For many of us, food is always the solution.
Tired? Chocolate is there for you. Stressed? Cake has your back. Upset? Pizza will never let you down.
We know we’re not hungry, the craving just feels too strong to resist.
But this, sadly, is not necessarily the healthiest way to live.
Of course, occasionally indulging in delicious food despite not actually being hungry isn’t a problem, but it’s when you find yourself bingeing repeatedly that you can start to put your health at risk.
So what can you do to try and develop a healthier relationship with food?
According to health and eating psychology coach Mel Wells, the key is to think about what you’re actually craving aside from food?
“If you’ve ever been on a diet then you might have thought it was a smart move to try and ignore your hunger – or try and push away your cravings by distracting them – but instead of ignoring your cravings, hating them or trying to distract yourself from them, you need to start embracing them, respecting them and carefully observing them,” Wells explained to The Independent.
It’s when we do this that we can work on no longer feeling like a slave to cravings. “Your cravings are here to help guide you towards your most authentic self, and your most purpose-driven life,” Well says.
She explains that there’s a difference between emotional cravings and real hunger: “An emotional craving is a strong and sudden desire to eat food right now, which can also cause a sense of panic and urgency. If you sit with it for 10–15 minutes it will pass. You feel it in your head, not your stomach.
“Real hunger comes on gradually over a period of hours in your stomach. It doesn’t feel urgent. It doesn’t cause you to panic. You actually have time to figure out what it is that will satisfy your body.”
For many people, food is the automatic go-to when feeling rejected, lonely, nervous or stressed - essentially, we’re feeling something uncomfortable that we don’t want to feel or understand. And this is emotional eating.
“Food feels comforting and loving,” Wells admits. “Food feels like love to us and we use food to try and numb those negative feelings – but numbing is only temporary.
“What if you actually stopped for a moment, sat down with these feelings and asked yourself honestly what was going on? What are you trying to opt out of feeling?”
The trick is to stop for a moment, slow your breath and ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling right now?’ It’s as simple as that. You need to define your feeling and then instead of turning to the cookie jar, sit with your feeling.
If you’re hungry, eat, but eat mindfully, paying attention to the food rather than just stuffing it into your mouth and guzzling it down.
Of course, the next hurdle is stopping when your body has had enough food and preventing a snack or meal turning into an unnecessary binge.
“There will be a moment, right before you’re called to eat, or even mid-binge, where you know you have the choice to stop and make a better choice for yourself, or carry on abusing yourself with food – and I challenge you to catch yourself in the act and ask yourself how you’re feeling,” Wells advises.
“You might be tired, you might be stressed and what might actually be better for you in the moment is self-care, yoga, meditating or simply deep breathing, going for a walk, turning your phone off or reading a book.”
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence and we certainly shouldn’t feel guilty and beat ourselves up for eating five too many biscuits from time to time - it’s simply a case of stopping it happening too often.
“By being mindful and observing yourself – getting curious about your feelings and truly connecting and listening to your body – you send your body the message: ‘I’m here. I’m ready to listen. I’m ready to cooperate’, instead of using food to mask or numb the feelings,” Wells says.
“And trust me when I say: that message goes a long, long way.”
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