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Feeding the "Emotional Hunger"

During my psychotherapy training, we discussed the concept of “emotional hunger” on a number of occasions, primarily in the context of eating disorders. I liked the phrase, it resonated with me immediately and has stayed with me ever since.

While I have never suffered from a diagnosable eating disorder myself, I (as most people) know that I eat differently depending on my emotional status and I am prone to over-eating when I am stressed. Not stressed as in busy – I can actually go for a vey long time without eating and the slightest feeling of hunger when I am busy. I mean the kind of stress related to boredom, loneliness, disconnectedness and purposelessness. I hate those feelings and I have turned to food for comfort in those situations. Not in the oh-so-hilarious “Bridget Jones style” – tubs of ice cream, bags of crisps or bottles of wine. But enough to qualify for a pattern. And at the same time, when I am happy, when I am in flow, when I spend my time making a meaningful contribution, when I am learning, growing and developing my own skill set, when I am with people, when I can feel my own impact – food is the last thing on my mind.

Emotional hunger comes is different forms and does not always end in “fridge therapy”. It is also not always related to an eating disorder. It’s actually perfectly human and perfectly normal. At work, at home, with friends or family, or on our own – this nagging feeling that something is missing, something isn’t quite right, that we hunger for something we are not getting can be overwhelmingly powerful, can turn the most disciplined of us into angry lemmings. Some people turn to food and alcohol, some chose cigarettes, some go for a run. Compensation is powerful.

Two great ways to distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger, is: a) emotional hunger starts really suddenly and immediately with full force and b) it’s usually not located in your stomach.

I have not thought about this for a while. Because, in the past 12 months I have not really felt emotional hunger. I have rarely overeaten – and as a result, I have actually lost some weight. But while emotional hunger may not have registered as such very often, I would be lying if I had not felt it sometimes. But the trick was that over the past 12 months I have managed to introduce some new habits and re-activate some old habits into my daily life and into my arsenal of coping mechanisms that I would activate the second I would feel a certain pang.

When you read about “how to tackle emotional hunger“, the advice usually includes “calling a friend“, “reading a book” and “meditation“. Friends, ok. Number two and three won’t work for me. They might very well work for others, but the last thing I can cope with when facing emotional hunger is reading and sitting still.

The following is a list of new/old things that I do on a regular basis (habits) to not let emotional hunger develop or that I turn to in moments of crisis:

  • Core, weight and circular training. This was a massive surprise to myself. But when I discovered that and joined an outdoor sports group last November (yep, talk about good timing to pick up outdoor training) I had no idea how much I would love pushing myself that way. How much I would love kicking the sh*t out of an invisible ninja opponent, lifting sandbags and how much I would even embrace the eternally frustrating and also quite hilarious exercise that is “the pull up”. I swear, I simply don’t have certain muscles! But feeling my body getting stronger has been super powerful. And whenever I don’t feel like going to the gym (which is most of the time), I do these home workouts by Popsugar Fitness. Cheesy as they are, they work you out!

  • Yoga. I started doing yoga when I was 14 (before it was cool) but have lost it as a routine along the way. I picked it up again this year, I am using the Yoga With Adriene Youtube videos (she is quite adorable) at home at least twice a week and yes, I would cancel a date for an hour with Adriene.

  • Podcasts. I have become a total addict over the years. To feed my brain and to get lost in good stories, I love listening to currently 7 different podcasts that I can whole-heartedly recommend:

  • Death, Sex and Money

  • Only Human

  • Freakonomics

  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin

  • Here’s the Thing – with Alec Baldwin (he is such a good interviewer!)

  • Invisibilia

  • Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me (the NPR news quiz)

  • Writing. This blog. And any other blog posts I have written on other platforms this year.

  • Music. Thank you Daniel Ek, for inventing Spotify.

  • Singing. Thank you Youtube for providing Karaoke versions for pretty much every song ever written. And err….sorry to my neighbours!

  • Talking to friends. I am in the fortunate/cursed position to have friends in many places that are far away from where I live. I wish I could see them all more often, but even talking to them is always such a treat that I would rather have them far away than not have them at all.

  • And when they aren’t available and the pang is too big, there is always Netflix to provide me with a temporary world to lose myself in.

  • Trips. Something to do more, but whether spontaneous or planned, changing my surroundings is always a good things as it keeps me on my toes and is a good cure for cabin fever that you can even get when living in Berlin.

  • Nuts. Amazing. I don’t really buy chocolate or other sweets anymore (the temptation is just too big), but I love nibbles.

Nothing here is revolutionary. And nothing here replaces therapy when it’s needed. Emotional hunger is a sign that something is missing. And while I have absolutely no reason to complain, sometimes something is missing. And this is the stuff that keeps my personal emotional hunger in check and me in touch with myself – with my body, my heart and my mind. It’s something I can do myself. And I owe it to myself to look after myself as best as I can.

Die Autorin des Artikels, Fabienne Riener, ist Life Coach & Heilpraktikerin für Psychotherapie in Berlin.

Während Ihres Berufslebens hat sie umfangreiche Erfahrung mit Leadership, Personalmanagement, Unternehmensleitung und Geschäftsführung gesammelt und verfügt über Zusatzausbildungen im Bereich EMDR und Verhaltenstherapie. Derzeit arbeitet sie als Personalleiterin in einem internationalen Unternehmen in Berlin. Da Fabienne Riener viele Jahre in den USA und England gelebt hat, ist Englisch für Sie wie eine zweite Muttersprache. Daher verfasst sie viele ihrer interessanten Blogs zum Thema Stress und Burnout in Englisch.


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