COPING WITH LONELINESS & EMOTIONAL EATING
Too often, we eat in order to cope with unhealthy emotions. Food begins to become the focus of our social life and we eat in order to feel better. Unfortunately, no one ever eats carrots and lettuce behind their emotion; it is typically unhealthy junk food. This can lead to overeating, and weight struggles. It also leads to emotional issues like feeling like a failure, thinking you have no willpower, that you will never achieve your goals and sometimes depression.
Some people choose to eat because they are lonely. Loneliness and boredom can settle in when we don’t socialize with others and we believe that food will fill up the emptiness we feel. Technically, food does fill us up; however, it doesn’t fill us up in the way we would like it to.
We instead feel physically overstuffed yet still emotionally lonely and sad in the end. Rather than feeling physically and emotionally better, we end up becoming overweight and unhappy about our physical appearance—and still isolated and lonely. In fact, binging behind emotions actually makes us feel worse because it adds guilt and shame on top of an already emotional state.
Food can release endogenous “feel good” hormones in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins can give us a sense of wellbeing. The problem is that the endorphin rush we experience from eating doesn’t last and we need to continue to eat more in order to feel better. It becomes a never-ending cycle of eating, getting endorphins, and wanting more so we eat again. The same exact cycle is seen in drug and alcohol addiction.
Coping with Loneliness without Food
Loneliness just doesn’t happen to us without our own consent. When you feel lonely, rather than reaching into the refrigerator or pantry for food, you need to reach out to others who can help allay the feelings of loneliness. This might mean calling a friend to talk with them on the phone, going to visit someone in their home, or making a small meal or coffee in order to invite someone over.
People can’t always intuitively know you are lonely unless you reach out and tell them. You never know what might happen. The person you reach out to may be feeling lonely, too, and you can help both of you at once.
Try to eat with at least one other person. This makes the meal a more social experience in which you can spread out the meal with conversation and slower eating habits. Eating socially helps you be more mindful about your eating and you will make more healthy food choices.
So when you are reaching in the freezer for a carton of ice cream to deal with loneliness, ask yourself if there is someone you can call to share the ice cream with. Give them a call and share your feelings with the person. If they can’t come over right away, set a date or time when you can meet with them and share ice cream or even a restaurant meal with them. It might be enough to connect you to the other person long enough to have the urge to splurge on ice cream dissipate. The anticipation of meeting up with a friend or relative, even if it is not now, can help us feel less lonely.
Food and Loneliness
Unfortunately, when we are lonely, we tend to make the wrong food choices. We eat foods that are too rich, filled with sugar or loaded with salt. If you have to eat something to fill up a lonely space in your heart, consider doing so with heart-healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Avoid processed foods from the grocery store as they contain preservatives you don’t need. Try to choose something that is not ready made—in other words, something you have to prepare in order to eat.
The hobby of cooking can relieve lonely feelings so you can cook to feel better both emotionally and physically. Don’t fall into bad eating habits just to cope with negative feelings and decide to choose foods that will fill you up in a healthier way.