I have been doing a lot of research over the last couple days; the topic: emotional eating. I am aware that I am really good at it (emotionally eating that is), but until I started to dig a little deeper I didn’t really get why. Why is emotional eating such a problem for so many people?
The science behind it.
I’m not going to lie, I did feel a little better about myself after I realized my emotional eating isn’t entirely my fault – it’s those chemicals….
Cortisol. This has become a familiar hormone over the last several years. It is our stress hormone. It is our fight or flight hormone. When we perceive danger, cortisol goes into overdrive to help us to get out of whatever dangerous situation we have found ourselves in. The problem is, in our modern society, we often live in a constant state of stress. Which means most of us have an elevated level of Cortisol in our system. Our elevated levels of cortisol, along with a couple other hunger hormones, lead us to crave carbohydrates. We end up craving sugary, fatty and salty foods, aka: comfort foods.
Not only does our constant state of stress lead us to seek comfort foods. After we eat them, our serotonin “the happy chemical” increases. The increase of serotonin can give us a fleeting sense of calm in the midst of the storm. And I don’t know about you, but when I am stressed I will do whatever it takes to get back to normal.
Then there is dopamine. According to psychology today “Dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter—a chemical that ferries information between neurons. The brain releases it when we eat food that we crave or while we have sex, contributing to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. This important neurochemical boosts mood, motivation, and attention, and helps regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses.”
So after we eat comfort food, not only do we feel more calm because of serotonin – we get a rush of dopamine. And once we experience that satisfaction, we can’t wait to go back for more.
We begin to associate the calming serotonin and rush of dopamine with good and pleasurable things. So when things get tough, where do we go? To the good and pleasurable thing….food.
When we have a bad day, where do we go? Food.
When we feel lonely and bored, where do we go? Food.
When we don’t understand our feelings, where do we go? Food.
I could go on and on.
We hate feeling uncomfortable. Any sense of discomfort arises and we seek what we know will make us feel better, even when we know it’s a temporary fix.
After looking into the science, I went to the scriptures.
I noticed that God actually had a lot to say about food in the bible. In fact, from the beginning food was a central piece of God’s story.
In The Garden, God told Adam & Eve that they could eat whatever they wanted – except for one fruit on one tree.
The Isrealites sacrificial system revolved around food, deeming certain foods clean and unclean.
When the Isrealites were wandering in the wilderness, God gave them just enough manna (food) each day to survive. And if they took more than they needed to, it would spoil. (Exodus 16)
One of the first stories that we hear about Jesus is when he is being tempted by Satan with food (Matthew 4:1-4).
On several occasions, Jesus multiplied fish and loaves to feed the hungry people (Matthew 14, 15, 16; Luke 9; Mark 6; John 6).
Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine. (John 2)
After an entire night of unsuccessful fishing, Jesus (after the resurrection) told the disciples to cast their net once again. This time the net was filled with more fish than the net could handle. (John 21)
But what struck me the most was when Jesus himself compared himself to food.
We see this in John 6:35 “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”
I have read this passage probably hundreds of times, but I have always had the nagging question, Why would Jesus compare himself to food?
Food is a universal language. Every human on earth needs it. But for many of us, we don’t eat just to fill our bellies, we look to food for comfort, happiness and satisfaction. Food makes us feel good for a moment (that stupid dopamine), but we always come back looking for and wanting more. Jesus knows that. So as he compares himself to food, he speaks to this place of longing in our heart. By declaring he is the bread of life, he is not telling us to stop eating (please hear this) he is showing us that there is a way that will truly satisfy our desires.
He is the only who can truly bring us comfort after a long hard day at work.
He is the only one that can fill us with joy, when everything around us seems to be falling apart.
He is the only one that will bring clarity out of a confusing situation.
He is the one that will satisfy our soul.
How do we break the cycle of emotional eating?
How do we find satisfaction in Jesus when our dopamine is reminding us how great that cookie sitting in front of us made us feel last time?
Next time we will get into more detail. For now, here’s one practical tip.
Bind my flesh.
We have experienced a lot of change in our family over the last 6 months. I decided to fast (which is another topic for another blog post) sugar for 21 days in January and focus my prayer time on my kids as they adjusted to a new school. Honestly, going into it I didn’t think it would be that hard. I didn’t eat that much sugar, right? I was wrong. Do you know there is sugar in EVERYTHING? It was really hard, much harder than I anticipated. I was grateful that the group that I was fasting with equipped us with a simple yet profound phrase to use when we wanted to cave and have sugar.
Bind my flesh Lord.
I know, it’s a weird phrase. It’s just really a simple, conscious way of saying: “Jesus I feel like I really want ____ (in my case sugar), that is what my flesh is telling me. But I know what I am really craving is comfort. _____ may make me feel that way temporarily, but I know it won’t last. Instead I want to seek you for comfort, because the comfort you will give me will last. Comfort me now as you promised you would. Make my desire for food smaller and my desire for you bigger.”
Like I said, I know it’s kind of a weird phrase, but it was a game changer for me. Every time I wanted to reach for the next desert, I muttered to myself “Bind my flesh Lord”. Most of the time I would have to say it a few times. But without fail, my desire for sugar would begin to diminish and I would start to feel satisfied….with a satisfaction that lasts.
Because there is more,