Someone I know would characterize themselves as an "emotional eater". I must say that I hadn't heard of the phrase until a couple of years ago.
So what is it then? Essentially, your eating habits (what time of day you eat, what kind of food you eat, how much food you eat, who you eat with) are connected to how you feel. In many cases, when people get sad or angry they tend to have an hour, day, week, year, decade, of poor eating habits. "Poor" meaning eating too much food or only eating from a couple of different food groups, particularly foods that are high in sugar and fat....aka comfort foods. Emotional eating can also result from joy and happiness, but for the purposes of this piece, I'm going to focus on the opposite emotions.
The results then, depending on how often this occurs, are feelings of MORE sadness, guilt, depression, sluggishness, weight gain, and various other physical and emotional consequences. From the outside, it's easy for ME to say, "Well, stop eating that way, and you won't feel so bad." But the problem is that it's a cycle that can keep reproducing itself to the point where the person in it literally can't control their eating behavior. No matter what stipulations they put on themselves or positive self talk they practice, or affirmation, or accountability they have built into their lives, it continues to happen. Again, my thought is, "Why can't you get a hold of this?"
I'm learning that it's just not that easy. For those that are emotional eaters, chances are there are deeply rooted wounds that have shaped their view of food. They may see it as a way to comfort themselves when they have been hurt, or to use food to figuratively push down feelings of pain from their past. Food may even serve as a type of friend. Whatever the reason, emotional eaters don't want to practice this cycle, but just can't avoid it.
For those that are close to emotional eaters, here is what you can do:
1. In serious cases, encourage them to get counseling to determine if there are underlying reasons for their eating behavior.
2. Avoid being judgemental
3. Offer encouragement but don't try to "fix it"
4. Be available if the person does ask for advice but be sure to not recommend things out of the scope of your expertise. (i.e. if you're not certified trainer or coach, don't try to put them on an exercise program)
5. Love them