Your Body Speaks Your Mind: Emotional Eating

01/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Eating is probably our most emotionally-laden activity, especially today and especially if someone, such as mother, has done the cooking. Whether we want to or not, we feel emotionally obliged to eat.

We all need to eat but what we eat and how much we eat varies enormously. Few of us only eat when we are hungry and only what we need rather than what we want. As explained in Your Body Speaks Your Mind, Deb's award-winning book, we binge, diet, pig out, indulge, fast; we eat junk food, healthy food, only fruit, high protein, low fat, raw food, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic. We use food as a substitute for love, as a way to win love, to fulfill desire, as a means of punishment through deprivation, or as a reward through treats. In every woman's magazine there are articles on the ultimate diet, recipes for a lover's meal, how to feed hungry teenagers, the contents of a celebrity's refrigerator, and what foods will cure arthritis. In other words, food is an issue.

Perhaps this is not surprising. From the very beginning we are focused on food, crying when our stomachs are empty and being rewarded with warm milk, which is accompanied by either a breast or a bottle and, usually, the familiar soothing voice of mother. Our needs are extremely basic--we want milk, dry clothes, a warm place to sleep, lots of love, and a few friendly faces to look at. At this early stage there is little separation between food, mother and love--they all tend to come at the same time and they all do much the same thing, which is make us feel good.

As we grow older these needs do not change much, they just get bigger--we want more food, drawers full of clothes, a whole house with a big bed to sleep in, and some loved ones to have fun with. But the three basics of mother, food and love begin to get separated. Food does not always come form mother, mother does not always love, and food is given in place of love. Food remains an issue: mother cooks it and makes us feel guilty if we do not like it. We get sent to bed without food if we misbehave. Or parents are absent and we are placated with special food treats. Even worse is when we are in need of being held or loved and we get candy instead, simply reinforcing the belief that food and love are not only connected but also inter-changeable.

For instance, Deb remembers: I was at boarding school in England from the age of eight. All of us would look forward each week to getting 'tuck parcels' sent from home: boxes of chocolate and candy. Such parcels were how our parents told us that we were loved.

Later in life we use food in much the same way by giving a box of chocolates as a sign of our affection, such as on Valentine's Day, or to assuage our guilt for not having visited sooner. We binge after a relationship upset. Sweet food is a universal replacement for love, but where love is nurturing and makes us feel good, sweet food rots our teeth, makes us fat, and lowers our immunity.

Eating represents the taking in of nourishment. Our eating habits and relationship to food are indicative of our relationship to ourselves and to what extent our needs for nourishment are being met. Do we obtain nourishment through food or through love? If we feel emotionally uncared for or rejected, do we turn to food for comfort? And to what extent does our digestive system reflect this relationship?

Food Review
The easiest way to do become aware of your relationship to food is to keep a diary of: a) how you are feeling and, b) what and when you are eating.
* Do you only eat when you are hungry? Or do you eat when you think you are meant to, even if you are not hungry?
* Does what you eat depend on how you are feeling? Do you eat the same food when you are happy as when you are sad?
*Do you get cravings for certain foods at particularly emotional times or when you are around a certain person?
* Does eating make you feel emotionally fulfilled?
* Do you deny yourself food or nourishment in the same way you deny yourself emotional nourishment?

Have a Happy Holiday!


Ed and Deb Shapiro are authors of over 15 books, and lead meditation retreats and workshops. Deb is the author of the award-winning book Your Body Speaks Your Mind. They are corporate consultants, and the creators of Chillout daily inspirational text messages on Sprint cell phones. See their website: