways that make it easy to explore these emotional subtleties.
When you find yourself engaged in emotional eating, it’s time to explore the emotions that are triggering that particular eating behavior. The emotions chart can help you do that by giving you the prompts you need to analyze exactly what emotions you are feeling before and after you eat. The data you get from doing that can teach you some really important things.
How Can You Tell When You are Engaged in Emotional Eating?
Of course, to do that, you first need to be able to identify when you are eating emotionally. There are a few signs you should look for. One of the biggest giveaways is when food cravings come upon you suddenly. Physical hunger often develops slowly. You spend some time feeling just a little hungry, and then some more time feeling a little hungrier, and so forth. Hunger that goes right from 0 to 60 is more usually triggered by an emotional need than a physical one. When hunger comes on fast, pause – just taking a breath, getting up and walking, going outside, or having a glass of water can help you gain more space to make a choice.
Another clue that you are engaged in emotional eating can be craving a very specific food, rather than just food in general. Sure, as you hone and refine your ability to listen to your body, a specific food craving is most likely the sign of a specific nutritional need. But, if the craving comes on strong and fast for something like chocolate, a fast-food burger, or ice cream, chances are pretty high that the craving is an emotional one rather than a physical one. Other, more ordinary food cravings can be triggered emotionally too, though, especially if you have particularly good memories associated with certain dishes.
First you learn to identify when you are eating emotionally. Then, by paying attention to your feelings and exploring them systematically via an emotions chart, you can develop a thorough understanding of what your emotional eating triggers are. Once you understand that, you can start learning how to meet your emotional needs in different ways and develop a healthier relationship with food. The Way app can help with this.
The Way App
The Way app is another powerful tool for helping you learn more about your emotional eating motivations. Its Body Feels pathway has 18 sessions that are designed to guide you through learning to listen to the signals your body uses to communicate with you. By using this app, you can become highly skilled at listening to the emotional signals your body uses to communicate with you and, by using it in conjunction with the emotions chart, you can identify exactly what emotion or emotions you are feeling when food cravings hit or after you eat.
Learning Healthier Habits
Understanding when you are eating emotionally instead because of physical hunger is an important step on the journey to developing a peaceful relationship with eating. A feelings chart and the Way app can help you find patterns in your food-related emotions and use them to discover your emotional eating triggers. And once you understand those, you can learn to develop a better, harmonious relationship with food, one that will help you become more fulfilled and feel happier.