“Of course my eating is emotional, I am in love with the food I eat” – Mayuri Ramkolowan, 2013

“Of course I love my food, it takes care of my mental health” – Mayuri Ramkolowan, 2023

If you asked me 10 years ago if I was an emotional eater I would have shamefully lowered my head and muttered yeah under my breath. The shame I associated with my relationship towards food and alcohol was humiliating to me. I saw it clearly as a coping mechanism, energy booster and a true way to eat up my feelings. As much as I saw it shameful, I also saw it as quietly dealing with my issues so that no one else needed to be bothered with them. 

Now, after continual work and many years later I proudly proclaim my love for my food and stand tall in my choices regarding my food which is in benefit of my health and my mental wellbeing. 

Emotional eating*(1) is a term thrown around a lot recently. What is emotional eating really? 

First and foremost, emotional eating is NOT due to a lack of self-control or will power. Emotional eating is both a powerful and effective way to find temporary relief from a stressful situation or challenge that we are experiencing. If emotional eating were an issue of self-control or simply just a lack of will power we could easily move away from it with meal plans, paying for special diets or pre packed healthy meals. And well, then there wouldn’t be the massive issue of eating disorders. 

I will be discussing the 5 reasons emotional eating rules your relationship with food. 

1.Lack of consciousness. A general unawareness towards your food intake. 

A result of a lack of consciousness towards why and what it is that you are consuming is emotional eating. Therapists often refer to this as unconscious eating. This is when you find yourself eating even after you are done or after you are full. Generally eating away what was meant for tomorrow’s lunch. It could also be snacking just because the snack is on the table or in your line of sight. Which of you have that snack or sweet jar on the table? 

If your idea of coping with stress involves a bowl of tin roof or hagendaz ice cream, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Many individuals find themselves turning to sugary snacks when they feel anxious or their stresses are heightened. This is mostly due to the fact that sugary foods can weaken the body’s ability to respond to stress. *(2)

I often ask my clients what they would feel or experience if they were to not binge or overeat in that moment of overwhelm and the most common answer is “Well May, I am a foodie and so I would have nothing to look forward to.” I totally get it, at the end of a long day/week a bowl of ice cream or an entire pizza can be just what you need to effectively sooth your exhausted, taxed body and mind. Sugar is known to suppress the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis in our brain. The HPA controls our body’s response to stress. Suppressing the HPA is your shortcut to finding temporary calm. 

2. Avoiding the “STUFF”

From childhood we are made to feel that we should avoid things that aren’t comfortable. The tough feelings. The STUFF :Grief, abuse, bullying and any kind of feelings that make us vulnerable. The difficult part here is how we choose to avoid the stuff, for the most part it is not serving us well. 

Without choosing to learn how to grieve or to face the abuse we are allowing ourselves to be susceptible to emotional eating. Now, I hear you, it is so much easier for me to sit here in front of my keyboard and tell you to grieve the death of a loved one properly instead of eating through a bag of sugar coated donuts. I know how hard it can be. I just recently cried through my Dad’s second anniversary of his death, after thinking I had already processed it “properly”. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, to cry and laugh because I didn’t quite understand my crying was me processing my grief a little more. Ensuring that I didn’t turn to my husband and shout out loud “HAAAAGENDAZ” but rather call my brother and tell him I am having a tough day. 

3. Body shaming to prevent yourself from eating

Negative feelings towards our own bodies is a major factor in leading ourselves towards emotional eating. Negative self-talk, self hatred and even shame towards ourselves are unlikely to inspire you to make large long lasting changes, especially when it comes to our sense of self. 

Now, I hear you: “May May, I will stop hating my body after I reach my goal weight!” To that I respond with the kindest and most gentlest tone: “Dear beautiful being, you will stop this emotional eating pattern when you start with loving your body first.” If this is something you are struggling with, I understand where you are at. It’s incredibly tough to begin to break it down. I won’t be able to give you a quick fix (mostly because it really doesn’t exist) or understand how to find a solution for this. However, begin to look at yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you. Talk to yourself as though you were talking to a person you love. Your mom, your kid, your doggo. With love and adoration. Write some loving body image affirmations down and stick them on your mirror. This will kickstart your journey. 

4. Physiology 

Letting yourself get to a place where you are too hungry to think clearly or too exhausted will leave you open and vulnerable to eating emotionally. Strong messages are being sent to your higher power, the brain to eat now. When we aren’t equipped to think clearly we are left unprepared to deal with our cravings. Usually sugar cravings. 

Pack high protein snacks like a trail mix so that you can keep your energy up and your hunger pangs at bay. 

5. Breathe

Breathing is something we do all day everyday. When practised fully and with mindfulness we can use it to navigate through and out of patterns we no longer want to keep. Doing full breaths into your belly when you are feeling stressed or anxious will allow you to process the feeling with more confidence and ease ultimately helping you to not emotionally eat to feel better. 

By putting these tips into practice you will find yourself working towards moving away from emotional eating. May you look within today to make a commitment to yourself to find a place of strength and courage to walk away slowly from temporary relief such as binge eating or overeating sugary foods to stop this cycle of emotional eating. 

I love you for taking the time to read this. If you would like to know more about me, Holistic May May follow me on Instagram @holistic_maymay or send me an email with any questions to hello@holisticmaymay.com

1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/basics/appetite

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4787559/