Coping with Head Hunger
By Michelle May, M.D.
Do you sometimes confuse “head hunger” with physical hunger?
Sometimes I want a brownie really means I want pleasure, I need comfort, I deserve a reward, or I wish I could tell you how I really feel.
Food and Feelings
Perhaps you sometimes eat to cope with stress, distract yourself from difficult emotions, or stuff down feelings you don’t know how to express in a healthier manner.
However, boredom, anger, anxiety, loneliness, stress, and other feelings are a natural part of our lives and eating won’t make them go away. In fact, eating disconnects you from important information about what you really need.
The food you eat to deal with feelings comes with strings attached—weight gain and regret. But more importantly, when you eat to make them go away, you don’t have the opportunity to discover and satisfy your true needs. Since eating cannot meet your emotional needs, those unmet needs trigger overeating again and again.
The way to break out of this pattern is to stop judging yourself when you overeat and instead try to figure out what you needed that drove you to eat when you weren’t physically hungry. Examining your current eating behavior can be a powerful source of information about your inner self and your true needs and wants.
Some ideas for exploring your emotional triggers include journaling, talking with a friend or counselor, expressing yourself through creative outlets like painting or music, praying and meditating, even screaming into a pillow.
Once you’ve identified the emotions that triggered your desire to eat, seek ways to comfort, nurture, and redirect yourself without turning to food. Examples include reading, gardening, exercising, scrapbooking, and anything else you find enjoyable and calming. Find out how to download this one-page handout, “101 Things To Do Instead of Eating When You’re NOT Hungry”. Highlight the activities that appeal to you and add some of your own. Keep your list and any necessary supplies handy and make a commitment to try one for a few minutes before eating when you’re not hungry.
By learning to recognize and cope more effectively with your head hunger, you’ll begin to break free from old, problematic habits. You’ll find yourself eating less, feeling more satisfied, and meeting your needs more appropriately:
- When I’m hungry, I eat what I love.
- When I’m bored, I do something I love.
- When I’m lonely, I connect with someone I love.
- When I feel sad, I remember that I am loved.
What are your emotional triggers for eating? How do to cope with them?
Michelle May, M.D., a physician and recovered yo-yo dieter, is the founder of Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Program and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Download the first chapter of Eat What You Love now for free.