Are your emotional needs being met?
"you can never, ever, use weight loss to solve problems that are not related to your weight. At your goal weight or not, you still have to live with yourself and deal with your problems. You will still have the same husband, the same job, the same kids, and the same life. Losing weight is not a cure for life.” - Phillip C. McGraw
Many of the people that I work with find that they turn to food to satisfy an emotional need. As we work together, we will use a range of techniques to help them to manage that urge to eat in response to emotions. However, as part of this process, it is also important that the individual looks at how they can ensure that this core emotional need is being met in a healthy way. It is not enough just to keep numbing the emotion (with food or something else) – they have to also address the thing they are trying to numb away. Perhaps they are lacking intimacy in their relationship and are turning to food to numb this away. Perhaps they hate their job and feel that they have no purpose or control in life and controlling their food intake gives them something they can control.
When one of our emotional needs is not being met in a satisfactory way, it can be common for us to turn to coping mechanisms to numb our lack of fulfilment. We could turn to food, alcohol, cigarettes, shopping, gambling, one night stands – or a number of other quick highs – instead of thinking about how we can TRULY SATISFY that emotional need. In order to stop turning to those quick highs in the long-term, we both need to find new coping mechanisms but mostly importantly, we need to make sure that our emotional need is being met.
Emotional needs can include the need:
for intimacy and love
for a sense of purpose or to make a difference in the world
for connection and a community
to be valued and appreciated
to give and receive attention
to feel safe and secure
to nurture the mind-body connection
to be stretched and challenged
to feel a sense of control or autonomy
So, if you feel that you may be eating to deal with your emotions, you can go through the list above and ask yourself:
Is this emotional need being met for me at the moment in a healthy way?
If not – why not - and how do I feel that this emotional need could be met for me?
What do I need to do to ensure that this emotional need is met going forward?
If I am resistant to doing the things I have listed under 3 above – what is holding me back from doing those things? What do I think might happen/might not happen if I do these things?
Are there any assumptions underlying what I have listed in my answers to 4? e.g. I may have mentioned that I cannot start meeting new people and dating because I don’t feel “at my best" right now - in this case I could be assuming that other people will not find me attractive as I am right now or will reject me.
If you noticed that any of those things in the list of emotional needs were not being met for you right now – it may be worth really thinking about what you can start to do to satisfy that need. Sometimes change and doing something about things like a lack of intimacy or not having a purpose, can feel so daunting, that it is easier just to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs or shopping or food. Yet these quick fixes won’t make you feel better long term.
At the end of the day – often it is that we are hungry – but the hunger is not for food – it is for an emotional need to be met in a satisfactory way.
I have recently launched a 12 week online course in food psychology, in which I go into a lot more detail on how you can manage emotional eating and address the root causes of your issues around food. If you would like to find out more about this course, you can find out more here: