By Karlee Golightly, RD, RYT
As we move further into the holiday season, more of our activities surround food. For many of us, this is a time to celebrate by enjoying seasonal foods and spending time with people we may not regularly see. However, this time of year can also be incredibly stressful and may leave many resorting to eating as a coping mechanism. Emotional eating is typically defined as eating in response to feelings rather than physical hunger.
To dive into the differences between physical and non-physical hunger, it’s helpful to first discern what your unique hunger cues are. A few common signs of physical hunger may include a sound or “grumbling” sensation in your abdomen, feeling lightheaded or weak, difficulty concentrating, or even a headache. These cues were designed as signals to your brain to take in more fuel, and are important in regulating your daily energy needs. However, sometimes we may confuse or ignore physical hunger cues and instead eat in response to stress, hoping to ease our discomfort with food, i.e. emotional eating.
While emotional eating typically has negative connotations, eating to soothe is an example of a self-care tool; it’s when eating is your only coping mechanism that it becomes problematic. To better understand our emotions, we can start by examining the six types of non-physical hungers:
• Intellectual: “I crave mental stimulation.” Try reading a good book, engaging in deep conversation, or starting a puzzle.
• Social: “I crave connection.” Try giving a hug, calling a friend or family member, or volunteering.
• Creative: “I crave expression.” Try painting or drawing, making a craft, or trying a new recipe.
• Spiritual: “I crave meaning.” Try praying, meditating, or talking with someone who shares your beliefs.
• Solitude: “I crave space.” Try sitting quietly alone, taking a relaxing bath, or journaling.
• Movement: “I crave activity.” Try dancing, playing with children or pets, or engaging in your favorite way to exercise.
The activities listed above may be helpful in brainstorming ideas for alternatives to eating, but everyone will have different ways to satisfy each of the emotional hungers. Take a moment to go through each of the examples again and write down other actions you might include. If you choose food in response to one of these non-physical hunger cues, you will never be able to satisfy your emotional hunger. By instead recognizing your emotions and what you’re really “hungry” for, you are able to better regulate stress and feel more balanced!
Karlee Golightly is a Registered Dietitian and Yoga Teacher at Feed Your Soul Fitness; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.