8 Reasons Why You are Eating to Fill a Void
Have you ever heard the expression eating to fill a void? Lots of people use it but what on earth does this phrase actually mean? Taken at face value it seems to suggest that some people have a hole inside them that needs to be filled with food. Whilst in reality the void that people talk about is much more complex and mixes emotional eating with missing elements in your life that are causing psychological problems.
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What does a Void in Your Life Mean?
A void in your life will actually mean different things to different people. For some it describes a sense of nothingness, meaning, or purpose to their life. For others, it means depression, unhappiness, loneliness, or a sense that something is missing. This could be a part of themselves that is not whole or complete or that they are missing something in life that they perceive others may have.
When people have negative feelings like an emotional void they often take steps to distract themselves from the problem or to comfort themselves. Emotional eating to fill a void is one of the most common issues that we see however you could also use drinking, drugs, shopping, exercise, or excessive work to help distance yourself from your problems. The only problem is that these activities are not healthy and only mask the void in your life rather than resolving it.
How to Stop Eating to Fill a Void?
The key to stopping emotional eating to fill a void is actually tackling the root cause of your problems to change how you feel. Understanding the origin of your feelings and working through them can make a big difference to not only your eating habits but to your mental health as well.
The wrong way to go about it is to place yourself on a diet and start berating yourself for eating too much food. All that does is create negative emotions that actually make you feel worse. We know what most of our clients will have tried many diets for years as a way of stopping overeating but all they will have done is make them eat more and feel bad about themselves.
Eating to Fill an Emotional Void
We know that there is never really a mystery as to why our clients are experiencing a problem with emotional eating habits to fill their voids. We see similar problems cropping up in our clinics and at our sessions time and time again.
Our clients usually have difficulty however spotting them because they can’t see the bigger picture and only think of their food issues. Therapy is a great way to assist people in examining their emotions and helping to highlight just what is creating a problem with food and emotional eating. Here are some of the most popular reasons or triggers we see when we support people who are eating to fill a void.
Physical Hunger Vs Emotional Hunger
We can’t talk about emotional eating without also mentioning dieting as often the two go hand in hand. Most people are unaware that dieting and restriction can be behind many problems with using food to feel better. Diets are also a great way of making you have a poor body image, they also make you feel hungry and actually cause bigger problems with your weight.
If I take something away from you as typical weight-loss diets do I can guarantee that you are going to want it all the more and that is the same with food.
Diets tell you that you can’t eat chocolate, ice cream, cookies, or a bag of chips. So you cut these foods from your life and instead try and get by on eating so-called “healthy” foods to lose weight. The only problem is that you feel like you are missing out or you are incredibly hungry and so you start to develop cravings for what you are missing.
When eventually you give in and eat too much or binge you feel bad and that triggers negative feelings about yourself. The negative feelings make you need comfort and so you get cravings and eat more food to make yourself feel better even though you are not hungry.
For some of our clients, binge eating disorder develops because of food restriction and habits due to their weight loss efforts.
There are of course better ways to control weight and food and emotional eating-related issues. We help and support our clients to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger whilst also helping them to address the root causes of their problems.
Use our mindful eating worksheets to do the same and find other ways to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full rather than going on another pointless diet. It will be significantly better for your health and can help you to identify a craving and stop it in its tracks!
Stress and Anxiety Eating
Stress and anxiety are two huge problems linked with emotional eating. When we are stressed or experiencing negative feelings linked to anxiety it can make us feel worried or upset and that impacts our mental and physical health. Studies have shown there is a link for example between stress and anxiety and binge eating.
Anxiety encompasses a huge array of problems that makes us feel there is either something wrong with us or that bad thing are about to happen. Is it any wonder then that people experience emotional hunger problems because of it?
The key to managing stress and anxiety involves more than one approach. Firstly simple stress-reduction activities can make a big difference. Try our holistic mental health suggestions to help lower stress or anxiety. Secondly, we like our clients to use a self-hypnosis for stress reduction download to help reduce the problem as this is great at calming you.
Finally finding the root cause of your anxiety or stress can make a big difference as it helps you rationalize why you have the problem in the first place. Enabling your mind to rethink your feelings and look at things from a different perspective can have a significant impact on the way you feel and in turn, helps you curb emotional eating and cravings.
Why Do I Overeat When I am Alone?
Many of our clients feel emotional hunger and turn to food when they are alone. Part of this problem is related to the fact that being alone enables someone to secretly eating what they want without a partner or family member finding out. This is usually linked to excessive weight loss attempts which lead to physical hunger and eventually overeating.
Whilst eating alone is linked with weight loss and body image issues there is another simple reason why it can occur and that is because of loneliness.
Some people have a genuine fear of being alone and will do anything to avoid a situation where there is nobody there with them. In extreme cases that even means they will live with someone who is physically or mentally abusive because that seems preferential to being by themselves.
If you have a fear of being alone it can create the feeling of a void being in your life as well as numbness or fear. Food becomes a coping mechanism to make yourself feel better. The only problem is that excessive food consumption isn’t healthy and doesn’t solve the actual problem. Discovering the reasons for your worry and working on the root cause, however, does help.
How to Be Alone by Lane Moore is also a great read on the subject if you want to try self-help methods to feel better.
Feeling Unwanted Can Lead to Eating to Fill Emptiness
Another reason why our clients feel emotional hunger is when they have belief systems that make them feel unwanted or unloved. This void in their life has usually been created in childhood.
Perhaps they felt their parents didn’t want them or that their siblings were more important than they were. To help them deal with this perceived problem they turn to food as a way of coping with their emotions.
As therapists, we can never know exactly what happened in someone’s life but we can help them to deal with their triggers and eating issues. Whilst we know that many of our clients may have experienced real hardship others have problems eating because of their perception of events that may or may not have been real. Either way the shame and stigma attached to not feeling loved is important to address.
Our job is to help our clients emotionally so that their past feelings don’t make them resort to ice cream, cakes, and cookies as a coping mechanism.
Feelings of Not Being Good Enough
Low self-esteem and feelings of not being good enough are another set of emotions that create problems with food and emotional eating. For some people, those feelings permeate every part of their life whilst for others, they are concerned primarily with body image.
If you feel unfulfilled but feel that you don’t deserve anything better then this is going to cause a problem. If you feel that you aren’t thin or beautiful enough it can cause issues with your eating and make you miserable.
These negative thoughts and feelings cause a problem with eating for one of two reasons. Either the food is used as a comfort mechanism when negative thoughts appear or food becomes a form of punishment. The person believes they don’t deserve a good life so they punish themselves with food to make their body bigger so they can prove their point.
Self-esteem building and dealing with the root causes of emotions can go a long way to helping emotionally and preventing unhelpful eating patterns which are out of control. We also help our clients to address issues of body image to help them realize that they look perfectly great just the way they are. For additional help read Jen Sincero’s book You are a Badass.
Eating to fill a void can also be due to anger issues. Whilst we all get angry at some points in our life emotional hunger through anger is usually rooted in the past.
Perhaps the person blames someone else for their predicament, feels they were unjustly treated or were mistreated. As they were unable to control the situation at the time the anger becomes internalized and then follows them into adulthood.
When the anger bubbles up inside them they try and stop the feelings with food. This doesn’t happen when they are hungry instead it is a form of emotional eating that helps them to deal with negative emotions. Helping our clients to let go of anger becomes an important part of therapy to stop the bad eating habits.
Sadness and Depression and Eating
Another area where you might be eating to fill a void in your life is if you have a sense of deep unresolved sadness. This might be related to trauma from your past, bereavement, or another incident that has had an impact on your mood.
Not everyone who feels sad or depressed eats. In fact, many people with these problems will never experience emotional eating but for others, it is the opposite and food becomes a way of coping with negative feelings. Usually, sad eating is never about physical hunger instead it is an emotional hunger that distracts from the uncomfortable feelings.
Whilst medication can help to an extent it never really looks at the deep-rooted reasons for a problem which is why therapy is one of the best ways to help change unhelpful feelings. Uncovery by Amanda Jones is also a must-read.
Eating Your Feelings Because of Guilt
Finally, we couldn’t talk about emotional eating and food problems without also mentioning guilt. Guilt can have a detrimental impact on the way that you eat especially if it has not been dealt with or discussed.
Many of our clients have carried around guilt with them for years. Perhaps they had done something bad when they were younger that had negative consequences that they feel bad about. Sometimes they have kept the thing that they have done secret for many years because of the shame.
Physical or sexual abuse for example can lead to feelings of guilt at not having stopped the abuser even though this would have been impossible for them at the time. Again therapy is a good solution to let go of feelings that are no longer helpful.
Emotional eating to fill a void is a complex topic but with the right help and support, it can be helped. Taking the first steps to identify your problem can help to change the way you eat and assist with unhelpful feelings. Contact us for more information about our programs related to food issues.
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