5 Reasons Emotional Eaters Shun Mindfulness

There’s been a lot of discussion in the forum lately about mindful eating – generally how much people don’t want to do it. It’s ironic that emotional eaters who claim to love eating find it so hard to just eat – to focus only on eating when they’re eating. It seems the only time that emotional eaters don’t think about food is when they’re eating!

Mindful eating is the functional opposite of emotional eating, and therefore its antidote. It blocks the payoff of emotional eating, so it’s no wonder that people resist it. But for that same reason, it’s essential.

The complaints about mindful eating generally fall into five categories:

  1. Mindful eating is boring.
  2. Checking in with myself makes me anxious.
  3. I’m too busy to take the time to just eat.
  4. It feels like too much work.
  5. It feels like a diet.

Here’s what’s behind each of these complaints.

1. Mindful eating is boring.

From the forum:

“Being mindful with EVERY BITE??? Are you kidding? Seems so BORING to me!”

Mindful eating is boring only if you are not truly hungry. If you are truly hungry, eating is the most interesting thing you could do. From Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:

Next time you’re out for dinner with friends, watch for this common pattern. There is much conversation while waiting for the food to arrive, and then after the food is served, conversation stops almost completely for a while. Maybe someone will comment that the food is good, but for the next 5-10 minutes, people mostly eat rather than talk. That’s because true hunger makes food more interesting than anything else. You want to fully focus on your eating experience so you can enjoy it.

In fact, one of the primary cues for satiation is finding the food less intensely flavorful and interesting. When the food no longer can hold your full attention, you’re done eating.

So if eating mindfully feels boring, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. You’re probably not.

2. Checking in with myself makes me anxious.

From the forum:

“I notice when I log in my feelings that I feel afraid. I wasn’t aware of how often I record, ‘afraid.'”

Sometimes the trigger for emotional eating is clear – though the solution to the underlying problem may not be clear. Other times, the trigger itself is what you are hiding from by emotional eating.

When you take away the addictive payoff of emotional eating through mindfulness, some intense emotions can come up. If it feels very overwhelming for you, then seek support from a therapist as you work on Normal Eating®. That way, as issues come up, you can work through them in a safe context.

3. I’m too busy to take the time to just eat.

From the forum:

“I feel like I don’t want to/can’t spend time *thinking* about my eating – too many other important things to do. Just grab some junk and go.”

If your life is so stressful and busy that you can’t take time to quietly enjoy a meal, that’s a problem that needs fixing. Not making yourself a priority is the core reason for emotional eating. Emotional eating is giving yourself a “food band-aid” rather than what you really need.

People often feel guilty about relaxing. They don’t make time for themselves because they always rate other people’s priorities and needs higher than their own. This doesn’t work in the long-term. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t be your best for anyone else. From Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:

…self-care is not only your right, it’s a sacred responsibility. Life is a gift. To not embrace this gift by treasuring your life, protecting your physical and emotional wellbeing, and enjoying your time on Earth, is to disrespect the gift! You were not put here to suffer. What you want and need are just as important as what other people want and need. You have the right to be happy.

Figure out how to make time for yourself!

4. It feels like too much work.

From the forum:

“Right now I’d like to eat more candy, but I just am not up for sitting down and JUST eating candy and noticing every bite. It’s too much work.”

* * *

“I am finding that in my crazy, busy life – the only time I have to myself with no guilt involved is when I’m eating… When I’m done, I have to get back to work so I tend to want to eat more to prolong the ‘relax’. Being mindful just makes it less relaxing and messes with the whole process.”

The underlying complaint here is that mindful eating interferes with the use of food as a drug, as a way to numb out. This is the crux of emotional eating, and the core behavior you are trying to stop.

Mindful eating is the way you abstain from using food as a drug. It’s not comfortable, but it’s necessary. You can think of it as the medicine you must take to cure the problem of emotional eating. Eventually, you’ll enjoy eating mindfully. But in the beginning, it will just feel like a bother. You have to do it anyway if you want to solve this problem.

5. It feels like a diet.

From the forum:

“To eat while not reading or not watching TV is a big behavior change and it feels like a dieting behavior change to me.”

When people complain that mindful eating “feels like a diet”, what they’re really saying is that it takes effort, that it interferes with doing whatever they feel like doing.

It’s important to recognize that freedom from dieting doesn’t mean freedom from effort, nor does it mean freedom from impulse control. If you want to stop emotional eating, you have to be willing to put in some effort and do some things you don’t feel like doing. It doesn’t stay hard forever, but in the beginning it takes effort.

Something to try…

If the idea of an entire meal eaten mindfully is overwhelming for you, the solution – as always with Normal Eating® – is baby steps.

Mindful eating is the key to overcoming emotional eating, but if you approach it in a black-and-white way, you will set yourself up to fail. So at your next meal, try eating mindfully for 5 minutes, or 3 bites, or 1 bite – whatever you can do to start. Do that for a while, and then slowly increase the number of minutes or number of bites.

There are enormous benefits to mindful eating. From another forum member:

“My eating is dramatically different when I have no distractions. I eat healthier and I don’t overeat. I also enjoy my food more and feel more satisfied. I watched a movie the other day without food… it felt really weird but I think I actually enjoyed the movie more because I was concentrating on it instead of my food. Mindfully eating just helps me to keep everything in check so that I don’t overdo it without realizing it.”

Mindful eating is worth the effort! So give it a try. Start practicing and post your experience.

9 thoughts on “5 Reasons Emotional Eaters Shun Mindfulness

  1. I really, really identify with this post, Sheryl. Thanks for writing it.

    I’m especially amazed at how true this is:
    “It’s important to recognize that freedom from dieting doesn’t mean freedom from effort, nor does it mean freedom from impulse control. If you want to stop emotional eating, you have to be willing to put in some effort and do some things you don’t feel like doing. It doesn’t stay hard forever, but in the beginning it takes effort.”

    I think a lot of people expect learning to eat normally to be easy because it’s about finding things inherent in us–the “natural” ability to be satiated, stop, etc. While it’s not easy, unlike dieting, learning to eat normally goes WITH you, not against. It’s about trusting yourself, loving yourself and self-care, not restriction. Further, it takes time to build up the habit of being mindful, of listening to yourself, of building the “muscle” that is setting healthy boundaries with others and self-care.

  2. Sheryl, I really like the way you sum up the many perspectives on mindful eating so clearly!

    Points 1 and 4 are particularly resonating with me right now. I’m also reminded of a tape I listened to by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, who said that you actually cannot engage in any of the addictive, bad-for-you behaviors that you are trying to shake without “going unconscious.” I guess the critical moment is the one where I allow myself to slide into the “unconsciousness” of mindless, emotional eating.

  3. I read this the first day I was on the site…I smiled and agreed, little knowing how difficult it would be for me! I think the 2nd on this…feeling anxiety. And too often I say it is because I am too busy, but I am busy for the same reason I blank out while eating! For me, I think the baby steps will be really helpful. I will try to eat this canteloupe mindfully for 5 minutes. Thanks!

  4. i am new to the site. I must respond to Sounder and agree the Pema Chodron’s works, especially,’Taking the Leap’ support the work we are doing by stepping into Normal Eating.

    I find that so much I do is to avoid feeling of discomfort. Life has discomfort and eating allows me to avoid it. ALso as a nurse I spend so much time caring for others that I use food as a reward for myself. ‘You deserve those almonds, chocolates, whatever.’ I tell myself

  5. Thanks for this site and everyone’s posts. I love Pema Chodron so it seems karmic that I find her words here, as I look through this site for help. Eating to escape…all the while feeling good and guilty at the same time is my struggle… I hope to find continued support through exploring our common goal of breaking these cycles. Thanks again

  6. I’ve been working with mindful eating for about a week. I quickly experienced the feeling that I didn’t have time to just eat and that it was too much work. One or two sessions of mindful eating made me conscious of how anxious I was really feeling while eating. It was easy for me to recognize the “food as a drug” element was what I was missing. Even though it hasn’t been super comfortable, I’m really happy to be aware of this feeling. I’ll be so much better able to solve my real problems when I’m not drugged.

  7. For me, it’s all about periods in life. Sometimes it feels easy to eat without distraction. Sometimes when I try not to watch a movie while eating it almost feels like my body feels worse digesting food afterwards.

    Huh

  8. Made some soup.

    Sitting down at the kitchen table, trying to be mindful of every bite. No phone.

    Ended up staring out the window at a tree for ten minutes, then digging through the soup dejectedly with my spoon.

    I just ended up feeling this buzz of anger filling my head. All I could think about was “I made this soup too spicy”, and “my chair is so uncomfortable I hate sitting at this stupid table”, and “this is taking too freaking long!”

    Eventually it got to the point where I was sitting there alone acting like a spoiled little 5-year old and talking to myself sarcastically like “Eyes to the FOOD! Be obedient! Head down! You’re not allowed to look out the window or think about anything except this cheap shitty canned soup, even though you’re a grown adult! Stringent and unnecessary eating habits are your thing now! You’re not even allowed to relax when you’re eating!”

    It was bizarre to see that just the act of sitting there for fifteen minutes without a phone made me furious. Kind of scary.

  9. Hi Sarah,

    That’s an eloquent description! If the soup didn’t taste good, and you became acutely aware of that when you were eating it mindfully, then I say that’s a GOOD thing and you should have tossed it and eaten something delicious. You deserve to only eat delicious things!! 🙂

    – Sheryl

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