In this podcast, Tabitha Farrar talks about emotional eating, and why it isn’t really a thing
Transcript with thanks to Marie:
Hello welcome to this week’s podcast. This week I’m going to talk about emotional eating. But first of all, I’m going to apologise in advance for the cats. I only actually have 2 cats, Dave and Stinky although sometimes it sounds like I have 20 cats. I think I’ve told you that I’m in the middle of a house move and it’s quite a long, drawn out and complicated house move despite the fact that we’re not going very far. So we’ve been gradually moving furniture and the cats don’t think that that’s appropriate, the cats think that we shouldn’t move their things. For weeks they’ve just been reeking havoc running around like crazy things so if you hear a ruckus I can’t control them, they’re cats, I’m just putting it out there.
Anyway, so I’m going to talk about emotional eating. So I probably get at least a couple of emails a week from people that say, I’m really hungry, I want to eat the whole time, I feel really, I know deep down that I should just let myself eat but I’m scared that it’s emotional eating and I’m going to develop an emotional eating habit. I have to admit just that term emotional eating just sort of presses my buttons, I can’t stand it. It goes into the category for me of many things sort of like intuitive eating. Somebody thought it was a smart term to coin and it got fashionable and really just doesn’t mean anything. Yet, if you have an eating disorder then you’re scared of it. So I really dislike terms like emotional eating, intuitive eating which just actually describe eating.
But more with emotional eating, I dislike the effect that it has on people. That people think that it’s this really negative thing. To eat emotionally, is bad. It’s a vice, it’s a bad habit. It’s something that should be avoided at all costs. Whatever you do, don’t eat emotionally. Well first of all, I’ve got news for you. Everything that you do, is motivated by emotions, everything. I know that humans, we love to think that we are these spontaneous, free spirited whatever but we’re actually, rather like machines in the way that we are programmed. Emotions exist to motivate our behaviour. That’s what emotions are for. If you like someone, the emotion, the feels you get of just wanting to hang around that person, wanting to be with them, wanting to be their friend, those emotions are there to motivate you to spend time with this person because something within your brain has assessed that this person is safe or beneficial to your survival.
The feeling, the emotion of dislike, or hate, when somebody hurts you, that emotion exists to motivate you to stay always from that person. To not go near them because something in your brain has assessed that that person is a threat to your survival. So everything that you do, whether it’s an interest that you have, whether it’s something that you don’t do, that you don’t like doing. Emotions are the way that our brain motivates our behaviour, or influences us to behave in a certain way.
So it’s entirely appropriate don’t you think, if you have a restrictive eating disorder, if you are in energy deficit, if you’re in malnutrition, it’s entirely appropriate for your brain to start using emotion to motivate you to eat more food. So that’s the first problem with that term emotional eating. If somebody just feels like, I want to eat and I don’t know why I feel like I want to eat, I’m not physically hungry, I just feel like I want to eat, is it my emotions that are driving me to eat? Well that would be a bad thing. Are you kidding? Your emotions are your brain, trying to aid your survival. If your brain is trying to motivate you to eat food, that’s because you need to eat food!
Again what we are having here is a problem with judgement. And judgement comes in a lot when you have a restrictive eating disorder. Your poor old body just tries to communicate something quite straightforward with you like, you need to eat more food and all this judgement comes in, as to is this emotional eating, is this too much sugar, is that too much fat? Have I eaten too much today? Is this a normal amount of food that I’m eating? All of that judgement is like your brain, your eating disorder brain piling these things on top of what is actually just a basic truth.
The truth might be, I want to eat another doughnut. That’s the truth. The judgement is, that’s too much sugar. That’s too much fat, you’ve already had too many donuts. Normal people don’t eat 20 donuts a day, whatever. That’s all judgement. Judgement doesn’t mean truth. So come back to the truth and the truth is, you want to eat another donut. And that’s the only truth that’s actually in there. And so that’s a basic communication from your body. That’s your body saying I want to eat another donut. I need to eat another donut.
Your judgement isn’t required in that, in the same way that off your body wants to go for a pee. Your judgement doesn’t change that situation, your judgement doesn’t alter that truth. You can judge that and say but I just went for a pee 30 minutes ago and I really shouldn’t go for another one right now, I shouldn’t need too. It doesn’t change that truth. The truth is, your body is communicating to you that it needs to go for a pee. Whatever your opinion of that, it doesn’t change that fact.
One of the problems that I have with emotional eating is that it brings a lot of judgement into what is a basic communication from ones body. And there are reasons that we don’t need to question basic communications from our body. Because if we were to micro manage everything that our bodies automatically do for us on a daily basis, you wouldn’t get anywhere would you? Because you’d be micromanaging a way that you took a step, or the way that you took a breath. You’d be worrying, am I breathing too much air in this in breath? Am I breathing enough in this exhale? You would not get anything done.
One of the things that makes humans really wonderful and intelligent is that our bodies automatically manage many things for us. Leaving us, freeing our brains up to do higher level things like maths equations, whatever. So when you start questioning, when you start trying to bring that brilliant intelligence that you have to judge what is a basic communication from your body, basically you make yourself stupider don’t you? And many of us who have suffered from restrictive eating disorders really understand that. I know that when I started judging everything that my body was telling me and judging all the food that I was eating, and wondering this and wondering that and trying to micromanage it. That’s all I thought about all day and it was really difficult to use that higher brain capacity to do other things.
Since I stopped doing that and since I fully recovered, I’ve done many things with my life that I certainly wouldn’t have had the brain space to do when I was sitting there worrying if I was putting too much butter onto my toast all day. Well that was when I was actually putting butter on my toast, before that I wasn’t even using butter but I was still worrying about butter. So you know what I mean. Emotional eating causes us to judge what our bodies are communicating to us and that’s problematic for human beings. It really is. It makes us very stupid.
The other problem that I have with emotional eating is the idea that it is not relevant. It’s a vice, it’s inappropriate. Say for example if you just had a really stressful day and you got home and you just wanted to eat chocolate. Some people might say, that’s emotional eating you should stop that, you shouldn’t let that happen, I don’t actually know the reason that people give for emotional eating being bad. But people think emotional eating is bad. Let’s have a look at what stress does to the body. Stress makes us run on a high. You’re heart rate often goes faster, you just feel like you’re a bit wired, maybe tense, your muscles are tense. All of those things have an energetic cost to your body and so don’t you think it’s actually appropriate for you to then want to eat more food, later on that day or even in that moment?
Your body is deciding, your body is making an executive decision there that what it needs to do to optimise health in this moment is xy or z and if your body decides in order to optimise health in this moment I need to eat more food, don’t judge that. Just do it. It’s true for most of us that even if we are the type of people who react to stress by losing appetite, and that’s really often common with people with restrictive eating disorders, there is still actually in deep down somewhere a huge desire to eat more food we are just squashing. We’re just concentrating on the I feel sick and I don’t really want to eat. When really if you dig a little bit deeper, there is often a desire to eat as well.
If you’re in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, always go with the option that is eat more food. If you’re in doubt, just eat more food because you have an under eating problem and you need to understand that your default reaction is often to doubt the fact that you want to eat. So we overcome that by eating more food and I know that that sound two faced because on the one hand I’m saying to you listen to your body if your body is telling you to eat, you need to eat. Yes and it is kind of two faced but that’s because I know restrictive eating disorders and I know that your brain has this very very clever knack of convincing you that you don’t actually need to eat.
When really, deep down, if you dig a bit deeper you know that you do. For anybody that doesn’t have a restrictive eating disorder listening to this they are probably going to think, what the hell is she talking about? But that doesn’t matter because who I’m talking to really are the people listening to this who do have restrictive eating disorders and I know that you know what I’m talking about.
Emotional eating I guess in both of the things that I just talked about, what I’m saying is it is appropriate if you have had stressful day, even if it’s not a stress emotion, even if it’s a happy emotion I just had a great day but my appetite seems to be increased. Somebody might say, that’s emotional eating, guess what? So what? Go with it, your body has determined that you need to eat more food. Don’t question it, go with it. Even if you’ve ha bad day, if your body has determined you need to eat more food, you just go with it, your body uses emotions to motivate your behaviour.
If your body is using emotions to motivate you to eat, that’s entirely appropriate and your body has deemed it appropriate and you don’t need to judge it and you don’t need to question it. And that’s pretty much the bottom line. If your body is using emotions to motivate you to eat more food. That is because your body wants you to eat more food and if your body wants you to eat more food that is because your body has decided it needs to eat more food and it doesn’t matter if anybody else in the world who is not your body disagrees with that and says, ah uh that is emotional eating, your body is itself.
So your body is the best thing to judge if it needs to eat more food or not and our bodies don’t do anything frivolously, your body didn’t just wake up this morning and go what shall I do today? I know, let’s have a laugh, let’s just motivate them to eat more food. Your body is an organism. Organisms strive to survive as long as possible and all your body is doing all day every day is trying to optimise your chances of surviving as long as possible.
So when your body says to you, you know what? I want another donut or 4 guess what? It knows what it needs and that’s all you have to think about. As you probably know if you have a restrictive eating disorder, over thinking that’s a big problem, you don’t need to do it, that’s glorious truth.
Your body has got this. All you need to remember is if I want to eat, I don’t need to judge it, I just need to eat and the second thing you need to remember is that I don’t need to over think this and the third and most vital thing that you need to remember is if you are in doubt, you need to eat more food. If you are wondering whether you are hungry or not, you need to eat more food.
In conclusion emotional eating isn’t a thing because everything that we do is driven by emotion and if your body is using emotion to drive you do something then it’s appropriate and you don’t need to question it, especially if it’s about basic bodily function for goodness sake. I mean, I can get emotional about going for a pee if I can’t go for a pee, that gets pretty emotional, wouldn’t you agree? If you’re in a really long car journey, or stuck in traffic jam or something I’m sure you’ve all been there and you really need to go for a pee and that, that can get emotional just ask my husband, I can get really emotional about that sort of thing. So that’s my body using emotion to motivate me to go and find a god damn toilet.
Your body uses emotion to motivate you to fulfil its basic needs so emotional eating, whatever. Its just a desire to eat and if you have a desire to eat, its because you need to eat. OK? Thanks for listening you can reach out to me on twitter or email. My Twitter handle is @love_fat_ and the email is firstname.lastname@example.org I hope you have a really good week. Bye.