A while ago, one of my clients gave birth and decided to breastfeed her infant so she often brought her baby to therapy. Sometimes in the middle of session, it was time to eat. I’d watch the baby start to cry, curl her fists, scrunch up her face, and make rigid her little body. She was hungry and she knew it. As her mother attended to that need, I’d watch the baby melt with pleasure into her mother, face and body relaxed, eyes closed as her needs were met, both physically and emotionally. Witnessing this, I could not doubt the powerful connection between food and emotions. Right from the beginning, food nourishes our bodies and nurtures our emotional selves.

But we’re not babies anymore and life has gotten a little more complicated. Nutritious food is not going to magically appear when we’re hungry. I hear so many women say that they don’t have time to eat. Other women say that they don’t receive or recognize hunger signals. They use the clock to signal that it’s time to feed themselves. Others share that they don’t realize that they’ve reached for food until they’ve swallowed the last bite of Danish that was sitting on the office or kitchen counter. This is how disconnected we are from our bodies! (As an aside, please… if you’re going to eat that Danish, do it slowly, mindfully, and joyously relish every single bite.)

Some women tell me that they don’t have food “issues”, that they just love food and love to eat. So after a long day at work and then numerous family responsibilities at home, when they find themselves snacking in the kitchen at midnight, too exhausted to care what they’re eating, they say they simply love food. Right? Well, I don’t think so. I believe that the above scenario happens as a way of saying: This is my time. This is my reward for getting through another day packed with doing things for everyone else but me! Is this a conscious thought? Probably not. The point is that for so many of us, our eating behaviors are mindless. For whatever reasons, we find our hand in the proverbial cookie jar and we don’t know how it got there. What I am suggesting, however, is that something indeed happened five minutes or five hours before we found the cookie (or Danish) in our mouths.

Picture this scenario. You’re roaming the kitchen (home or office) looking for something to eat. Nothing seems appealing – or that piece of Danish starts calling your name. Either way, you can go down one of two paths.

- Path One: You eat the Danish (my guess is quickly with minimal chewing involved). You realize what you’ve done and then beat yourself up for the rest of the day, reinforcing that you are a piglet and out of control around food.

- Path Two: You ask yourself if you’re hungry, true body hunger. If the answer is yes… more choices. Will the Danish fuel your body, giving you the energy you need to successfully complete your day? Is there something else that will? (You know the answer. This is not a trick question.) If the answer is no, then you can ask yourself why you want to eat when you know you’re not hungry. Please don’t land on “I don’t know.” You may not want the answer, but you know. You might have to spend a few moments thinking and feeling. However, on the other side of those moments you might realize that a project deadline is stressing you out or you don’t know how to handle your teenager who has been withdrawing from the family or you feel upset by an argument you had with your partner or you’re worried about your family’s financial future.

Knowing the answer isn’t necessarily going to change your life (although you just might point yourself in the right direction). But…eating when you’re not hungry won’t change your life either. And…it will only make you feel bad (or worse) about yourself. So please, don’t go there!

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with 16 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with themselves. Look for her Saturday Morning Master Classes on her website. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, ilene@primelink1.net; or www.ileneleshinsky.com.