Are you an emotional eater?

Are you an emotional eater?

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Sinead Daly is an integrative therapist from Ireland who owns her own practice on the Ceintuurbaan in Amsterdam: Healthy Choices. She offers psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, body-based therapy and coaching. 

Many people struggle with their weight and yo-yo up and down as they stick to restrictive diets for a while, then give up and eat large portions again, which, in turn, makes the weight pile back on again. This is the most common pattern amongst people who diet. Moreover, the vast majority of people who diet regain all the weight they lost and then some. The reason for this is that dieting triggers bingeing.

Excessive consumption

If you deny yourself something you desperately want for a long time, then you are white-knuckling it and there will always be a day when your willpower is weaker than your craving, and on that day you won't simply allow yourself to eat what you want, instead the sense of deprivation will lead you to excessive consumption. You will compensate wildly for all the days, weeks or months you have deprived yourself of what you longed for so badly.

As one of my clients put it, when she was binge-eating, “During those moments, I wanted to eat the whole world!”

Food as a metaphor

This is simply human nature. We are all made like this, but people who diet suffer from shame and self-loathing when they binge and then they start to deprive themselves again as an act of penance, as it were. It is very hard to break this cycle of deprivation and bingeing without looking at the emotional need behind the disturbed eating pattern.

The fact is, people who deny themselves food or over-eat, all use food as a metaphor. Food has become charged with emotion. The writer Geneen Roth points out that our emotional needs and the unloved or denied parts of ourselves are intangible and can therefore never be satisfied by tangible things.

Food is tangible and can only fulfil a tangible hunger. Our emotional hunger will never be stilled by food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or shopping. And this is the reason why such behaviours become compulsive. "You can never get enough of what you don't really need" (Geneen Roth).

As long as you keep turning to food for a support it cannot give you, your emotional hunger will remain unsatisfied and you will feel as if you are starving somewhere deep inside. So, you will keep wanting to consume more and more food as that insatiable emotional hunger continues to torment you, like a baby bird in a nest with its beak wide open, screaming for more and more worms.

Eating your emotions

In certain therapy practices, eating disorders are looked at from an emotional perspective. Forgetting about food altogether and instead looking at what you are trying to bury under food; what you are trying to ignore, avoid, flee from. What intangible part of yourself is not being fulfilled or nurtured? What parts of the soul are left empty even as you stuff yourself with crisps or sugary snacks? Or as you deprive yourself of both the craved food and the craved life?

Once you start addressing your emotional needs and releasing old patterns through insights gained in psychotherapy or hypnotherapy, then food can become for you what it is meant to be, simply fuel to nurture the body so it can be healthy and thrive while you live your emotional life in the most enriching way possible.

Author Sinead Daly is an expat herself, which means she understands the problems expats can struggle with as they adapt to life in a new country. She is also affiliated with the professional organisation for hypnotherapists, which means many health insurers cover the cost of Healthy Choices sessions. If you would like more information about what treatments Healthy Choices offers, contact her now

Sinead Daly


Sinead Daly

I am an Irish therapist living in Amsterdam for the past twenty years where I specialise in Expat issues. I am an integrative therapist, which means I use interventions from...

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