Emotional Medication of Food

Dr. Purushothaman
January 13, 2014


You take an over-the-counter pain relief medication when you have a headache. What do you do if you experience an uncomfortable emotion or situation? For many of us that struggle with weight and emotional eating, we self-medicate with food. Medicating with food is an attempt to change the way we feel. We try to alter our mood or emotions by eating.
Diet programs are effective temporarily. How many times have you joined a diet program to lose weight only to regain, possibly a few bonus pounds added in the process? The reason why diet programs rarely work long-term is because they address food and exercise and, at best, mention emotional eating issues. Dealing with emotional eating is the key to overcoming weight loss ups and downs. We eat for a reason. It isn't because we are hungry. We eat to suppress or lessen the intensity of emotions, make an uncomfortable situation more manageable, or just to numb out by self-medicating ourselves with food.
I was in a reception room waiting for an appointment the other day. The receptionist had a bowl of candy coated chocolates. While she was working, she was popping the candy every few seconds. Whatever feeling she was experiencing, she was medicating herself. She was not eating out of hunger or even conscious of what she was eating. She was zoned out on the hand-to-mouth action of emotional eating. I waited for approximately 15 minutes and she unconsciously ate consistently the candy the entire time. The reason this struck me is because it is a behavior I've indulged more times that I'd like throughout my life.
Do you self-medicate or numb your emotions with food? Do you numb out or escape situations by emotional eating? If you do, there are some steps you can follow to stay in control without using food as a numbing agent for life.
* Answer honestly to yourself if you self-medicate, escape or numb with food. Can you identify with the unconscious eating of the receptionist?
* Now that you've identified the behavior of self-medicating your life with food, you are aware. Awareness of the behavior and habit is a big step forward.
* With your awareness, when you find yourself wanting to eat, ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are reaching for the pain relief medication equivalent of food.
* Next, ask yourself what it is you are attempting to medicate and numb with food. Are you bored, overwhelmed, angry, or feel anxious and need to feel calmer. All of these are common emotions for medicating with food.
* Once you've identified the emotion or situation you desire to medicate, make the choice to move forward without the crutch of emotional numbing with food.
If we are patient with ourselves and sit with uncomfortable emotions, they pass. Many of us don't know that because we haven't allowed ourselves to experience this. Often, we short circuit the process by immediately popping our favorite foods for self-medication rather than feel the feelings.
Just as over-the-counter pain relief is temporary and treats the symptoms of pain, so does the behavior of self-medicating by emotional eating. Get to the source causing the pain rather than the temporary fix of numbing yourself. When you numb yourself, you live a life less than you deserve. A full life has ups and down, joys and challenges. Stay awake and alert in your life without stuffing down your emotions by abusing food for self-medication purposes. You deserve more than popping candy as a form of living. Give yourself the best and live the full range of life.

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