Five ways to improve your relationship with food: It’s about more than what you eat

Have you ever heard the saying, “I’m eating my emotions?” Well, there is some truth there when it comes to emotional eating. Typically hunger is not just about the food. Hunger and binge eating are often a metaphor for that which we are truly seeking. It’s about meeting your physical and emotional needs.

We all use food at some point in our lives to meet needs other than just physical hunger. Eating can be a way to escape and to soothe ourselves from the uncomfortable experiences and sensations in our bodies. It only becomes a problem when eating is the only coping skill we know. 

Learning how to reflect on your relationship with the underlying feelings related to binge eating, stress eating and emotional eating is critical. Here at Skyterra, we not only help you understand those feelings, but we provide the tools that can help shift your focus away from food and back to your truest self. Our licensed therapists and registered dietitians specialize in disordered eating patterns. We can help you identify your needs and show you how to skillfully meet them in a variety of ways. 

While it may feel like food is the culprit in your challenging relationship with food, here is a bit of valuable information to consider: food is not the only component that drives your disordered eating patterns. 

Adaptation for survival

Humans adapt to survive. From an early age we learn to meet our own needs. Because food is accessible, it can effortlessly ease the intensity of discomfort. Food is reliable, accessible and provides a sense of safety when our world otherwise feels dangerous or unfulfilling. 

Research has shown that using a mindful and non-judgmental approach allows you to increase emotional and physical awareness. This approach of early labeling of feelings can help you identify unmet feelings and needs that often can lead to unhealthy eating patterns and behaviors. 

Here are five tools to help you improve your relationship with food:

  • Ask yourself, “What am I feeling and where does this feeling live in my body?” Feelings come to us for a reason and it is up to us to respect and honor them. They are neither good nor bad, neither right nor wrong. They just are. Feelings live in our bodies and not our brains. Has your heart ever hurt when you’re sad? Does your back tense or stiffen up when you are angry? Perhaps your cheeks flush when you are embarrassed?
    • Start here: Practice noticing where your feelings present on your body, without judgment. Once we begin to notice where our feelings arise, we can take active steps for mindful change in our response to the feeling. 
  • Implement a daily breathing practice. Developing a breathing practice helps regulate your stress response and increases your overall sense of well-being. By slowing down and focusing on breathing, we are able to begin to practice becoming more mindful of the present moment, which allows us to respond rather than react to a situation, feeling or thought. We learn to respond using healthy coping instead of continuing to choose unhealthy eating patterns. 
    • Start here: When you feel tension, anxiety or any other negative emotion building up, respond by taking long, slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Slowing down the breath speaks to the parasympathetic nervous system and tells your brain and body that you’re safe and that it’s OK to release tension. The great thing about deep breathing is that you can practice it anywhere, at any moment.
  • Install a mindfulness or meditation app on your phone or computer and use at least once a day. Begin by using a mindfulness app in the morning or in the evening before bed to center and ground you. The beautiful thing is that you can implement this practice today and it only takes as little as one to five minutes to get started. Consider working your way up to a meditation/mindfulness practice of 12 minutes a day.
  • Create a morning ritual. Mornings are best when we incorporate things that speak to our values. The quality of our mornings has a lasting impact on the rest of the day. Additionally, getting a sound sleep the night before is beneficial for all of our systems to work at optimal levels, making it easier for us to make intentional and more rational decisions throughout the day.
    • Start here: Click here for recommendations on creating morning rituals from the Skyterra staff.
  • Journal. Write down any moments of clarity. This will allow you to make connections between your thoughts and your disordered eating thoughts and patterns.
    • Start here: Keep a log of your thoughts, feelings, and movement right before you eat and after you eat. This allows you to start becoming more aware of correlations among triggers, patterns and eating behaviors. Once you begin to notice patterns, you can learn new skills to respond differently when faced with certain situations, emotions and thoughts. 

Looking for more? Join us for Freedom With Food, Skyterra’s signature specialty weeks on overcoming binge eating and emotional eating. Click here for more.

Written by Shannon Worley, MSW, LCSW, and Molly Caldwell, MA, LPCA