• Mandy Raff

What Are You Hungry For? Addressing Emotional Eating Habits

These words completely changed my life. I heard them in an Oprah show back in 2011 – clichéd, but true! They gave me the biggest clue as to why I often over-ate, and it was truly a light bulb moment for me.

Because here’s the thing – often when I ate I wasn’t hungry for food! I was hungry for love, for a sense of belonging, for human touch (ok, yes, sex lol) and probably lots of other things. Food had become my go-to for satisfying a range of needs, even though I’d long ago stopped getting any real pleasure from eating. I often binge ate. Not to the point of being sick, but just couldn’t stop myself eating a whole packet of biscuits or a whole tub of ice cream. I was a food addict. But what I was really craving had nothing to do with food.

By that time I was already aware on some level that I was an emotional eater. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I was sad. I ate to push down my emotions, to block out my feelings, and to help me become invisible. Yes, invisible. It’s amazing how invisible you can become when you’re overweight – partly because your confidence is often really low, and partly because of the way others view you. One of my friends told me once that her extra kilos were her ‘man buffer’ – a great way to keep men at a distance. It was the way she protected herself from getting hurt again. I protected myself from the world by becoming overweight and invisible.

Prior to my light-bulb Oprah moment, I had also become aware that my eating patterns were tied up with habits, such as the habit of going straight to the fridge and/or pantry every time I came home, even if I had just been out for a meal. I realised chewing had become a way to relieve the stress and tension in my jaw, and in my life. These were things I was mindful of, but didn’t know how to change, or just didn’t change. My weight had fluctuated my whole life and I’d been on many different weight loss journeys by that point, but even the biggest ‘success’ I’d had didn’t last, as I went back to my old habits and all the weight crept back on.

But that day I watched the Oprah show, a major change in my relationship with food began. I straight away wrote the words ‘What are you hungry for?’ on a piece of paper and stuck it on my pantry door. From then on, every time I went to get something to eat, it made me stop for a few seconds and think – was I really hungry for food? That simple strategy was enough to break the habit of eating to satisfy something other than a hunger for food. Pretty soon I didn’t really even read the sign, but the consciousness was there anyway. That little piece of paper questioned my motives, and most often I walked away without eating anything.

It was not long after this that I tried again to lose weight. I have great determination and will power, so that’s never a problem for me. The difference starting out this time was that I’d already broken my emotional eating habits. There was more to losing the weight than that, but I don’t believe I would have kept the weight off without that change.

So how is my relationship with food today? Well, it’s completely different to how it was 6 years ago. I see food as fuel. That’s it. I know if I put good ‘fuel’ into my system, I’ll feel great. I eat regularly to keep my body fuelled and keep my metabolism firing. I enjoy eating good quality, nutrient dense food that satisfies my energy needs. I now honour my body, and feeding it properly shows it the respect it deserves. I know I can find other ways to satisfy anything else I might be hungry for.

I’m also over 20 kilos lighter and have been for 5 years. And it all started with those 5 words…

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#nutrition #womenshealth #emotionaleating #healthylifestyle