A lot of people assume that emotional eating is something that happens when we are alone, hidden on the sofa with ice cream and biscuits, but it is something which can just as easily happen when eating with others. Below are four of the most common ways that we can overeat in groups. If you experience any of them regularly, next time they happen pay attention to how you are feeling and what thoughts you are thinking. All emotion comes from thought and if you can find the trigger you can find the release.
Eating for distraction
Eating offers a great way to avoid a conversation or confrontation. We can make the ‘elephant in the room’ completely invisible by a steady stream of food to capture everyone’s attention. Even something as simple as a cup of tea can erupt into biscuits and cakes just to save an argument. Most relationships, particularly in families, have things that are avoided for fear of judgement or disappointment. Often, it’s the one who fears the truth the most who will do the feeding or pour the tea. We can also distract ourselves with food where there are relationships that provide us with the greatest level of regret, guilt, stress, or pain. We might make plans to deal with how we feel later when we’re alone, but in that moment, food can dull those feelings.
Eating for pleasure
Enjoying food with others maybe led by one person who has a strong belief that food equals love or fun. This person feels and shows love by giving food. Their belief tells them that this is the quickest and possibly the only way they can feel this. Refusing food from these people feels like rejecting them. They take it personally and you may feel bad about it. Love, food, happiness, and safety all get mixed together early on in life and this carries on with our own families into adulthood. By carrying on the eating, we confirm their belief, leading them to feed more and more to feel the same.
Eating for anger
There are some occasions where many people are eating together that can cause extra anxiety and anger. Parties, weddings, and any other type of gathering where we feel overly self-conscious can cause strong emotion before and during the event. These feelings can trigger anger in us. Feelings of judgement for how we look or how much we eat, fear of what others might say, or if other people are watching can put us on edge without any means of escape. These feelings can quickly escalate into overwhelming emotion and so we start to eat to feel better. Food is eaten quickly and angrily whilst we silently judge our self.
Eating to fill the void
Loneliness can still exist in the busiest and noisiest places. We see a group of people eating and talking we assume they are happy being together. In reality, we can be sitting with other people all day, every day and still feel alone, unable to relate to anyone or devoid of anything to say. Eating in these places fills the silence, inside and out. Sometimes, being with certain people can make you feel emptier than being alone. When people are not fulfilling us emotionally, it can be easy to reach for food to compensate.
Many people will tell you that you can always control how you feel, that you can choose to be affected by others or not, but when it comes to emotional relationships, it’s just not that easy. Even after years of working on my emotional eating thinking about certain people will cause me to want to overeat. Eating is escape from something that is too overwhelming in that moment and sometimes we all need that. Even when we know why someone affects us the way that they do doesn’t mean we can stop it happening. Understanding is the first step, after that you need to wait for the day when you realise your mental health means just as much or more to you than they do, and you can finally break free.
Extract from “Still Overweight? The 6-week course that changes your weight and relationship to food forever”