We spoke with the nutritionist Julia Jiménez that to be healthy, we need to experience hunger in all its types, including emotional hunger, of course, and not deprive ourselves of it.
Emotional appetite is one of the paradigms that we face many times. And Julia Jiménez, nutritionist and expert in Mindfulness and Emotional Management, explains that emotional eating is healthy and necessary, physical or physiological hunger.
If we cannot experience physiological or emotional hunger or when we need to eat or feel pleasure with food (loss of hedonism with eating), this is usually associated with the lack of health—we clear doubts in this interview.
In addition, she is an expert in Nutrigenetics, Nutrigenomics and Mindfulness and Emotional Management, and Clinical Nutrition.
And we propose the mission to him through our questions of how to identify our emotional hunger and why it is fair and necessary to give ourselves those small pleasures that we have within our reach, such as food. Still, sometimes we do not realize that whoever asks for food is our stomach and our emotions.
1. How do we realize that the person asking for food is not our stomach but our emotions?
When we have been becoming aware of our emotions for some time and learning to recognize and identify them, and it does become relatively easy to know how to distinguish if we go to the fridge due to purely physical or physiological hunger or doing it more from an emotional component, which does not have to be something negative.
2. Do we have good and bad emotions regarding the way we eat?
Feelings are not good and evil, and neither should they be resisted, denied, or tamed. Emotions are functional; they appear to warn us of something and move us to action. They help us to survive.
They can be adaptive or maladaptive (not good or bad) when they help us to live in a more adapted way to our reality or when, on the contrary, they can prevent us from developing correctly in our environment. But the emotion is not the culprit of what happens; the sentiment is only the tip that something happens.
Allowing ourselves to feel and understand feelings in this way helps us identify them and learn from our wisdom, taking advantage of the lessons they offer us.
3. How to distinguish emotional hunger?
Hunger or emotional eating is something we always experience because we always experience emotions when eating, whether pleasant or unpleasant. The important thing is not to talk about emotional eating but conscious or unconscious eating; or adaptive or maladaptive eating behaviours.
Maladaptive behaviours can lead us to a way of eating without awareness, will or presence, compulsively or even binge-eat. However, satisfying emotional hunger with will and understanding has nothing negative but rather the opposite.
4. So, emotional eating or emotional hunger is healthy and necessary.
Of course, as is physical or physiological hunger. In fact, in those people who are unable to experience physiological thirst or emotional hunger, or who are unable to know when they need to eat or feel pleasure with food (loss of hedonism with eating), lack of health is often associated, in some of its forms: depression, stress, anxiety, anorexia nervosa, addictions, etc.
Therefore, to be healthy, we need to experience hunger in all its types, including, of course, the emotional, and not deprive ourselves of it.
5. Why does sugar get us so hooked? Sometimes we go from eating an ounce of chocolate to a bar.
It is natural for us to like and comfort the sweetness of food, as it has been crucial for our human nature to become “addicted” to naturally sweet foods (fruits and berries) and learn to recognize them in spirit.
Why? Because identifying the foods richest in glucose was a guarantee of survival since they are the ones that provide us with energy almost immediately. From an evolutionary perspective, it is entirely normal and of great natural intelligence that we enjoy the sweetness of food so much.
6. So experiencing pleasant emotions when we eat is nothing to blame or point to?
That food is a source of pleasure is not a sin but rather a necessity. Luckily we feel joy when eating! Unless it would have been impossible for the human species to have survived throughout the centuries and hundreds. If something so tremendously important to maintain our life, such as food, was not pleasant.
Imagine! We would indeed have stopped eating, and now the human species would not exist. Nature is wise; it knows how to warn us of good and evil, what we need and what hurts us.
7. Never before have we had so much supply and bioavailability of food, right?
Yes, and this means that our environment has quickly changed a lot. We should not have time to adapt to the new circumstances of the environment, such as the constant availability of ultra-processed foods that are not very interesting from a nutritional point of view.
So we live with a Paleolithic body in a society that is very different from then. This greatly hinders our decision-making regarding the food we want to consume, its quantity, and its frequency.
8. If we have few moments of pleasure, isn’t it asking too much to control what we always eat?
As I like to say: Food is not the problem, it is the solution. The best solution we have found so far. Let’s work first to understand what. What has come to solve the food? And then, we can work on developing other healthier and more adaptive solutions beyond food, such as self-care rituals or routines.
Where is the middle ground?
A good starting point is identifying if we are consuming certain foods from love or fear, or hatred. As I often say, where we do things from (intention) is often more important than what we do. We can eat in a very healthy way from absolute hatred or fear (to gain weight, not have the perfect body, eat “too many” calories, etc.).
We can also enjoy some less-healthy processed products, but from love, consciousness, presence and will, as an act of self-respect and love.
9. What should we base our diet on?
It is essential to try to base our diet on quality raw materials, preferably vegetables, to maintain our health, but without becoming inflexible on the subject of enjoying from time to time some ultra-processed that we love. Remember that as important as physical health is mental health, both are needed and hand in hand.
What do we do in the despair of when we lose a kilo in a month of diet and regain it at dinner?
Stop focusing on weight and kilos, fuck the scale! We live with a weight-centric idea of health that, instead of getting closer to the actual concept of health, takes us further away every day.
What foods should we have on hand for those moments of emotional hunger?
Those who want us because, as I have said, we must not fight or conquer emotional hunger. As I mentioned earlier, food is not the problem, and it is the solution. The best solution we have found to cope with an emotion that often overwhelms us.
Let’s stop thinking that we can “control” emotional eating and avoid it or resort to a series of “suitable” foods to overcome this dysfunctional episode with food. It is not true that changing behaviour with food will eliminate the source of stress and suffering.
It is instead the opposite. Let us work in therapy in-depth in what underlies the causes of this discomfort that force the body to use food as a survival tool. And the relationship with food will heal. It will naturalize by itself.
Confinement has changed our habits and routines; how can we move with willpower when visits to the gym are limited?
I often say to my friends and patients the following: “Do you know which is the best pill for health, among all supplements and drugs?” The best pickup, without a doubt, ahead of all, is the movement.
Moving and exercising generates in our body the synthesis of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, other hormones, and immediately and economically, specifically at zero cost.
The effect of these hormones running through our bloodstream translates into feeling good and satisfied with life, with more gratitude, optimism, well-being and happiness. But not only that.
In addition to these all-important emotional benefits, there are all the metabolic and cardiovascular benefits. There is not a single pill on the market that has managed to produce in our body everything that movement does immediately for us.
The sport itself combines the positive effects we seek in antidepressants, coffees, statins, and painkillers. I think these reasons are more than motivated to start moving!
Why are we wrong when we normalize the bikini operation?
Because losing weight should always be a well-founded medical prescription and never, I repeat, a habitual and normalized behaviour for the entire population (regardless of age and state of physiological and mental health) driven by gordofobia and called bikini operation.
The omnipresence of the bikini operation is constant and indiscriminate violence on our bodies and self-esteem. The absurd and little questioned idea that we should be proud if we enter the summer with a slimmer and more toned body than we had (regardless of our starting point).
It is the drama and torture that we must feel ashamed, even unable, to reach the beach or the pool with the body that we already inhabit at this moment, regardless of its state of health, functionality, shape or size.
10. Why is it a mistake to live by restricting food and calories?
Because there are no good foods and bad foods, there are nutritionally interesting foods and foods that are not due to the nutrients they contain. We have to bear in mind that not everything in life is consuming healthy food.
Eating unhealthy food does not turn our diet into something undesirable and terrible. And even if we base our diet on unhealthy foods and our eating habits were unhealthy at a nutritional level, that doesn’t make us less valid. That is, our way of eating does not define an adjective by which to judge, categorize or value ourselves.
Is it wrong to think that being slim is synonymous with health?
Without a doubt. Health understood as a complete state of physical and mental well-being and not only the absence of symptoms or disease, nor is it accompanied by a specific image. Health can look more or less thin, with more or less cellulite, with more or more petite butt, arm, thigh, waist, hip, muscle, chest. Let’s understand that health and thinness do not always go hand in hand! Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Let’s also understand that often being at a higher weight or having a more voluminous or different shape than the one stipulated as normative and “healthy” could be healthier for many people! The socially established problem of translating a “perfect” and unreal magazine image into a health symptom. However, trying to achieve or maintain that image is, for many people, the complete opposite of health.