“Identifying and calming emotional hunger in times of quarantine”
By Saray Caliz and Leticia Martinez Psychologists and SINEWS Mutlilingual Therapy Institute.
The current period we are living is being really challenging for many of us. We spend many hours of the day at home (if not all) having just a few obligations that have to do with third parties (such as going to work or taking children to their extracurricular activities). This situation can make us really difficult to follow the most basic day-to-day routines.
Talking with colleagues and friends, I have realized that one of the essential habits that are being affected by this situation are, without any doubt, eating habits. Today more than ever, it is important to maintain stable meal times, not only because it helps us to have a routine, to stay connected with time, to feel in touch with reality or to get closer to normality during this moments where the sensation of unreality seizes many of us; if not also, because the fact of being well nourished helps us to stay healthy, to maintain a more positive state of mind, to feel stronger and in control of the variables that we can manage.
Many of us are eating more than usual, outside of our regular hours, and sometimes “out of boredom” as a way to pass the time. Others even forget to eat, since the anxiety and uncertainty of these days close their appetite or makes them lose track of time.
In both cases, the emotions we feel are the ones deciding when and how we eat. Uncertainty, boredom, anxiety, fear… are affecting our day by day, the most basic routines, and they are also taking control of our eating habits.
When we eat to not feel or “shut up” our emotions, we eat because we have what we can call “emotional hunger”. Emotional hunger is the one that comes suddenly and urgently, does not grow gradually like real hunger, “attacks” without warning, giving us the feeling that we cannot wait. Besides, it is capricious, and it invites us to eat very specific and usually not very healthy foods. Opposite to real hunger, which we could calm down by eating any food, and which is connected with sensations in the stomach; this hunger is not linked to a physiological or survival need, but rather, to the pleasure we feel when eating certain types of food (sweet, crunchy , very salty …) or as an activity that occupies us and distracts us from our emotions or thoughts.
|Physical Hunger||Emotional Hunger|
|Based in the stomach||Mouth and mind|
|Open to different foods||Specific food|
|Physical need||Paired with an upsetting emotion|
Learning how to identify what type of hunger we feel can help us know how to deal with it, especially if it is emotional hunger. The first step is to try not to satisfy it, so our emotions are not the ones that determine our behavior if not ourselves. And what can we do to calm emotional hunger down? Well, here you have some tips that can help:
- SET BARRIERS: Identify all the foods you usually eat in these types of situations, and put them in an inaccessible box or closet. Stick a piece of paper on the door or the cover to help you wonder if what you feel is real or emotional hunger and with alternatives to do when you feel the latter.
- DISTRACT YOUR MIND: more procedural tasks are a great alternative, they will keep us busy, and it will be easier for us to ignore this desire to eat. Take the opportunity to spend some time doing something you like, clean at home, or talk to a friend. Breathing and relaxation techniques can also be great allies right now.
- EAT WHAT YOU NEED: If you finally decide to eat, prepare a serving adjust to your needs for a healthy intake, do not take the entire package as you will end up eating it whole.
- EAT WITH YOUR 5 SENSES: You can start by carefully observing the food you are going to eat, describe it, and pay attention to every detail. Use your sense of smell and touch to connect with the substance. Pay attention to the physiological responses of your body (probably, at this point, you will already be salivating). Take small bites and play to see if it tastes different when you melt it in your mouth or when you chew it. Also, pay attention to the sounds you can perceive throughout the ritual. Imagine that you have to explain to someone who has never seen that type of food how it tastes, smells, looks, feels and sounds.
Now all you have to do is to ask yourself what kind of hunger you are feeling, so you can start training these tools that will help you eat in a more consciously and healthily way.
And remember, this difficult period can also be an excellent opportunity to train and acquire new habits that we can maintain in the future.
SINEWS is a Mental Health Private Practice based in Madrid working since 2008 for the expat community. At this time they are fully operative through their online platform: www.sinews-online.com