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Feeling versus Thinking Around Food

It’s sadly ironic that many disregulated eaters make decisions backwards. On the one hand, they overthink things—called intellectualization or rationalization—when they’d be better off tuning into their emotions and acting on what they feel. On the other, they mistakenly make choices based on what they feel rather than employing higher order thinking to decide what’s best for them. Time to turn that around, huh?

Here’s an example of ignoring emotions and, instead, rationalizing. Say, you’re dining with old friends and find yourself eating way more than usual. Feeling bored, you realize that you don’t have much in common with them any more, but tell yourself they still feel close to you and believe you shouldn’t feel uninterested in friends who were once so central to your life. Rather than go with your intuition, you feel terribly guilty and end up making plans to get together with them again soon.

Alternately, here’s an example of ignoring evidence-based thinking and, instead, going with a feeling. After a stressful work day, you feel desperate to eat something oozing fat and sugar. Your emotions insist, “I have to eat this or I’ll feel deprived. Just one bite and no more. Nothing else will make me feel better.” Etcetera, etcetera. While your feelings prod you toward food, your thoughts recall that you experience bloating after eating a load of sugar and fat, never eat just one bite, and you recognize that emotional eating won’t help you learn how to manage end-of-day stress. You eat anyway.

In the first instance, you’d benefit from using feelings rather thoughts and accepting that it’s okay (though uncomfortable) to outgrow friendships. In the second, you’d have a healthier outcome using clear thinking, not feelings, and deciding to take a walk or listen to music to relax and unwind. This isn’t a case of one process being more valuable or effective than the other, but of knowing when to use what. Kind of like knowing when to turn on the microwave or the vacuum cleaner!

Consider whether you rely on emotions and cognitions appropriately or often misuse the two. If so, from now on, stop and think about which faculty is best-suited for a situation and make sure you’re using the correct one. Under what circumstances do you want to be guided by your emotions? Under which ones would you be better off thinking things through? By matching the appropriate method of response (feeling or thinking) to situations, you’ll automatically be making choices which are in your long-term best interest and enhance your life.