Emotional eating usually comes in the form of comfort foods and are typically consumed in response to our feelings as oppose to our nutritional needs or even hunger. Below is an article written by former client and qualified therapist to help us understand a little more about emotional eating and triggers.


On eating and sticking to a plan…


So you have your nutrition plan and now all you have to do to have the body of your dreams is follow it. Easy right? Well for some people yes and for other people no. You want to make a change, that’s why you’re here. No one is doubting that but for some people that desire for change comes into conflict with other wants connected to food (and drink).


One of the paradoxical things about the human mind is that we are perfectly capable of wanting two conflicting things at the same time. Wanting to lose weight and wanting to eat chocolate? No problem. The winner of the resulting battle of desire is often less to do with that mythical thing they call willpower and more to do with the often unconscious drivers behind each behaviour and the hierarchy in our internal value system.


We like to think that we are logical beings, that we base the decisions we make about what we do and eat on a rational decision making process. The truth is that most of the time our behaviour is driven by forces largely outside of our conscious awareness and many of these forces have a lot more to do with our emotions and how we feel than with the story that our mind makes up to justify them.


Now for those of you who at this point are thinking “I don’t think this really applies to me, I’m not a very emotional person” I’d like you to ask yourself the following “have I felt stressed, angry, fearful or happy over the last week?” It doesn’t matter if you didn’t cry the last time you watched The Notebook, we are all emotional animals and those emotions drive much of our behaviour.


So back to food, what does any of this have to do with food?


I’m sure you are all familiar with the term emotional eating. Well in truth most of the eating we do is somehow emotionally linked. There are not many of us – aside from personal trainers and psychopaths perhaps – who base what they eat on a purely nutritional analysis. We choose foods for  a number of reasons including enjoyment, convenience, nostalgia etc. and there is nothing wrong with that. Unless there is.


Some of these foods – mainly sugar and refined carbohydrates – trigger a complex change in our brain chemistry linked to the dopamine system, also known as the brains reward centre. To all intents and purposes these substances behave in a very similar fashion to addictive drugs and make us highly motivated to engage in certain behaviours.


Other foods may have an unconscious association with certain states of mind due to a process of emotional imprinting (learning occurring at a particular age or particular life stage). It is perfectly possible for chocolate – for instance – to have a strong unconscious association with safety or love (perhaps chocolate was frequently given to us by loved ones or at Christmas). In times of uncertainty or stress the unconscious mind may value safety or love as much more important than the goal of sticking to the nutrition plan and the behaviour is engaged before our conscious mind has had the chance to catch up.


In order to override these unconscious drivers some work may be necessary to undo the emotional associations with certain food types. This is much easier than it sounds.


There are some people for whom failure in certain contexts (dieting for example) has become a way of life and some work may be necessary in the

realms of identity or self.

There are other who simply benefit from really delving deeply into their unconscious motivation for change in order to amp it up a bit.

Most of the work starts around the question of why do you want this change and are you prepared to value this above certain other desires.

What do you value most?

Chips or a sixpack?


A world without enjoyment of food for most people is not desirable but it could be helpful to be able to make conscious decisions about what you eat rather than being on autopilot, feeling out of control and filled with regret and shame.


We should be able to eat what we choose to and refrain from certain things for a period of time if we place enough value on what we will gain from the process instead of focussing on what we fear we will lose. 


Article written by Ben Willens who is a therapist based near to the city of London.

Ben Willens


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