While it’s not true for everyone, many emotionally sensitive people tend to use food as self-comfort. Eating is one of those strategies that works in the short-term but can have long-term consequences that add to your stress level.
When you go into your closet and nothing fits, that’s a miserable feeling. When your chest is tight and you feel so stuffed with food you can’t move, that’s miserable too.
One of the reasons that emotionally sensitive people use food as comfort is likely due to cortisol. Cortisol’s job is to get you all prepared to fight that tiger lurking outside your cave. It gets your energy up by increasing your heart rate and the blood pumping to your muscles. Cortisol tells the body to release sugar to bloodstream, which is why when you’re upset about your boss criticizing you at work, your body is all on alert to fight, as if there were a tiger about to attack.
You just want to calm down and get rid of this tension and agitation, so you stop at the grocery for cookies, potato chips and dark chocolate ice cream. One of the reasons for this is that high levels of cortisol can create cravings for high fat and sweet foods. High cortisol reactors have been shown to eat more food.
Perhaps this was for quick energy and the conservation of fluid when it was needed to fight way back when. But these days, when you feel threatened emotionally without an actual threat, you don’t need the energy to fight, so the extra calories aren’t used and the pounds add up.
In other situations, overeating serves as a way of numbing pain you don’t want to feel, just as someone else might use alcohol to numb their feelings. If this is the reason for overeating, comforting yourself or finding adaptive ways to distract yourself from what is bothering you might help.
The stronger your urge to eat, the more eating may be helping you avoid feelings that you don’t want to have. Staying with the feelings and not giving in to the urge can help you overcome this habit.
Giving in to the urge to eat when you aren’t physically hungry usually results in being emotionally upset about weight issues and perhaps some loss of self-respect. Your mood is likely to go down. You may successfully avoid the painful emotions that triggered you to eat but you end up with painful consequences anyway.
Obsessing about food (but not overeating) and not eating can be used to numb as well. When you are focused on not eating, you don’t think about other issues in your life that might be upsetting. Your entire focus is on appearance, weight and calories. The more nutrient starved you are, the less aware you are. When people suffer from bulimia, they experience a type of foggy numbness after throwing up. Not eating or purging can both be used to avoid painful thoughts and emotions, though that is not the only reason for avoiding food or purging.
It’s normal to want to avoid pain, but creatig more suffering in the long run is not the best choice for coping. Though changing ineffective coping styles requires a lot of work with many ups and downs, the resulting peace is a terrific reward.
Note to Readers: My sincere thanks to everyone who has completed our second survey. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the questions on our new survey about being emotionally sensitive. Results will be given in a future post.
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Last reviewed: 8 May 2012