Q I find myself eating throughout the day. I am not necessarily hungry, but still want to eat. Although I do not have a weight problem, I don’t feel so good when I am eating more than I need and mixing all kinds of food throughout the day. I don’t quite know how to break this pattern.

A Food has physiological and emotional aspects to it. As children, we are soothed through food. When we are upset we often get ice cream to feel better. Food can also be a reward for being “good.” Food has also traditionally been used as a way to connect with people or deal with difficult times. Families talk about bad news by sitting around the dining table and having tea or other comfort foods. There is a time to enjoy comfort food and it doesn’t need to pathologized.

However, soothing ourselves through food doesn’t address the deeper aspects of why we are eating more than we need or all day long. When you notice yourself eating beyond your usual three meals, take a moment and feel your desire to eat. Where is this feeling coming from? Is it in the stomach, mouth, heart, or head? Try to reach into the origin of the sensation. People often eat when they are bored, feeling emotionally empty, lonely, or anxious. Depression can cause severe changes in appetite. Because food is so pleasurable, it is sometimes used as a form of safe sex.

You also want to get checked out by your physician or a nutritionist who can see if you are lacking certain nutrients and are craving certain foods to fulfill those bodily needs. Are there any kinds of hormonal imbalances, or metabolism or thyroid issues? Changes in medication can also affect appetite. As we transition into different life-stages our body chemistry, appetite, and energy levels also change. This can affect our eating patterns.

We live in a culture of excess, yet people are walking around empty and wanting more all of the time.

Workaholism and distraction through media and technology keep us from feeling and knowing ourselves more fully. You have a special opportunity with your issue: whenever you are eating beyond your needs, you can inquire into your inner state. By bringing such mindfulness, certain other feelings or desires may arise.

Most of us walk around with unprocessed feelings and issues: grief, anger, unexpressed joy, love, sadness etc. By stuffing them with food, these feelings actually get further entrenched in the unconscious. Over time they express through symptoms of all kinds. We need to understand and begin to work through these layers. As things become clearer, you will be more in touch with your  real needs and desires. This will allow you to be free of grasping for food all the time and, moreover, help you find contentment within and in the life resources that more directly attend to those needs.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

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