EATING YOUR FEELINGS: WHY HIGHLY SENSITIVE PEOPLE (HSP’S) STRUGGLE WITH FOOD
Because highly sensitive people (HSP’s) have strong connections between physical sensations and mind-states, food cravings are a common reaction to upsetting emotions.
Physical discomfort caused by illness, injury, or stress is particularly painful for many HSP’s, even more so than for non-HSP’s. As a result, the physical comfort provided by fullness and pleasure derived from eating, especially when it comes to calorie-dense food, is highly rewarding.
The cycle of emotional trigger leading to overeating or seeking out pleasurable foods becomes so strong in some HSP’s that they eventually lose sight of the emotion altogether. Once pleasure, relief from pain, and food are paired in your brain, you might find yourself emotionally eating before you even realize you’re upset!
- The first step in healing from overeating in this way is to become mindful of emotional eating. Learn your hunger signals and notice when you’re eating out of hunger vs. eating for other reasons, such as boredom, sadness, or fear. Do your best to switch gears as soon as you notice this is happening, regardless of whether you’re aware of the reason.
- Then get curious about what the trigger was. Reflect on your week or the last few interactions you had with other people. Was there something that hurt deep down, but you quickly squelched it and transformed it into hunger? Did you experience a big disappointment?
- Keep a list of alternative behaviors handy. Write them out when you’re feeling stable and assured. Work with a professional or supportive friend or family member to brainstorm a lengthy set of choices. Include peaceful as well as stimulating activities, like playing an instrument, working out, or making plans you can look forward to.
- Find a support group as soon as you can. Overeaters Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and Refuge Recovery are only a few of many options. Being in a room full of people who can relate to your struggle has indescribable healing powers.
- See a professional. You don’t have to do this alone! A therapist, nutritionist, and/or medical doctor are all great places to start. I specialize in and deeply understand this issue, so please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to work together. Having a regular check-in with a trusted healer can help you with exploring the underlying drivers for your behavior, improve your sense of being cared for, reduce loneliness, increase accountability, and more.
- Create a routine. Make self-awareness about eating habits a part of your daily structure. Read a book, set up a quick check-in with someone you trust, or sign up for a recovery-based daily email reminder.
Remember, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. It might feel far away, but progress and change are possible!
There is a dearth of resources at your fingertips, the challenge is to stay consistent and reach out when it’s too hard to do it on your own.
There is nothing to be ashamed of. You’re human; you avoid pain and seek pleasure; eating is an easy and fast way to feel better. But if you’re reading this, it’s probably not working anymore. What one small step can you take today to improve this part of your life?